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Ethnic tensions mark Democratic primaries

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    Capitol Weekly
    Ethnic tensions mark Democratic primaries
    By Anthony York
    published June 15th, 2006

    Political mailers bankrolled by the Latino Caucus, which linked Democratic
    Assembly candidate Paul Krekorian to a terrorist and played the race card
    against Democratic contender Mike Eng, are being denounced by community
    leaders and Caucus members who say they want to know who approved the

    Capitol sources said that the job of the vice chairman of the Latino Caucus,
    Assemblyman Joe Coto, D-San Jose, may be on the line.

    Several Caucus members met Tuesday across the street from the Capitol at
    private offices in the 11th and L Building to discuss the mailers, which
    were funded with independent-expenditure (IE) money. They are trying to
    figure out how to limit political fallout from some of the nastiest hit
    pieces in this year's primary campaign.

    "It's an affront to us, especially because we for so long have been the
    victims of this kind of crap," said Assemblyman Hector De La Torre,
    D-Southgate. He and Assemblyman Albert Torrico, D-Newark, have launched an
    investigation into the flyers.

    A mailer aimed at Paul Krekorian blasts his endorsement from the Armenian
    National Committee (ANC), insinuating that the group is allied with
    suspected terrorists. But critics say the ANC is a mainstream group, and the
    mailer unfairly attacks Armenians. In Assembly District 49, white and Latino
    voters received a mailer listing Mike Eng's Asian endorsers, with the tag
    line: "Mike Eng. He's not like us."

    Both Krekorian and Eng faced competitive primaries against candidates backed
    by the Latino Caucus. Krekorian defeated Glendale Councilman Frank Quintero.
    Eng defeated Alhambra City Councilman Dan Arguello.

    During the 2004 election cycle, it was the Latino Caucus blasting the
    Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce-backed JobsPAC for hit pieces
    they said had racist overtones. Among them was a Republican Party-funded
    mail piece used against Juan Arambula in the closing days of the 2004

    At the time, Speaker Fabian Núñez compared the GOP mailer to hate mail. "I
    had thought California had moved beyond the time when candidates used racist
    election propaganda to divide our community," he said.

    Latino Caucus chairwoman Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, also blasted those GOP
    mailers. "All I can assume, as a lawyer, is it was temporary insanity,"
    Escutia said in 2004. "But I can tell you, as a Latina, that these types of
    attacks will not ever happen again on my watch."

    But now, those same charges are being levied against the very Latino Caucus
    that Escutia chairs. Escutia did not return calls for this story.

    "I don't see any difference between what JobsPAC did against us and these
    pieces," said Torrico. "I'll tell you, it's an embarrassment. It's an
    embarrassment for me as a Latino Caucus member as an Asian American. It
    should be an embarrassment to all of us."

    A number of Latino Caucus members say they had no idea the mail pieces were
    being financed using Latino Caucus money. In the 43rd Assembly District, the
    mail piece linking Krekorian, who is of Armenian descent, to a terrorist
    suspect, was bankrolled by a group called the California Latino Leadership

    The anti-Krekorian mailer was produced by political consultant Sandi Polka,
    who has close ties to Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.

    Torrico said some of the responsibility for the mailer lies with Coto, the
    vice chairman of the Latino Caucus.

    "It was part of the fund-raising effort of [San Jose Assemblyman] Joe Coto.
    He's been the principal fundraiser for the Latino Caucus. I have not been
    involved with that," said Torrico.

    De La Torre said he and Torrico are "going to be doing the information
    gathering and get back to the group. When Joe Coto comes back, we'll be
    sharing that information with him and see if he can enlighten us further."
    Coto was on vacation this week and did not attend Tuesday's meeting. He was
    not available for comment for this story.

    Krekorian said he spoke with several members of the Caucus, including
    Frommer, who expressed their outrage of the mailer. "The one exception was
    Sen. Escutia," he said. "She spoke with me and seemed to be offended that I
    had suggested a linkage between the Latino Caucus and this fund."

    Krekorian added, "It's pretty clear to me that this is not something the
    whole caucus decided to do. I've gone to great lengths to tell people this
    has nothing to do with Armenians vs. Latinos or Armenians vs. the Latino
    Caucus at all. Certainly, whoever was responsible for this attack needs to
    be held accountable. People who prepared the mailer, who authorized the
    sending of the mailer and who provided the funding for the mailer should be
    held accountable."

    While paperwork filed with the secretary of state's office does not formally
    link Coto to the Leadership Fund PAC, Coto led the fund-raising effort for
    the Latino Caucus this cycle. His fund-raiser, Julie Sandino, received
    $30,000 in payments from the Latino Leadership Fund PAC. In the first part
    of this year, Coto paid Sandino more than $31,000 in consulting fees.

    The Latino Leadership Fund received major funding last year from the San
    Manuel Band of Mission Indians. While other business groups like Ameriquest
    Mortgage and Johnson & Johnson each ponied up $25,000 to the PAC, the tribe
    gave the group $295,000 late last year.

    "San Manuel has had a long relationship with the Latino Caucus. I believe
    this Latino leadership fund is a part of that in a loose way," said tribal
    spokesman Jacob Coin. "We try to keep a working relationship with the

    While Coin pointed out the tribe had no say in how the money was spent, he
    shrugged off the mail pieces as part of the rough and tumble of California
    politics. "Unfortunately, some times these things do happen. We had no role
    in however they chose to use the money. It's a right to participate that we
    value dearly and we support that right."

    But Torrico says campaign-finance laws encourage the use of IE committees,
    which create plausible deniability for candidates and those involved in
    deep-pocketed IE campaigns.

    "People talk about clean money, they want publicly financed campaigns, and I
    tell them I'm for all that. But until you amend the U.S. Constitution to ban
    IEs, it's a waste of time and effort. There are so many examples of so many
    IEs costing candidates races and running extremely negative campaigns."

    In Krekorian's race, the controversial mail piece was followed by a
    pre-recorded call that went out to a number of Democratic voters in the

    "What does Paul Krekorian have in common with a convicted terrorist?" the
    call asked. "Plenty. Convicted terrorist Mourad Topalian received an award
    from the ANC then plead guilty to weapons and explosives charges. Now Paul
    Krekorian has accepted the ANC's endorsement. Krekorian is even working with

    the ANC to get their books into public libraries. There's no place in our
    community for a group that hands out awards to terrorists. And there's no
    place in our state Assembly for Paul Krekorian."

    The call and mailer were blasted by ANC leaders. "Unfortunately, during this
    campaign, ugly anti-Armenian racist acts were committed against Paul
    Krekorian, the ANC, and our community," said ANC board member Zanku

    The consultant who produced the anti-Krekorian mailer defended the piece

    "The piece was about an organization and who they go around pinning medals
    on and what candidates go around soliciting their support," said Paul
    Hefner, who worked with Polka's consulting firm on the mail piece. "I think
    what's overblown is the reaction. It's the oldest trick in the book. What no

    one's explained is why it's OK for an organization to hand out awards to
    somebody whose mug shot is on the FBI's Web site."

    Hefner dismissed criticisms that Krekorian's ethnicity had anything to do
    with the mailer. "This has nothing to do with anybody's ethnicity or
    anything else," he said. "It has to do with the way people conduct

    Last year, the ANC honored Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, as their
    woman of the year, an honor she touts on her campaign Web site.

    The ANC also supported a bill by Sen. Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno,
    remembering the Armenian Genocide. The bill passed 36-0 off the Senate floor
    and 75-0 in the Assembly. The ANC also gave a $1,000 donation to the
    Democratic State Central Committee earlier this year.

    The Latino Leadership Fund employed a number of different consultants to run
    IE campaigns in races featuring Latino candidates. Leo Briones, husband of
    Escutia, was hired by the PAC to run an IE campaign for Orange County
    Supervisor Lou Correa. Briones's Centaur North Strategic Communications
    received more than $89,000 from the leadership fund to pay for mail pieces
    on Correa's behalf.

    The committee gave more than $42,000 to Glazer Communications to support
    Renee Chavez in her losing campaign against Ed Hernandez. Chavez's campaign
    was run by Briones.

    In Monterey Park, another IE-funded mail piece raised charges of racism. The
    piece, funded by a group called the North-South-East Coalition to Reform
    Local Government, blasted the husband-wife duo of Assemblywoman Judy Chu her
    husband, Mike Eng, who won the primary in the race to succeed her. The mail
    piece morphed Chu's face into Eng's and used the tag line, "Mike Eng: He's
    Not Like Us."

    But who paid for the anti-Eng piece is unclear. The North-South-East
    Coalition has failed to file paperwork with the secretary of state's office,
    even though every IE committee is required to do so within 10 days of
    forming. A spokeswoman from the secretary of state's office said the
    committee first formed in 2003, but never has filed any campaign reports.
    Anthony York is Editor of Capitol Weekly.