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Latino Groups Accuse Conservative Organization Of Using Racist Mailers Against Alvarez

Photo by Sandhya Dirks

Present.org's Refugio Mata leads a protest against a mailer sent out by the conservative-leaning Lincoln Club, Feb. 4, 2014.

A lot of trees have gone into campaigning for San Diego’s special mayoral election. So many political mailers clog up our mailboxes that they tend to blur together; the positive ones a flurry of testaments to unity and pothole fixing, and the negative ones: mostly unflattering and photoshopped images of the opposed candidate.

Latino groups are claiming a conservative group is using racist mailers to target City Councilman David Alvarez, but the group said the mailers aren't racist.

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But one mailer stands out, at least to a couple of groups of national and statewide Latino activists. The organizations presente.org and the Courage Campaign have said a recent mailer sent out by the conservative-leaning Lincoln Club is using subtle images of mayoral candidate City Councilman David Alvarez to suggest that he is a gang member.

In the mailer, unflattering photographs of a scowling Alvarez are photoshopped onto the body of a guy flashing what some say is a gang sign and gripping a giant wad of cash.

Presente.org’s Refugio Mata said this is an example of dog whistle racism. That is the kind of racism that plays on coded messages to drum up hidden and underlying stereotypes.

Mata said in the day and age of political correctness, this kind of racism is the most insidious. “This kind of dog whistle tactic is even more perverse than overt racism. Because when you look at it, you might at first not think that it's racist, ” he said.

Photo credit: Working Together for Neighborhood Fairness

A Lincoln Club-sponsored mailer sent during the 2013 special mayoral primary election that Latino groups allege is racist.

But Mata said make no mistake, “because of the history that is there, because of how stereotypes have been used to put down, humiliate, to dehumanize, people of color—especially brown people and Latino people.”

Mata said these images suggest that any brown person can instantly be conflated with being in a gang, even a successful and up-and-coming young politician like Alvarez.

The Lincoln Club is not known for subtlety in its advertising. In the first leg of this mayoral battle, the group photoshopped pictures of then-mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher tipping back champagne, trying to emphasize a playboy image for the man who had switched political affiliations twice in the same number of years.

On Tuesday, a handful of protesters from presente.org and the Courage Campaign showed up at an event they promised would be outside the Lincoln Club’s headquarters.

The only problem: they got the location wrong, showing up instead outside the offices of Lincoln Club treasurer April Boling (she is also the treasurer for mayoral candidate City Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s political campaign). After a brief skirmish with some other business owners in the building, the police were called and the protesters dispersed.

Photo by Angela Carone

City Councilman Kevin Faulconer at the KPBS mayoral debate.

Despite the wrong address, are they right to say that racism is dogging the campaign?

Tony Manolatos, a spokesman with the Lincoln Club, said the answer is a definitive no.

He called the whole event a last-minute “desperate political stunt.” He does not deny the mailers were attacking Alvarez and supporting his rival, Faulconer.

“Look, we’re a pro-business political action committee. We sling mud, but we don’t sling that type of mud,” he said.

It’s not the first time the issue of gangs has come up during an Alvarez campaign. In 2010, when he was running for the city council District 8 seat he currently holds he faced off against Felipe Heuso. Heuso is the brother of the former District 8 Councilman Ben Heuso.

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In a KPBS debate, Hueso accused Alvarez of being part of a gang element: “It’s a very well known fact the Alvarez family is part of the gang problem, part of the drug problem,” he said.

Alvarez's life story is of staying clear of the gangs and drugs that cropped up in his home turf of Barrio Logan. His older brothers were involved in that culture, but Alvarez kept his nose clean, becoming the first in his family to graduate high school and then college.

His older brothers, Alvarez said, have since turned their lives around.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story spelled April Boling's name incorrectly.

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