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LA MESA -- With less than two weeks to go to election day, things are turning a bit rough in the Jewel of the Hills.
The mailer drew instant condemnation from City Council member Mark Arapostathis.
"His claims are simply untrue,'' Arapostathis said.
And the tactic stirred some instant rebuke from local residents, including one U.S. Marine who expressed grave disappointment in Madrid for turning to negative attacks.
In a letter he described as talking "Marine to Marine,'' local resident Bryan Loorya wrote to Madrid, who also served in the Marine Corps, saying:
"Quite frankly, campaign material entitled, "The Real Dr. A" is not only beneath you, it is precisely the vitriolic and immature behavior that has so disenchanted voters to historic - and globally embarrassing - lows. Whatever your campaign manager may have told you, I will give you the straight scoop Marine to Marine - this behavior repulses people. It does not draw people to your cause. It is not the beacon of leadership. It is the siren of desperation."
Madrid fired right back at his fellow Marine: "Marine to Marine, I'm disappointed you didn't do your research.''
Madrid said every accusation on his mailer was "fully documented from the record.''
In his mailer, Madrid uses an accusatory tone in saying Arapostathis demonstrated poor judgement in a number of ways, including injecting partisan politics into what is meant to be a non-partisan race.
"Dr. A aggressively sought and received the endorsement of a specific political party,'' Madrid's mailer charged, "thereby disenfranchising 21,648 La Mesa voters not registered'' with the Republican Party.
Arapostathis, like Madrid a registered Republican, said he simply filled out a questionnaire from the Republican Party and was rewarded with an endorsement and a donation to his campaign. "Art has had the same endorsement in the past,'' Arapostathis said. "But not this time.''
Madrid also accuses Arapostathis of having "missed 104 League of California Cities'' meetings. Arapostathis points out that the mayor and city staff regularly attended those meetings so the rest of the council left attending most of those meetings to the mayor. Madrid acknowledged council members didn't attend many of those meetings "but he's the one running for mayor,'' Madrid said of Arapostathis.
Madrid also attempted to use a number of instances, including the council's vote to remove Madrid from the Board of Directors of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), as allegations of wrong-doing or mismanagement on Arapostathis' part.
Arapostathis called those charges in the mailer complete misrepresentations of the facts.
Madrid defended the mailer and again challenged Arapostathis to debate him directly at length over issues and to compare their resumes in public office.
But Arapostathis, a long-time second-grade teacher with a doctorate and a history of running a community theater organization, said Madrid's behavior has persuaded him that giving him a public forum to make baseless charges and accusations will sully a race that is largely played out as candidates walk the neighborhoods and meet with voters one on one. Arapostathis has repeatedly said as a teacher and community leader he would not participate in negative campaigning. Arapostathis is also among a group of educators who this year launched the La Mesa Arts Academy, an innovative arts program for middle schoolers in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District.
"His advisers may be telling him to stick to the high-ground," Madrid said Saturday, "but I challenge him to meet me face-to-face and let the people decide.''
While Arapostathis has demurred at having a formal debate, he has agreed to an extensive interview with La Mesa Today. Madrid at first agreed to sit for a similar videotaped interview, but later recanted, saying his "kitchen cabinet'' advised against an open-ended interview. "I want a full debate,'' he said.
Madrid's mailer was the second controversial piece of mail to hit the Jewel of the Hills in recent weeks. Late last week another direct mail card, paid for by a shadowy group known only as the Public Safety Advocates, attacked council candidate Mary England for what it said was her poor stewardship of Lemon Grove when she served on that city's council in the past. Mailed without clearly identifying the group, its officers or the source of its funds, it is the kind of attack piece that has become more common in even very local politics in recent years.
England did not return calls for comment on that mailer.
In the mayoral race, it is not yet clear whether "going negative'' will pay off in a contest that clearly features two men with long local histories. It could be seen as a sign that Madrid, amid his seventh mayoral run knows he has a unique challenge on his hands this time. In the past, Madrid has not faced challengers who, like Arapostathis, have had ties that run deep and wide in the community. Though Madrid's more than 40 years in local government will trump any challenger, Arapostathis has decades of unpaid community service, directing young La Mesans in local theater and generations of the city's young families have sent their children through Arapostathis' grammar school classes.
Arapostathis has also had eight years of service on the City Council and has won the unanimous endorsement of the other three council members who spent much of the last four years fighting with Madrid on both public and personal issues. In fact, Madrid's mailing repeats a phrase he has brought up a number of times, asserting the two choices for mayor are "essentially different.'' But with both having long, largely unassailable records of public service and sacrifice for the city, it could be argued the only real difference here is personality and style. On that front, the two clearly differ.