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Choi Can’t Complain

The Orange County Register was very accommodating to Irvine Mayoral Candidate Steven Choi with an article last Friday pointing out Choi’s support for Measure BB, the Save Our Schools Initiative.  Councilmember Larry Agran said the motion to approve Measure BB immediately actually constitute a rejection of the initiative itself, which I don’t necessarily agree but I do understand where Agran was going with it.  After all, the alternative motion offered by Santa Ana Councilman Vince Sarmiento spared Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez from any real punishment when she was censured by the city council but had no titles or committee appointments taken away. So Agran’s contention that Choi’s motion on Measure BB was a vote against the original idea of Measure BB, and in this context, I agree with Agran.

The SOS Initiative, as of last July when this council meeting took place, did not have the support of Irvine’s PTAs — the Irvine PTA Council was to review in September which made placing the measure on the ballot prudent instead of outright approving it without support of a key segment of the community.  For the Council to approve the measure “as is” without the support of the community would be wrong.

A number of PTA members at the schools my kids attended alluded to a “Waiting for Lalloway” option that failed to materialize (many PTA members believe Jeff Lalloway had a program up his sleeve–he didn’t).  There was a considerable amount of education required to overcome concerns about how the money from the city, earmarked for certain expenses, frees up other money the district spends.  Without PTA support at the end of June, the Summer vacation season came and went.  The PTA Council, which fought hard to get the Molly Munger initiative on the ballot, finally OK’d Irvine’s Measure BB.  The SOS Initiative now sits on the ballot in a stronger position with support of the city’s PTA Council.

At last Wednesday’s Irvine Chamber of Commerce candidate’s forum, each candidate had two minutes for a closing comment.  Choi clutched the mailers and was so angry he was unable to speak for a moment (which several of us gave a silent prayer of thanks because listening to Steve Choi speak is painful).  Choi denounced the mailers as an attack on his record and his character.  And while the Measure BB support, which Choi jumped in with both feet at the breakfast, was a small detail, the rest of the claims in the flyers were spot on.  Choi did vote against the city’s budget in 2009 and 2010 voting against public safety, parks & recreation, additional money for schools, etc., etc.

Choi must have completely forgotten about the Irvine Chronicle, a campaign newspaper mocked up to look like the Irvine World News, which lifted copyrighted stories from the Irvine World News, the OC Register, the LA Times, OC Metro and OC Weekly.  Choi, part of a slate of candidates that included Mike House, Greg Smith, and Mike Ward, left the bylines of the reporters on the stories but their campaigns edited the articles to make criticisms of Irvine Democrats worse while attempting to use the publications reputations and those of the journalists who wrote the original stories to build credibility for the “news.”

Here’s an excerpt of a news story originally published in the OC Register:  Newspapers generally charge fees for reuse of published work, and most papers, including the Register and Irvine World News, guard against reuse in political mailers. 

“It’s hard to believe they would try to pass off this campaign piece as the work of the Irvine World News, but that’s obviously what they wanted to do,” said Editor Don Dennis. “The Irvine World News had nothing to do with this.”

But Sergio Prince, IrvineFirst campaign manager, said political campaigns reproduce news articles “all the time.”

The Chronicle, he said, was “printed to have the look and feel of a real newspaper.”

Choi, one of the candidates involved in IrvineFirst, said the 12-page mailer said the articles were reprinted exactly as a convenience to voters “so they can make their judgments.”

Some did.

“There’s nothing about what these people (IrvineFirst) are for,” said Peter Gerrard, a training video producer. “How can you slam someone for not being upfront, when you put out something like this? Where is the dialog about where the city should go?”

That resonated with Carol Tipper, a high school math teacher.

“I just want both sides to be open, honest and candid,” she said. “I find it ironic that (IrvineFirst) is trying to tell me how dishonest (Mayor) Larry Agran is when (the Chronicle) is trying to look like the Irvine World News.”

The claim the articles were printed exactly is false.  I provided the stories and the flyer to former IWN editor Don Dennis myself.

A lawyer for Freedom Communications even looked into the case.  From another Register article: “A Volume 2 appears unlikely for the “Irvine Chronicle.” Many reviews were bad. Journalists were angry. Lawyers went to work. “

Larry Agran responded to the attacks then with this letter to the editor in the Register in 2004:

Interestingly, Greenhut fails to criticize the “Irvine Chronicle” put out by my political opponents, Mike Ward and Greg Smith, and their campaign running mates, Steven Choi and Mike House. The “Irvine Chronicle” is a fake newspaper that masquerades as the Register-owned Irvine World News. This unethical and possibly illegal infringement of intellectual property – now being challenged by Freedom Communications’ lawyers – seemed ripe for comment by such a staunch defender of property rights.

Irvine residents do pay attention to things. They know that their city government is run efficiently, openly and honestly. There has never been any suggestion of unethical behavior – until it became a convenient campaign ploy. Why else would our opponents wait until August 2004 to file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging abuses in the 2002 campaign? Worse still, they attempted to use taxpayer dollars to fund an investigation of baseless charges against political rivals. The fact that Mike Ward, Greg Smith and their friends meekly withdrew their demand for the investigation speaks volumes about the merits of their charges. 

Lastly, Irvine Republicans whine more about mailers that reflect their records than any other group in Orange County.  People in town forget that the conservative Lincoln Club sued the City over its Campaign Finance laws in 1999, and lost.

From the story:

The Lincoln Club of Orange County, long a bastion of wealthy Republican donors to state and federal candidates, has targeted a handful of cities that block its ability to influence nonpartisan local elections.

The club filed a lawsuit this week against the city of Irvine, alleging that barring the club from spending money in local races is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.

A city law prohibits any association with dues greater than $320 a year from launching campaigns to support or oppose candidates and ballot measures. The Lincoln Club assesses its 300 members annual fees, which will be $2,000 each starting in January.

Other lawsuits will be filed in coming months challenging similar laws in Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Orange, said Lincoln Club President Michael D. Capaldi, a lawyer in Newport Beach.

“The core issue here is whether a club like the Lincoln Club or any other club has the right to get its opinion heard,” Capaldi said Friday. “These laws are just unconstitutional.”

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said she was unaware of the lawsuit. She said City Atty. Joel Kuperberg warned when the contribution limits were adopted in 1995 that the provision limiting independent spending could be challenged in court.

“I support limits,” Shea said. “My concern has been that unions could come out and they could spend big bucks on a candidate when it should be a level playing field.”

As he wrapped up his closing statement, Choi did his best Jim Righeimer and railed against Irvine’s Public Employee unions which have all backed Agran and his slate.

To this day, the Irvine Chronicle stands out as one of the more negative campaign mailers ever issued in this city for a local election.  It was decried as dishonest at that next city council meeting.  And Steven Choi’s hands are still dirty from it.  I have little sympathy for a candidate who complains about mud being thrown at his or her reputation to the media while their own hands are soiled.