For 12 years as the announcer of the Fog Fest parade, I’ve been asked to announce many groups representing all political persuasions. But I was shocked to look through this year’s script and see a group of marchers were expecting me to attack our Mayor, John Keener. Since the parade is meant as an opportunity for Pacifica to show our best side to the world, I left out the derisive comments and chose to simply introduce the group by name, Pacificans for Responsible Government. As they marched by, yelling nasty things about our mayor and waving “No Keener” signs I felt sick to my stomach.
I ran into the treasurer of the group, Steve Sinai, and asked him who is funding this negative campaign, and he replied, “SAMCAR .” This was news, since SAMCAR, (San Mateo County Association of Realtors) spending money to denigrate our mayor at FogFest is not normal. I posted as much on Nextdoor, and was quickly corrected, SAMCAR actually had not funded the group. When I pointed out that their treasurer had told me otherwise, Steve Sinai himself admitted on Nextdoor that he had in fact made it up. His exact quote was “I said it because I knew that’s the answer you wanted Ian. It’s like a child asking if there’s a Santa Clause and you say ‘Yes’.”
Why would he lie? My best guess is so I would spread misinformation, and could then be discredited for spreading misinformation. That’s not my idea of “Responsible Government,” but par for the course for a guy whose blog FixPacifica published a slew of hateful comments about Mayor Jim Vreeland the week of his tragic death, while censoring polite requests for civility. (Reminiscent of Trump’s treatment of McCain after his death.) He now is slinging mud regarding another candidate’s driving record. These tactics are more in line with Breitbart than Pacifica, where the candidates are our friends and neighbors.
I belatedly did my due diligence and looked into the finances of their group, learning that, while they may not be funded by SAMCAR, 5/6 of their money comes from a $5,000 donation by Tom Thompson, a realtor who lives and works in San Mateo. So, not SAMCAR, but nevertheless, an out of town realtor has bankrolled the first purely negative campaign in Pacifica’s modern history. (Perhaps that fact is what Steve was attempting to obfuscate.)
I then learned that the same realtor has given $1,500 each to Sue Beckmeyer, Mike O’Neill, and Vickie Flores, the 3 candidates bankrolled by outside realtors (including, $2,500 each from, wait for it…SAMCAR). I had a chance to meet with them, and asked each if they condemn the negativity and whether they would return the money from Mr. Thompson. None of them said they would return the money, but to their credit O’Neill and Flores both strongly condemned the negative campaign. As Mike put it, “That’s out of bounds and fuels more negative Washington style politics in Pacifica.” And Vickie agreed, saying, “I don’t think you need to be a bully.”
Only Sue Beckmeyer refused to condemn the group’s tactics, defending Mr. Thompson’s right to meddle in our elections because “he owns a rental property here.” She did suggest he should “focus on issues, not individuals.”
For another perspective, I asked Mary Bier, a candidate who is not supported by outside realtors, for her thoughts and she put it succinctly, “It breaks my heart that we have come to a place where it’s okay to march down the street disrespecting a civil servant.”
Speaking of that civil servant, some wondered why John Keener wasn’t at the FogFest like the other candidates. Was he afraid of a showdown? Didn’t he care enough to show his face? I asked him and he replied, “I attended the board retreat of Peninsula Green Energy, the supplier of clean energy to San Mateo County, greater than 80% greenhouse gas free, and 5% cheaper than PG&E. We discussed (among other things) plans to subsidize electric vehicles for low-income folks, build charging stations, and promote shifting from gas-powered to all electric buildings.” So while the other candidates were basking in the limelight, and out of town special interests were loudly insulting him, Mr. Keener was at work quietly advocating for our interests. Imagine that.