The front of the mailer sent out by the Long Beach Citizens for Good Government PAC supporting Wesley Turnbow.
A campaign mailer sent out last week by a political action committee (PAC) supporting Eighth District candidate Wesley Turnbow has sparked controversy in the community with just a few weeks left before the April 12 election.
The mailer, depicting a figure in a hoodie with crime statistics listed behind it, has been labeled as racially charged, divisive and has been condemned by leaders and residents in the city.
The Long Beach Citizens for Good Government PAC, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars in support of Turnbow and Second District candidate Joen Garnica, sent the mailer out March 23 with the hooded figure and statistics claiming increases in violent crime and theft on the front, and an image of Turnbow and a statement supporting him on the back.
The mailer, while not directly connected to Turnbow—because laws stipulate that candidates can’t directly coordinate with PACs—apparently sought to illustrate the crime issue facing the district and how Turnbow might be better suited to tackle it than the eighth’s current representative, Al Austin.
“Too many politicians are playing a dangerous blame game; pointing fingers and making excuses instead of addressing the problem of rising crime,” the mailer reads. “Wesley’s family has had roots in this community going back nearly 100 years. He won’t sit by as the community slips away. He will make sure we take our streets back.”
The district, which is the second-most populous in the city, includes three zip codes that have a majority of non-white residents, and is currently represented by one of three African-Americans on the city council. Its imagery and message were quickly called into question by residents in the district and by a handful of current city council members, including First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price and Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson.
Gonzalez and Price took to social media to call out the lack of professionalism on behalf of the PAC, with Price defending Austin’s hard work and genuine care for his community and Gonzalez pointing out a perceived desperation to unseat Austin from his council seat. Price added that the people behind the PAC were the same detractors during her council run in 2014.
The back side of the mailer supporting Turnbow.
In a statement issued Friday, Richardson said the the message conveyed by the PAC sought to divide the community through unprofessional race-baiting and fear mongering that was “completely out of touch with the North Long Beach community," comparing it to some of the tactics being employed by Republican presidential candidates.
“Throughout our country, political rhetoric is at an all-time high with our current Presidential election,” Richardson said. “Instead of offering hope and a promise for a better tomorrow, political candidates are stoking fears and creating purposeful divisions in order to get elected.”
Other North Long Beach leaders that signed onto Richardson’s statement included Long Beach Unified School District Board Member Megan Kerr and former council members Steve Neal, Val Lerch and Rae Gabelich, who preceded Austin in the eighth district and endorsed against him during this campaign.
“For all the years I served on the council our efforts were to close the gap between north and south of Del Amo,” Gabelich said in a Facebook post. “It takes a long, long time to create positive changes. This type of assault does nothing to help move our communities closer together.”
The hooded figure’s race is not discernible as it stands in the foreground of the mailer with the light source behind it but Richardson said the use of image, especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin death in 2012, helps perpetuate unwarranted profiling that could lead to dangerous consequences for people of color wearing hoodies. The statement called on Turnbow and the rest of the council candidates to denounce this kind of dirty campaigning.
Attempts to reach Turnbow and the PAC over the weekend for comment were not returned at the time of publication.
Austin, who spent the weekend canvassing neighborhoods as election day nears, said the PAC’s message revealed the tone-deafness of the organization supporting his opponent, but added it would not change his approach.
“It's shameful and shows how out of touch and insensitive the big money partisan interest behind Turnbow are,” Austin said. “My campaign will continue to focus on bringing our diverse community together and continuing progress for all neighborhoods in my district.”
The return address on the PAC’s mailer is the same as the office for TMSI consultants, a business that lists former Third District Councilman Gary DeLong as its president. Since January, the the group has raised tens of thousands of dollars in support for Turnbow. A form filed with the city clerk’s office March 9 showed over $60,000 in money raised from contributions as high as $5,000 each from local business owners and each of Turnbow’s parents.
In an email sent in late February from DeLong to prospective contributors to the PAC and obtained by the Post, DeLong outlined the past successes of the committee in getting council members elected. He noted that the PAC’s support of now Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw—mostly through financing mailers supporting Mungo and Supernaw and others attacking their opponents—was able to help them win their respective elections.
DeLong said in the email that the PAC sent out a total of six mailers for Supernaw during his special election campaign that saw him beat out Herlinda Chico in 2014, spending a total of $28,000 on his behalf. It spent $16,000 attacking Mungo’s opponent, Carl Kemp, with the email noting “it was easier, and more effective, for the PAC to point out his shortcomings than it would have been for Stacy to try and attack him.”
In the opening of the letter, the goal of the PAC is stated to be “supporting candidates who are fiscally conservative, pro-business and support outsourcing” with no preference of party affiliation. It hinted at the direction of the presidential primaries and its “anti-establishment/anti-incumbent voter wave” playing a part in these elections, especially if the eighth district race goes to a runoff vote in June, when a record number of republican voters are expected to vote during the California primary.