It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the press conference held at noon today in front of Eureka City Hall. Seven of the 12 people currently running for seats in city government were present, and an eighth (Ward One candidate Caroline Brooks) had submitted a message of solidarity, which mayoral candidate (and current Ward Two Councilmember) Heidi Messner read from her phone.
That left four people conspicuously absent: city council candidates Anthony Mantova (Ward One), John Fullerton (Ward Three) and Joe Bonino (Ward Five) and mayoral candidate Michelle Costantine.
Today’s event was announced on Monday via a press release, which revealed that all 12 candidates had, back in the height of summer, voluntarily signed a Code of Fair Campaign Practices, pledging, in essence, not to be mean or underhanded. (Mantova sent the Outpost a photo of his signed copy of the pledge, which you can see here.)
Monday’s press release also made the following allegation:
The reality is that many of these pledges have already been broken through harassment of individuals and businesses, hate speech, doxing (the publication or sharing of private, personally identifying information with malicious intent), falsified stories and materials, and other underhanded and absurd attacks on the character, bodies, families and personal lives of fellow candidates.
Juicy, right? Allegations of deceit! Lies! Absurdity!
Mantova and Fullerton dismissed both the statement and today’s press conference as campaign stunts.
“This is just a cheap political grandstand ploy by Heidi Messner and Natalie Arroyo to gain attention,” Fullerton said via email. He felt that signing Monday’s press release would be redundant and unnecessary.
Anyone expecting specifics to emerge at today’s press conference was likely frustrated by most of it. As the noon bells chimed in the nearby St. Bernard Church the candidates took turns speaking into a microphone, a small speaker at their feet, and the majority of their comments were expressions of civic values and calls for decency in the community.
Jeannie Breslin, a candidate in Ward Three, went first, saying, “This isn’t about partisan politics, which breeds divisiveness. This is about civility, living in a small community and leading by example.”
Messner, a pastor, struck a similar tone. “As leaders, we stand together,” she said. “We stand for unity. We stand for decency. And we stand for respect.”
But mixed in with these soothing platitudes were insinuations of skulduggery.
“Intimidation, bullying and hate are beneath this community,” Messner said.
Brooks’s statement included this line: “I don’t want a bully representing me, and I can’t believe the residents would want that either.”
Arroyo, who’s running to retain her Ward Three seat, said criticizing a competitor’s positions and behavior is fair game. “But what isn’t fair … is to attack people for their physical characteristics, use hate speech around people’s abilities, badger businesses into replacing one sign with another when they don’t wish to. That’s the kind of thing that hurts this community.”
And yet! Ward One candidate Hailey Lamb then took the mic and said Monday’s press release does not mean that the four non-signees had broken their pledges. “[We’re] just saying we agree with anti-bullying and we don’t agree with hate speech. That’s all that this is saying.”
After about 25 minutes of this mixed messaging, reporters were invited to ask questions.
“Are any of you,” we asked, “alleging that the four candidates who are not participating today violated that campaign pledge?”
”That wasn’t the purpose of this,” Messner said. “The reason why the code of conduct [document] was made public was because it wasn’t public. … That was the purpose, was to say, ‘Hey, this is something we’ve all said we agree to, so this is something the public should know.’”
Unsatisfied, the press corps kept pressing. Dan Squier of the Times-Standard asked for specifics about the allegation that businesses had been badgered. Breslin then explained that the owner of a local hardware store had gotten harassed after putting up a Breslin campaign sign on the premises, but she didn’t specify who did the alleged harassing, nor did she say who the alleged harassers were aligned with politically.
Arroyo returned to the big picture, noting that there’s a gender disparity in the way candidates are treated, which, yes. Absolutely.
”As female elected officials there seems to be this hyper focus on what we wear and how we look,” she said. All eight of the candidates who signed Monday’s press release are women. Three of the four who didn’t are men. But Arroyo quickly returned to high ground.
“The point [of the press conference] is just to do something positive, to stand together and to show up to speak for something that’s really important to this community,” she said.
Oh … kay. But what of the broken pledges? The hate speech? What about the “underhanded and absurd attacks on the character, bodies, families and personal lives of fellow candidates”?
“So, I know people love to have specific details about bad behavior,” Messner said, responding to yet another call for clarity. “But one of the reasons we did this is not to point people out and humiliate people or try to attack other people, which is exactly what we’re saying we don’t want to do. It’s basically turning the tables, right? …To say specifics is just doing the same thing, really. … We don’t really want to throw everybody or anybody under the bus about things that have happened.”
Back and forth it went.
Finally, Arroyo offered to get specific. She said that Storme Winter, a Eureka resident who has long operated behind the political scenes, “has gone to individuals and businesses demanding that signs be taken down for Jeannie [Breslin] and replaced with John Fullerton signs, and [Winter] went to the Republican Party meeting, which I did not attend, and demanded that they retract the endorsement for my competitor [Breslin] and replace it with Mr. Fullerton. So those are two concrete examples.”
We emailed Fullerton after the press conference. He responded, in part, “Storme doesn’t work for my campaign in any way. He has not endorsed me nor contributed to my campaign. He has not put up any campaign signs for me except the one in his front yard.”
[Note: See an update on this part of the story here.]
Fullerton also insisted that he has run a clean and open campaign and has complied with the Code of Fair Campaign Practices 100 percent.
The Outpost tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Winter at two different phone numbers. We will update if we hear back from him.
Toward the end of today’s press conference a couple members of the public challenged the candidates. Kevin Savio, who’s an administrator on a Facebook page called Humboldt County Conservatives, asked about another page called Eureka: No Place For Hate. He said the page seems dedicated to hating on Mantova and asked the candidates if they’d get on there and denounce the posts.
Breslin said she found the two pages equally appalling. “They’re both hateful,” she said. “They’re both not concerned with supporting truth [or] building community.”
Savio said his own page has recently changed its policies and “deleted a lot of hate,” and for a brief moment it seemed everyone was on the same page: If there’s one thing that people of all persuasions and political stripes can agree on it’s that social media is positively teeming with assholes.
Also: running for public office nowadays can be pretty rough.
Watch the whole press conference, if you’re so inclined, below.
The anonymous person or people behind the Facebook page Eureka: No Place for Hate responded to allegations that the page is itself hateful. We’ve embedded that post below.