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The Longest, Silliest Week

Yesterday, a couple of graphics were making the rounds on Facebook, appropriating the image of Ray Charles to promote Paul Perez, and a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote Reed Gusciora. The first seemed to appear only online. The second was apparently printed onto handbills that ended up as handbills appearing in several Trenton neighborhoods.

Both are in pretty bad taste, certainly not very funny in the Ray Charles case, and more than a little condescending in the King graphic. Appropriating any historical or cultural figure, especially one who is deceased, to promote a candidacy is to implicitly claim a specific political endorsement where none exists. That’s not ethical at all. It’s not even smart, considering the cheesy way in which these late greats were used.

As of today, one of the graphics has already been pulled down from Facebook, but copies abound. The Internet is forever, folks. Whatever goes up, even for a short time, lives forever.¬† I won’t post links to either of them.

In fact, the both of these pictures are in such bad taste that it is actually hard to believe – at least that’s what I think – that they were actually the products of the campaigns they supposedly favor. Each of them seem more like trolling efforts by other campaigns seeking to make their candidates look bad, than legitimate graphics commissioned and approved by the campaigns. I reached out to representatives of both the Perez and Gusciora campaigns to ask for clarification.

A representative from Paul Perez’s campaign denied that they had anything to do with both the Ray Charles and the MLK graphics. So, as of this evening, this short-lived graphic seems to be a genuine dirty trick, produced by others to embarrass the Perez campaign.

This afternoon, Reed Gusciora called me. We spoke for a while. Reed told me that neither he nor his campaign commissioned the graphic. Neither did he or the campaign approve it. It is nothing that he ever would approve, and it doesn’t fairly represent the kind of campaign he’s run in the past. That being said, he did say that the flyer with the King graphic was produced by a supporter, working outside of the campaign, who thought he would be doing the campaign a favor by doing this on his own. He regrets that his name is associated with this flyer, and that something like that could be associated with his campaign.

He didn’t name the person who produced it, nor did I ask him to. Mr. Gusciora could have easily disavowed any knowledge of or responsibility for the flyer, but he didn’t. He did say that when he distributes his campaign literature it’s all professionally written and printed, features the “Paid By” language with his name, and he’s sure it’s consistent with the way he’s presented himself as a candidate and public person throughout his career. He regrets that something like this attracts attention at this late stage in the campaign rather than the issues that matter.

On their own, each or both of these graphics on their own likely wouldn’t have seemed so grievous. But since they popped up at the same time as another questionable move, this one made by the Walker Worthy campaign yesterday, it seemed like a sudden rash of suspicious campaign behavior that should be resisted and stopped before it gets any worse.

Yesterday, local resident (and Paul Perez supporter, in the interest of full disclosure) Michael Torres, visiting the downtown state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) office, saw apparent Walker Worthy workers handing out Worthy campaign literature to people, inside the MVS premises. He didn’t take any pictures at the time when the alleged Worthy campaigners were actually distributing the literature before he left, but did go back to record some smartphone video and take some still photographs. This afternoon, another person posted a picture taken at MVS yesterday, adding to the plausibility of this story.

Here is a still photo and screeengrab from Michael Torres’ footage:

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The video indeed does indeed show, as the pictures above do, the main customer seating area of the downtown MVC office. And sure enough, there are a number of Worthy circulars featured in the video, on seats, floors, customer service windows, and in a garbage can. Now, NJ State law explicitly prohibits solicitation of campaign contributions anywhere on government property. That’s not what’s alleged here. There may be no state law (that I could find) against distribution of campaign lit at MVC offices, but there are MVC office rules and regulations against any kind of solicitations on their property. Otherwise one would be fighting off hordes of lawyers and insurance companies the whole time you’d be there. Whether or not there are specific legal prohibitions on doing so, it’s generally understood that campaigns

The video looks legit, but since there was no actual distribution of campaign lit seen on camera, it appeared inconclusive as of yesterday that the Worthy campaign was actually responsible for electioneering in a government office.

However, in the evening, a person by the name of Reese Lennon posted a Facebook comment that seemed to admit that it was the campaign that distributed the handbills at MVS. But in the same statement, Mr. Lennon gave what sounded like an “Everyone Does It” excuse.

IMG_3969I followed up on this post with a question.

IMG_3972The rest of the conversation didn’t go that well.

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And, with that, we were done. By this morning, the entire thread containing Mr. Lennon’s and my comments has been removed from Facebook.

This afternoon, I called the Worthy Campaign headquarters. The person answering the phone confirmed that Reese Lennon works for the campaign, with the title of Campaign Manager. That answered my other question, which I did not have to ask. As manager, he certainly can and does speak officially on behalf of the campaign.

The fact that someone associated with the campaign admitted that the MVC visit was indeed made by someone associated with their campaign showed a level of honesty and accountability that was appreciated. It’s too bad that this accountability was negated in the next sentence when he wrote “I’m sure this goes on in every other campaign and in any other election!”

Well, I’ve never been in a Motor Vehicles office, or any other government office, and been given campaign literature! In fact, I found it very unusual. Whatever good will Mr. Lennon earned in his first comments drizzled away as he got more defensive.

Mr. Gusciora was genuinely regretful. He took responsibility for the act of someone using his name and his campaign even though the person¬† didn’t have his candidate’s knowledge or approval. He owned this incident.

What Mr. Gusciora did not do was blame the incident on “politics.” He didn’t say that “this goes on in every other campaign and in every election!”

This is the last week of Trenton’s every-four-year Silly Season. I do hope that yesterday’s three separate instances of unpleasant campaign stunts are the only ones we see during this next week. Let’s try to stay classy for the rest of this election, and through a likely runoff.

Is that too much to ask?

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