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February 27, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, February 27, 2004

Pico livid over last-minute smear campaign Pico livid over last-minute smear campaign (February 27, 2004)

PR firm takes blame for wrong information in flier

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Assembly candidate Mayor Tom Pico is furious about a four-page, 8-1/2 by 11-inch, color flier filled with lies about him that was mailed to approximately 40,000 voters in the 20th Assembly District this week.

The hit piece, soliciting votes for candidate Alberto Torrico, states that as mayor of "Pleasonton," Pico junketed around the world many times, including to China and Ireland, on taxpayers' dollars.

"It's an outrageous lie, a total fabrication," said Pico. Polls have shown him as the frontrunner in the Assembly race to replace 20th District Assemblyman John Dutra, although Dutra has endorsed Newark Vice Mayor Torrico.

"It's absolutely ridiculous that people feel they can let these last-minute hit pieces go out," said Pico. "I think they are getting pretty desperate. They can't find something substantial they can attack me on, so they fabricated something."

Pico traveled to China with a group of business and government delegates to a Beijing-Silicon Valley 2001 Technology Conference, but it was paid for by the NBI Chinese American Computer Association. And the only Dublin he has visited is Dublin, Calif. He's never been to Ireland.

City Manager Deborah McKeehan said her first reaction was that the allegation was absurd but nonetheless she checked with the Finance Department and found no such checks had been written. "If I would have gotten a request from Tom or anyone else for international travel, I would have strongly advised them not to do it because it would be hard to justify to the community," she said. "I would have had to give it to the entire council to approve."

The flier was paid for by Moderate Democrats for California and prepared by Townsend, Raimundo, Besler & Usher out of Sacramento. Debbie Coldani, project manager at the public relations firm, said Moderate Democrats will be sending out a flier as soon as possible to voters with an apology to both Pico for the misinformation spread and to Torrico for any embarrassment it caused him.

"David Townsend is very sorry and embarrassed this happened," said Coldani. "He's been doing political campaigns for 30 years and never made a mistake like this. He's mortified."

She said they gave the flier to a consultant whose researcher based information on articles posted on, a colorfully written Web site produced locally.

Coldani described Moderate Democrats as a group that works to elect business-friendly candidates, but Pico's campaign manager Dan Carl questioned this.

"Pico has been endorsed by a ton of businesses but they didn't even interview him," said Carl. "Now they're painting Torrico as the victim." He estimated that at least 40,000 voters received the hit piece and not everyone will read the apology.

Moderate Democrats for California has spent $119,000 this month in support of Torrico, according to the Secretary of State's Web site, but by campaign law the candidate does not see the activities of an independent expenditure committee.

"Torrico did call and say he had no control over who does independent expenditure stuff," said Pico. "I understand that's the way the process works." But, he added, it is a "major abuse of the political process."

"I think it's just despicable that they can fabricate this stuff and do it at the last minute," he said. "It's a clear indication we need some kind of reform."

The primary campaign is especially important because the district is largely Democratic so its candidate is favored to win the race in November.

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