PALM DESERT – A controversial and malicious mailer and ad campaign aimed at Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez has jeopardized some of Jan Harnik’s friendships, cost her respect in some pockets of the county and has sparked accusations that she is a racist.
Neither Harnik nor her campaign will comment on the mailer.
Uken Report sent a series of three questions via email to Harnik and her political consultant, Jim Nygren, and followed up with a text message. Nygren was also a consultant in 2008 to the late John Benoit.
The questions posed to Harnik were:
- Why so hateful and negative?
- Are you at all sorry you went this route?
- Do you think you owe anyone an apology – or at least a well-reasoned explanation?
The vitriolic ad campaign, which alleges Perez “voted to release murderers and other dangerous criminals from prison,” is unprecedented in the Coachella Valley, according to longtime politicos. The mailer further claims “Manuel Perez’s misguided policies released cop killers and rapists from prison.”
The ad fails to mention that in 2012, California was under court order to reduce prison overcrowding.
“Supervisor Perez is being supported by every major public safety organization in our area, including the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, because he is a steadfast advocate for safe neighborhoods and fast emergency response times,” Bill Young, president of the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, told Uken Report. “These same groups are all opposing Jan Harnik, and we believe that her attempt to portray Supervisor Perez as soft on crime is absurd. Supervisor Perez has worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans to keep our families and neighborhoods safe. He even authored legislation in the Assembly, with the full support of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association and prosecutors, to prevent the early release of prisoners at the local level.”
Harnik’s mailer — and television ad campaign of the same ilk — has repeatedly been compared to the Willie Horton ads used against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, when he became the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988.
William R. Horton, a convicted murderer, was temporarily released from a Massachusetts prison in April 1987 as part of the state’s weekend furlough program. Horton, a black man, then raped a white woman and brutally assaulted her white fiancé. Horton was the focus of attacks on Dukakis’s record on crime. The impact of the Willie Horton ad has been described as “devastating to Dukakis.”
“Manuel is disappointed that his opponent continues to run a divisive and dishonest campaign,” Greg Rodriguez, Perez’s campaign manager, told Uken Report. “He is adamant about keeping his campaign focused on the issues important to the people of the Fourth District and letting them know that he has the education, experience, and execution to address County issues.”
The barrage of negative ads has not provoked a negative word or response from Perez toward Harnik. He is clearly taking the high road, avoiding the gutter, his supporters say.
“I have worked on campaigns for 35 years and 10-plus years in the (Coachella) Valley and I have never seen anything like this,” Rodriguez said. “What we can tell you is we have heard from hundreds of people really upset with her TV ad and mailers and supporting our campaign’s focus on the issues,” Rodriguez said.
On his Facebook page, Rodriguez said, “I considered Jan a friend but to resort to this kind of campaign tactic is despicable. Total distortion.”
Joy Brown Meredith, founder of Crystal Fantasy in Palm Springs, said while she usually has “respect” for Harnik, Brown Meredith said she is sickened by the ad campaign.
The list goes on with the common theme of shock, disgust and horror that this type of ad has crept in Coachella Valley politics.
Some of those angry people are members of the Desert Stonewall Democrats. The group voted unanimously to condemn the “openly racist and divisive TV ad and mailer ….” The group also said the ad campaign was filled with half-truths and lies.
James Williamson, president of the group, said, “This is not a partisan issue, this type of dishonest and hateful campaigning offends all voters – whether they are a Democrat, Republican or an Independent. Our Valley is and deserves better. Anyone who allows their campaign to sink to the lowest level like this does not deserve any decent person’s vote to represent the diverse population of the Fourth District.”
Williamson urged citizens of the district to demand Harnik apologize.
Some of those outraged are calling on like-minded voters to gather at the Palm Desert City Council meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday to protest and speak to Harnik “against campaign racism.”
For those who might not remember the Willie Horton ad, here is a refresher:
See any similarities?
Should Harnik fail in her effort to become the Fourth District Supervisor, she will likely run to be re-elected to a second term on the Palm Desert City Council.