SAN JOSE -- Two San Jose City Council candidates are accusing their rivals of using race-baiting tactics in campaign mailers funded by independent expenditure committees -- tactics they say are below the belt and have no place in local politics.
Johnny Khamis, a financial adviser of Christian Palestinian descent who is running in a tight District 10 race against sportscaster Robert Braunstein, who is Jewish, has called on Braunstein to denounce a recent mailer that displays a Khamis quote and accompanying tagline that reads, "Arab-American Leaders Mobilize Constituents for US Elections," above Khamis' face. In bold type, the mailer also reads, "Khamis ... Too Extreme."
The mail piece was paid for by the San Jose Firefighters union political action committee, which supports Braunstein.
In the District 8 race, where incumbent City Councilwoman Rose Herrera is battling challenger Jimmy Nguyen, a recent mailer quotes Assemblywoman Nora Campos, a labor ally and former San Jose city councilwoman, saying: "Even though Rose Herrera is not Latina, as our representative, she should know our values."
That mail piece was paid for by the Committee for Safe San Jose Neighborhoods -- Support Nguyen for City Council 2012, an independent committee that includes employee unions furious at Herrera for supporting the San Jose pension reform measure that voters passed overwhelmingly in June.
Tom Saggau, a political consultant with both independent
However, the Rev. Jethroe Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he's disappointed by what he considers the racist strategies being used by the independent committees.
"My call is for everyone in our city and county to disengage in any racially motivated bias that would be going on in these ads," Moore said. "We don't want to tolerate that or put up with it any longer."
In the District 10 mailer favoring Braunstein, Khamis is quoted praising then-President George W. Bush's "fantastic job" in supporting small business. The mailer compares Bush's budget blunders and questions whether Khamis, a Republican, and his ideas are "too extreme."
"It somehow equates my ethnicity with extremism, and I find that disgusting," Khamis said.
Braunstein said his campaign has no control over the firefighters' mailer, but added, "I don't think there should be racist attacks in a City Council race."
On Thursday, after receiving a second letter from the NAACP's Moore, Braunstein agreed to donate to a discrimination-fighting organization $1,000 in contributions linked to a Jewish supporter, Dennis Teifeld. The San Jose insurance broker began a whisper campaign against Khamis in early September, partly through emails that labeled Khamis an anti-Jewish enemy of Israel with a national agenda.
In September, Moore wrote Braunstein a letter asking him to publicly condemn Teifeld's tactics, and Braunstein denounced Teifeld's message on his campaign website blog. Moore at the time also asked Braunstein to take any contributions he received "as a result of this kind of race-based attack" and donate them to an organization that fights discrimination and racism.
Campaign records show Braunstein by then had accepted $1,500 in contributions from Teifeld, his wife and his office manager.
A month later, when Mayor Chuck Reed was deciding whom to endorse in the District 10 race, he said he talked to Braunstein about the Teifeld contributions, and asked him to consider donating the money. Braunstein later told him he would do that, said Reed, who ultimately endorsed Khamis.
Yet later campaign records show Braunstein's campaign donated only $500 from Teifeld, but not the additional $1,000.
This week, after Moore's second letter to Braunstein asked the candidate to explain "how you have elected to accept the fruit of the poisonous tree into your campaign," Braunstein met with Moore early Thursday and agreed to donate the remaining $1,000.
In the bitter District 8 race, Herrera said the mailer's message that she is not a Latina is an insult to voters in the Hispanic community, because "they're going to make their decision like everybody else, which is: Who is the best qualified candidate, not based on the candidate's ethnic background?"
Herrera, whose maiden name is Jesse, was married for 15 years to Joel Herrera, with whom she has a grown son and two grandsons who share that surname. She said she has never claimed to be Hispanic, and kept the last name of her first husband over the years because "my son identified as Hispanic, and I did not want to have a different name than him."
She has been married to her third husband, Matt Wahlin, since 2008.
Nguyen said he opposes racism "in all of its forms" but said he did not consider the mailer quoting Nora Campos to be racist. Moreover, he said, he has no control over an independent committee's campaign materials.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.