The year was 2008 and five candidates were vying for two open seats on the Turlock City Council. The campaign season began just like any other with formal announcements of candidacies, followed by some neighborhood door knocking and debates held by the Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters and the Turlock Journal. Election same-old, same-old.
Then, the next thing you know, the campaign train went completely off the rails.
There were over-the-top fundraisers, a furry of endorsements, and campaign contributions of questionable natures, at best. There were even billboards proclaiming candidates’ virtues.
But the thing that really made the 2008 City Council election season stand out was the illegal robocalls — the source of which has yet to be determined despite an open complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Yes folks, it’s four years later and the perpetrator of the illegal robocalls is still roaming the streets of Turlock ready to strike again with his or her annoying automated messages that were more amusing than damaging, in my opinion.
During the 2008 election, various citizens of Turlock reported receiving three different robocalls. The first call, claiming then-candidate and current City Council member Mary Jackson was a special interest candidate, was said to be paid for by Orange County-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods. The second message, also saying it was from “Taxpayers for Safe Neighborhoods,” endorsed Council member and then-candidate Amy Bublak and then Vice Mayor and candidate Kurt Vander Weide, stating they were the only candidates with the support of local public safety officials.
Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods denied funding the first call, while Taxpayers for Safe Neighborhoods is not a registered organization with the FPPC, the state body that enforces campaign laws.
The final message, sent to Turlock homes just three days before the election, claimed to be from Jackson herself, asking for Turlockers to vote no on Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The robocall, said to be from “Friends of Mary Jackson,” was recorded by a woman with a Brooklyn accent who was not the Jackson running for Turlock office.
Jackson has stated that her campaign had nothing to do with the calls.
Along with the robocalls, Jackson also claimed that her campaign signs posted around town were being intentionally damaged. The perpetrator of that crime has yet to be brought to justice also.
The 2008 campaign season definitely was a change from the Turlock election seasons of old, when candidates would calmly and respectfully debate the issues in front of a few dozen citizens at the high school’s performing arts building and the majority of votes were won through social connections.
I had high hopes of newspaper-selling scandal going into the 2010 City Council election, but my expectations were shattered when all seven candidates behaved in a courteous and professional manner.
Instead of political fireworks, I got more of a warm campfire. The race was a close one, though, with just 500 votes separating first through fourth place.
Civility reigned in 2010 and nary a negative word was uttered about any candidate, and the neighborliness that has characterized much of Turlock’s past seemed back in effect.
I was beginning to think that this City Council campaign season was going to be a repeat of 2010, until I received a call from Ruben Hernandez, owner of It’ll Grow Back barber shop.
Hernandez called to say that earlier in the week he decorated the front of his Broadway Avenue barber shop in red, white and blue fashion — and the next morning his windows were vandalized.
This incident came just two weeks after signs bearing political slogans adorning windows at the eastern corner of the intersection of Broadway and West Main Street were smashed, according to property owner Joe Fernandez, who installed the signs. Fernandez said he sees the act of vandalism as an attack on his right to free speech.
Hernandez, aware of the earlier vandalism just half a block away at Fernandez’ building, wondered if the crimes were done by the same person or persons thinking the two displays were related.
It’s hard to say for sure if the crimes were related, but that kind of vandalism is rare in the heart of downtown Turlock. If they were related, was it a statement about local politics? National politics? Or a protest against the abandonment of the downtown bridal district plan?
We will probably never know. But if it is a harbinger of things to come this election season, the citizenry of Turlock should make sure their caller ID is in working order and practice ignoring distracting billboards while driving on Highway 99.