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August 9-15, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Who's Watching Mayor Watch?

Political campaigns have capitalized on websites and emails to push their agendas—why not blogs? Better yet, why not infiltrate the spectator stands by pretending to be an objective online commentator? Sounds like a plausible tactic. And it could explain why two anonymous writers calling themselves SJ Rookie and Governator Jr. have launched a new blog (Mayor Watch) with a decidedly anti-Chuck Reed spin in the 10th hour of San Jose's biggest political race. "We are two friends trying to make sense of this mayoral election," the authors claim, although they seem to have already made up their minds that Reed is a "closeted Republican." Their wordy missives attempt to paint the mayoral candidate as a close-minded, "preachy grandfather" from Middle America. Yet they give Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez surprisingly little flak, other than a mention that she started the race as the frontrunner and was hit with "gratuitous attacks from all parties." SJ Rookie and Governator Jr. have refused to identify themselves, although they ironically demand that Reed be up-front about his party affiliation in a nonpartisan race. Reed's campaign consultant Vic Ajlouny said he has also wondered who was behind the blog, but wasn't going to let it ruffle his feathers. "I see it as a sign of frustration from our competition," he said. We tried to run this not-so-subtle hint by Chavez's camp, but they did not respond to our calls or emails. What's up with that? Are they saving their best stuff for Mayor Watch?

The Blur-cury News

Media critics predicting all kinds of unforeseen consequences from the sale of the Mercury News for the past year are starting to see their premonitions come true. So we'll just skip the "We totally saw this coming" part and tell you what happened: mayoral spokesman David Vossbrink recently opened his inbox to a strange email from the Merc with the subject line: "Stop the corruption, support Clean Elections." The Mercury News header loomed over the body of the email, which appeared to be a letter addressed to "Dear Friend" urging the public financing of elections. Ironically, Vossbrink represents Mayor Ron Gonzales, who has also supported the public financing of political campaigns. But the nature of this message, Vossbrink says, made him raise an eyebrow: Was it an editorial from the newspaper? Or was it an ad paid for by the Public Campaign Action Fund, indicated by tiny letters at the bottom of the email? A representative from the Public Campaign, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., told us they wrote the text of the message and submitted it as an email advertisement to the electronic arm of the Merc's new parent company, McClatchy. Somehow it slipped through a crack in the company's advertising quality control and came out looking like an editorial with the newspaper's header—a big no-no according to the online ethics guidelines created by the American Society of Magazine Editors: "A magazine's name or logo should not be used in a way that suggests editorial endorsement of an advertiser." Merc spokesman Dan Breeden said "basically it was an error," that the ad was sent out under the header of the Mercury News and would have been rejected for not being clearly identified as an ad if anyone at the paper had actually seen it. That brings us to the root of the problem: loss of local control to a new parent company concerned about the bottom line. Santa Clara University professor Chad Raphael says the lack of coordination in approving this ad raises questions about McClatchy's ability to stay in line with the newspaper's ethics. "The bigger the company," he said, "the blurrier the line between advertising and editorial is going to get."

COMPAC Grilled

Can you resign from a barbecue? That's what Zoe Lofgren, congressmember and high-profile Cindy Chavez supporter, tried to do this week when she found the Chamber of Commerce was using her name to promote its annual hot-ticket COMPAC Barbeque, which benefits its political arm. Said arm recently pummeled Chavez with its controversial mailers, and longtime barbecue attendee Lofgren is now officially pulling her support. In a letter to appointed Chamber President Nancy Williams, Lofgren complains, "Nobody expected the funds to be used in violation of the law to unilaterally 'trash' one candidate for local office," and compared the mailer campaign to the "win at any cost" behavior of Tom DeLay. Fly's plan: While everybody's arguing about the mailers, sneak third servings.

Get Out (of) The Vote!

Mountain View city leaders have weathered a number of pesky gadflies over the years, but they drew the line a few weeks ago when one of them tried to enter their Inner Circle. City Clerk Angie Salvador recently squashed Jim Lohse's budding political ambitions by denying his application to run for City Council. Lohse blipped on Fly's radar last month when he announced that he would run for office on a medical marijuana platform, but local officials say he can't because he hasn't proven residency in Mountain View. What's the problem? Well, Lohse doesn't actually rent or own a place in the city, but says he spends most of his time there while he's "abode-challenged" (in other words, homeless). He registered to vote at a street corner by El Camino Hospital where he hangs out in his car or in a nearby cafeteria with free Internet access. "Who wouldn't want to be homeless there?" he jokes. Just over 20 years ago, a California Court of Appeals ruled that homeless people can register to vote at a street corner or a park, that their dwelling does not have to have four walls, and they can establish residency with the intent to return to a certain location after temporary absences. If that's good enough for the county registrar, why can't it be good enough for the city clerk? Salvador told us a candidate has to have a "physical address" in the city, but she couldn't say if that meant a building and a street number. She also couldn't specify what proof someone might provide to establish residency (according to the state court, a signed affidavit is enough evidence). When we pressed her for more detailed answers, she passed us over to City Attorney Michael Martello, who never returned our call. So we ran Lohse's predicament by Sandy Perry, a San Jose community leader and longtime homeless advocate. "That strikes me as being very unconstitutional," he said, "if [Lohse] can register to vote in that district, he should be able to run for office." Ironically, Mountain View city council members recently tripled their monthly salaries from $500 to $1500—which could have actually helped Lohse get a real address.

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