Gutter politics strikes again in local race

Robert Houk • Apr 15, 2013 at 9:49 AM

The Press received a number of calls, texts and emails last week from Johnson City voters wanting to know what we were doing to expose the dirty tricksters responsible for sending out an anonymous letter bashing a specific candidate for City Commission. Not surprisingly, most of those we heard from are supporters of Jenny Brock, who feel this injustice should not go unpunished.

A few others said that while they haven’t made up their minds as to who they will vote for on the April 23 ballot, they were darn sure they are not going to be swayed by lies spread by political cravens who are too cowardly to identify themselves as members of the so-called “Citizens for Sensible Government.”

A letter from this alleged organization began showing up in mailboxes around the city last weekend. Reaction to its content was swift.

Former Mayor Vance Cheek Jr. (one of the seven candidates seeking two seats on the City Commission) quickly went on Facebook to assure folks that no one associated with his campaign would stoop so low.

Jane Myron, who is seeking a third term to the commission, also personally expressed her outrage over the letter about Brock.

One man told us he’s so angry that he is thinking of offering a reward for information that helps to identify the culprits behind the letter.

You’ve probably read the letters in Forum this week expressing concern about the uncivil turn this previously low-key city election has taken.

Two sitting Johnson City commissioners have even commented on it.

“Brock was deliberately misrepresented in the letter sent out by the Citizens for Sensible Government group,” Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, who served with Brock on the city’s Board of Education, wrote in a letter that appeared Wednesday.

His colleague, Commissioner Phil Carriger, offered some good advice Friday for people who receive one of the poison-pen letters: “toss it in the garbage,” he wrote.

Several folks expressed shock and surprise that such gutter politics would be played in a local election. I’m not shocked. I’ve seen versions of this game played before — stolen and defaced campaign signs, vicious whisper campaigns and even fake letters to the editor.

I spoke to former Johnson City Mayor Warren Vest last week and he, too, has seen dirty politics played in many city elections.

“I never took a (campaign) sign, but I’ve had plenty of mine taken,” said Vest, who recently turned 89.

The dirty tricks are generally blamed on the same usual suspects, although no one has ever really pinned anything on those usual suspects. For the most part, their antics haven’t proved to be very helpful in changing the minds of voters.

Local political pundits can’t recall, however, having seen anything quite as elaborate (or expensive) as the mysterious letter from Citizens for Sensible Government. Someone spent a lot of money to mail these letters with the intent to smear Brock’s reputation and record.

It will probably backfire on them. If there is any political karma or true justice, her supporters say, Brock will be the top vote-getter in the election.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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