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LA MESA -- Guy McWhirter, one of five City Council candidates, has acknowledged helping bankroll a portion of the largely unsigned negative campaign mailings that have targeted candidate Mary England in recent weeks.
Questioned by La Mesa Today about a $5,000 contribution he made to the Public Safety Advocates organization that paid for and circulated the critical mailings, McWhirter acknowledged the funds were intended to help "differentiate the candidates and even the playing field.''
McWhirter said he doesn't like "negative politics'' so he kept his name off the mailing, but felt it was necessary to draw what he says is a clear distinction between England, a relative new resident of La Mesa, and the other candidates, including himself, who have much longer tenures in the Jewel of the Hills.
"I like Mary England,'' he said Thursday. "But I just don't think it is right to move to La Mesa and run for City Council. She has name recognition, but for people like me, with 30 years of public service, I felt we needed to even the playing field.''
England heads the La Mesa Chamber and often refers to her years of working for the business community here, though she was officially a resident of Lemon Grove, where she served as a City Council member there.
McWhirter cited his relative newcomer status to political campaigning and said he was directed by others he would not name to use the Public Safety Advocates group to aid him in his efforts in La Mesa. Calls to Public Safety Advocates' treasurer are referred to a political consultant who did not return calls for comment.
McWhirter said he realizes some may be critical of him for "going negative,'' but he said he rejected a number of more personal attacks the consultants were proposing while supporting the mailer that criticized her for raising council salaries in Lemon Grove. "That's a public issue and I think it is fair,'' he said, "but I won't get more personal than that.''
McWhirter said he didn't target any of the other candidates because he felt they were long-time residents and had put in the time in the community to make such a run. With the exception of Bill Baber, a political ally of his, the other two candidates -- Patrick Dean and Pete Gregorovic -- also lacked the name recognition England's work with the Chamber of Commerce might have built up, McWhirter said.
"I'm just trying to differentiate between the candidates and even the playing field,'' McWhirter said. "Please don't crucify me.''
England said Thursday it was clear McWhirter "just wanted to do a hit piece on me.'' She said it is illegal for a candidate to raise their own salaries during a term and the increases noted in the "hit piece" represented about $200 per month, were proposed by others and didn't take effect during the term.
She said her record in Lemon Grove was substantial and the characterizations in the mailing were "inaccurate, deceitful lies.''
She said she has worked in La Mesa for six years and has long had ties to this community.
"Is it how long you've been in La Mesa or what you've accomplished since you've been here?'' England asked.
In a posting on La Mesa Today, Marcia Tolin, a local businesswoman and England supporter, expressed outrage at the attacks on England. A board member of the Chamber, Tolin said in "serving, I have had the opportunity to get to know Mary, her work ethic, her fiscal conservatism, and her ability to bring sides together and solve problems with good old fashioned common sense.''
While not unprecedented in La Mesa politics, the frequency and tone of negative mailings has sped up during this 2014 campaign. In the past week, in a mailing clearly acknowledged as the work of his own campaign, La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid circulated a direct mail that attacked his opponent, City Councilman Mark Arapostathis. Madrid has said repeatedly he considers the mailer is a factual presentation, not the negative hit piece others have criticized him for sending.
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