ESCONDIDO — The brouhaha that is the Escondido mayoral race has taken another series of twists and turns in response to campaign mailers distributed by incumbent candidate Mayor Sam Abed.
Originally a detail hidden in plain sight in a set of court records, the Sept. 25 lawsuit filed against Escondido mayoral candidate Paul McNamara in his capacity as the president of the Palomar College Board of Governors has taken center stage in the race pitting him against Abed.
Sued as both an individual and as a member of the governing board at-large by the Palomar College faculty union under the Brown Act, a California law which oversees transparency in public governmental proceedings, the Abed campaign wasted little time responding to The Coast News’ Oct. 19 story on the issue.
It started off as a social media blast on Abed’s Facebook and Twitter pages, but just days later Abed also pointed out that McNamara had been sued on his campaign mailers distributed to Escondido’s residents.
McNamara and his fellow governing board member and campaign director, Nina Deerfield, are both named in the lawsuit for deliberating without public notice about what eventually became a vote to give Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake a 27 percent salary increase.
“Paul McNamara & his Campaign Manager Nina Deerfield are sued by Palomar College Faculty for government ethics code & transparency violations,” Abed wrote in a Facebook post in response to the article. “Gave 27% salary raise without public knowledge! Why is he hiding it from the public? And he wants to be our mayor?”
The campaign mailer distributed by the Abed campaign essentially echoes the Facebook post.
“Conduct Unbecoming,” reads the headline of the mailer distributed by Abed’s campaign, pointing to the ongoing Superior Court of California lawsuit filed in San Diego County against both McNamara and the Palomar College Governing Board.
“Paul McNamara is formally accused of violating the State’s Open-Meeting and Government Transparency law, the Brown Act in an official court filing,” reads the mailer. “Allegations that he illegally colluded in secret meetings to avoid public scrutiny of his actions remain unanswered. What is Paul McNamara hiding? Why doesn’t he come clean about his secret meetings?”
In response, the McNamara campaign distributed a press release calling that campaign mailer, and another one about Deerfield publishing an article on her progressive news commentary website Alianza, which accuses the mayor of saying in a meeting that he was in government for to improve his “personal finances,” an attack on McNamara as a military veteran and by extension, an attack on all military veterans at-large.
“Escondido’s civic culture is shaken, when Abed has to rely on personal attack ads on me,” McNamara said in the press release. “As a Marine Corps veteran, I deeply resent his attacks on my integrity and, by implication, all veterans. Everyone knows Abed gets mean when cornered, so we are not surprised at all in Escondido to see these last-minute desperate attacks. We can do better.”
In rebuttal, Abed’s campaign director John Franklin — also a member of the Vista City Council — called McNamara’s statement about his military background a red herring.
“Accusing the mayor of an attack on McNamara’s military service is as silly as it gets,” said Franklin. “Mayor Abed honors Paul’s service to our country and thanks him for his service. That doesn’t change the fact that McNamara is repeated what he obviously knows are lies. His honesty and integrity are in serious question.”
But the McNamara campaign pointed specifically to the use of the term “conduct unbecoming,” which has legal implications within the military tribunal system, as what he found problematic in the mailer as it relates to him as a veteran and all veterans more broadly.
“Degrading Ret. Marine Corps Col. Paul McNamara’s military service is a cheap shot, one that should be beneath any American who claims to be a patriot. Mac served his country with honor and integrity for over 27 years,” Deerfield said. “He received the Distinguished Service Medal which is the Marine Corps’ third highest award behind the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross. When Abed accused Ret. Col. Paul McNamara of ‘conduct unbecoming’ in his hit piece perhaps Abed didn’t understand the seriousness of that charge since he never served.”
The Abed campaign did not say it regretted using this turn of phrase, however, calling such an interpretation “patently absurd.”
“We were referring only to his lack of integrity and honesty as relates to his candidacy for mayor,” Franklin said. “His conduct is unbecoming someone seeking public office. His ridiculous attempt to characterize the exposure of his dishonesty as an attack on veterans is patently absurd. It’s a pitiful attempt to distract voters from his own lack of integrity as a candidate. Mayor Abed respects Paul McNamara’s service to our country and thanks him and all veterans for their service. McNamara’s dishonesty as a candidate has nothing to do with his service to our nation.”