It’s been standard practice for years for political hacks to fling mud at opposing candidates. While it is appropriate to compare/contrast qualifications, issue positions, funding sources and an incumbent’s voting record most people agree character assassination is inappropriate. The most common form of the “smear” is liberal/leftist accusing their conservative opponents of being “bad people”. This is often in the form of “racism”, sexual impropriety and/or the always popular “you’re a liar” In recent years, city council races have dabbled with this tactic. Readers might remember Ward 4 Councilor David Wiechman was accused of having a naked lady picture on his computer and Ward 3 Councilor Pete Roybal was accused of exaggerating his military service in a Green Beret unit. These relatively minor smear jobs entailed former Councilor Sue King doing a robocall “warning” voters not to vote for these bad men.
In this year’s desperate battle to retain control of City Council the establishment and their allies in the progressive wing of the Jeffco Democratic party fine-tuned the art of the smear. They even created a whole Facebook page devoted to mudslinging called NotGoodEnoughForLakewood. In Ward 3 they claimed Mike Bieda’s failure to be retained as judge was not because he was tough on poor performing lawyers but rather due to some undefined “unfairness” to women in his divorce case rulings. But their big guns were focused on Ward 1’s Ramey Johnson.
Their problem was Ramey Johnson is such a good person and so highly regarded by the voters there is no “mole hill to turn into a mountain”. Ramey’s opponents made several attempts to mischaracterize some of her votes on Council. But as the election wore on the attacks on her voting records weren’t resonating with the average voter. In an act of last minute desperation, the Democratic supporters of the challenger Kyra DeGruy decided to try the “bad person” card. Without the standard racism or sexism card to play against Ramey, they settled on trying a “homophobic” charge.
At the November Ward 1 town hall meeting on the Saturday before the election, a woman upset with the large amount of special interest money flooding into the DeGruy campaign took it upon herself to comb through the City’s campaign finance reports and compile a summary of the sources of DeGruy’s unprecedented campaign donations. Although this information was already available from sources like Lakewood Watchdog, this woman handed out a flyer that included brief descriptions of each person or group who donated to DeGruy. While the descriptions were relatively straightforward and bland, the description ascribed to Karen Kellen was that she was a former City Councilor and an advocate for gay rights. While this innocuous description is technically accurate and nonjudgmental, someone decided to interpret this description as an “attack” on homosexuals. While good people can debate the merits of the characterization used in the woman’s handout, it had nothing to do with the election until someone claimed it was Ramey who wrote and handed out this flyer.
Within hours after the town hall meeting someone wrote up an anonymous story for the Democratic mudslinging website called Coloradopols. The story claimed the Ward 1 Race “Takes Turn For the Nasty.” The article charges … “Ramey Johnson distributed to attendees” … a handout about DeGruy. The story goes on to claim “the description provided by Johnson..” are “not exactly flattering”. The Coloradopols post concludes with the statement, “To summarize ….Ramey Johnson lifted a six-year blurb about … Karen Kellen, and used it out of context … with the obvious purpose of smearing Johnson’s opponent … by implicitly casting DeGruy’s donors as out of the mainstream.” While the question as to whether there is anything homophobic about the flyer is debatable, it is not relevant to the campaign since it involved someone else, not Ms. Johnson. After the story came out, Johnson’s campaign was quick to point out that neither their candidate nor any of their campaign staff had anything to do with the subject handout.
While political hacks misinterpreting and misrepresenting candidates’ positions and then attacking candidates for the very positions they invented is common practice in national and state politics it is still unusual at the municipal level. But that’s not the worst of it, there’s more. The City has promoted the website “Nextdoor.com” as an internet vehicle for improved communication and community building. Although debates on local politics would be a good use of the site, Nextdoor.com claims they don’t allow users to engage in politicking. In this vein, some of the “leads” (the local people assigned to monitor and control postings) have removed posts critical of the policies of Lakewood’s Mayor, City Council and administration. While censoring is a subject of concern, one of the Nextdoor.com “leads” took the problems with this internet site to a whole new level.
A friend and political ally of Mayor Adam Paul is Brian Bissell who doubles as a “lead” for two of the Nextdoor.com neighborhoods. Within hours of the erroneous post on Coloradopols.com, Bissell posted an article on Nextdoor.com entitled “Ramey’s Behavior is Disappointing“. Bissell proceeded to copy the entire blog and prefaced it with an opinion we should “insist that our Lakewood community leaders and candidates focus exclusively on the issues at hand without resorting to personal attacks on other people …. There should not … be room for smearing others.” Then Bissell proceeds to smear Ramey Johnson with the bogus Coloradopols. com article described above. He concludes with the statement, “We should all also remember this behavior if and when Ramey seeks to run for mayor again.”
Of course, within hours of Bissell’s post, people who actually attended the Ward 1 town hall corrected him with the fact Ramey didn’t have anything to do with the handout in question and the blog was erroneous. Within a day the post was pulled down but the question remains as why Adam Paul’s allies are allowed to be Nextdoor. com “leads” and then misuse this power to promote establishment candidates in political elections.