Steven Tavares

Aug 292012

Supporters of City Council candidate accuse opponent of “racism”.

The general rule of political campaigning is to first build up your candidate, and only start attacking his opponent if the latter seems to be winning.   It makes little sense to build your opponent’s name recognition early on as voters are likely to remember the name but not necessarily the sin.  Negative campaigning, moreover, is not without its dangers; do it wrong and you risk alienating voters.

A popular tactic is to use proxies for your attack: people who are not officially part of your campaign so that you can deny your personal involvement.  Unfortunately, voters are smart and usually see through this and interpret any negative attack on one candidate as coming from his main opposition.

Good campaign managers know all this, and Charlie Gilcrest is good.  First time candidates, however, often believe they know better and strike out on their own.  This seems to be what happened in the case of Gilcrest client Benny Lee, who is running for the District 4 City Council seat against Chris Crow (whom I support) and Darlene Daevu.   Lee, a social conservative who registered Democrat for this race, has been very active in his Heron Bay neighborhood, but he lacks name recognition in the city as a whole.  His close association with former Mayor Tony Santos, moreover, could be a liability.

As one of his first campaign moves, Lee instigated what could only be described as a dirty attack on Crow.  Crow had posted a link on his private Facebook page,only visible to his Facebook friends, to a news story that quoted the mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist party on the poor performance of Chinese athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games.  According to the spokesman, Chinese athletes cannot compete against westerners because the latter have bigger chests and heads.  Crow found the excuse absurd and ironically commented above the link “so I suppose they really were cheating in 2008 when they took home more Gold medals than the USA or they are the sorest losers in the world.”

Lee, a Chinese-American and Crow’s sole Facebook friend with ties to the players in this saga, apparently saw this comment as an opportunity to play the “race card” and try to portray Crow as “anti-Chinese”.  Lee’s friends quickly contacted Steven Tavares, a friendly blogger, and concocted a story about how the Chinese community was outraged at Crow’s remarks.   As proof, Tavares quoted  several Lee supporters, without identifying them as such.  “He is accusing every Chinese in the world of being cheaters” said Hendy Wijaya (aka Hendy Huang), insisting Crow withdraw from the race.  “When someone coughs up something like that, the heart and mind is discriminating” stated Eduardo Collaco.   Many anonymous comments followed calling Crow a racist.

Dirty and silly campaign tactics are, unfortunately, not new to San Leandro nor to Lee’s cohorts in particular.  In 2010, Lee, Wijaya and Collaco, along with Tavares, were among the biggest supporters of ex-Mayor Tony Santos on his bid for re-election.  Tavares published story after story demonizing Santos’ main opponent, now Mayor Steven Cassidy.  Hendy Huang, meanwhile, filed a complaint against Cassidy with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging Cassidy broke the law by wearing a campaign t-shirt while being “dunked” at a school festival  (Huang, as an aside, tried to have the 9th grade campus named after himself).  The complaint was promptly dismissed.  Santos himself tried to portray Cassidy as racist by suggesting that some anti-Asian/anti-Santos graffiti found in Heron Bay was campaign related.   Lee, meanwhile, has faithfully followed Santos on the anti-rank choice voting campaign he started after losing re-election.   Santos is now paying Lee back by being a vocal participant in the attacks against Chris Crow.

While Crow should not be surprised at the vitriol that characters like Santos and Wijaya/Huang will show throughout the campaign, he is perplexed about the allegations of racial bias against Asians.  Crow grew up in an Asian-American household; his grandmother escaped North Korea after losing her whole family in the war.   He’s lived his whole life in post-integration San Leandro and his circle of friends include people of all races and colors.  His proudest accomplishment is having founded “Team Craig“, an organization which first fundraised to help pay for the medical needs of a Filipino-American friend with cancer, and that now provides scholarships to High School students in Craig’s honor.   Perhaps more poignantly, Crow coaches wrestling at the High School, where most of the team is composed of Asian-Americans.  Despite their alleged “small chests and heads”, Crow believes several have the potential to win gold medals at the Olympics, regardless of what any Chinese Communist Mouthpieces might say.