City Attorney James Penmen discusses the implication of Tuesday’s election at Mexico Cafe Restaurant Thursday in San Bernardino. (LaFonzo Carter/ Staff Photographer)

Josh Dulaney, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 11/10/2011 05:07:46 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – It’s a little after noon on an overcast Thursday, and the city’s most polarizing political figure walks into his favorite dining establishment.

A table of Superior Court judges at The Mexico Cafe Restaurant congratulates City Attorney James F. Penman on winning his seventh term during Tuesday’s election.

Penman sits at a nearby table.

“I know you want root beer,” a young waitress says to him.

She confirms his favorite dish too. Penman gets two carne asada tacos.

“I double wrap them,” he says.

Two days after winning the campaign against David McKenna by just 453 votes, Penman brims with confidence.

“I don’t look at it like I won by 400 votes,” he says. “I look at it like I got (6,130) votes.”

The run up to the election boiled over, with accusations from Public Works Director Nadeem Majaj that Penman creates an atmosphere of fear in City Hall.

Council members Fred Shorett, Rikke Van Johnson and Virginia Marquez held a news conference asking the FBI, the Department of Justice, the District Attorney’s Office and others to look for possible corruption in Penman’s office.

In Penman’s world, the matters were political attacks orchestrated by Mayor Pat Morris, whom Penman says works behind the scenes in an ongoing obsession to oust him.

After the election, he and Morris spoke cordially about the future of their relationship, and the city.

“We need to put the politics behind us and move forward for the good of the city,” Penman says.

Morris agrees.

“I fully intend to meet with the city attorney and talk about opportunities,” Morris said in a phone interview.

As for any involvement in the matter with Majaj, or the press conference held by the council members, Morris said he had nothing to do with it.

“The claim that somehow I’m behind all this other stuff is completely bogus,” Morris said. “He habitually characterizes his problem as being mayor-initiated and that is simply untrue. And that which he faces by way of issues are largely generated by his conduct.”

Morris spoke of Penman’s behavior during council meetings, which often includes heated jousting with his opponents on the dais.

On Monday, before Majaj spoke to the council, Penman suggested he be read his rights.

“His loss of control is legendary,” Morris said.

Penman chuckles between bites of carne asada when asked how much of his combative behavior during council meetings is serious legal wrangling or just for fun.

“Mostly for fun,” he says. “It vexes my opponents.”

Penman says council meetings on the eve of an election are usually the least important because the politics are heated and voters have already made up their minds.

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