By Royal Calkins
If Scott Davis loses the sheriff’s race tomorrow, expect his key campaign consultant, Christian Schneider, to let loose an avalanche of complaints against his opponent, the hoodwinked voters and, ultimately, the media — the stupid, expletive, double expletive, blankety-blank media.
But if Davis loses, and I believe he will, most of the blame actually should land right in Schneider’s lap with some spillover onto Davis and the Monterey County Deputy Sheriffs Association, the union that represents sheriff’s deputies. For this is a race that Davis could have won and should have won. It’s a race that he lost when he hired Schneider as a campaign consultant.
Schneider will argue that dirty tricks by the opposition, Sheriff Steve Bernal, caused the loss. He’ll say that Bernal and his campaign staff dummied up a phony investigation into allegations that $31,000 in Deputy Sheriffs Association payments to Schneider amounted to embezzlement. He’ll point to an 11th-hour letter from the Department of Justice saying the investigation had ended without criminal charges. But the too-late letter doesn’t change the fact that the DSA paid $31,000 to Davis’s campaign consultant without the knowledge of most of the DSA membership and without any clear explanation of what the money was for.
The damage to the Davis campaign was caused by Schneider when he failed to demonstrate that the $31,000 was for any kind of legitimate research and lobbying work as he claimed. It was caused by Schneider when he advised Davis not to answer reporters’ questions about the money and when he accused good, hard-working sheriff’s commanders of fabricating evidence and allegations on behalf of the sheriff.
Schneider has been ranting for weeks now that the media has been “played” by the Bernal campaign, manipulated into airing accounts that gave legitimacy to the embezzlement allegations. Well, if the media were played, Schneider was outplayed and should give Davis back however much he was paid on top of the $31,000 in mystery money.
Schneider was handicapped in his efforts to spin the story their way because he had made such a mess of press relations while working on Bernal’s successful sheriff’s campaign four years ago. Then as now, whenever he didn’t like what a reporter wrote or broadcast, he’d go into attack mode, yelling, cursing and threatening. During the campaign four years ago, he threatened to go to a reporter’s boss with potentially embarrassing personal information unless the reporter lightened up in his scrutiny of Bernal.
Speaking of embarrassing, just today the Davis campaign got a bit of egg on the face when Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, complained that she was never asked by the campaign to use her image in a late Davis advertisement. KSBW ran the story, which included a Caballero statement about the importance of credibility. Felix Cortez, the KSBW reporter, said on the 6 p.m. edition of Action News 8 that Davis said he’d be pulling the spot. However, the offending ad appeared less than a half-hour later…on KSBW.
Schneider is a roving campaign consultant, one of these guys who packs a bag of dirty tricks and trudges up and down California, looking for candidates who want to win no matter what. He did most of his work in Southern California before making his mark in Monterey County four years ago by helping Bernal beat the odds and unseat his boss, then-Sheriff Scott Miller. It was the dirtiest of campaigns, with Schneider and campaign manager Brandon Gesicki taking turns spreading lies and distortions about the incumbent. That led to the election of the wholly unqualified Bernal, who had never managed anything more complicated than a cookout before becoming Monterey County’s top cop. Schneider claims he left the Bernal campaign because he wanted to take the high road. He must have taken a wrong turn on the way to the Davis camp.
Davis apparently liked what he saw in Schneider. He first hired him nearly two years ago right after winning a seat on the Salinas City Council. Though Schneider vigorously — too vigorously — denies having done any work on the council campaign, Davis’s official council campaign reports show that he paid Schneider $1,500 during the first half of 2017 – while the council campaign was over but the sheriff’s race was about to get rolling. Not a big deal necessarily, but an indication that both men weren’t above playing fast and loose with campaign rules and other people’s money.
Ultimately, it was more checks to Schneider that contributed to Davis’s undoing. As he and Bernal were moving into the starting blocks for the big race, the Deputy Sheriffs Association paid that $31,000 to Schneider. The Deputy Sheriffs Association is the union that represents Davis and other sheriff’s deputies and that, until recently, represented some higher-ranking sheriff’s employees and district attorney investigators.
What was the $31,000 for? There is reasonable suspicion that it was a down payment on Schneider’s fee for helping to run the Davis for Sheriff campaign. If that is what it was, there were some procedural hoops the association and the Davis campaign needed to jump through. It was easier to just write some checks and make up an explanation if anyone raised any questions. Must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Davis is a former association president who has played a shot-caller’s role in the union’s activities and finances for several years. At one point, his romantic partner, not an association member, was an officer of the association’s political action committee.
Now that the campaign is over, no one should expect any meaningful explanations about the $31,000, not from Davis, not from Schneider, and certainly not from the membership of the association. They were kept in the dark by people who supposedly were working on their behalf. If they want to get their credibility back, they should start looking inwardly as soon as possible, and certainly before someone like Schneider drags them into another mess like the one just ending.
Sheriff is an important job though you couldn’t tell that by the choices before the voters today. It’s too bad that it will take another four years before we get another chance to get it right.
BACK TO CARMEL
Some of the biggest news of the campaign season was last week’s announcement that former Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter’s name will be on the ballot when Carmel elects a mayor in November.
That took some of the attention away from the incumbent, Steve Dallas, who is still trying to recover from a highly publicized but largely unsatisfactory sexual harassment investigation. But there remains a good number of good-government types in Carmel who hope to make sure Potter’s plunge won’t slow the scrutiny of Dallas pal Glen Mozingo.
In case you get all your local news elsewhere, you may not know about it but Mozingo’s the fellow who became city attorney in Carmel on the strength of a résumé that strays from the facts in several key areas, such as his experience practicing municipal law, his associations with Pete Wilson and the late L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates, his awards and perhaps even his education.
Voices has put out a couple of lengthy pieces about it all, but Mozingo has adopted a no-comment stance, declining even to explain how he came to incorrectly claim ownership of a highly prestigious congressional award or how he became a law partner in 1979 with a woman who didn’t become a lawyer until a decade later.
The Carmel City Council has remained largely silent on the topic as well, but here’s hoping that changes after today. Mozingo was scheduled to meet in closed session with the council at 2 p.m. for what is described as a performance review. Others say it will mostly be a question-and-answer session about the résumé.
While skulking around Carmel City Hall the other day, I ran into Mozingo and asked why he has declined to answer any of our questions.
“I answer only to the City Council,” said he as he about-faced and walked away.
“But,” I said to his back, “as an attorney, you’re also an officer of the court and that means you answer to the people.” I couldn’t tell if he heard me. I also would have said something about the taxpayers paying his considerable salary but he was well out of range by then.
I’m hoping the council does a better job getting answers than I did. I’m not counting on it, but I’m hoping.
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