Monday, May 7, 2007

Watson's dirty campaign

I was initially impressed with the Darrell Watson campaign for Council District 8. Their campaign found this website before anyone else, and used the medium to get out their press releases and news stories trumpeting their candidate. I was happy to be part of it, distributing useful information to the people.

When Watson was attacked in the media for a 2003 child spanking incident that led to a misdemeanor conviction, I defended him, finding the story both offensive and irrelevant.

But a series of allegations began to build. An innocent Web poll led to spurious accusations by Watson's campaign manager, attacking the Madison campaign behind the cloak of anonymity. He then "spoofed" the poll by assuming different Internet identities, helpfully indicating how easy it would be to alter the results.

I was surprised when some anti-Watson attack ads on YouTube mysteriously disappeared. Who had been behind them, and why were the ads retracted? It never occurred to me that the ads may have been engineered by the Watson campaign itself, attempting to curry sympathy or raise suspicions over the origins of Watson's bad news.

But now, I wonder.

Watson's endorsements lauded him for his "openly gay" status, yet the candidate himself said nothing about it, not even in passing. I don't care what his status is, but the ongoing silence led Dear Denver to wonder. Was he trying to be all things to all voters ("the non-gay gay")?

It just didn't jibe. Proud statements to one audience were somehow invisible to the masses.

Concerns about the campaign's mechanics for contacting voters also came under question. wrote an article expressing dismay over Watson's unsolicited emails:
I still find it disturbing that Mr. Watson (or perhaps his "camp") harvested my email address without my permission (illegal, by the way) for bulk-email purposes. If I had received an email explaining how I got on the list, and providing me the opportunity to opt in should I wish, that would have been another story.
Then came duplicity regarding Watson's financial statements. Whether the campaign's claims totally mangled or simply massaged the facts, they clearly intended to deceive. They lied about raising over $19,000, downplayed the opponent's coffers by more than $9,000, and claimed a "huge lead in fundraising" that belied a truly tight race.

Misstatements of such obvious and verifiable facts were certainly troubling. Yet that concern grew when the candidate himself participated in the deception. In early April, Watson went on national television and magically extended the financial differential from roughly $5000 into an even more impressive $8000.

It seemed hard to believe. Time after time, the discrepancies arose... and only with one candidate.

Then came two weeks of unrelenting attacks against Watson's primary rival, Carla Madison, just as the ballots were reaching Denver voters, as found on Denver Direct :
04/10: Concerns about canceled meetings in Madison's neighborhood organization.
04/11: Allegations of a conflict of interest by Madison's partner, Paul Weiss.
04/12: More questions directed against Madison's partner.
04/14: Comments on a Madison sign placed under a street sign.
04/17: Questions regarding Madison's campaign materials.
04/18: Allegations of financial improprieties during Madison's CPWNA presidency.
04/19: Accusations against Madison's zoning overlay.
04/24: An undocumented conversation with Madison.
04/24: Follow-up on Madison's campaign materials.
What does this have to do with the Watson campaign?

Denver Direct presented itself as an independent entity, unrelated to the Watson campaign. Its posting never came out in favor of a particular candidate, and aside from the apparent vendetta against Madison, readers would naturally conclude that the site was merely an informative guide to the 2007 elections.

But as always, we follow the money. A quick look at Darrell Watson's financial disclosures shows that a Mr Gerald H Trumbule gave the campaign $100 on January 26, 2007. Who is Mr Trumbule? He's the author of Denver Direct. He was giving money a full two months before the blog even began its campaign coverage.

The next line of thinking goes like this: "Even if Trumbule did like Watson, he may have been totally unrelated to the campaign. Perhaps he was just an independent supporter whose actions were wholly unrelated to the campaign staff."

That too would be compelling, if the Watson campaign itself hadn't alerted me to Trumbule's presence.

In late March, the manager of the Watson campaign emailed a personal alert to the videos being placed online at Denver Direct. Never before or since was I notified of a news source from this campaign. Watson's campaign manager told me that the author of the blog
is a supporter of Darrell's but for now is trying to only post the public candidate forums at his site, and has shied away from any editorial comment or specific mentions of any single candidate.
I see. So this wasn't totally unrelated, but in fact continued the work of the campaign. After building up a neutral readership, Denver Direct unleashed a series of attacks against Watson's primary rival exactly when the ballots began arriving at voter's homes.

It doesn't look good. We have a pattern of deception, a series of attacks, and an ongoing manipulations with polls, communications, and finances.

Does that sound like "dirty tricks" to anyone? How about "mean-spirited campaigning"?

In any event, it did lead me to wonder... If this is the kind of campaign Darrell Watson runs, what kind of leader would he be on City Council?

Thankfully, we won't have to find out.


Carla For Council said...

Dear Denver Politics;

I speak for Carla Madison and her entire staff when I say that we were proud to have been associated with Darrell Watson.
He is a bright, principled, articulate young man with great vision and inspirational commitment to his community.
His campaign was conducted with honor and integrity and has earned him even greater respect in his community and among his peers.
It is a great disservice to this outstanding community leader to in anyway associate him with one supporter's unapproved personal expression.

I would like to thank Aaron, Andy and Citizens For Watson for adding so much to the future of District 8. You remain in our highest regard.

Paul Weiss
The Committee to Elect Carla Madison
Denver City Council District 8

Dave Burrell said...

How very politic. I appreciate it when folks understand the campaign ends and the reconciliation needs to begin.

But I also wonder whether Watson is going to throw his support to either of the runoff candidates.

Be sure to let us know if there's any news!

Carla For Council said...

It is not 'politic' Dave.

Let me reiterate.
Darrell Watson's personal conduct was irreproachable and Carla stands behind his dedication and commitment to this community.

His decision to support either candidate is a difficult one and even potentially divisive. I am confident he will make the decision that best reflects his vision for the District 8 community.

Darrell has confirmed my respect and appreciation.

Paul Weiss
The Committee to Elect Carla Madison
Denver City Council District 8

Dave Burrell said...

Of course, it's "politic" (tactful and diplomatic). Nothing wrong with that.

And I'm glad that you're willing to let bygones be bygones.

But I don't like the idea of "gaming" these comments so that real transgressions are simply swept away. That's certainly correct posture for face-saving pronouncements or behind-the-scenes reconciliation, but a blog is an honest conversation that is both living and ongoing.

In considering this, I looked back at some previous postings, which not only reinforced the main thrust of this article but also picked up a few more transgressions by the Watson campaign, as described by you.

In comments regarding the financial duplicity in the Watson campaign you noted:

They also fudged the number last month when they did not include her loan. Twice makes it a habit.

Even more pointedly, with reference to the child-spanking incident, you indicated:

Do I think that Darrell's conviction for "wrongs to a minor" is news? Yes I do.

I believe that a candidate runs with their record with both service and injury.

Which is why your campaign newsletter provided a link to that news story in the Denver Post.

Then there were these follow-on accusations from the same extended comment:

Darrell's present partner personally accused Carla of putting a link to the
Youtube videos on our website. When asked if he had seen our website, he responded, "No, I have just heard some things". He refused to apologize for his unfounded, offensive and spurious accusation.

Then you went to on to ask some "rhetorical questions":

If a Watson supporter tells an undecided voter that Carla has put her name on her endorsement list at and I have to spend time defending her against another spurious accusation, is this spirited politics?

If I were to have several emails stating that another candidate has
exaggerated, taken credit for other's work or made outright fabrications and I decline to use that in our issue oriented campaign, is that spirited politics?

I don't know what "spirited" politics might be, but all of this is yet more evidence of an ugly campaign.

As nice as Darrell Watson may be, his campaign was not conducted with the "honor and integrity" one would hope.

That's not just my read on the situation. I am mainly synthesizing the comments and articles so many other folks have provided (Dear Denver, Westword, ColeNeighborhood, and you).

I do appreciate your earnestness, and thank you for this opportunity to review previous dust-ups... which unfortunately offers more evidence of shenanigans found in no other campaign this election cycle.