how is negative campaigning affecting voters?
By Galen Patterson
Arcadia’s politicians have a history of clean campaigning. Politicians ran campaigns on their political stances and that used to be enough. “It’s been that way for as long as I can remember,” says Councilman Tom Beck.
However, something changed in 2016. The struggle between former Mayor and Councilman Bob Harbicht and then newcomer April Verlato brought about an uglier side of campaigning. Mailers sent from political action committees presented negative opinions toward certain candidates and outright endorsed others.
This year’s election has seen an entirely different form of negative campaigning in Arcadia. Some of which appear to originate from no particular place.
All around the city, candidate signs have been posted. While most of these signs are simple lawn endorsements of a candidate, one sign in particular made its way into public view in District 2, calling former Mayor Harbicht “Old Bulldozer Bob” and urging 2nd District Arcadians to “Save Arcadia,” presumably from Harbicht’s property right’s standpoint.
Current 2nd District seat-holder and political opponent to Harbicht, Councilman Tom Beck, says he had nothing to do with the sign and had them taken down shortly after seeing them.
Both districts 2 and 5 have seen endorsement signs being stolen or placed in unauthorized areas, and sometimes on the property of people who did not request them. “Most of these signs have been placed in the public right-of-way,” says Councilman Roger Chandler, referring to the patch of Earth between a sidewalk and the street. These are technically public property and the signs needed to be placed on the actual lawn of the property.
Originally a blog by former resident Scott Hettrick, Arcadia’s best is now operated by Mayor Pro Tempore Sho Tay. Recently, Arcadia’s Best has been publishing pointed political opinion articles aimed entirely at defacing Councilman Beck. One of the articles was written by someone named Brett Meyer, while another article is written by someone named Harry Huang, with Brett Meyer listed as the editor. Tay denies knowing either Meyer or Huang personally. However, Tay says he has contacted both Meyer and Huang through email and thus found reason to post the articles, but despite Arcadia Weekly’s attempts to contact the writers, both Huang and Meyer’s identities remain unconfirmed.
One of the many claims made by Meyer refers to local State Assembly candidate Burton Brink and his wife, Kim, being listed as endorsers of Beck without their knowledge. Brink told Arcadia Weekly that although he originally endorsed Beck, he learned that he couldn’t because of his own campaign and had to be removed from the list.
The Sierra Madre Tattler
Councilman Beck isn’t the only one being roasted by the internet. Several candidates and councilmen most recently including Harbicht, Chandler and Tay have received flak from the unsigned blogger known as the Tattler. The Tattler, however, relies heavily upon facts to enforce opinions.
Chinese News USA
In late January and article appeared on chinesenewsusa.com, which draws a clear division in the city. The article suggests Harbicht, Chandler and Tay are friends of the Chinese population in Arcadia, while Councilmembers Verlato and Beck are accused of being anti-Chinese. The article was written by contributors, but is signed by no one in particular.
Arcadian’s Rights Protection Association
This cryptic group has published false claims in the Mandarin language, attacking both Councilmembers Verlato and Beck. The organization claims to be protecting Arcadians and openly supports Mayor Pro Temp. Tay. While the website’s physical address can be traced back to the Law Offices of Ray Hsu & Associates in Alhambra, the business residing there prior to January, 2018 is listed as Glory Law Group, which has since dissolved, and owner, Karlfeldt Su, declined to comment on this matter. The Law Officers of Ray Hsu also declined to comment.
The group alleges that Councilman Beck has caused a severe decrease in the property value of specifically Chinese homes in Arcadia. “That’s fantasy,” says Beck. “How could I affect property value?” Councilman Roger Chandler thinks the claim may be rooted in a different term Beck held in office, when the council voted to pass a new Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which restricted home size relative to lot size and caused a decrease in property value.
Leanne Kimball, branch manager at Coldwell Banker George Realty in Arcadia says the tightened FAR restrictions did negatively affect property value in the city, because older, smaller homes in the area cannot be rebuilt to match some of the larger homes nearby and therefore sell for less. When the smaller homes in the area sell for less, the larger home appraisals are lowered because of the proximity to the smaller homes, thus fetching a lower market price. “It really just affected the people trying to sell,” says Kimball.
However, the people trying to sell are not exclusively Chinese and Councilman Beck was just one vote in a City Council that produced 3 vs. 2 decision to adopt new FARs. Mayor Pro Temp. Tay and Councilman Chandler voted against it.
During the City Council meeting on Mar. 6, Beck told the city that Mandarin-speaking people were going door-to-door in his district telling people he is racist. In an interview with Arcadia Weekly, Beck elaborated on their tactics, adding that not only are they calling him racist, they are also telling people that he is lowering Chinese property value.
Candidate Jolly Wu spoke at the same city council meeting, telling the council that people are going door-to-door in her district and telling people she forced children off of buses so she can use them for herself, a claim which is rooted in the idea of using the Dial-A-Ride bus for school students. Wu joined the task force that decided against the dual-use of the bus six months after the decision had been made.
The claims have been substantiated by voters in both districts, and written testimony has been sent by at least one Arcadian detailing an experience with one of the door-to-door campaigners to both Arcadia Weekly and the city staff.
Candidate Harbicht is aware of the campaigners, but denies any involvement in it. “I know some of them personally,” says Harbicht. Harbicht maintains that he is committed to running a clean campaign. “It’s one thing to promote your candidate, it’s something else to try to tear down an opposition candidate,” he said.
Mailers appear to be a mainstay campaigning method for all candidates for means of promotion. Some mailers appear to be entirely aimed at discrediting and humiliating other candidates.
In District 5, at least two candidates have been on the receiving end of negative mailers. Councilman Chandler has had mailers sent out attacking him for several different claims, some of which he calls “bogus.” One mailer accuses Chandler of voting in favor of putting a cell tower near a church in a residential area, which is true and the measure failed on a 4 vs. 1 vote, but Chandler says it was the right thing to do, given that the city is now being sued over denying the installation and may be forced to install more than one.
All active candidates in this election deny taking part of any negative campaign efforts. “I think most of it is coming from outside our campaigns, if not all of it,” says Harbicht. Both Harbicht and Beck agree that they are both still friends.
However, negative campaigning appears to have polarized the city rather than unify the residents under common beliefs and quality of life. “I’ve never seen the city so divided,” says Beck.