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Watsonville mayor decries attack ad by group supporting Janet Barnes in Assembly primary

Saturday May 22, 2010
By The Monterey Herald

The Monterey Herald, May 22, 2010

Watsonville mayor decries attack ad by group supporting Janet Barnes in Assembly primary
Television spot targets driving record

Herald Staff Writer
Posted: 05/22/2010 01:29:19 AM PDT
Updated: 05/24/2010 12:04:39 PM PDT

Watsonville Mayor Luis Alejo, who is battling Salinas City Councilwoman Janet Barnes in an Assembly primary race, condemned a television attack ad Friday that says he received nine traffic citations and was fined $1,000 for reckless driving.

The ad, which features the inside of a cartoon vehicle in motion with Alejo depicted as a bobble-head doll on the dashboard, was rebuked by Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, a supporter of Alejo.

Alejo and Monning called upon Barnes to repudiate the ad that was placed by an independent group supporting the Salinas elementary school teacher in the sharply contested Democratic primary in the 28th Assembly District.

Monning said ads, such as the one against Alejo, turn campaigns away from critical issues into mudslinging contests. He said Barnes should "take control of her own campaign" and ask that the ad be dropped.

A spokesman for the group responsible for the ad, which began airing Friday, said the 30-second spot was based on Santa Cruz County court records and that Alejo's driving record showed "an egregious pattern of misbehavior."

The ad's narrator alleges Alejo wants to make laws as a legislator when he doesn't follow them.

"Everything in there is backed up," said Gary Davis, spokesman for the Safe Neighborhoods and Better Schools Coalition.

Barnes said in a statement that she has run a positive campaign, and "I wish independent groups would do so, too."

Barnes said she was "not happy" about the ad, but she didn't ask for its withdrawal.

"We have no connection with these independent groups, and I hope and trust that is true of Mr. Alejo's campaign," Barnes said.

Alejo didn't dispute the ad's claim that he had several traffic tickets, but he said the most serious citation, one for reckless driving, dated to when he was 17 or 18 years old. Since then, Alejo, 36, said he has gone on to graduate from Harvard University and become an attorney. He works as an attorney for Monterey County Superior Court.

Alejo, who called the ad "unfair and unfortunate," said he first saw it about 8:30a.m. Friday.

The ad says Alejo had a lien placed on property because he failed to pay taxes.

Alejo said that referred to a home that he co-owned with his father that went into foreclosure and was ultimately sold in a "short sale." The taxes were paid before the transaction, he said.

Alejo has used his father and the home foreclosure in his own television campaign as an example of the economic pressures being faced by many Californians.

Davis acknowledged Alejo paid off the tax bill, but he said the fact he got behind on the property taxes was part of "a pattern of misbehavior."

"Most law-abiding citizens don't have nine violations, including reckless driving and speeding," he said. "Definitely, not people we expect to send to the Legislature."

Alejo said some of the tickets, which spanned 1992 to 2009, were "fix-it" tickets and others were dismissed.

He said the ad was the type of campaign tactic "that turns people off." He suggested that it was prompted by his opponent's recognition of the strength of his candidacy.

"It shows their desperation," he said.

Barnes said she has been the target of a telephone campaign making a false claim she is a Republican, and a racially offensive mailer put out by an independent committee supporting Alejo that insinuates she is personally responsible for Salinas gang violence.

"Campaigns should be about the voters first, and about who is best qualified to serve them," Barnes said.

Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or