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A different type of mail fraud: The worst political mailers of the 2020 local elections

Sacramento Bee, November 1, 2020

The final week before an election is when the worst of political advertising lands in our mail boxes or on our front steps.

The political mailers are like manipulative telegrams designed to confuse rather than inform. They are meant to appeal to our worst impulses and sometimes, they walk right up to the line of racism or anti-Semitism.

This year is no exception.

Gregg Fishman, a candidate for Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in District 3 recently raised the question about a mailer from his opponent Rich Desmond. In it an image was manipulated in an unflattering way, to show him in a pose that could be seen as anti-Semitic. Fishman is Jewish.

Desmond dismissed it as a false last-ditch election ploy that demeaned real anti-Semitism. “This is simply an image of someone shrugging a very common gesture ... so common it’s used daily as an emoji in everyone’s iPhone,” he said.

Mailers are rife with these types of questionable tactics.

As we saw in a mailer authorized by Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, sometimes they simply misrepresent. His, for example, quoted a law officer who doesn’t even work in Elk Grove.

So here are the Top three entries for the 2020 Hall of Shame of dirty politics by mail, Sacramento-style:


Let’s begin with Ly because his mailer is so blatantly dishonest. For months, a number of women have said on the record that they have been harassed by Ly’s supporters and they said that Ly did nothing to stop it.

One Ly accuser – Jacqueline Cheung, editor and owner of the Elk Grove Tribune –said she received telephone threats from Ly supporters that targeted her and her family. This was after Cheung had publicly shared a commentary written by another woman critical of Ly

In July, Elk Grove Police Chief Timothy Albright said that his department had looked into the Cheung allegations but found no crime had been committed.

Ly’s mailer this week repeated Albright’s quote from July that no crime had been committed in the Cheung case. If Ly had stopped there, it would have been fine.

But then Ly completely distorts the truth. He includes a picture of Sgt. Donna Cox (in uniform) with the words: “These accusations of bullying, harassment and misogyny are just false and unfounded.” Ly tweeted this portion as well.

First, Cox doesn’t work in Elk Grove. She is best remembered for working in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and unsuccessfully running for sheriff in 2018. She has no authority in Elk Grove.

And she misquotes Albright that there is “no evidence” of wrongdoing against Ly and is misleading with the “investigation is closed.”

The Cheung investigation is closed, but several others remain open. Albright had to put out a statement saying as much:

“Since the July 22, 2020 City Council meeting, the Elk Grove Police Department has received additional reports from multiple parties. Those incidents remain under investigation,” Albright said.

The county grand jury is investigating Ly. The women accusing Ly are doing so by name.

As The Bee’s Michael Finch reported: “Jaclyn Moreno, who successfully ran for a position on the Cosumnes Community Services District board, said in an interview that she was subjected to a steady stream of harassment that was often sexist from one of Ly’s campaign employees.”

Earlier in the campaign, Ly said he supported the women and was trying to be mindful of their experiences. But in the closing days of the election, when push comes to shove, he put out a mailer with distorted information that seeks to give the impression that all the accusations against him were proven false and have been resolved. And he did so using the image of a law enforcement officer who doesn’t even work in Elk Grove.

Congratulations Mayor Ly. You lead the 2020 Hall of Shame Class of dirty politics, Sacramento style.


Coming up next: A trope of a Black candidate in South Sacramento that’s kind of racist. If that’s a thing.

Were talking about a mailer attacking Pastor Les Simmons, who is in a tight race against Mai Vang for the Sacramento City Council seat based in Meadowview and south Sacramento.

This mailer was put out by the Plumbers and PipeFitters, Local 447 and IBEW. In it, you see a smiling Simmons looking jovial and playful. You see the words: “Les Simmons’ three principles to financial success. “

And the alleged principles are: “Spend more than you make. Live beyond your means. Don’t pay back your debts.”

It says that Simmons had multiple liens for failing to pay his water and garbage bills. And how can Sacramento trust Simmons to manage the city when he can’t manage his own finances?

Well, Simmons isn’t running to manage the city. That’s the job of the city manager. Simmons admits he fell behind on his utility bills but said they were paid and are current.

So why is it kind of racist? Some would disagree, but when you’re a Black pastor as Simmons is, you are very aware of the old trope about the Black community hustler. You’re very aware that this negative stereotype about crooked Black preachers is a common and corrosive one in our culture.

“That’s some racist imagery,” Simmons said on Saturday. “They are trying to characterize me as some grinning, greedy incompetent prosperity preacher who is incapable of paying a utility bill.”

Is Simmons fair game if it were learned that he is lining his pockets or committing a crime? Of course he. As a public figure, he would be subject to investigations like anyone else.

But in a mailer, Simmons has no avenue to respond. It has no pretense of a fair and thorough investigation. It just offers a lurid accusation with images meant to put Simmons in the worst possible light.

Being late on utility bills? Really? For that, Simmons gets lampooned as a prosperity preacher? I’ve been late on my utility before. A lot of people have.

When I first came to Sacramento, I covered SMUD and remember one of my sources telling me that some very well known people in town were often late on their bills and some of them weren’t really friendly about being reminded to pay.

“If that’s the worst thing they can say about me, if that’s the worst dirt they have, then I think I’m doing OK,” he said.


We close our show with the ad that seeks to fool Oak Park residents into thinking that a local charter school is supporting a candidate for school board who has been critical of charter schools.

This one was put out by the political action committee of the Sacramento City Teachers Association. The mailer contains the image of a teacher. The teacher is Capricia Williams-Alston from “St Hope’s Sacramento High.” And in the end, the ad asks people to vote for Lavinia Phillips, who is running against incumbent Jessie Ryan of the Sacramento Unified School District board.

Here is the deception: Sacramento High is run by St. Hope Public Schools, a 501c3 non-profit. By law, St. Hope is precluded from endorsing candidates.

“This mailer makes it appear it is coming from us and that’s misleading,” said Jake Mossawir, president and CEO of St. Hope.

Mossawir said he was concerned voters would see the ad and wonder why St. Hope would be endorsing a candidate who, like SCTA, is not a fan of charter schools. He said he is concerned that some would think that St. Hope is breaking the law by making political endorsements

And he said that another of his teachers had asked to appear in an ad for Ryan and Mossawir said the participation of the teacher in the Ryan matter was conditional: St Hope could not be mentioned in any way.

“This (SCTA ad) gives the impression that we are putting our finger on the scale,” he said.

Mossawir said he was looking into what he could legally do about the ad, but that’s the problem when they drop this late. By the time any legal process could proceed, the election would be over.

That’s why you see the worst ads now, just before the election. They don’t tell any truths, but they do reveal a lot about the people who paid for them.

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