A cloud has been cast over the 2010 election of San Jose Councilman Xavier Campos with this morning’s announcement that George Shirakawa Jr. participated in a covert effort to change the election’s outcome, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney.
Shirakawa, the disgraced former county supervisor who is scheduled to be sentenced for unrelated crimes on Friday, allegedly licked stamps affixed to fraudulent literature that was designed to brand council candidate Magdalena Carrasco as a communist in mailings to Vietnamese-American voters. Carrasco lost two close elections in 2010 to Campos, a Shirakawa friend and staffer at the time of the alleged crime.
“It is illegal and simply wrong to falsely impersonate and defame your political adversary,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “Democracy works when voters know the true source of campaign materials.”
Unlike previous charges that allowed Shirakawa to blame a gambling problem for his misuse of campaign and county funds, this new charge appears to show he had motivations other than funding food, liquor and gambling expenses. He’s now accused of breaking the law to elect political allies to public office. Shirakawa and Campos have both been key players in the South Bay Labor Council’s political machine—and Campos worked on Shirakawa’s 2008 supervisor campaign, which featured a similar attack piece to the one against Carrasco.
“This was a crime against our democracy and our electoral process,” Rosen said.
Campos’ office said the councilman had no comment, while a message requesting comment was left with Carrasco.
The 2010 hit piece, which carried credits falsely identifying it as one sent by Carrasco’s campaign committee, “Neighbors for Magdalena Carrasco for Council 2010”, placed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s flag next to the candidate’s picture. The DA’s affidavit notes “the flag is considered very offensive to many members of San Jose’s Vietnamese community, particularly those who fled to this country to escape the communist regime.”
Carrasco subsequently received backlash from Vietnamese community members who received the flyer, and she lost the 2010 primary to Campos by a mere 20 votes. Campos later went on to win the runoff against Carrasco by less than 400 votes.
The photo in the flyer came from Carrasco’s campaign website and referenced her committee’s name, as well as its Fair Political Practices Commission number, according to the DA’s affidavit.
More than a dozen witnesses were interviewed back in 2010, and Carrasco told investigators her campaign was not the source of the mailer.
When Shirakawa was booked in March for his misuse of campaign and public funds—he later pleaded guilty to five felonies and seven misdemeanors—a DNA sample was taken. That sample was then sent to a state database. Less than two months later, on April 22, the county’s crime laboratory identified a match between Shirakawa’s DNA and that found on a postage stamp from the fraudulent 2010 mailers.
Rosen said his office also believes Shirakawa’s DNA was found on another flyer during the 2010 campaign season. On this flyer, the committee name was made up and the FPPC number was listed “cleverly,” as Rosen said tongue in cheek, as “123456.”
“There’s an additional piece of evidence here,” Rosen added, noting a flyer put out in 2008 against Richard Hobbs, who opposed Shirakawa in the 2008 supervisor primary and runoff. The flyer includes the same Vietnamese flag used against Carrasco. There was no FPPC number or campaign committee name on the 2008 flyers.
“We believe it does not” affect the plea deal relating to Shirakawa’s prior charges, Rosen said Wednesday, before adding: “I think it’s worthy of additional jail time.” The DA would not say how much additional time.
The timing of the DA’s announcement has caused considerable discussion, as a special election was held Tuesday to help decide who will fill the seat left vacant by Shirakawa’s ouster. Teresa Alvarado and Cindy Chavez advanced to a runoff set for July 30, and Rosen said his office purposefully decided to delay today’s press conference until after the primary. “We did not want to interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, in that election,” Rosen said.
Rosen noted the “connection between the different players and alliances within the county” political structure, as Chavez previously lobbied the DA over lunch to drop charges against Shirakawa. Chavez and Campos, whose sister is state Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San Jose), are also close political allies.
Click to read the DA complaint and affidavit for George Shirakawa Jr.