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Outcry Over Richmond Campaign Mailer

Outcry over Richmond campaign mailer

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 10/06/2008 10:10:52 PM PDT


Furor over a campaign mailer that members of the Richmond Latino community call "racist" continues to grow, with residents Monday demanding a formal apology.

Nearly 20 residents met outside the Police Department in the morning, and about 50 gathered at a separate meeting of the 23rd Street Merchants Association in the evening to denounce the mailer and call for a retraction.

"This (election) should be about the issues and not about dirty politics," said Andres Soto, a Richmond resident and president of the West Contra Costa Latino Democratic Club.

The four-page flier from the Richmond Police Officers Association, which arrived in mailboxes starting last week, attributes the city's crime problem to drugs and adds, "Drugs come to Richmond from across the Mexican border." It accuses city leaders who oppose driver's license checkpoints of holding "public safety hostage." It urges voters to reject City Council candidates Jovanka Beckles and Jeff Ritterman, and to vote for candidates Nat Bates and Chris Tallerico.

The piece stirred an instant firestorm, especially among Latinos who say the mailer incorrectly and unfairly blames the immigrant population for the city's troubles.

On Monday morning, the coalition Richmond Community United for Peace gathered in front of the Police Department on Regatta Boulevard and demanded the Richmond Police Officers Association issue a second mailer apologizing for the first.

Richmond resident Brigid Simms-Acuna blasted the flier as a "political smear campaign." She added, "This is wrong, this is racist."

Other demands included a promise from the Richmond Police Officers Association to cease similar campaign tactics; that the 10 City Council candidates also denounce the mailer; that candidates reject Richmond Police Officers Association endorsements and campaign contributions; and that the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee withdraw endorsement of candidates who do not support an apology.

Soto hand-delivered the list of demands to a police department receptionist and asked her to give it to Detective Kevin Martin, president of the association.

Aggressive campaign mailers, commonly referred to as "hit pieces," are not unusual during election season. But some residents say the most recent Richmond Police Officers Association flier stands out because it is more pointed, aggressive and unfair in its target of specific candidates.

Martin could not be reached for comment Monday. He said last week that his association does not target Latinos, and that the mailer is intended to expose Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the candidates she endorses, Beckles and Ritterman, for wanting "to identify a special class of people who are exempt from the rule of law."

McLaughlin, Beckles and Ritterman have said that statements in the mailer about them are not true and are offensive.

On Monday night, locals and members of the 23rd Street Merchants Association which includes many Latinos gathered at St. Mark's Catholic Church to decry the mailer and ask top city leaders to pressure the police officers association to apologize. They fear non-Latinos will read the mailer and believe the allegations, they said. In a city with hefty challenges and divisions, they worry the mailer will increase tension.

The police officers association does not represent the views of the city of Richmond, the police department or even most police officers, city officials said.

"I find the flier to be racist, without factual basis, insensitive and inappropriate," police Chief Chris Magnus said.

The meeting was attended by a few council candidates as well as Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez, who said she has asked the police officers association to apologize.

The association was invited to Monday night's meeting, organizers said. No representative was present.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.