Added on March 23, 2017 Ryan McDonald Manhattan Beach. newsletter
Incumbent Mark Burton came in fourth in Manhattan Beachs March 7 election, missing out on reelection by 222 votes. Photo by Caroline Anderson
by Ryan McDonald
The Manhattan Beach City Council elections on March 7 produced a kind of political black swan: the unseating of not one but two incumbents. With three seats available, council members Mark Burton and Tony DErrico came in fourth and fifth, respectively, in the eight-candidate field.
But Burton and DErrico stand out for another reason besides their status as losing incumbents: they were targeted in negative attacks in the month before the election. A series of glossy mailers sent to some city voters and a widely circulated email from a school board member urged No votes on both incumbents, relying on potentially misleading critiques of their records. And while mudslinging in politics is nothing new, Burton and DErrico appear to have absorbed most of the grime.
It is impossible to say whether the negative ads made the difference in the campaign. (Burton and DErrico both declined to comment for this story.) According to results from Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder, third-place finisher and Councilmember-elect Richard Montgomery finished with 2,753 votes; Burton tallied 2,521, DErrico 1,923. But the negative tone of the campaign has left lingering a bad taste in the mouth of some voters, and raised questions about the influence of outside money in small-town politics.
I cannot help but think that had we had a fundamentally fair election we would have had a vastly different result, said resident Stephanie Robins, lamenting the defeat of Burton and DErrico during public comment at the City Council meeting held the day after the election.
One of the first in the volley of negative ads landed in the mailboxes of residents on Feb. 22. The 8.5-by-11-inch mailer featured the pictures of Burton and DErrico found on the City Councils website; a warning written in the style of a Donald Trump Tweet stood out against a canary-yellow background:
Dump the Incumbents! Burton & DErrico must go, worst fiscal management ever! it read.
The backside of the mailer spelled out a theme that would continue in at least two subsequent advertisements: that DErrico and Burton were poor fiscal stewards who presided over a profligate era for the city. It noted the approval of a $2.3 million home loan for assistant city manager Nadine Nader, which came in 2015 on a 4-1 vote that Burton and DErrico joined.
But while many of the figures cited by the flyer were accurate, it failed to distinguish decisions made by the City Council from the votes of the individual incumbents, who, both on the campaign trail and on the dais, positioned themselves as fiscal conservatives. For example, the flyer states, Last year they gave staff a 5 percent raise and additionally decided to close City Hall every other Friday. But Burton and DErrico were the two opposing votes in the councils 3-2 approval of its two-year budget in June 2016. And Burton specifically sought an amendment to the motion to study the efficiency of the citys 9-80 work schedule.
Two additional, substantially similar flyers appeared in mailboxes on March 1 and March 3.
Even more worrisome to voters than the accuracy of the mailers was their mysterious origins. Each came from a Long Beach-based organization called Voters for Good Government, an independent expenditure group not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate. In total, the group reported raising $28,000, almost $10,000 of which was spent on mailers opposing Burton and DErrico.
The money came in twelve different donations from people and businesses throughout Los Angeles County, none of them having apparent connections to Manhattan Beach. They include: Robert Alter, an Orange County hotel and real estate investor, who gave $5,000 on Feb. 22; Anna Sauceda a self-employed construction worker who gave $2,000 on Feb. 17; her husband Darrel, who also gave $2,000 on Feb. 17 through a Santa Fe Springs business; and a pair of maintenance companies, which share a Norwalk mailing address and each gave $2,000 on Feb. 14.
Of the 12 people and companies identified by disclosure forms as donors to Voters for Good Government, 11 did not return calls for comment. Farshid Shooshani, who donated $1,000 on Feb. 28, said he does not remember who approached him about making the donation. Shooshani, a real estate investor and partner in a Los Angeles metal wholesaler, was told that it would aid Paul Koretz, an incumbent seeking reelection to the city council Los Angeles 5th District.
I was told my good friend was running a bit short on funds, and thought I would help him out, Shooshani said.
Records from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission indicate that Voters for Good Government spent $4,975 to support Koretz. And state law does not require independent expenditure groups to disclose to donors how their money will be spent, nor must donors live in the area where the race is taking place. But the lack of association with Manhattan Beach makes the groups motives for spending more than a third of the money raised opposing two candidates in the city difficult to discern.
According to filings made by Voters for Good Government with the Secretary of State, the principal officers for the firm are David Gould, who served as treasurer, and Billie Martinez, a former South Gate city councilmember. Neither of the officers returned multiple calls and emails.
It is not the groups first time in controversial campaigns. News reports at the time said the group was responsible for a mailer targeting Gerri Guzman, a Montebello school board member, during her 2012 reelection campaign. The flyer said Guzman had once been arrested on suspicion of inflicting injuries on a former boyfriend. Guzman was never prosecuted, and later said that the case stemmed from efforts to defend herself from domestic violence. Guzman ultimately lost to Hector Chacon, who according to the Los Angeles Times spent more than $50,000 campaigning for the $750-a-month position. And according to settlement document from the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Voters for Good Government and Martinez previously admitted violating Californias Political Reform Act as a result of delinquent financial disclosures over a mailer sent out opposing a candidate in a 2013 Bakersfield City Council campaign.
Bob Holmes, a former city councilmember, said he has been observing politics in Manhattan Beach since 1978, and that this was the first time he could remember an independent expenditure committee being active in the city. (Holmes endorsed Montgomery during the race and and agreed with many of the criticisms of Burton and DErrico made in the flyers, but said he had nothing to do with them.) He said the opaque nature of groups like Voters for Good Government was symptomatic of the convoluted nature of campaign finance regulation.
We have such complex finance laws in California that an intelligent guycant figure it out on [his] own. You need to hire a professional campaign treasurer, Holmes said. Its so complex today. And there are very few people who actually do professional campaign reporting.
Gould has previously served as the treasurer for a number of local candidates, including a past City Council campaign of Mayor David Lesser. More recently, Gould served as treasurer for Steve Napolitanos campaign for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. After losing that race to Janice Hahn in November, Napolitano filed for the City Council race, and was elected March 7, garnering the highest number of votes of the eight candidates.
Reached for comment, Napolitano acknowledged that Gould was the treasurer for his supervisorial campaign, but said he had no knowledge of theeffort against Burton and DErrico, and pointed out that it would have been unlawful for him to be involved. Napolitano, who worked for Supervisor Don Knabe for more than a decade, said the coincidence was reflective of the fact that there are relatively few people who perform campaign treasurer services in the county. (Holmes agreed with Napolitano, comparing two entities having the same treasurer to two people buying a car from the same dealership.) And he condemned the negative tone the city campaign had taken on.
When there was a hit piece by an independent expenditure group against me during the supervisors race, it came from the same address as my treasurer. But thats the nature of politics, Napolitano said. It was a disappointment going through it then. And having gone through it myself, it is certainly not something I would wish upon anyone.
Councilmember Tony DErrico speaks at the citys Veterans Day Ceremony last year. Photo by Ryan McDonald
Taken to school
In the weeks leading up to the election, school board member Ellen Rosenberg sent out an email, titled Parents dont care enough to vote. Promising the straight scoop about the City Council race, it urged readers to prove wrong those who presumed Manhattan parents were politically apathetic.
Despite what you may have heard and they have said, the two incumbents running for re-election are not strong supporters of our shared facilities use agreement between the city and the school district, the email read, referring to an agreement under which the city pays a predetermined amount, currently $570,000, to the school district for use of its facilities, like athletic fields. In bolded type, it continued, Further, they recently voted against a Safe Routes to Schools grant for bike path access to MBMS. Who does that?
The facilities use-agreement referenced in the email was negotiated in 2013 and expired last year. The email claimed that Burton and DErrico had not been supportive of the schools during negotiations for a new agreement, citing at a PTA candidates forum. (At that forum, DErrico called the current arrangement great, but said he wanted to further support the schools.)
The bottom of the email urged votes for eventual winners Nancy Hersman, a former school board member, and Montgomery. It will be up to the incoming council to renegotiate a new shared-facilities agreement.
The spread of the email touched a nerve for the incumbents supporters.
A leading member of our school board abused her position of authority and respect to promulgate a misleading email blast to her vast database of Manhattan Beach parents, fallaciously portraying councilmembers Burton and DErrico as being biased against our children and our schools, read a paid political advertisement in the Beach Reporter last Thursday.
In an interview, Rosenberg said that she originally sent the email on Feb. 28 from her personal email account, not a district mailing list, and estimated that she sent it to about 100 total people in five waves of 20 recipients. Many of the people who ultimately saw it, she said, likely had the email forwarded to them, sometimes with her permission, sometimes without.
She said she has used email to weigh in on political issues before, including past local elections, and disputed the idea that sending the email constituted an abuse of her position. Being on the school board, she said, should not mean that she has fewer opportunities for speech than others.
Im a citizen and a resident and a taxpayer. I am other things in my life in addition to being a school board member, Rosenberg said.
The vote that Rosenberg referred to in the email was part of a unanimous decision by the City Council at their Feb. 7 meeting. That decision approved spending state and federal grant money on safety mechanisms along common routes to the districts elementary schools, American Martyrs School Catholic School, and Manhattan Beach Middle School. Addressing a bottleneck of students that often occurs before and after instruction hours at the middle school, the council also agreed to relocate a fence inside neighboring Polliwog Park, but declined to support building a bike path through a portion of the park. There was significant neighborhood opposition to additional pavement in the park, and Burton, DErrico and Councilmember Wayne Powell joined in the criticism.
Rosenberg said that, despite the unanimous vote, it was not dishonest to portray the two incumbents as she did because they clearly voiced their opposition to the project during the meeting, and that other council members appeased these concerns in order to ensure passage of the broader measure. Mayor pro tem Amy Howorth, who joined in the Feb. 7 vote, said she agreed with this characterization.
Burton and DErrico have been consistent supporters of green space in the park, and earned the support of the nonprofit Friends of Polliwog Park. Following the circulation of Rosenbergs email, the group distributed a response in which Burton pledged his support of district schools. And although the identity of the writer of the Beach Reporter ad was not disclosed, the language mirrored that used by Robins, a member of Friends of Polliwog Park, in her March 8 comments to city council.
Tension between residents of the Polliwog-adjacent neighborhood and schools increased after Election Day because of some Election Day confusion over where to cast ballots those residents should cast their ballots. Two MBUSD schools that had been slated as polling places, including MBMS, pulled back from agreements to do so less than a month before Election Day, and after sample ballots had already been sent out to voters.
Unlike in past municipal elections, the March election was consolidated with the county. According to Brenda Duran, a public information officer for the registrar-recorder, Pacific cancelled on Feb. 8. And the facilities manager for MBMS cancelled on Feb. 24, which she described as very late in the process.
MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews vigorously rejected the idea that the district had closed the MBMS polling place in order to influence the outcome of the election.
Thats just silly. One thing we always strive for is higher voter turnout, higher voter participation, Matthews said.
The decision to cancel the polling place came from the campus principals, Matthews said. It was done for safety reasons, saying that the campus did not have adequate security to conduct the balloting. He added that the district offices welcomed the chance to serve as a polling place.
MBMS has served as a polling place in previous elections. When reached by email about what had changed this year, MBMS Principal Kim Linz said that Matthews comments fully explained the reasons for cancelling the polling place, and noted that the campus parking lot served as a location to pick up and drop off ballots.
While county officials were able to find a replacement for the Pacific location at a nearby residence on Dianthus Street, the MBMS cancellation proved harder to rectify. The county moved the polling place to Aviation Park near the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, outside the city limits.
Despite the support of the incumbents from many Polliwog Park advocates, it is not yet clear whether the move affected turnout, or how a change would have affected the incumbents. According to unofficial precinct results from this election, 372 votes cast in a voting booth at the precinct served by the Aviation Park , an increase from 283 in the 2013 election. In that election, Burton fared slightly better in the precinct surrounding Polliwog than he did generally, earning appearing on 56.3 percent of ballots versus 54 percent. DErrico did worse in the precinct, notching 37.7 percent as opposed to 43.5 percent in the city at large.
Several residents, however, did complain that being diverted to Redondo, which had its own municipal election the same day, was confusing. At least one resident contacted the city, saying he was turned away from Aviation Park when a poll worker said that the location was for Redondo voters.
Duran said that while it was unusual to have a polling place for a municipal election located outside the limits of the city involved, the countys hand was forced by the late closure. County regulations require that the registrar-recorder send out postcards notifying voters of polling place changes at least seven days in advance of the election, which was Tuesday Feb. 28, only four days after the MBMS cancellation on Friday, Feb. 24.
Although we try to save the original locations by informing the owner/contact of the importance of not changing locations after the sample ballot deadline, we are not always successful in convincing them not to cancel, Duran said in an email.
comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.
Here is the original post:
Anatomy of an election: ousting incumbents in Manhattan Beach – Easy Reader
Recommendation and review posted by Fredricko