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Alex Johnson has gone negative.
In two recent mailings (here and here) to “most likely” voters in LA Unified’s District 1, the Johnson campaign is questioning George McKenna‘s accomplishments as the two candidates seek the open school board seat.
“We always knew that at some point, our campaign has to address to the myth of George McKenna,” Johnson’s campaign manager, Roy Behr, told LA School Report today. “The real George McKenna is nothing like the myth he likes to spread.”
McKenna has responded with a message on his website, calling Johnson’s tactics a “shameful smear campaign” — with the word “SHAMEFUL” in red appearing across a photograph of Johnson — and asking supporters to donate to his campaign.
In an email to voters, McKenna’s campaign manager, Jewett Walker, wrote, “When a candidate loses a primary by 20 points, like our opponent, there is no clear path to victory in the runoff. Well, over the last several days, our opponent has revealed his plan: smear the good name of George McKenna.”
A message seeking further comment from Walker was not returned.
McKenna won 44 percent of the June 3 primary vote to Johnson’s 24 percent, moving them into the runoff because neither surpassed 50 percent in a field of seven candidates. Until late last week, as Johnson built on his substantial financial advantage, both candidates had stayed positive in their campaign materials, each pitching his own assets.
Then last week, Johnson sent out a mailer, spoofing the 1986 TV movie, “The George McKenna Story,” starring Denzel Washington as McKenna, that told the story of his turn-around experiences at Washington Prep High School.
The ersatz movie poster in the Johnson mailer says the “real” story includes “failed school,” “false claims,” “fiscal mismanagement” and “failure to protect kids.” While the Johnson campaign provided citations to the Los Angeles Times, the California Department of Education and other sources that purport to substantiate the assertions, McKenna’s web-based response does not include any specific defense or rebuttal, saying only, “The good news is our opponent has no defense for our greatest weapon: the truth.”
A second mailer from the Johnson campaign takes McKenna to task on some of the same issues, also with citations.
“His story is, ‘I was in a movie, so I must be great because I was played by Denzel Washington; that’s how cool I am,’ ” Behr said. “Our goal is to remind people that Hollywood movies are rarely based in fact, and that’s certainly the case here.”
Going negative is a tried and true campaign tactic, often used by candidates trailing in a race. While public opinion polls often show that voters disdain the strategy, political consultants generally agree that they use them because they are effective.
Behr said the mailers have gone to those the Johnson campaign has identified as “most likely to vote,” but he declined to say whether the negative messages would continue.