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Santa Clara City Observer: Nov. 2, 2016

Gillmor Has Made Election All About Her

It seems the most visible player in the 2016 Santa Clara election is someone whose name isn’t on the ballot – Mayor Lisa Gillmor. Although she’s not running for re-election until 2018, Gillmor has been so prominent that out-of-town visitors would likely think she was on the ballot.

She makes it clear the election is about her.

“I have my vision of Santa Clara,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor told the phone-in audience at Sunday night’s phone-in political rally.

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Maybe that explains why Gillmor’s candidates – Parks & Rec Commissioner Tino Silva, incumbents Kathleen Watanabe and Debi Davis, and police Sgt. Patrick Nikolai – seem to be absent from their own campaigns.

They appear to be content to allow the mayor to campaign for them. Davis hasn’t even showed up for many of the candidate forums. Only one of Gillmor’s candidates, Teresa O’Neill, has sent her own mailers.

All of the Police Officers Association’s (POA) vicious and deceptive “black vs. white” mailers include her picture, a message with her signature, and a “Lisa Gillmor, Mayor of Santa Clara” seal made to look like the city seal – including the image of Santa Clara Mission in the center.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what tail is wagging the dog – Gillmor, the POA or the developers.

The POA is currently negotiating a new contract with the City Council; including the incumbents they’re endorsing for re-election, one of whom, Debi Davis, is married to Santa Clara police officer Bill Davis.

The POA has received some $75,000 to-date from developers to fund the “black vs. white” mailers, and at least one Gillmor candidate has received $3,000 in donations from Related Companies employees. Complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission allege that Related consultant Jude Barry is an unreported campaign advisor for Gillmor’s candidates.

The POA also announced last week it approved a “no-confidence” vote in Police Chief, Mike Sellers, who is running against former POA president Nikolai, who promises to advocate for binding arbitration – allowing a private arbitrator to resolve contract and other disagreements between the city and the police union. Arbitrated settlements cannot be appealed and aren’t subject to public scrutiny as are court hearings and public meetings.

The hostile genie let lose in this election will not go back into its bottle, and it’s almost unimaginable that the police department won’t be damaged by the character assassination that Gillmor has actively encouraged in her statements and the black vs. white mailers.

The Council, too, will be fractured in ways not seen since the 1980s and 9190s – when, coincidently, Gillmor was also on the Council. After calling someone a criminal or crook, and a civic traitor, you can’t just say “never mind.”

Throw into that the legal threat of a voting rights lawsuit and multiple Fair Political Practices Commission investigations, and the future looks grim – almost as grim as Gillmor paints it should her candidates not be elected. Gillmor seems to adopted Donald Trump’s maxim: Only I can save you.

Campaign Disclosure Laws and Detours

Today’s campaign financial disclosure laws increase transparency of campaign spending. But there are still dodges that allow money and campaign activities to be hidden. And this year’s Santa Clara election has offered instruction in all of them.

One is channeling money through 501(c)(4) educational organizations that aren’t required to report their donors if they receive less than $50,000 in income for the year.

Another dodge is around the prohibition on coordination between independent expenditure committees and candidates. There’s no prohibition on coordination between independent expenditure committees and people who aren’t running for election.

Finally, all campaign activities that are donated or paid for must be reported. But these are activities that name candidates running for office, ballot measures or anything else that’s on a ballot.

Campaigns and surveys that don’t refer to candidates or ballot referendums don’t have to be reported. But they do have to comply with Do Not Call laws, which political campaigns do not.

Negative Campaigning Works – Just Not the Way Negative Campaigners Think

For the last two decades, political scientists and communications scholars have debated the impact of negative campaigning.

A study published in the January 2016 edition of the Research and Politics Journal, “Going positive: The effects of negative and positive advertising on candidate success and voter turnout,” concludes that “the only beneficial results from campaign advertising are generated from advertising a candidate’s strengths and that there are no benefits from attacking one’s opponent, even if the opponent has decided to ‘go on the attack.'”

The authors also found that positive advertising can increase a winning candidate’s margin of victory, as well as increase turnout for candidates that voters feel have been unfairly attacked.

Another way to say that voters really do, as Santa Clara’s slogan goes, “vote ethics.”

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