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Dirty Tricks

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Jane Hamilton stung by last-minute hit mailer; Measure A shot down

By Greg Cahill and Paula Harris

PETALUMA, home to one of the biggest voter-fraud scandals in California history, hosted an 11th-hour dirty-tricks campaign this week aimed at discrediting City Councilwoman Jane Hamilton, a candidiate for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat.

It's unclear whether the widely distributed hit piece swayed local voters, but Hamilton--who had been expected to garner a significant share of the votes in the crowded seven-candidate field vying for retiring veteran Jim Harberson's seat--placed a distant second behind Petaluma Police Sgt. Mike Kerns, still ensuring a runoff in November.

"It's obvious this is an act of cowards who know they can't win arguments in a public forum, so they resorted to lies," says City Councilmember Matt Maguire, a staunch Hamilton supporter. "Worse, it's an assault on the public and a clean political process.

"It doesn't get any more cynical than this."

On Saturday, many Petaluma voters receivedto find a large glossy flyers in their mail boxes misrepresenting Hamilton's position on the widening of Highway 101, a major campaign issue among frustrated commuters. The bold black-and-red mailers were designed to confuse voters, claiming erroneously that Hamilton has opposed on three occasions road improvements on Highway 101.

Hamilton, who supports a proposed sales tax measure designed to raise funding for the widening, says the flyer distorted her voting record on the issue. "This is an insult to voters," says Hamilton. "This is sent by people who have no respect for the electorate. They distorted my voting record, and they picked a source of pain in the community."

Last year, three people were convicted of charges stemming from a state voter-fraud investigation. In that case, supporters of a failed bid to swap city-owned Lafferty Ranch to Sonoma Mountain millionaire Peter Pfendler for $1.2 million and a dusty old dude ranch, were convicted of forging nearly 2,000 signatures to petitions intended to qualify the land deal for the 1996 ballot.

Hamilton helped lead the opposition to that swap.

The mysterious mailer that targeted her this week--which one local election official described as the most blatant example of misleading campaign literature she'd seen in 18 years--noted only that it was paid for by the ABH Committee. After county voting officials complained that the name was too vague, ABH treasurer Monica Romeyn--the only person identified on the mailer--filed a request to rename the group as the Anybody But Hamilton Committee.

Romeyn, who serves as secretary of the Sonoma County Republican Central Committee, filed no additional information about the organization. Because of the late timing of the mailer, the group's financial disclosure report failed to state resources or funding sources. A return address listed on the mailer is the home of Romeyn's parents, who reportedly denied any knowledge of the mailer's origins.

Romeyn could not be reached for comment. However, the Independent traced the hit piece to the Novato-based Mail Communications, which processes bulk mail. Ron George, the firm's owner, adamantly refused to disclose the source of the mailer or its cost. "This is confidential information," he said.

Gary Huckaby, a spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, says the agency will examine the mailer and review complaints before deciding whether to investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, a separate flyer was left on vehicle windows and doorsteps in east Petaluma, claiming that the progressive Hamilton plans to betray environmentalists by approving construction of the controversial Rainier Avenue overpass. It urged residents to "vote for anyone but her."

"This has the same smell, taste, and feel of the voter-fraud scandal because of the complete lack of respect for voters," Hamilton says. "I've heard of recall, but this is the first time I've heard of a committee formed against a candidate. It's a secret, hidden, and cowardly thing."

IN THE FINAL TALLY, south county voters cast 36.3 percent of their votes for Kerns and 25.9 percent for Hamilton. "After 25 years as a police officer, I'm ready for some new challenges," says Kerns.

While Hamilton says she has experience in her favor, she is "excited to finally be able to get to the level of a campaign where we can talk about issues in depth. In one minute, you can say all the buzz words, but in five minutes you have to demonstrate how you think and how much experience goes into that thinking. This is not an entry-level position."

In the 4th Supervisorial District, local conservationists lost their dream of a first-time environmental majority on the Board of Supes when incumbent Supe Paul Kelley of Windsor fended off three challengers with a commanding 56 percent lead in the race.

Kelley, a conservative politico whose support of gravel mining in the middle reach of the Russian River has made him the scourge of local conservationists, ran a low-profile campaign.

Kelley's re-election, and the runoff between Kerns and Hamilton in the 2nd Supervisorial District, leaves only west county Supe Mike Reilly carrying the banner for environmentalists on the conservative board.

Political neophyte Bill Smith had garnered 23 percent of the vote in the 4th District race. Smith has criticized continued gravel mining and supported tougher urban growth boundaries. He faced a pair of progressive candidates who helped split the anti-Kelley vote.

In Rohnert Park, a ballot measure that marked the first electoral challenge to one of the county's five UGBs, rejected Measure A, which opponents called a thinly veiled ploy by developers to subvert a 1996 voter-approved four-year growth limit.

Rohnert Park Councilman Jake Mackenzie, who formed a citizens' group to oppose the measure, was delighted by the stunning 67.6 percent defeat.

"The forces of righteousness triumphed over the forces of evil," he says. "I'm pleased Measure N continues to govern the way we're operating in Rohnert Park. This gives us two years to properly look at what works in the way of growth."

Christa Shaw of Greenbelt Alliance, which also had opposed the so-called UGB agrees. "The most important message of this result is for the city of Rohnert Park to understand that the growth wars have been very damaging," she says.

"This means the city must go back to the drawing board, continue the community summit, and come up with a real 20-year UGB.

"The message for the county is that UGBs are not to be messed with."

IN A CLIFFHANGER that culminated in a startling upset, Petaluma City Councilwoman Pat Wiggins, a Democratic candidate for the coveted 7th State Assembly District, edged past political insider John Latimer (32.2 percent to 25.4 percent).

That seat is being vacated by incumbent Valerie Brown, forced out by term limits. In November, Wiggins will face Republican Bob Sanchez.

Some considered that Latimer, who is incumbent Valerie Brown's legislative aide and who garnered much financial support from Brown, a shoo-in for the candidacy.

"This is an incredible upset," Wiggins says, "John had Sacramento support, connections, and Sacramento power behind him--I had the least money."

Indeed, Wiggins' campaign headquarters were inside half of the Soggy Doggy dog grooming parlor in Santa Rosa. "I was in a dog-grooming parlor up against the powerful Sacramento machine," she quips. "It feels like a lot of miracles happened."

In other state Assembly races, Democratic incumbent Virginia Strom-Martin will meet Republican challenger Sam Crump in the 1st District; and Kerry Mazzoni, D-Novato, will face Republican businessman Russ Weiner.

In other races, state Sen. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, won the Democratic slot in the race for the North Coast congressional seat being vacated by conservative Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor. Thompson, who will face Republican Mark Luce, is a heavy favorite.

In the 6th Congressional District, Rep. Lynn Woolsey easily held her place on the Democratic ticket for a November re-election bid against Republican challenger Ken McAuliffe.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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