I’ve been through two hotly contested elections while serving on Neighborhood Council Valley Village. Mansionization was the issue both times.
I never thought I would see more hard-fought struggles at the NC level again.
I was wrong.
The weeks leading up to the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council election were filled with personal attacks and innuendos. The playing field was social media and the pages of a local community newspaper, the owner and editor of which was a candidate for council president.
It would not be appropriate to quote some of the statements and comments here.
The Foothills Paper served as the voice of David Demulle, who challenged incumbent Mark Seigel and newcomer Tom Smoker, for the top office.
Seigel and Smoker ran quiet campaigns.
Demulle came on like Putin in Crimea. On the pages of his paper, he accused certain officers of the current board for misappropriation of funds and suggested one was behind a plot benefiting Scientology. He characterized yet another officer as an Orwellian villain, complete with a caricature that exceeded even the standards of bad taste. There were times when his choice of words in these attacks was crude. When there were references to seemingly legitimate issues, his message was usually wrapped in anger.
The same bitterness flowed over to a Facebook Group devoted to the community. Here again, mixed in were some potential issues worth debating and even some levity, but many of the accusations were unsubstantiated. As a guest, I personally refuted the financial misappropriation comments since I was familiar with the accounting process followed by STNC’s recent treasurers.
One Facebook comment was completely over the top. A candidate was said to have earned Demulle’s endorsement because she would perform a certain sex act another would not.
The perverse tone was not limited to groups attacking incumbents. A blog operated by an associate of STNC mocked the Facebook Group moderator’s physical handicap in a tasteless post.
None of these antics jived with how the candidates presented themselves in a formal public setting.
I had the pleasure of moderating one of STNC’s candidate forums. Overall, it was very civil. The candidates stuck to the questions submitted by stakeholders. There were a few jabs here and there, but nothing you wouldn’t hear at any other political debate.
Just how did the bitterness affect the results?
For one thing, the turnout about doubled from the previous election. There may be truth to the adage that any publicity is good publicity. Perhaps substitute effective for good.
As ugly as the campaign was, there appear to be some positives to take home.
The increase in turnout probably included many people of goodwill who would have otherwise stayed home. These voters may become regular participants in STNC’s work. That’s good.
How many of them might there be?
Allow me to do some very raw analysis by using some of the individual results.
David Demulle received 152 votes of 622 cast for president. If you assume that the 152 were persuaded by his publication, it is also reasonable to assume that many were turned off by his highly charged, negative tone and personal attacks; therefore, cast ballots against him.
A rough estimate of this backlash could be determined by comparing Demulle’s count against an unopposed candidate for executive office. Tomi Bowling received 460 votes. Bowling was demonized by Demulle in the Foothills Paper. The difference of 308 votes between them probably includes some measure of retribution. If it was about half, then most of Demulle’s support would have been offset. In other words, for all of his bluster, he could do no more than tread water.
It is worth noting that Bonnie Corwin came close to defeating incumbent Nina Royal for Treasurer. Corwin was backed by Demulle from the get go, yet seemed unaffected by his negative campaigning, probably because she herself ran a clean campaign based on her qualifications, not personal attacks. Accordingly, the voters seemed to be able to disassociate her from Demulle. Score a big one for the voters for seeing through the flak.
The biggest loser in this campaign was the local mainstream media.
Here was an opportunity for the Times, Daily News, Weekly and even the Patch to cover grassroots politics at its best and worst. Just a single story would have been appreciated. Do you think Rick Orlov, who specializes in local political news, could have spared a few words?
The Neighborhood Council election budgets can barely cover the cost of a mass mailing and an ad in one of the major papers. A little help from the media would be appreciated. It would be nice to have some independent reporting.