Richmond Candidate Cries Foul Over ‘Hit Pieces’: By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday October 29, 2004

A Richmond City Council candidate has condemned two last-minute campaign flyers in that race as “eleventh-hour mudslinging” and “hit pieces” that have become “far too typical of Richmond politics” and “have nothing to do with issues that matter to Richmond residents.” 

The campaign manager for Andrés Soto, the target of the mailings, said their campaign was “bracing for more mailings which are rumored to be coming out before election day.” 

Fifteen candidates, including four incumbents, are running for five at-large seats on Richmond City Council in next Tuesday’s election. 

Last week, Richmond voters received two mailed fliers aimed at Soto, one entitled “Cinco De Mayo, May 5, 2002,” the other entitled “Confessions Of A Radical.” The first leaflet contained excerpts of a police report of Soto’s highly-publicized arrest during a Richmond Cinco de Mayo celebration two years ago. Soto and 11 other plaintiffs received a $150,000 settlement this year from the city of Richmond stemming from the incidents at that celebration. The second contains a passage from an undated article by a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism student noting Soto’s delight at the 1981 assassination attempt against then-President Ronald Reagan.  

Under the headline “Andrés Soto is too radical to be on the City Council,” the Cinco de Mayo mailer quotes Richmond Fire Captain John Wade as saying that “Richmond Police Officers are committed to our safety… Andrés Soto is a radical that [sic] uses confrontational politics to challenge the rule of law… Richmond deserves better!” 

Soto campaign manager Holly Potter says that the mailers were “engineered” by controversial Contra Costa County campaign consultant Darrell Reese, a retired Richmond fire captain who was once investigated by the FBI for allegations of vote-buying in Richmond elections. Reese was never charged with that offense, but the results of that investigation led to a four-month house arrest and a conviction in federal court for not reporting earnings from his lobbying and consulting business. 

The “Confessions of A Radical” mailer reprints a single line from an article by UC Journalism School student Christina Dryness, saying that Soto “had celebrated President Reagan’s assassination attempt in 1981 by going down to the local bar for drinks.” “While I think celebration is probably too strong a term, he doesn’t deny that he wasn’t broken up by Reagan being shot,” Holly said. “I think Andrés was relating the story of his anger with Reagan in the 80’s.” She added that “the entire story is actually a flattering portrait of Andrés” that showed his conversion from an anti-government activist at the time of Reagan’s shooting to a community organizer who led a decades-long campaign against violence in Richmond. Soto, in fact, has been targeted by the National Rifle Association for his gun control advocacy. 

The two mailers were sent out under the names of the Richmond Firefighters’ Association and an organization called the Keep Richmond Safe Committee. The Firefighters’ Association did not return calls related to this article. The telephone number of the Keep Richmond Safe Committee, provided by the Richmond city clerk’s office, had an answering machine with a message identifying the owner merely as “Cindy,” without any reference to the committee. 

The Keep Richmond Safe Committee has filed reports with the Richmond City Clerk’s office listing campaign activities in support of Richmond City Council candidates Tom Butt, Arnie Kasendorf, Nat Bates, Kathy Scharff, and John Marquez. 

Asked why Soto was a target of the mailings, Holly said “they obviously saw Andrés as a threat.” In his campaign, Soto has called upon police and fire unions to renegotiate city labor contracts which he says have “contributed to the city’s fiscal crisis.” 

Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt, who was listed in the Cinco de Mayo mailer as one of three councilmembers who voted against the Cinco De Mayo settlement, condemned the mailers in an e-mail sent out to supporters. “I had no involvement in their production,” Butt wrote. “I don’t even know who the Keep Richmond Safe Committee is. … I want to make it clear that I do not appreciate being included in hit pieces. … I have been the victim of dozens of the worst possible negative campaign pieces and hit pieces in the past, and wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” Butt explained in his e-mail that he voted against the Cinco de Mayo settlement because “the city attorney refused, as part of the settlement authorization, to take legal action against the individual actually responsible for the specific negligent behavior.