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Campaign signs for Mayor Catherine Blakespear and challenger Julie Thunder side-by-side in a Cardiff neighborhood. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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Encinitas mayoral candidates further discuss toxicity, online abuse

ENCINITAS — Both Encinitas mayoral candidates, Mayor Catherine Blakespear and challenger Julie Thunder, spoke out against toxicity this election cycle and pledged to run fair and honest campaigns during a Sept. 18 episode of The Coast News’ podcast, North County Beat.

This article takes a deeper look into both interviews, offering voters another opportunity to hear each politician’s view on election toxicity and hosting hard conversations.

As the first two political candidates in North County to join, both Blakespear and Thunder signed the pledge having personally experienced verbal and written abuse at the hands of impassioned constituents in previous months.

Speaking in support of the pledge, Mayor Catherine Blakespear described it as a way for both candidates and supporters to step back and recognize the role played by online forums and conspiracy theories.

“We all know change starts with awareness,” Blakespear said. “When you shine a spotlight on something [needing change] you can say, ‘Hey, maybe this could be done differently,’ instead of taking it for granted as if this is how it has to be.”

Thunder said the pledge sets a much-needed standard this election season.

“I hope that not just myself and my opponent adopt this but other candidates across North County will take a hard look at it and consider following these guidelines,” Thunder said.

A political newcomer, Thunder is campaigning in an election for her first time, was shocked at the level of vitriol in Encinitas, from online harassment to stolen political signs.

“It really surprises me,” Thunder said.  “I do not condone that from my supporters and I don’t think my opponent does either. There is a level of… I don’t want to say hatred, but deep unhappiness in Encinitas that people are willing to do something that’s criminal.”

Alternatively, Blakespear has become familiar with public intimidation and harassment since her election in 2016.

“I became mayor the same night Trump was elected President and I do believe there was a tone set from the top,” Blakespear said. “He has normalized behavior that would not have been seen as acceptable before.”

Blakespear continued, saying in her experience, civility is key to overcoming the toxic environment.

“When we show each other civility, we’re demonstrating respect and showing value for an individual person and their opinion,” Blakespear said. “You’re saying, ‘I hear you, I see you, I want to know what you think,’ and laying the groundwork for being able to hold a conversation.

“For the most part, the job of Mayor is trying to solve problems. There is a percentage of people who are happy about this or that but for the most part, you’re dealing and debating in areas where people are unhappy.”

In her work with city staff and councilmembers, Blakespear has sought to “create an environment where if we disagree or have a different vision or approach, we work through our problems respectfully, recognizing the core value of each individual opinion.”

Similarly, Thunder roots her own style of conflict resolution in simply listening, citing her own personality and past experiences with her family, coworkers, and community.

If faced with a disagreeing constituent, Thunder said, “Number one, I would listen to what they’re saying and try to identify what their concerns are and how it’s related to whatever decision we’re discussing.

“I believe as people understand what’s going on and they see what’s happening… they see the process and if that process is reasonable at least a reasonable number of people will support it.”

When disagreements turn toxic…

While disagreements and debate come with the territory of holding political office, outright harassment and abuse ideally do not.

Blakespear’s policy is not to engage with those who take disagreements to an inappropriate or threatening level.

“You don’t give it currency, you don’t forward it, you don’t traffic it in,” Blakespear said. “You express your displeasure about it. That’s what we need to do.”

Blakespear also noted that as the mayor, she doesn’t have the time.

“Each day you’re trying to find consensus with other elected officials and professional staffs at these big agencies,” Blakespear said. “To think that you’re going to jump into that online forum and spend your emotional energy in that place, for me it’s just not possible.”

Thunder agreed, noting she regularly avoiding social media for her own mental health.

“I don’t have the time and frankly, it’s not a healthy place to put your mind because it’s so divisive,” Thunder said. “I don’t want to live in that world and I don’t want to put more time into that than I have to.”

Endangering the future of local politics as we know it…

Despite their differences in policy and governing practices, both women agree the increased level of animosity and toxic discourse is harming Encinitas’ civic engagement as a whole.

Thunder found the timing of the podcast discussing such abusive behaviors, the pledge, and the election important.

“These behaviors, the very subject of your podcast right now — toxicity in public service — is exactly what keeps good people from running for public office and that is really disheartening to me,” Thunder said. “I’m not a politician I didn’t plan on doing this but here I am. I felt the calling, if you will, and to be treated like this is shocking.”

Blakespear agreed people are increasingly turning away from initiating hard conversations or considering a run for public office out of fear for their own safety and sanity.

“I think the amount of negativity is unquestionably a deterrent,” Blakespear said. “I have this conversation often because it’s important to have good elected officials in office. Why do we have fewer minorities and women in elected office? There’s an environment of personal attacks, threats, and violence. All of that is a deterrent.”

While the candidates disagree on issues ranging from housing to environmental conservation and city planning, they do agree on this- North County could use more respectful dialogue, for the benefit of the present and future.

The Clean Campaign pledge is available to all North County political candidates and to date, also includes signatures from Oceanside’s mayoral race as well as Del Mar, Carlsbad, and Encinitas City Council races.

14 comments

Jeremy K. October 2, 2020 at 9:35 pm

That’d be like Trump disavowing white supremacists and Q idiots….. Never gonna happen.

CaBi October 2, 2020 at 4:08 pm

There are many local Encinitas citizens who support our Mayor but have been threatened with bodily harm from Thunder’s supporters. Thunder sure does have talent and it’s sadly focused on how to do one thing and one thing only: harness hate, racism, elitism and distribute misinformation. The very idea that she made a video for the Encinitas Watchdog facebook page and actually THANKED them, and told them how much she appreciated their support is beyond the pale. She obviously believes this type of anger and hatred works. I guess we’ll find out.
Now, Thunder wants us to believe she supports a “Clean Campaign”? Ha! If that’s true then she needs to publicly denounce that homegrown hate group and/or any hate group that she herself creates. Those who have taken the role of self-appointed vigilante in order to feel like they have a purpose in life, should take the day off. Go volunteer for something worthwhile. We pay our Sheriff’s department plenty to keep our city safe and I believe they are doing a great job keeping local crime under control. Julie Thunder’s campaign slogan should be “Make Encinitas a hateful little beach town” because that would be closer to the truth. Thunder’s campaign has been filled with deception and misinformation with everything from changing her voter registration from R to NPP a month before she announced her bid for mayor to secretly supporting her pal, Crista Anne Curtis’ Encinitas Watchdog hateful little group of haters. Calling Mayor Blakespear, Mayor “Blackspear” when she supported a local BLACK LIVES MATTER vigil at the Kook in Cardiff a few months ago simply shows exactly what kind of Mayor we can expect in Julie Thunder.

Lea September 29, 2020 at 7:46 am

Why won’t Julie Thunder publicly condemn the hateful rhetoric coming from her supporters in Encinitas Watchdogs? Julie Thunder supporters created http://www.encinitaswatchdog.com not only does Julie Thunder NOT condemn that, but she embraces the creators Jeff Morris, Crista Curtis, and Kim Morris, recently posing in a photo with Curtis and Mrs. Morris at a Del Mar Republican Women’s event where they spoke about their Blakespear Conspiracy theories to the group. Thunder commented under their group photo on Facebook saying that she “learned a lot” from them. When Facebook members questioned her political loyalties based on the photo, Thunder’s only answer was to create a post in Encinitas Votes telling people to look at all of the people from both parties that endorse her. Showing us a list of who endorses you tells me about THEM, not YOUR core beliefs. Members of Encinitas Watchdog, originally named NC3 have posted very hateful things and Thunder has defended them online saying they are good people just fed up with the lack of transparency surrounding the safe parking lot. Yet, Jeff Morris has posted video of himself stalking Mayor Blakespear’s husband and attempting to find him at his place of work. He has posted video of himself talking to homeless people and lying to them, saying on camera that he was from the mayor’s office. He has repeatedly posted screen grabs where he targets private citizens and attempts to identify them and dox them because they supported the lot. ALL of this happened while Thunder is a member of the group and she never posted one comment suggesting she believed they might be going too far. She was a member of the group while several of them, led by fellow EW founder Crista Curtis, protested outside the mayor’s home. Thunder never publicly condemned that protest, only posting a comment about it when asked, but that comment is buried deep within a conversation on Encinitas Votes. Members of Encinitas Watchdogs regularly canvas and pass out flyers to citizens in order to get out the vote for Thunder, yet they lie and spread unverified claims while doing so. I feel Thunder is never asked about this group and as her page Julie Thunder for Mayor is still a member of the group, she needs to be asked. The rhetoric in this group is frightening. Ask Mali Woods Drake about Jeff Morris’ harassment at the peaceful Juneteenth BLM vigil. He posted video of it himself and his actions are frightening. This group may get out of control and many members of the group are blinded to Jeff Morris’ behavior simply because they hate Blakespear so much that they will tolerate this hateful, scary, out-of-control behavior. This group is suing the city and I believe the Coast News should reach out to the Blakespear campaign to ask how they have been threatened by these unruly, angry citizens. Thunder should publicly disavow them!

Lowell September 27, 2020 at 4:50 pm

The thing about thunder is that some people are scared by it because it makes a lot of noise. Don’t be scared. It’s just wind.

Jeremy K. September 27, 2020 at 11:25 am

And I’d like to draw attention to the very real harassment and intimidation of Cori Schumacher in Carlsbad by three men which resulted in a Temporary Restraining Order being granted, with an October date set for consideration of converting that to a permanent restraining order.

https://thecoastnews.com/schumacher-files-restraining-order-against-residents-citing-threats/

The actions of the people involved against Schumacher were determined by a judge to have met the bar.

It included a year of increasing harassment, including the mention of death…. “it’s just a matter of time before we have a tragic shooting”.

I recommend (D) female politicians like Blakespear and Schumacher carry a .357 or bear spray based on the continual harassment they face, real threats which do meet the bar of criminal conduct.

Observe how they hide behind the First Amendment and play the victim. Observe Carl DeMaio cheapen the life of Cori Shumacher and Coast News allowing them full airtime to play the victim.

No mention of the legal bar required for TRO, no legal analysis.

concerned September 25, 2020 at 10:21 pm

Kellie Shay Hinze the deputy mayor was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. From there she attended the Vienna International School where she participated in a community that celebrated diversity and promoted multiculturalism. She doesn’t mention when she received her US citizenship to vote in California. Does she have US citizenship?

Elena S. September 25, 2020 at 9:18 pm

Great

Jeremy K. September 25, 2020 at 11:24 am

Once again, the false “both sides” narrative benefits the bigoted, racist, NIMBY political right. Julie Thunder is absolutely the most toxic and hate-filled person in Encinitas. She’s basically the leader of a political hate group, a mob of Fox news-swallowing NIMBY’s. Catherine, while imperfect, is not in the same league with Julie in terms of hatred and toxicity, the pure venom of people like Julie and her followers. For them to be treated equally here is incredible and another Coast News gift to Julie.

For her to find it “shocking” to be truthfully called out after years of her behavior made me laugh out loud. She did the same thing for NBC7 on Saxony in January over the Safe Parking Program expressing her fake “outrage” for the kids in the program, which EUSD endorsed. Crocodile tears. Anti-semitic tropes, disinformation, fear and anger stoking soon followed. She’s been playing The Coast News for the past 2 years to arrive at this moment. Trash and urinate on Catherine and the city at every turn; grossly distort the truth on the city suing its residents; slime Catherine on FakeBook daily; castigate, trashtalk and demonize less fortunate people whenever possible; blame Catherine when people run their bikes into pre-vandalized and photographed orange safety netting yellow tape and concrete berms (due to rider error). The city throwing businesses downtown a financial lifeline with critical outside tables is a “disaster”….on and on.

But when our own Tokyo Rose gets called out, she’s suddenly “shocked” at the toxicity! OMG, it keeps good people like me out of politics!

Trump made it OK to be bigoted, hateful and racist at the national level. Lying, distorting, attacking, undermining… then playing the victim, that is the G.O.P. gameplan.

They love the both sides narrative and Caitlyn has given her the gift of equal footing with Catherine, who has been *actually* threatened multiple times and had an actual mob at her house.

BTW, Julie, Mark Muir and the Gaspar’s likely have direct knowledge or connection to those threats. The FBI needs to find out with a deep technical dive. My bet is either Mark or Paul.

Bhavani Kirnak September 25, 2020 at 7:43 am

How ironic that Confused Bill engages in the very thing this article denounces.

And yet – so does Blakespear, in this very article. She seems to be running on a platform of “resist Trump” – herself introducing and exacerbating divisiveness. Even as three of 5 Council members are women, she says “Why do we have fewer minorities and women in elected office? There’s an environment of personal attacks, threats, and violence. All of that is a deterrent.”. In her private letters to constituent, she calls her opposition names such as “anti-BLM, anti-homeless” and so forth.

This is typical Blakespear style: isolate and label the opposition, who usually comprise her own constituents. She has taken the unusual step of suing her own voters. Resident anger against Blakespear is widespread and deep. No wonder over 2,200 Encinitans have joined Encinitas Watchdog, the group Confused Bill cites. Probably he’s an insider from the Blakespear campaign.

You can’t abolish the darkness by beating it with a stick, Catherine. You have to bring in the light. Vote Julie Thunder!

Bonnie Russell September 24, 2020 at 6:40 pm

Wow. Appreciate learning this, “Confused Bill.” Much, much appreciated, and thank you!

Frankly, Julie Thunder’s dismissive tone regarding social media made me check her party membership.
Was unsurprised to learn Julie’s a Republican. But I’m sure Julie didn’t appreciate the exquisitely heroic skills of Ellen Montanari…(any more than Darrell Issa), after Ellen spearheaded the movement to help Issa “retire.”

Oh well. ?

Sue September 24, 2020 at 2:52 pm

Bill, Isnt NC3 suing the city?

Mark September 24, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Ridiculous! And your comments only reveal the Mayor’s big $ backers for how low a campaign they will run.

Marco G September 24, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Interesting that Catherine says: “Why do we have fewer minorities and women in elected office? There’s an environment of personal attacks, threats, and violence” — and under her watch a minority woman fire marshall was canned because she didn’t agree with her.

Confused Bill September 24, 2020 at 11:10 am

Color me confused.

Julie Thunder is a founding member of NC3 and their private Facebook hate group that ultimately renamed themselves as the Encinitas Watchdog.

Because she signed a pledge weeks before the election we should ignore her willing participation in nearly a year of anti-homeless, antisemitic, anti-BLM, anti-immigrant, bigotry and hatred?

The regular mocking of homeless residents and jokes at their expense. The rushing to the scene to exploit any homeless person in crisis and the occasional wish that the ambulance should just take their time getting there. The harassment of homeless residents in the newly formed Safe Parking lot, including video surveillance from the roof of nearby homes and drone footage?

The accusations of local “anti-gentile” Jewish organizations owning the Encinitas City Council and other local organizations as they try to “take over” the city? The labeling of the women who lead those organizations as roaches, maggots, whores and dirt people among others.

The instances of doxing of residents and the creation of “blacklists” for those with opposing views?

The numerous threats against other residents that they better not dare go out into their ocean or the veiled threat against others including reporters of this paper?

The self recorded and celebrated instigation of physical violence on multiple occasions and the premeditated verbal and physical assault of protesters at our local peaceful BLM rally? The defaming of George Floyd and the regular ridicule of our local BLM leaders?

The near daily hate filled caricatures and vile depictions of the Mayor and other local candidates?

Just a small sampling but probably enough to paint the picture.

As of this writing, Julie Thunder for Mayor of Encinitas is still a member of the hate group she created. The group she nurtured with the trail of disinformation that her campaign was built upon. She can sign whatever last minute pledges she likes, a year of repulsive behavior intended to cater to her voting base isn’t going to be erased or forgotten.

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