NORWALK — The envelope was mailed to more than 7,000 homes in Norwalk earlier this year with the following admonition: "IMPORTANT! VOTER INFORMATION ENCLOSED" and the return address: "OFFICE OF THE MAYOR, Norwalk, Ca., 90650."
Inside, was a letter bearing a photo of Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez sitting in front of an American flag.
"Dear Norwalk Citizen," the letter began. "I personally wanted to let you know that I have filed for reelection for the Norwalk City Council."
In the letter, Rodriguez went on to mention some of his accomplishments in office and ask residents for support.
The letter and another mailing sent out by the mayor this year have become an issue in the nine-person City Council campaign, where it has been charged that the campaign literature violates state law. The two mailings are under review by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which has notified Rodriguez by mail that the agency is conducting a preliminary inquiry.
The state Political Reform Act of 1974 requires that all political mass mailings identify on the envelope and the enclosed letter the name and address of the person or committee that is paying for the mailer. The law defines a political mass mailing as more than 200 copies of identical or similar literature sent out within the same month. The law is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, said Lynn Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Fair Political Practices Commission.
In an interview, Rodriguez admitted he and his unpaid campaign volunteers had made a mistake.
"We screwed up, nobody caught it," Rodriguez said. "There was no intention to commit a crime."
The complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission was filed by Grace Musquiz Napolitano, a candidate in the April 8 City Council election. In an interview, Napolitano also has objected to Rodriguez's use of the return address, "OFFICE OF THE MAYOR."
Rodriguez said he saw no problem. "Hey, I'm the mayor," he said.
While city and county law officials agreed that Rodriguez's campaign literature should have identified who had paid for the mailings, the officials said they saw no legal problem with Rodriguez's use of the return address.
"I don't have a big deal with it," said City Atty. Ken Brown. Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace Beason said the words "OFFICE OF THE MAYOR" made the letter sound more official, but was not a violation of any state law.
Second Mailing Reviewed
The other Rodriguez mailing that is being reviewed by the Fair Political Practices Commission was sent to about 180 persons this month. It included absentee ballot applications along with Rodriguez campaign literature. The envelope did not identify that the letter was paid for by Rodriguez's campaign committee, but it is not required by state law, because the mailer was sent to fewer than 200 persons.
However, the Rodriguez mailer contained a letter printed on official city stationery from City Clerk Mary Paxon in which she explains proper procedures for filling out absentee ballots. Rodriguez said he requested that Paxon write the letter.
In an interview, Paxon said the March 3 letter was necessary because absentee ballots for the June 3 state primary had been mistakenly distributed for the April 8 city election by the Rodriguez campaign.
Paxon said she gave the letter to Rodriguez's election committee, but said she did not know that any other literature was going to be included with her letter.
The Paxon letter drew objections from Napolitano, because Paxon is designated by the city as city elections official, which requires her to collect official documents from council candidates such as campaign spending reports.
"That's the city's problem," Montgomery said. In an interview, City Atty. Brown said that he saw no violations of law.
"I don't think there's anything that the clerk did wrong," Brown said. He added, however, that it was "incorrect" for members of Rodriguez's campaign committee to include campaign literature in the letter containing applications for absentee ballots.
Enclosed in Rodriguez's mailer along with Paxon's letter is a piece of Rodriguez campaign literature that admonishes voters to vote for Rodriguez "for a brighter tomorrow . . . today." The campaign literature also said that Rodriguez has "taken positive action in youth programs, senior citizens, redevelopment, law enforcement and community involvement."
In an interview, Rodriguez said his wife Jennie decided at the last minute to stuff the mailer with campaign literature.
"She decided to drop in a piece of campaign literature in there, and that's what screwed the whole thing up," the mayor said, adding that his wife may have gotten carried away with enthusiasm. He said Napolitano was desperate for political issues, and was "reaching for straws" by filing a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission.