Signature gathering smackdown!
The saga of the signature gatherers for a ballot initiative to exempt development at Alameda Point from Measure A continues. (Sigh.)
This past weekend, the Alameda Sun’s city editor, Dennis Evanosky, was out taking pictures of the signature gatherers when, according to the Sun’s Eric Turowski:
He drove to Park Street at Central Avenue where he attempted to photograph an Alamedan signing SunCal’s petition in front of Peet’s Coffee Shop.
Just as he was ready to take the photograph, a woman blindsided him and shoved his camera, nearly knocking it from his hands. “You can’t photograph my sister,” she said to him. To emphasize her comment, she blew cigarette smoke in Evanosky’s face.
Evanosky explained that he was a newspaper photographer and it was completely legal to photograph anyone and anything on a public street. “Well, you can’t photograph us,” the woman said, blowing cigarette smoke in Evanosky’s face a second time.
The woman then explained to Evanosky that his “friends” had been there earlier and had called her sister names. Evanosky replied that he was not with any friends. He then reached for his cell phone to call the Alameda Police Department.
A SunCal rep apologized, per Turowski’s story; it says Alameda police are investigating the incident. I spoke with Adam Alberti of Singer Associates, SunCal’s PR firm on this one, and he said the person who attacked Evanosky has been “removed from the streets.”
But things aren’t all sunshine and roses for the signature gatherers either, apparently. I chatted with one outside Bladium last night who said she’s been at the receiving end of some pretty rough treatment herself.
She said people have physically blocked her from getting signatures and that folks have been shoving flyers in the faces of people as they try to sign the petition to put the measure on the ballot. But this signature gatherer said she does her best to play it cool.
“People don’t have to do right by me, but I need to be right by them,” she said.
A number of media outlets, including this one, have been flooded with complaints from folks who feel the signature gatherers have been misrepresenting the facts about the initiative. They say the gatherers are selling the Point plan based on cleanup, and the real reason the plan is on the ballot is because it can’t be built without a Measure A exemption.
The gatherers are paid by the signature, and while they are trained on the measure and what to say, Alberti said “there’s an element of control that can’t be done.” But he said he thinks the gatherers are representing the initiative properly.
The signature gatherers were hired by Arno Political Consultants, which has offices in Sacramento and Carlsbad. Arno’s website boasts that the company has built its reputation on signature gathering and lists among its achievements
Qualifying a measure in Alaska in under three weeks in the midst of minus 40-degree weather and an exploding volcano.
But the company’s tactics have raised the ire of the folks at the left-leaning Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C., who issued this 2007 report chronicling what they claim is ballot abuse, focusing on Arno, which has worked for a number of conservative causes.
It includes newspaper stories about several of Arno’s signature gathering efforts that outline a list of apparent abuses, including false statements about initiatives from signature gatherers and false signatures on ballot petitions. In one of the articles, the company’s late co-owner, Bill Arno, said he would fire anyone caught deliberately making false statements about an initiative; in another, he encouraged prosecution of signature forgers.
Alberti denounced the report as a “political hit piece” and said none of its claims have been substantiated. (The company’s Kellen Arno did not return a call seeking comment.)
“Signature gathering is never an issue unless people disagree on the issue being collected on,” he said.