Photo by Jason Ruiz.
The Long Beach municipal election is less than a week away, but that hasn’t slowed a significant buildup of misleading campaigning in this year’s voting cycle. Some of the city’s campaigns have mirrored the unsavory tactics used at the national level.
The most recent instance involved a mailer released and paid for by the Joen Garnica campaign, claiming that Garnica had built a playground at Promenade Square Park. Garnica, who is seeking the Second District City Council seat, was part of a fundraising effort last year to secure funds for the park but to date, no playground equipment has been installed.
"Thanks to Joen’s hard work, kids and families in the area now have a safe place to play," the mailer states.
The mailer falls into a line of other ads, mailers and endorsements, either released by candidates in the Second District race or by those supporting them, that have stretched the truth to better their own campaigns or to paint their opponents in a negative light.
Last week, a mailer attacking Eric Gray’s financial readiness to lead the district was sent out by a political action committee (PAC) supporting Garnica. The mailer called Gray a "wannabe politician" who was "pushing a hopelessly out of touch agenda” before listing a claim that he defaulted on his condo.
"Eric Gray isn’t ready to manage Long Beach’s $400 million city budget," the mailer said. "He can’t even manage his own finances."
Gray denied the claim in a statement put out last week, claiming that he had never defaulted on his condo but had been late on home owners’ association dues last year. He called out former Third District Councilman Gary DeLong, whose office is listed as a mailing address for the PAC supporting Garnica, for trying to buy influence through funneling money from the PAC to candidates he wishes to see take office, calling the mailer’s contents a “shocking” and “appalling” addition to an otherwise positive campaign.
"Gary DeLong was term-limited," Gray’s statement said. "He doesn’t get another term through a proxy from the Second Council District. I can’t be bought. I’m not going to be anyone’s puppet."
However, a search of the city’s real estate records show that Gray was issued a notice of default in 2012, one that was lifted after seven months. So the mailer’s claim that Gray was “recently” issued a notice of default is misleading, but not entirely inaccurate. However, Gray noted the notice was sent because he was undergoing a loan modification, not due to his inability to pay his bills.
"The 'notice of default' is misleading because I was in the middle of a loan modification," said Gray. "The loan was successfully modified, I paid my bills, and the 'notice of default' was rescinded."
DeLong and the PAC were also linked to another mailer sent out to at least some residents in the Eighth District, which showed a hooded figure on the front with crime statistics in the background and a statement supporting Wesley Turnbow on the back.
The visual was called racially charged and denounced by several city leaders, with Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson likening it to “dog whistle politics” that were trying to scare white voters away from an African-American incumbent in favor of Turnbow, a white candidate with public safety at the heart of his platform. The mailer unfairly linked rising crime levels, which have been up both citywide and nationally, to current Eight District Councilman Al Austin's four years in office.
Gray and his campaign have not been entirely in the victim’s chair this campaign cycle. Just days after issuing his release condemning the mailer that shed light on his default, a fake Twitter account posing as Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw tweeted out an endorsement that put Supernaw, Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and Mayor Robert Garcia all on Team Gray when all three have sat out the endorsement process in the district. Gray alerted Supernaw to the presence of the Twitter handle on Friday, according to Supernaw.
“It was suspicious because usually when you receive an endorsement you know it’s coming,” said Gray. “I immediately contacted Councilman Supernaw, and he confirmed that it was a prank tweet.”
Gray noted the incident occurred on April Fool’s Day, but called the prank “bizarre.”
"It saddens me that only days after crying foul about a mailer critique in his own finances and experience, Eric Gray’s supporters would stoop to illegal activities to claim false endorsements," said Jeannine Pearce, the third candidate vying for the soon to be open second district seat. "Regardless of whether this was Eric’s campaign or the reckless acts of a supporter, Eric should denounce these actions and make it clear that he is not endorsed by the Mayor or councilmembers Supernaw and Mungo. I’m proud of my positive campaign that is putting the issues of the district first."
Eric said Pearce was out of line.
:In regard to Jeannine’s statement on the fake Twitter account, she is making wild and unsubstantiated claims," he said. He demanded proof for her accusations.
"I think the voters are focused on evaluating which candidate has the experience and know-how needed to deliver results for the 2nd District’s unique neighborhoods," said Garnica in a statement. "I doubt that a fake Twitter page announcing fake endorsements is going to have very much impact on the election."
The fake Twitter account wasn’t the only source of confusion in the the second district’s endorsement game. In February, Garnica’s camp issued a release noting that Retro Row had endorsed her, a claim that was quickly rebuked by the 4th Street Long Beach Business Association.
"This notice erroneously stated that Retro Row was endorsing this candidate, as well as listing some board members names in support of this candidate," a statement drafted by the BID said. "While some individual business owners in the area may endorse a candidate, the 4th Street BID is not endorsing any candidate or political issues whatsoever."
Last month, Gray’s campaign touted that it had received the most local support from the Democratic Clubs of Long Beach, some of which are listed on his list of endorsements. However, Yes We Can Democratic Club President Christopher Robson blasted out a response to Gray’s Facebook post—ones he claims to have been deleted by Gray’s Facebook—condemning the misleading information sent out via email and social media by his campaign.
Robson called the move "desperate" and "inaccurate" and said any refusal on Gray’s campaign to take down the misleading information would render him "totally unfit to hold office" by most Second District residents. His party unanimously endorsed Pearce for the Second District office. Gray's campaign page has yet to remove the post.
"You need to immediately recant your deliberately misleading and false claims," Robson’s comment stated. "Regardless of numbers of votes received, the fact remains you have NOT been endorsed by ANY of the Chartered Democratic Clubs in Long Beach, Cerritos, the AD 70 Regional Caucus, the Los Angeles Democratic Party Central Committee and the California Democratic Party."
Pearce has navigated the campaign cycle without controversy regarding mailers being sent out by her campaign or by those supporting it as of yet, nor has she been accused by either of her competitors for taking credit for endorsements that may or may not have been awarded.
It’s crunch time for candidates as they they try to solidify their voting base and potentially tip those still on the fence before April 12, when the polls open for voting. However, whether or not those attempts will be made truthfully, ethically and accurately will be revealed in the coming days.
This report was updated with additional information regarding the fake Daryl Supernaw handle at 9:57PM.
This report was updated on 04/07/16 at 10:46AM with additional statements from Eric Gray regarding the issuance of default and a response regarding Pearce's accusations.