At last April’s State Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the head of the powerful South Bay Labor Council, Cindy Chavez, called a face-to-face meeting with state Assemblymember Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles and labor leader Maria Elena Durazo. Chavez wanted to discuss de Leon’s fundraising activity for a San Jose City Council campaign.
De Leon had contributed $250 and helped bring in campaign funding for Magdalena Carrasco, his ex-wife, who was running against the SBLC-backed candidate for the District 5 council seat, Xavier Campos.
Chavez declined to answer any questions for this article. But according to others present at the meeting, Chavez seemed to believe that as a longtime friend of labor, de Leon should have checked in with her before he endorsed Carrasco over Campos in the San Jose race.
Chavez demanded that Durazo hold off on giving de Leon the labor endorsement in his own Senate campaign.
Dan Reeves, de Leon’s chief of staff, says Durazo and de Leon left the meeting scratching their heads as to why Chavez was trying to assert political influence in a Southern California race.
“It seemed like a gigantic overreaction on Cindy’s part,” Reeves says. “And the message was sort of, ‘Don’t do anything in our area without first asking our permission.’ I think my boss was like, ‘I don’t have to ask your permission to help my ex wife.’”
In the end, the pressure failed. Despite Chavez’s intervention, de Leon’s labor-friendly voting record earned him both the Democratic and LA labor endorsements without pause.
A few weeks later, a series of anti-Carrasco mailers paid for by the SBLC showed up in District 5 mailboxes. Adorned with an angry-looking cartoon elephant and Carrasco’s photo, one reads: “Don’t be fooled by Republican Dirty Tricks ... Say no to outsider Magdalena Carrasco.”
Another reads: “Republican special interests are buying Magdalena Carrasco a city council seat ... Tell Republicans that we need a city councilmember from our community.” A third flier has a large photo of Carrasco along with the words “The Outsider,” and claims that Carrasco is “bankrolled from outside our community.”
Despite the mailers’ claims, Carrasco is in fact a lifetime Democrat who grew up in District 5. Though she did move to Santa Barbara for college and stayed while married to de Leon, she moved back to San Jose in 1991, earned her master’s at San Jose State University, and has been working for the nonprofit children’s group First 5 since 2008.
Around the same time that these SBLC-sanctioned fliers appeared, a fraudulent anti-Carrasco political flier hit the district’s mailboxes. Featuring a photo of de Leon with his face crossed out, it painted Carrasco as a proponent of L.A. traffic, gangs and smog: “L.A. Politicians have made a mess of Los Angeles ... Now they’ve hand-picked Magdalena Carrasco to run for City Council in East San Jose.”
Around that time, another mailer was sent, targeting District 5 voters with Vietnamese names. That one branded Carrasco a “communist.”
A footnote on these two mailers claimed they were paid for by the “Committee to Keep San Jose Safe,” an organization that does not exist.
That is a violation of state and federal campaign laws. The person behind these mailers has yet to be found, and the ChamberPAC, a business community political action committee affiliated with the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, has offered a reward to find out who is behind it.
Jude Barry, a longtime local Democratic political consultant, says that, before this election cycle, San Jose and Santa Clara County politics were known for their civility. Barry, whose clients include supervisorial candidate Teresa Alvarado, the San Jose Police Officers Association and the San Francisco 49ers, had a political hardball aimed at his head earlier this election season, when the California Federation of Labor blacklisted him.
There had been some anonymous dirty tricks before, and they almost always benefited SBLC-aligned candidates, such as Manny Diaz in his 2000 Assembly race against Tony West, who was the victim of a racially tinged mailer, or Councilwoman Nancy Pyle, whose 2004 opponent, Rich de la Rosa, was the target of an ethnically divisive mailer.
At the time, the statewide labor group claimed they were putting Barry on their “do-not-patronize” list because a technology company he co-owns did business with an antiunion client. But many locals believe he was targeted for helping Alvarado, who is running against the SBLC-backed candidate, Forrest Williams.
“In any major East Coast city, this would be considered child’s play,” Barry says. “Politics in our community, in relative terms, has been pretty clean. There have not been may occasions of dirty tricks or underhanded tactics, especially compared to other urban areas.
Incumbents don’t get challenged by other major candidates, people tend to wait their turn to run for office, and campaigns are typically above-board and clean compared to other cities, even polite.”
Natalie LeBlanc, a political consultant who is working for Carrasco, agrees that this has been a negative tactic.
In addition to the fliers, she says, District 5 voters have been receiving telephone calls with attack questions about her client—a tactic known as “push-polling.”
“Its really unfortunate, because all that is being said about her is false,” LeBlanc says. “One of the questions was something to the effect that she hasn’t lived here, or that she wasn’t from San Jose.”
“At some point, it has to end. At some point, all the crazy negative campaigning has to come to a halt.”
There have also been reports of similarly skewed telephone polls in the District 9 race, which is shaping up to be a three-way face-off between Republican Larry Pegram and Democrats Jim Cogan and Don Rocha. District 9 residents have been getting calls that seem to tear down Pegram and Rocha for their stances on public safety.
Republican political consultant Victor Ajlouny describes the classic push poll: “They asked very negative questions about Larry, and very negative questions about [Rocha] and very positive questions about [Cogan]. The way they asked it was ,‘If you knew this candidate wanted to cut police and fire, would that make you more inclined to vote for them, slightly more inclined, less inclined. And the only reason to do a poll now would be to attack.”
Another attack appeared in the form of a package that showed up in Metro’s mailbox two weeks ago. An envelope with no return address contained three court documents that show that Pegram, an evangelical activist, failed to pay more than $25,000 in alimony and child support to his ex-wife, Sandra Ann Pegram.
Though he hasn’t talked about it much publicly, Pegram admits now that he went through a “rough patch.” This was all before he found religion, married his now-wife Shelley and started campaigning against gay marriage.
Pegram, who is running a campaign emphasizing fiscal responsibility, says the documents are factual, but incomplete. “Divorce is never a simple matter, and the court documents do not fully reflect the verbal agreements between my former wife and I,” Pegram says.
For his part, Ajlouny would not go on the record about who he thinks is behind the mailer or the push polls.
“I doubt very much that it was done by the campaigns because nobody has that kind of money,” Ajlouny says. “This whole tactic is just one step above the sleazy, illegal things done against Magdalena, so it’s probably done by individuals supporting one opponent or another.”
Jim Cogan, who shares labor’s endorsement with Rocha, is also endorsed by San Jose’s police and firefighter unions. He says that this information on Pegram’s divorce has been making the rounds for a while, but that he has no knowledge of how the package came to Metro.
In fact, Cogan says he also received the anonymous package in the mail a few months ago, and chose not to release the information on Pegram’s divorce. He also says he’s heard about the District 9 push polling from a neighbor, but insists he is absolutely not involved. “We don’t have the money to do polling, so it’s definitely not me or my campaign.”
Jay Rosenthal, another longtime local political consultant, calls push-polling “a desperate tactic.”
“Certainly in some of these races there are desperate groups who have major interests in these races, and have proven themselves over the past several months to engage in very political, very aggressive tactics.”
He says things may get worse.
“I think you’re seeing folks on either end of the political spectrum doing more aggressive things to stand their ground. Any candidate running in any election is always concerned about last-minute attacks. When attacks happen before the last minute, they are even more worried about it. This election has been very, very negative, so who knows what the next 10 days hold in store.”