A $250 campaign contribution from a Los Angeles lawyer to San Jose City Council candidate Magdalena Carrasco is drawing fire from District 5 Councilmember Nora Campos. Campos, whose brother Xavier Campos is running against Carrasco to represent San Jose’s East Side, suggests the money is evidence that Carrasco is somehow in cahoots with politicians from L.A.
“I truly believe that there is no reason that someone like Francisco Leal would donate to a candidate in San Jose if he didn’t smell some type of opportunity,” Campos says. “What promises has [Carrasco] been making down in Southern California that would lead people like Leal to want to contribute to her campaign?”
Carrasco is a San Jose native who lived in Santa Barbara from 1986 to 1991, when she was married to now-Assemblymember Kevin de León. After she and de León were divorced, she returned to San Jose, where she has worked as a child advocate for the First 5. During the June primary, a series of anonymous negative mailers claimed her campaign was an effort by “L.A. politicians” to subvert San Jose politics.
Leal, an attorney who has lobbied on behalf of a handful of scandal-plagued L.A.-area cities, found himself in hot water in the wake of a recent controversy over bloated salaries in the city of Bell. On Aug. 13, a Los Angeles Times news blog reported that the city of Huntington Park, located next to Bell, paid $500,000 to Leal last year for his lobbying and legal services. Leal’s law firm partner William Trejo also gave $250 to Carrasco’s campaign.
Although she is not leveling any specific charges against her brother’s political rival, Campos is calling into question Leal’s relationship with Carrasco and de León.
Carrasco acknowledges receiving the campaign donation from Leal last April, and says that the L.A. lawyer and her ex-husband are friends. She says she was not aware of Leal’s history in L.A., and has never met him.
“He’s been a supporter of Kevin in the past, but that’s the extent of it, from my understanding,” she says.
Campos points to what she says is Leal’s pattern of using political contributions to work his way into cities. Over the years Leal has gained a reputation for what the Long Beach Press Telegram called “shady political dealings.” He’s been repeatedly hired and fired from cities including Commerce, Cudahy, Bell Gardens and Lynwood.
Campos says that once he has hooked politicians in and gotten them into office, Leal then uses his connections to line up lucrative deals for himself that ultimately suck city budgets dry. She fears that’s what will happen to District 5.
“His history has shown that he invests in candidates to get into cities where he’ll hopefully be accepted to receive a contract, which then means money will go his way,” Campos says. “Obviously he’s playing a bigger role in her campaign, which leads me to [think], What incentive did he have? What would draw someone like him to want to play a financial role in local politics in a San Jose council race?
“There is no telling what favors she may owe people in this campaign.”
Political Hardball, Part II
These latest charges come in the wake of a primary election marked by push-polling and a slew of illegal campaign mailers. Several local political consultants have said that the fight for east San Jose is one of the dirtiest local city races they’ve seen in years.
Carrasco sees Nora Campos’ concerns as just the latest move by Camp Campos to discredit her in the eyes of District 5 voters.
“In the primary I was a Vietnamese communist sympathizer,” Carrasco says. “Then two days later I was a Los Angeles gangster, and now I’m with the L.A. mafia? I mean, what’s next? That my children are not my children? That they are campaign props?
“I don’t know what else they want to address, but the fact that I was born and raised in San Jose, and that I have lived here my entire life, cannot be disputed.”
Carrasco says she can understand Nora Campos’ close involvement with her brother’s City Council race.
“Her interest in this race is beyond political, it’s family,” Carrasco says. “I’m sure that’s where this is coming from. But I don’t understand what her tactics are. It just baffles me that our honorable district representative would behave in such a manner.”
De León, who holds a powerful position in the state Assembly as Assistant Majority Floor Leader, admits that he has helped his ex-wife out with campaign fundraising in SoCal. However, he says his relationship with Leal is purely a social one, and he insists that they have never worked on any local or state policy together “ever. Period.”
“Right hand on the Bible, this is just bizarre,” de León said last Friday after stepping out of a Joint Legislative Budget Committee meeting. “Magdalena doesn’t even know Francisco Leal. They’ve never even had a conversation. She wouldn’t even know how to pick him out in a crowd if he was standing five inches in front of her.”
In fact, de León says Nora Campos herself has been harassing him and his friends in Sacramento in recent weeks.
“It feels like I have my own personal stalker,” de León says.
“She’s going through all of my friends and colleagues and calling them on the phone and threatening them,” he says. “It’s very strange stuff. And while politics has its share of bullies, it’s never, never acceptable for elected officials to make threatening phone calls to campaign contributors.
“She may not have intended to have threatened my friends, but that’s certainly how every one of them has interpreted their conversation with her.”
De León says that he’s baffled as to why Campos, who is running for Joe Coto’s 23rd state Assembly District seat this fall, even thinks she has a right to weigh in on who he chooses to support.
“They say, ‘You can’t support her,’ and I’m like ‘She’s my daughter’s mother, what am I supposed to do?’” says de León. “Listen, the bottom line is that anyone who relies on threats to raise money, and not work hard with the good of the public in mind, will have a very short carrier in this business, at least at the state level.”
“How they’re trying to frame this, I’m just, like, what are they thinking? That L.A. is going to annex San Jose? I don’t get it. It’s very immature stuff.”
Rolando Bonilla, Campos’ media director, says Campos is simply raising these questions in effort to look out for the well-being of her district.
“This is about protecting the district that she built up for the last 10 years,” Bonilla says. “Miss Carrasco, frankly, owes the voters of this district an explanation as to whether or not she truly has their best interest. And it’s hard to say that you have people’s best interest when you are being backed by folks who have a history of using council candidates in races only to infiltrate councils and then make a profit.”
De León, who had a recent run in with South Bay Labor Council head Cindy Chavez, says that even compared to L.A. politics, the blatant use of political pressure in San Jose is shocking.
“Folks are, like, afraid. This is like a cabal or mafia you guys have there,” he says. “It’s like Chicago-style politics on the East Side of San Jose. There’s a real dark side.”