Opinion: Where’s Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell? We’ve looked aloha the place

Waldo’s easy. He’s at the bottom right of the page wearing his red-and-white shirt and eating an ice-cream cone while looking at a dancing poodle. A more difficult question is where’s Long Beach Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell?

This isn’t real breaking news, but we’re all in the darkest days of a pandemic and we’re all asked to make sometimes heartbreaking sacrifices, like not eating inside restaurants, not drinking inside bars, wearing masks all the time, relegating your friends and relatives to Zoom video screens.

Many of us are cloistered in our homes reading old New Yorkers or playing golf on our smartphones, our spice cabinets having long ago been ordered by a sort of culinary Dewey Decimal System and arranged by region of origin.

Sometimes, though, when it comes to sacrifice, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as we’ve seen recently when Gov. Gavin Newsom ignored his own guidance in order to attend a birthday party at the French Laundry. I’m not mad at him. A man’s gotta weigh a course of sunny side up quail egg with wild Oregon Chanterelle mushroom, a Marsh Hen Mill polenta and “Crème de Champignons”  against the health of himself and his loved ones.

Similarly, it’s a good guess that Assemblyman O’Donnell is in Maui, which ranks high on the list of places I’d rather be right now.

Maui is the site of the annual four-day Independent Voter Project’s policy conference, an event that O’Donnell has attended the past two COVID-free years, and his attendance at what can ungenerously be described as a junket and an opportunity to frolic by the pool and beach while occasionally chatting with a lobbyist over a round of Da Kine Monkey Paws is likely the explanation for his apparent disappearance.

Even so, O’Donnell could attend with no remorse or sense of guilt, because who’s going to fault a state lawmaker for taking a break from the grueling job of doing whatever it is he does on the mainland for a few days at Wailea Beach?

I have no proof that O’Donnell traveled to Maui for the conference other than the fact that I can’t find him. Neither can Politico and the Sacramento Bee who teamed up to find out who went to Maui for the conference and who didn’t—and who couldn’t be found for a response one way or the other, a camp that O’Donnell is in.

Why the secrecy? It’s the obvious matter of optics. Should he run for, say, mayor of Long Beach, his opponents will likely refer to him as Pineapple Pat or Aloha O’Donnell. Some lawmakers have rationalized the trip as a necessity to learn about how best to reopen businesses, something they want to do in spite of the potential health dangers of lazing on the lanai between workshop sessions. Maybe they’d maintain they would’ve gone to Waco, Texas if it meant helping their constituents, although I haven’t heard anyone saying so.

And all we’ve heard from O’Donnell is dial tones and a profound silence.

Did you call his personal cell number? Yes. No answer. Left a message.

Did you call his office in Sacramento? Yes. “We don’t comment on the assemblyman’s schedule.”

Did you call his field office in Long Beach? Yes. Was told my info would be passed to the assemblyman and his communications director, and can she ask what the call is about, and she was told I’m just trying to find out where he’s at.

Did you send him a message? Yes. No answer.

Did you try calling the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui to see if they had him registered there as a guest? Yes. They did not have a Patrick O’Donnell registered there.

Did you ask if there was a Don O’Patrick registered there? Or a Mr. Smith? Jones? I did not.

Wherever he is, he isn’t saying where he is. But I hope he’s taking care of himself, because COVID is just getting uglier and uglier, with more restrictions coming down on those of us who haven’t been going anywhere and may be in lockdown soon. And more serious restrictions are bound to come on travelers soon.

In fact, if O’Donnell is in Hawaii, he may not be able to come back anytime soon, doomed to days or weeks in a high-dollar Hawaiian resort paddling in the pool on the back of a giant inflatable swan.

One thing I haven’t tried is going to Maui to look for him myself. I think maybe I should hop on the next flight and go. What kind of shoe-leather reporter would I be otherwise?

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.