"Sound trumpets! Let our bloody colours wave! And either victory, or else a grave."
Imagine a Republican Party victory in San Diego these days minus fanfare. No chest thumping on social media from local party chairman Tony Krvaric that the end days are approaching for "socialists" and "union stooges." Instead, utter silence.
Well, imagine no more! Now, it wasn't a big win last week—three seats on the Navajo Community Planners Inc. (NCPI) board, an advisory panel of residents, business types and landowners that deliberates over development affecting Del Cerro, San Carlos, Grantville and Allied Gardens. But, hey, when you're hot, etc.
Maybe it was the ease of the election win—a trio of men all tied to the pro-development Building Industry Association of San Diego County, only one facing competition. (As a community member told Spin Cycle, "Show up with your wife, and you're in!") Or maybe it was the use of overkill to secure those spots. Whatever the reason, the episode has a host of folks holding their noses.
From what Spin has pieced together, it began with an email from Mike McSweeney, a familiar face in local political funny pages. A loyal soldier in the local Republican Party, McSweeney gained notoriety in 2008 as campaign manager of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders' reelection effort after he slipped disparaging material to dreadlocked mayoral candidate Eric Bidwell to use against Sanders' rival, Steve Francis. Instead, Bidwell went public, and McSweeney awkwardly stepped down.
This time, McSweeney—the local BIA's senior public-policy adviser and a Navajo planning board member himself—sent an email to BIA contacts requesting support at the March 18 annual Navajo election for "3 gentlemen" he described as "solid, pro-business Republicans."
"Mayor [Bob] Filner's mantra is we'll be listening to the community' and he looks for a stronger role from community Planning groups like NCPI," McSweeney wrote in the March 12 email, which came attached to an official-looking flyer noting the date, time and location of the upcoming election and urging support for BIA compatriots Matt Adams (his boss and a registered lobbyist), Steve Grimes (head of its subcontractor council) and John LaRaia (chairman and CEO of the BIA's political action committee).
In his email, McSweeney targets current Navajo chairman Anthony Wagner as "Mat Kostrinsky's campaign manager and Filner ally," adding, "Having a business friendly voice on NCPI is critical to balance the far left activists who already sit on the board." (Republicans actually outnumber Democrats on the board 3-to-1.)
Kostrinsky is the former union political director who lost to District 7 Councilmember Scott Sherman in last June's primary. Kostrinsky recently ended a stint on the planning board.
McSweeney's email found its way to Sherman's wife, Norma Mouet, a politically active community member. On March 13, Mouet forwarded McSweeney's email to her contacts, adding in all caps: "WE NEED YOUR HELP! IT'S EXTREMELY IMPORTANT WE VOTE FOR THESE 3 GENTLEMEN . SHOW UP, VOTE AND YOU MAY LEAVE. THE OTHERS' BUS PEOPLE IN---- THEY WANT TO TAKE OVER THE PLANNING GROUP, WE NEED TO STOP THEM. BRING A FRIEND OR NEIGHBOR TOO."
Days later, letters from a group calling itself "Navajo Republicans for Better Planning" began dropping in neighborhood mailboxes. Spin could find no one in the community who'd ever heard of the group, but the signatory was all too familiar—GOP honcho Krvaric. So, too, were the included phone number and P.O. Box—local GOP contact listings.
"On Monday, March 18th we will have the opportunity to elect good Republicans to the Navajo Planning Group Board of Directors," Krvaric wrote, bungling the name. "Too often these boards are run by Democrats who do not share our values."
"These Republicans," Krvaric added, "will ensure that our community's interests are well represented and that you will always have a voice." He then asks recipients to "join me" in voting for the trio, with a concluding "Hope to see you there, every vote counts!"
No attendees of the March 18 election at Zion Avenue Church contacted by Spin could recall seeing the GOP chairman there. And why would they? Krvaric, who lives in Scripps Ranch and works in Rancho Bernardo, was ineligible to vote.
Spin Cycle reached out unsuccessfully to Krvaric and McSweeney for their take on the election antics.
Cindy Martin, an Allied Gardens resident and constructionindustry worker who recently completed nine years on the Navajo board, received the correspondences and had two words to describe them: "offensive" and "disrespectful."
"How dare these people try to politicize our election process!" she told Spin. "I've never heard of Navajo Republicans for Better Planning,' and I sure don't need someone telling me, as a Republican, that I need to fall in line with my community-planning-board choices. That really ticked me off."
Martin said she asked Sherman, who attended the March 18 election, point-blank about his wife's involvement. "He told me, That was my wife, not me,'" she said.
Reached by phone, Mouet said "I don't" when asked if she had thoughts about the appearance of undue influence, considering her close ties to Sherman, and defended her involvement as a private citizen exercising her free-speech rights.
Asked about the involvement of the Republican Party in such a low-level election effort, Mouet said, "I could show you all kinds flyers that I get, and letters." But from a party chairman? "It is not unusual. I'm sorry, I gotta go," she said, then hung up.
In a statement, Diana Palacios, Sherman's communications director, echoed the First Amendment defense, arguing that right "is not canceled out by the fact that she is married to an elected official."
Adams, the only candidate among the three who faced opposition, told Spin in an email that Kostrinsky is alone in making the partisanship claim and hinted at sour grapes for losing to Sherman. To which Kostrinsky, a Democrat, replied, "Partisan? I voted for Matt [Adams]!" The Navajo group, Adams added, "will be the final arbiter" on complaints Kostrinsky's filed regarding the unusual electioneering.
That's not totally correct. Council Policy 600-24, which governs the city's 42 planning groups, not only prohibits "slates' of candidates" but also places final investigative authority with the Mayor's office, an intriguing scenario potentially pitting Krvaric and Co. against Filner, the man they love to hate.
If Spin's planning anything, it's to keep an eye out for that.