May 18 2016 12:50 AM

For next three weeks no mailbox, TV screen is safe

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San Diego voters may be shaken, but not stirred into action, by recent campaign advertising.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

If you don’t advertise yourself, you will be advertised by your loving enemies.

—Elbert Hubbard

It’s down-the-stretch time for local political candidates, and you know what that means: overstuffed postal repositories with a side order of broadcast blather, please!

Yes, we are less than three weeks away from the June 7 primary—the end of Round 1 in that all-but-too-familiar, perpetually noxious, mind-numbingly head-throttling Sweepstakes from Hell in which we take two minutes to pick our political leaders for the foreseeable future.

The whole country’s been playing along for some time, and now it’s California’s turn. If you’ve spent any time outside your cave in the last year, that sulfur-y smell you might have noticed is actually the last remnants of our levelheaded democracy imploding upon itself. See, there’s this New York billionaire, with structurally impossible hair who says anything his sequestered brain synapses tell him to, who apparently wants to be leader of the Free World That Could Catch Fire At the Mere Mention of a Match.

This guy, he’s running against an accomplished woman and former First Lady who Republicans regard as the second coming of Satan while Democrats hum tunes to themselves as they await the grating outcome of her battle with a wild-haired, feisty, 74-year-old Vermonter who has the kids all hyped on his sugary tales of Democratic Socialism.

It’s still hard to know if California will play a role in the latter contest, which would be the nonsensical tradition for the most populous state in the Union. Still, there’s plenty going on in the undercard, as San Diegans who have a mailbox or a news-spewing device are likely beginning to realize.

The sample ballot alone—shipped out beginning last week—clocks in at 146 pages, gargantuan enough to jam open a door or, quite possibly, stop a small-caliber bullet. (Side note: Spin Cycle has no idea if recycled paper was used in their production, but just in case not, let us share a moment of silence for the trees that made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of democracy… Thank you.)

As if that weren’t enough, receiving a sample ballot also means that sweet letter from grandma probably got crushed ruthlessly at the bottom of your mailbox from the weight of the endless campaign mailers streaming in like a barrage of unsolicited love notes from that creepy neighbor with the large set of binoculars.

Some claim to adore this period of the campaign season, like receiving a folded-up, placemat-sized sheet of stock paper emblazoned with promises, warnings and staged photos of smiling candidates equates to a relationship, even though most people wouldn’t invite these folks into their homes if it were burning and they held the only bucket of water in town.

The communal dumpster at Spin Central is typically filled with these mailers as soon as they arrive, raising the issue of message-conveying effectiveness. This is a depressing notion, considering that someone somewhere—be it a wide eyed political dreamer or a sleep-deprived cynic operating from mom’s basement—spent at least some time creating them in the hopes of persuading voters to join their team.

Sometimes the results are humorous. As noted by challenger Justin DeCesare last week, incumbent Republican District 7 City Councilmember Scott Sherman was featured smiling in one mailer in a spiffy dark-blue logo-less shirt. As of Tuesday, a hauntingly similar photo remained on Sherman’s Facebook page, with one glaring difference: This one included a San Diego Chargers lightning bolt logo.

Far be it for Spin to demonize the pleasures of photoshopping, but this one seemed quite absurd—considering Sherman’s recent chiding of the Chargers over the team’s preference for a new stadium downtown versus remaining in Mission Valley, part of his district. Surely the guy owns another shirt and could have posed for another picture. (It’s also fun to remember back to last year when Sherman led an excursion up to Sorrento Valley in a poorly received effort to convince Qualcomm executives to move its headquarters to the Mission Valley stadium site.)

Then there are the negative campaign mailers, those where one candidate tries to characterize their opponent in the most unflattering manner possible. On Monday, a mailer from the San Diego County Democratic Party arrived, touting the candidacy of District 3 City Council candidate Chris Ward on one side, but on the other featuring a photo of smiling opponent Anthony Bernal alongside perhaps the most hated Republican in town, mega-developer and former Union-Tribune owner Doug Manchester.

“Former U-T owner, Trump delegate and anti-marriage equality Prop 8 underwriter Papa Doug Manchester and his wife are among the largest financial contributors to Anthony Bernal’s City Council campaign,” the mailer blared. “Developers, downtown special interests and far-right donors are counting on Anthony Bernal to look out for their interests at City Hall. But what about your interests?”

It’s an old but often effective tactic among campaign guerillas. In the bitterly contested District 1 council race, the right-wing Lincoln Club of San Diego County has come under fire again for mailers it paid for that attempt to paint Democrat Barbara Bry—running against the club’s perennial favorite and previous loser to Sherri Lightner, Ray Ellis—as a cheerleader for a downtown stadium, which she has strongly denied.

Bry’s support of the Citizens Plan, a proposed November ballot measure written by activist attorney Cory Briggs that would raise the city’s hotel tax and reform how tourism dollars are managed, was apparently all the proof the Lincoln Club needed, even though Bry and the Citizens Plan oppose public subsidizing of a stadium.

“My first reaction was, ‘How can Ray Ellis and his supporters be continuing to lie about something they know is a lie,’” Bry told KPBS last week.

The typical answer is: because the candidate tied to making the accusation has little else to say. This is the beauty of the negative ad—it itself can make news, it deflects from the accuser’s own shortcomings, and it pays someone’s bills.

But frankly, the mailers pale to the onslaught that television viewers must endure during the final stages of election season. The back of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s head, for example, has already appeared countless times on San Diego’s own Fox News Lite, aka KUSI.

In his ad, “A Better Way,” Faulconer—from behind—is seen walking through an anonymous construction zone with the sounds of synthesized strings swelling in the background. “There’s a heartbeat, there’s a rhythm to San Diego, and you can feel it right now,” Faulconer coos in the voiceover. “A sense of energy, a sense of enthusiasm, a sense of you know we’ve been through some tough times but we’re back.

“You make great things happen by bringing people together, figuring out consensus. I’m going to continue that,” he adds to a crashing cymbal as he sits in what appears to be his Point Loma kitchen.

But what catches Spin’s eye in the ad is a portion of a large sign leaning against the backsplash behind the oven that appears to read “COCKTAILS.”

It may be the best subliminal message to help San Diegans get through the next couple weeks. To your health!


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