Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sniff Test

Candidate Recommendations – Do They Pass the “Sniff Test”?

As the election season begins its last week, fliers imploring people to vote for candidates continue to pour into and overflow residents’ mailboxes. Each one extols the virtues of their particular candidate or a particular measure.

The Sniff Test
Some of these groups hope voters won’t give the fliers the “Sniff Test”. The “Sniff Test” is a way to literally see how a particular position “smells.” If it seems less than scrupulous, then it fails the sniff test. For example, in the last election cycle, PG&E was the primary backer of Proposition 16 – the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act”. However, Prop 16 was defeated because voters felt PG&E was really trying to protect their own interests. Essentially, it failed the “sniff test” and a majority of voters said “NO”.

A Local Group
Most of the groups behind measures or candidates are a conglomeration of letters and names people think they’ve heard of before, which adds an air of legitimacy to their mailings. The same theory applies to local groups, based in Santa Clara.

One local group is the Mission City Democratic Club (MCDC). The MCDC, as with most politically motivated groups, also has its own slate of endorsements right on the home page of their website. Members of the MCDC have to pay a fee, answer a questionnaire and ask to be considered for endorsements. The Board of the MCDC then decides who should receive their endorsement. However, delving a little deeper, their endorsements raise some questions as people are asking, “Do the MCDC’s recommendations pass the sniff test”?

The Board
  • The President of the board is Chris Stampolis, current candidate for Mayor.
  • The Vice President of the board is Pat Mahan, current candidate for City Council.
  • The Outreach Officer is Dr. Ina Bendis, current candidate for the Santa Clara Unified School District Trustee Area 2.
  • The Secretary/Immediate Past-President is Todd Fitch. He’s not running for any office.
  • The Past-President is Anna Song, wife of Chris Stampolis, current candidate for Mayor.

The Endorsements
The MCDC has endorsed (this is a partial list containing only Santa Clara candidates):
  • Chris Stampolis for Santa Clara Mayor.
  • Dr. Ina Bendis, for SCUSD Trustee Area 2
  • Christine Koltermann for SCUSD Trustee Area 2
  • Adela Saadat for SCUSD Trustee Area 3

The Sniff Test?
MCDC’s endorsement of Stampolis and Bendis smells funny since both Stampolis and Bendis are officers on the board. To be truly objective and easily pass the sniff test, no one on the board would ask for, or receive the endorsement of the MCDC. Look at Pat Mahan. She’s currently Mayor of Santa Clara, is the MCDC's Vice President, is running for City Council, yet she did not receive the MCDC’s endorsement (rumors are she didn't ask for it). The MCDC’s lack of endorsement for Mahan is proper, considering her position on the board.


I received an email from Chris Stampolis that stated:

No one pays a fee to seek endorsement by the Mission City Democratic Club.

The Club's Board does not endorse candidates - the membership does. All endorsement votes are taken by secret ballot.

The process was noticed, open and transparent.

I stand corrected... but let's take a closer look...

The fact of the matter - and this is from members of the MCDC - is that the MCDC won't endorse a candidate who isn't a member. And to become a member you have to pay a fee. So maybe no one pays a fee to seek endorsement but they do pay a fee. I mean, the MCDC won't endorse someone who isn't a member, so... perhaps seeking and getting the endorsement of the MCDC is a perk of membership? Like getting a secret decoder ring when you join the Little Orphan Annie's Secret Circle?

Let's take a look at an interesting choice of words - "noticed, open and transparent". Those are supposed to convey the idea that everything was done above board. Noticed to who (or is it whom?)? I don't recall seeing anything published in any newspaper (main stream or not) that the MCDC was going to vote on their endorsements or was seeking candidates to endorse.

As for the membership voting to endorse a candidate and not the board, it still doesn't pass the sniff test to have board members receiving endorsements from an organization.

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