By PHILIP RILEY
Almost two months after the election, a highly controversial mailer that is still causing pain and concern throughout the Latino community surfaced again at Monday’s City Council meeting.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of speakers raised the issue of the “racist” and “dehumanizing” campaign mailer sent by a group of business interests opposing Pam Torliatt’s supervisorial campaign.
The mailer, sent to voters in the county’s 2nd District in late October, called into question Torliatt’s stance on the possibility of providing sanctuary status for illegal immigrants in Sonoma County.
At a Latino conference leading up to the election, Torliatt said she would consider supporting the sanctuary policy. County law enforcement officials later said that they don’t check immigration status and that current policy is not far from a sanctuary policy.
The mailer samples headlines from The Press-Democrat and San Francisco Chronicle in an attempt to link the 2008 murders of a San Francisco family by an illegal immigrant to sanctuary policies in San Francisco. The mailer was titled “Torliatt’s sanctuary idea is no picnic” and implied that the murders — which happened as the family was returning from a picnic — could happen in Sonoma County if the policy was in place. The mailer was not sent by Supervisor-elect David Rabbitt’s campaign, but rather an independent organization supporting Rabbitt called the Citizens for Transportation Funding.
Speakers on Monday condemned the attempt to link immigrants to violence as well as the pain that the mailers had caused Latinos, who make up the majority of immigrants in Sonoma County and California.
Petaluman Carl Patrick said that the mailer was “insinuating that Latinos are going to murder innocent white families at a picnic,” and said that although he was not a Torliatt supporter, the mailer was “quite offensive” to all immigrants.
“It was implying that a single group created a complex social problem,” said Petaluma resident Barry Bussewitz. Bussewitz said that the mailer was “scapegoating” immigrants.
Some also called on Rabbitt to distance himself further from the mailer, taking issue to him first responding to the mailer by saying “it is what it is” when asked about it by the Press Democrat.
But on Monday, Rabbitt acknowledged the pain that the mailer had caused and said that he would have designed the mailer differently if it was up to him.
“I can tell you that the first time I saw that piece was when I pulled it out of my mailbox,” Rabbitt said.
“The sad fact is that no matter how advanced we think we are, discrimination exists,” he said. “Many of us don’t feel it directly like others do.”
While Rabbitt said that he thinks that sanctuary is an important issue and reiterated his position against the policy, he pledged to work together with Latinos as supervisor when he takes office in January.
“I will have a dialogue with the Latino community,” he said.
Latino leaders said they were pleased by Rabbitt’s response.
“The mailers threw a barrier between him and the Latino community,” said Holly Jaramillo, secretary of the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club. “We are really grateful that he recognized the harm that these mailers do.”
Jaramillo said that a number of speakers coordinated to come forward at the meeting because “we felt that it was important for him to speak to the issue.”
“He did just that,” she said. “He acknowledged that it hurt. We are more than happy to work with Mr. Rabbitt.”
Jaramillo at the meeting also announced the formation of a group of local organizations that plan to fight racism in the county. She said that the group would soon be distributing a pledge to elected officials and candidates asking them to promise not to use racist language in their campaigns and denounce racist language in support of their candidacy.
Jaramillo called the formation of the yet-unnamed group and the dialogue with Rabbitt was “sort of a silver lining” to the hurtful mailer.