“What has once happened will invariably happen again, when the same circumstances which combined to produce it shall again combine in the same way.”
To say some political campaigns are deceitful is like saying the grass is green, the sun is hot and the Denver Broncos lost.
That said, what San Diego is witnessing from the Lincoln Club of San Diego County this election season may well be shattering records for dastardliness.
If you’re a registered voter, perhaps you’ve received the placemat-sized, full-color campaign mailer with the blaring headline “David Alvarez, A Mayor for SOME.” It went out early in the campaign and has appeared again in recent weeks.
As CityBeat’s Kelly Davis has reported, it’s a mailer that suggests that Alvarez only cares about three communities, which, coincidentally, happen to be communities of color: southeastern San Diego, City Heights and San Ysidro.
What the initial mailer failed to point out, as Davis detailed, was that the Alvarez quote used in the mailer—from an October 2013 mayoral forum in Valencia Park—referenced a point he was making about federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies the city is required by law to spend in underserved communities.
A second similar mailer that hit mailboxes recently even clarifies that point, specifically mentioning CDBG funding.
But flip either mailer over, and you’ll discover a color photograph of a slightly smiling, young Latina identified as “Tania Hernandez—Democrat.” Above her head, in the photo’s azure sky, appears the quote, “David Alvarez doesn’t understand the needs of most communities. Unless you live in one of his three chosen neighborhoods, he’s written you off.”
In the picture, the late-afternoon sun gleams on her face, as well as off the chain-link fence and tree stump behind her. Beyond that, there’s another tree and a dirt lot occupied by a camper next to a faded-blue shed.
For weeks, Spin Cycle has searched for Hernandez, curious about how she’d formulated such a strong opinion of the first-term District 8 council member. This week, Spin received a tip that Hernandez appeared to be a resident of National City. An address was provided, and Spin reopened Operation Pinpoint Photo Location.
Lo and behold, less than half a block away from the address Spin found the spot where the mailer photo was taken. Again, in National City.
Spin Cycle tried to get a comment from the Lincoln Club, whose anti-Alvarez independent-expenditure committee—Working Together for Neighborhood Fairness—paid for the mailer (along with a group calling itself Stuck in the Rough LLC, which is battling residents to develop homes on the former Escondido Country Club).
Through a spokesperson, Lincoln Club President and CEO T.J. Zane told Spin: “The Club doesn’t discuss its tactics or strategy in the middle of a campaign, sorry.” Zane declined further comment.
You can’t really blame the guy. For some time now, Zane’s status with the Lincoln Club has been grist for the rumor mill—that his support among influential members is dwindling. But it’s clear he still has his fans, too.
Maybe it’s an act of desperation among members of the Kevin Faulconer camp to find anyone who isn’t old and white willing to pose for a campaign mailer. But here, the Lincoln Club seems to be walking a very fine line.
As CityBeat went to press this week, the Los Angeles-based group Courage Campaign and the national Latino group Presente.org were planning to drop off petitions with thousands of signatures at club headquarters, urging the organization to stop “the use of campaign tactics peddling dog-whistle racism in the San Diego mayoral race,” according to a press release.
That protest focuses on a previous Lincoln Club campaign mailer that some viewed as depicting Alvarez as a “menacing gang member,” as the release put it.
That particular image—of Alvarez in a dark suit, fanning himself with a wad of cash—hasn’t appeared in subsequent mailers, but the Lincoln Club seems to have adopted a subtler approach. The message of the Hernandez mailer—and a new one featuring someone named “Rosa Jimenez” put out by the Western Electrical Contractors Association— is that Alvarez cares only about the disadvantaged communities south of Interstate 8.
If the club and its ilk were to say that explicitly, then the racism charge would be more acute.
So what better way to solve that than using unknown surrogates of similar racial background to deliver that message? Because if a Latino makes that charge instead of, say, a white housewife from La Jolla, that insulates the Faulconer supporters from classwarfare allegations, the Lincoln Club seems to have concluded.
To Alvarez campaign manager Gabriel Solmer, it’s par for the club’s course, which she described as “so desperate to cling to relevancy that they’ll mislead voters with half-truths and gutter politics.”
Campaign types will tell you that the use of the testimonial as a political tool is commonplace, but it typically involves someone recognizable to voters. For example, Faulconer has played up his connection to Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders, while Alvarez has touted his support from Council President and interim Mayor Todd Gloria and former Chamber Chairman Mel Katz.
But those are known people, not anonymous pawns in a shadow campaign to scare voters with racial overtones. This isn’t a healthy trend for any city trying to find its way in the 21st century.