Like all major scandals since 1972, this one deserved a catchy name with the proper suffix. So Los Altos Hills City Council candidate Stanley Q. Mok and John Swan chose “Bannergate.”
The two men placed a conference call to the Town Crier last week to explain and complain: Although Mok is running for one of three soon-to-be-vacant dais seats as part of a candidate slate with Jay Sutaria and Linda Swan, John’s wife, someone is erecting 2-foot-by-3-foot banners around town that feature Mok’s name alongside those of the remaining two candidates in the race, Mok’s opponents.
“Los Altos Hills Town Council,” the banners read. “Vote for three: Lisa Schmidt, Raj Reddy, Stan Mok.”
It’s all part of a concerted effort to confuse local voters, according to Mok and John Swan. Two banners hang on the corner of Fremont Road near town hall. Some exist near and dwarf yard signs encouraging passersby to vote for the slate of Sutaria, Swan and Mok.
“I don’t know where this person got this idea to do this, but they went ahead and did it and now the question is, what do we do when the messaging is so convoluted that there are seemingly two slates instead of one slate?” Mok said. “And I happen to be on both slates. So I’m like the Benedict Arnold of Los Altos Hills.”
Mok knows the perpetrator’s name, but he declined to expose her last week, stating he wished to avoid the label of “tattletale,” and John Swan deferred to Mok. Instead, current Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan unmasked herself when the Town Crier queried Schmidt and Reddy about the matter by email. Come November, Corrigan is termed-out, and one of the three seats the candidates are vying for is her own.
Corrigan said she decided to buy 10 banners when she realized how little Schmidt and Reddy were allocating toward their own campaigns. Between July 1 and Sept. 19, the first pre-election filing period, Schmidt spent $649.74 and Reddy spent $349; Sutaria, who has spent the most among the five candidates, noted expenditures of $4,428.99 in his disclosure forms.
Leveling the playing field
Corrigan paid approximately $47 for each banner, and she said she did so without the knowledge of those she endorsed until offering them each one to use if they chose to. She and other supporters hung the remaining banners from trees and fences around town.
“I’m really trying to level the playing field here,” Corrigan said.
First Amendment rights of speech permit anonymous campaign banners and signs, confirmed City Clerk Deborah Padovan.
However, just as there are rules governing the disclosure of candidate expenditures, there are rules governing the disclosure of those made by independent third parties. The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) requires anyone who spends $1,000 or more per year to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures without the consultation, cooperation or coordination of those affected to file an itemized form.
As of last week, no one beyond the five city council candidates had filed an FPPC disclosure form.
Mok and John Swan suggested Corrigan – again, without naming her – selected Mok as her third endorsement partly because her views of the town’s pathway system differ from those held by Sutaria and Linda Swan; Corrigan has long championed residents’ privacy and property rights, and Sutaria and Swan are comparatively more supportive of pathway expansion.
“This person feels very threatened with Jay and Linda and Stan becoming kind of a voting force that could change some significant issues, including pathways and some other issues that are going on within the town,” John Swan said.
Corrigan said the pathways debate is not relevant to her picks and denied her banners are meant to confuse voters into selecting an alternative slate. She said she does not support the idea of slates and that she simply picked the three candidates she felt were best suited for the job. She also mentioned Mok, Reddy and Schmidt were the only candidates who had previously requested her endorsement.
Sutaria and Linda Swan did not respond to a Town Crier request for comment about Corrigan’s banners.
When asked whether she plans to purchase and hang additional campaign signage, Corrigan said she might consider it, especially after someone pinched a banner from Burke Road in an overnight, clandestine operation last week.
Does she know who is responsible?
“I have my suspicions, but no, I don’t know,” she said, chuckling.