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[whitespace] Accusations fly over last minute mailer

Willow Glen--Someone sent a letter to members of the Willow Glen Business and Professional Association last week that called for the impeachment of the group's board of directors and included an offensive anti-gay cartoon

While nobody seems to know where the mailer came from, people on both sides of the District 6 city council race are making accusations.

The letter says WGBPA violated its charter by giving candidate Ken Yeager a cut-rate advertisement in the association's business directory.

Included with the mailing was a vulgar cartoon that depicted Yeager's opponent, Kris Cunningham and others, as anti-gay. It labeled Yeager, who is gay, with a gay slur.

No one has claimed responsibility for the mailing. A Cunningham supporter accused WGBPA members, but WGBPA members and Yeager say they think Cunningham's supporters are to blame.

Police began a preliminary investigation into the possibility that the mailing was a hate-motivated incident.

The letter was signed with a signature that read "Phil Rossignol," a supporter of Yeager's opponent, Kris Cunningham, and whose wife Peggy works on Cunningham's campaign. Rossignol denied writing the letter to the business association members or having anything to do with the drawing, and he denied sending the mailing to the business association members.

"That letter is a complete forgery," he said. "I would have to be stupid to publish something like that."

The letter called for association members to impeach the current board of directors because "a renegade executive board endorsed Ken Yeager and allowed him to place a full-page ad in the Willow Glen business directory without offering the same courtesy to Kris Cunningham."

It also stated that a formal complaint against the business association was filed with the city attorney and the city council, and that the association might be ineligible for future city funds.

The mailing included a copy of a letter addressed to San Jose City Council members and information detailing the complaint against the business association, both of which were filed with the city clerk's office on Oct. 25.

Rossignol said that he gave the letter addressed to the city council and the information about his complaint to an aide at the city attorney's office, who told him she would file it with the city clerk's office so it could be added to the public record.

The letter stated that Mayor Ron Gonzales' support of Yeager was politically motivated and made reference to Yeager being gay.

The mailing arrived in plain white business envelopes, hand-stamped and with no return address, according to business owners who received it.

Cunningham said she knew nothing about the hit piece until she was contacted by Lincoln Avenue business owners about it. She said neither she nor Rossignol were responsible for it.

"It's not him. He's not that way. It's a fraud," Cunningham said.

Bob Waligore, president of the business association, said he was very disturbed by the piece and that he held Cunningham responsible for it. He also said he sent Cunningham an email, asking for her to make an apology. He had not heard from her when he spoke to The Resident.

"She's the one who has been railing against soft money hit pieces," he said. "This is probably the most offensive thing I've ever seen in a campaign. Kris Cunningham needs to apologize for this."

Cunningham told The Resident she would not apologize for something for which she was not responsible.

"It's something that's been done to us and the community," she said. "We will pursue to find out who has put out this piece of fraudulent hate mail."

John Karamanos, owner of The Glen and second vice president of the business association, also said Cunningham was responsible.

"I can't believe she didn't know about it," he said.

Rossignol said that the signature on the letter addressed to business association members was a reproduction of the signature he used on the letter to the city council, that he signed before handing it to the city attorney's aide.

Rossignol said that he suspects someone with the business association was involved with the mailing because typos on the envelopes' mailing labels match typos from an old business association mailing list.

Waligore and Karamanos said that the business association had nothing to do with the mailing.

Rossignol said that he filed a formal complaint about the mailing with the police on Nov. 1. He also said he'd been in contact with the postal inspector.

Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Dixon confirmed that a complaint was filed with the police and that it is now under investigation by the department's Assaults Unit as a possible hate-motivated incident.

If the mailing was a forgery, Dixon said, it would probably not be classified as a crime because it wasn't intended to defraud Rossignol. However, because of the anti-gay references, it could be a hate crime.

Gus Ruiz, public relations officer for the post office, said the post office doesn't handle investigations into the content of mail, except in instances of suspected business fraud or similar cases.

Rossignol said that he plans to turn mailing envelopes he received from business association members over to professional forensics experts after he has completed his own investigation.

Rossignol also said that he believes someone from city hall was involved in getting the complaint he filed into the hands of the distributor, but he said he didn't know who it might be.

However, the complaint was made public record and sent to all the city departments, the mayor's and council members' offices, and news publications on Oct. 26, said city clerk's office representative Tina Vallee.

Waligore denies any wrongdoing by the business association and dismissed Rossignol's charges as a campaign ploy.

"The business association is not in favor of Ken Yeager," he said. "The business association does not support any candidate and has never supported any candidate. "

Cunningham said she was disturbed by the mailing, which she said was intended to paint her as being anti-gay.

"If I get elected, I want to have a good relationship with the people of the gay community," Cunningham said. "I just think it's horrible for people to try to create this impression."

Yeager said he was appalled by the mailing and said that Cunningham should apologize for it.

"It's an attack on me and on fair-minded people in Willow Glen," he said. "Kris has to take responsibility for these kinds of actions, and I'm disappointed that she won't."

Yeager also charged there have been other anti-gay campaigning by people who have gone door-to-door on Cunningham's behalf.

"Kris has to take responsibility for other anti-gay activity in this campaign," he said.

Michelle McGurk, former chief of staff for District 6 Councilman Frank Fiscalini, worked with the lesbian and gay community on several projects while in the council office. She said activities like this are not uncommon in political campaigns, but that this incident is particularly serious in a campaign like this.

"Those are things that happen," she said. "They should be stopped, but they do happen. I never would have expected this from anyone in Willow Glen."

McGurk said candidates cannot control what their supporters do, but they should try to distance themselves from activities that are not in line with their own positions.

"When you are running a political campaign, you do not have control of what your volunteers do in the field," McGurk said. "The real responsibility is that at the beginning of the (campaign) process, you make sure that the people who are representing you publicly, that they're people that you can trust and can take the high road."

McGurk said that Cunningham may have not had sufficient control over people who worked on her campaign. "I think that [Cunninghams'] inexperience in doing political campaigns is probably what's gotten her into this trouble," she said.

McGurk said that Cunningham should apologize for other anti-gay activity in her campaign, but she believes Cunningham is not responsible for this mailing.

Jeff Michel, co-owner of the White Dove Cafe, said he received the letter, but doesn't believe it came from Rossignol.

"Why would he have put his phone number and signed his name?" he said. "I can't believe that a small little Willow Glen town could stoop to such levels."
Kate Carter

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