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      A collage of coverage for Jeff Maloney and David Mejia (Photo - Around Alhambra screen grab).

      A collage of coverage for Jeff Maloney and David Mejia (Photo – Around Alhambra screen grab).

      Every election season the powers that be in Alhambra government and politics engage in implicit and not so implicit mass campaigning for their favored candidates. It is done primarily via the taxpayer subsidized Alhambra Chamber of Commerce but now City Hall is getting in on the act too.

      By Sean McMorris

      Here’s how a typical election season in Alhambra plays out. In lock-step, the Alhambra City Council and members of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce Executive Board endorse the same candidates early in an election year and then those candidates’ pictures keep showing up in the Around Alhambra, a  Chamber publication that is unsolicitedly mass mailed to every residence and business in Alhambra. A single political mailer distributed to the same population would cost over $10,000.

      To be sure, the Chamber is not explicitly telling Alhambrans to vote for that candidate like a political mailer does, but does it really matter? The face recognition alone is extremely powerful, but when you throw in feel-good write-ups and candidate photo-ops with other recognizable politicians and community leaders it can make a lasting impression on election day.

      Big-money special interest donors

      Compounding the matter is the reality that non-establishment candidates in Alhambra elections are only able to raise a fraction of the money their opponents do, primarily because the big-money special interest donors line up behind the City and Chamber-backed candidates, often at the urging or behest of a few power brokers in the City.

      A year in advance monthly coverage, 9 Op-Eds

      When incumbent Councilman Stephen Sham was up for re-election in 2014 he benefited immensely from monthly coverage in the Around Alhambra a year in advance of the election (the two other incumbent candidates up for re-election that year were automatically seated­not an uncommon phenomenon in Alhambra).  During his 2014 rotation as Mayor, Sham was allotted nine Op-Eds in the Around Alhambra’s Mayor’s Corner from January to Sept. (See sample of Sham Op-Eds). In addition, Sham showed up in no less than 19 pictures and news articles in the Around Alhambra in 2014. (See sample of Sham photo -ops). The Alhambra Chamber (publisher of the Around Alhambra) also awarded Sham it’s Community Distinguished Service Award three months before the election (with a big write-up in the Around Alhambra, of course), an award that was also bestowed upon Councilman Steven Placido two months before his re-election bid in 2008. Sham’s business was also awarded the Chamber’s “Business of the Year” in 2006, just months before his first city council election. It’s also important to mention that the Alhambra Chamber receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in no-bid city contracts (read article).

      What about the campaign donations?

      According to press accounts, Sham raised over $135,000, mostly in large donations from developers, city contractors, realtors, and big businesses, while his opponent, Eric Sunada, raised around $20,000 in small donations. Sham won the election by a couple hundred votes. Talk about stacking the deck!

      Eleven months in advance

      The same campaign pump priming began again in 2016, when two city councilmembers termed out. The two city council-endorsed and Chamber executive board-backed candidates, Jeff Maloney and David Mejia, “miraculously” began showing up in photo-ops and feel-good stories in the Around Alhambra eleven months before the election. They won their races and, like Sham, benefitted greatly from large donations from moneyed interests.

      2018 elections

      A screen grab from the September issue of Around Alhambra (Photo - screen grab).

      A screen grab from the September issue of Around Alhambra (Photo – screen grab).

      Now, in 2018, at least one of the candidates in the three city council races is getting the same free publicity. The Around Alhambra’s Sept. 2018 issue published no less than 8 pictures of that candidate handing out awards with the mayor.

      Inappropriate and biased

      And this year, City Hall has decided to get in on the act with its new online “news” site. Thus far the candidate in question has benefited from two City postings in recent months. Both show the candidate being congratulated by the mayor followed by a short write-up. Regardless of the reasoning behind the recognition, such postings by City Hall so close to a municipal election are inappropriate and biased in that other candidates in the same race are not being similarly promoted and recognized for their good deeds in the community. Did I mention that this candidate is backed by the current Alhambra City Council and Alhambra’s political power brokers?

      The candidate will remain unnamed since they have already received enough subsidized publicity, but readers can figure it out with a little research. If history is any guide, then other City/Chamber-backed candidates will start receiving similar favorably biased treatment in Chamber and City Hall publications as we get closer to November.

      It would not be so bad if Alhambra City Hall and the Chamber granted the same coverage to other candidates in the race. But they don’t. And that is why this implicit campaign racket is so unethical. It could also be illegal (read article). If any of the unaudited city funds going to the Chamber each year is being used for the publication of the Around Alhambra then it is a violation of the Political Reform Act. It is also questionable whether or not such postings on the City’s website constitutes a misuse of public resources for a campaign activity, as outlined in CA Gov. Code 8314.

      Let’s hope that City Hall, and the Chamber, end this shady practice for the rest of 2018 and beyond. But don’t hold your breath. Too much is at stake this year for Alhambra’s entrenched power brokers. Three city councilmembers are terming out, so you can be sure that the establishment will be pulling out all the stops.

      Something for Alhambrans to keep in mind when they open up the monthly Around Alhambra, and when they go to the polls in November.


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      Comments

      1. Mario F. says:

        Great article and I am reading this late, but I believe the publication run by the chamber of commerce is Around Alhambra. The Alhambra Source is a “trilingual community news site” that seems to hew closer to journalistic integrity than the other.

        • Staff says:

          Thank you Mario. The correction was made prior to publishing but a Cache problem made the old caption keep reappearing. Thanks to your comment we made a whole site Cache clearing and the corrected caption appears under the photos.

      2. Stephen Chavez says:

        It is unfair to attack a candidate who is being profiled in pictures or recognized by the Mayor of Alhambra because of their work in the community. I see it differently. Unlike some people who just want to stay in an elected office for their ego, whether it be on a school board or city council, we have some candidates who actually have been giving of their time for many years to the city. They’ve worked their way up to earn our votes for a seat on city council. Some folks see this as a genuine way to “pay your dues.” Understand how city politics work and the key players and organizations that keep a city moving forward. Some may find this a good quality to have on the council — someone who actually cares enough to give back not just during an election season, but over many years. I call it smart politics. In the political game, you cannot beat free publicity. Many candidates throughout the country hire teams of staff to get them that kind of valuable recognition. Perhaps the other candidates need to be smarter and work harder. Just sayin’.

      3. Gloria Valladolid says:

        Having lived in Alhambra for 22 years and having been involved in local politics for ten years, I am pleased that Sean is providing accurate information re the Alhambra City Council (Council). His documented researched revelations about the unethical practices of the Council provide solid information for the local citizenry. A democracy demands information to make informed decisions. If the citizenry reads Sean’s article, surely they will make sound selections of sincere candidates. The voting public will elect candidates for the people instead of candidates for the oligarchy and business interests without concern for the welfare of their consituents. Thanks, Sean, for devoting precious time and energy to reveal the truth and awaken a democracy.

      4. michael lawrence says:

        This is the way it is always done in Alhambra. First you are vetted by the Rotary Club and Chamber. If you are a player,you will receive financial backing organized by former or current city council who act as consultants for developers and city contractors. Endorsements follow from all of the current council and the Around Alhambra chamber paper runs your PR campaign. Blanket the city with expensive brochures about public safety and you are in.

      5. Clark says:

        Not exactly sure the point of this article other than pointing out more people (incumbents) campaign more then their opponents and that city hall donates money to the chamber of commerce, which isn’t a government body and can do what they want with donated money. Council member wrote 9 op-ed pieces, how many other opponents submitted one?

        • Sean says:

          Hi Clark, if you go to the links in the article you can read more about why this type of coordinated taxpayer subsidized campaigning is inappropriate. The Alhambra Chamber of Commerce receives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from Alhambra City Hall. Chambers cannot do what they want with their money if that money is coming from the City’s general fund. That money cannot be used for political purposes or to publish a mass mailing. Regarding your op-ed comment. The Alhambra Chamber only allows the Mayor to write op-eds.

        • Dennis Cozen says:

          Clark —
          There’s something you’re not getting…actually, quite a lot.

          1). City Hall (a government body) subsidizes the Chamber of Commerce along their free monthly newspaper WITH TAXPAYER MONEY. The Chamber is then providing FREE publicity and exposure to their (and City Hall’s) candidates of choice and this “newspaper” gets sent to EVERY HOUSEHOLD in the city.

          2). Council member “opponents” don’t get their op-ed pieces or ANY articles published in the paper because a). You have to be a chamber member or, be cleared by paper’s Executive Director, and b). When/if you do join such as a community organization did and who city hall and the chamber did not consider part of their little developer/business club…their membership is declined.

          The POINT of the article is that this Good Ol’ Boys (and Girls) Club continues to control city hall as they’ve done for over 40 years. There are legacy families and several former council members who are part of this outfit.

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