A season of hard-hitting political mailers in Rohnert Park got harder this week with the arrival in mailboxes of a new one that likens council candidate Carl Leivo to one of the most polarizing Republican political figures in decades: Karl Rove, one of former President George W. Bush’s closest advisors.
The mailer was produced by an independent political committee named “Protect Rohnert Park, Opposing Carl Leivo and John Borba and supporting Pam Stafford and Amy Ahanotu for City Council 2010.”
Such committees aren’t limited on the amount of money they can raise or spend on a campaign, but they must report donations and expenditures.
The Protect Rohnert Park committee is largely financed by Codding Enterprises, and has focused entirely on Leivo with two attack mailers thus far.
The first, with an illustration of an iceberg, said: “Be careful, there is a lot more to Carl Leivo than meets the eye and it’s dangerous for Rohnert Park.”
The two-sided mailer that arrived Thursday, decorated in red, white and blue stripes and stars, features a mugshot of Rove and leads with: “Republican Karl Rove is a strategist that will risk anything to win. Rohnert park has its own version of Karl Rove.”
Its other side has a photograph of Leivo and says he “like Karl Rove, plots political strategies,” that, like Rove, “he will say anything, do anything to win,” and that, like Rove, he “fuels the fire of political feuds and dissension.”
Leivo’s response: “I think this is foolish. In fact I think it will backfire. It’s a personal attack ad, I think it will backfire.”
He added, laughing: “Who’s putting out the negative piece — who’s fueling the negative dissension here?”
Asked if it contributes more heat than substance to the election, veteran political consultant Herb Williams, who is managing the Protect Rohnert Park committee, said: “I think it speaks for itself — he is who he is.”
Brian Sobel, a Petaluma political consultant who tracks Rohnert Park politics, said the mailer was typical of campaign literature produced by independent committees.
“They tend to be almost exclusively negative,” said Sobel, a critic of the tactic.
“These kinds of things I don’t think advance the public debate on issues,” he said.
Still, he said, negative ads almost always work — though the public often says it is tired of the tactic.
“It comes down to the fact that negative works,” Sobel said. “They’re all effective because they raise questions and they raise negative questions — it’s a trend at every level.”
Along with Protect Rohnert Park, there are two other key committees playing a role in the Rohnert Park race.
The city’s Public Safety Officers Association, or POA, has endorsed Leivo and Borba, a planning commissioner. Members began erecting campaign signs and walking precincts earlier this month to muster support for the two candidates.
The most heavily-financed committee, “Citizens for Change: Oppose Re-election of Pam Stafford for City Council,” has gone after Mayor Pam Stafford with five mailers criticizing her votes on the council. It has focused on her support for a $1 billion Codding Enterprises housing and commercial development, Sonoma Mountain Village, on the city’s southeast edge.
The committee has yet to file complete campaign finance reports, but half of its $27,000 in expenditures appear to have come from a Rohnert Park dentist, James Henley, and Bruce Hotaling, a resident.
— Jeremy Hay
The Press Democrat