PolitiCal Flashback: Enter Nicandra Diaz Santillan
With the California governor's race in its final hours, PolitiCal will look back throughout the day at some of the key moments in this year's historic contest for governor and some of the other races on the November ballot.
Perhaps the most memorable, and certainly the most surreal moment of the gubernatorial campaign came the day after the candidates' first debate in Davis, Calif. On Sept. 29, attorney Gloria Allred called a news conference in Los Angeles accompanied by Nicandra Diaz Santillan, a former housekeeper for GOP candidate Meg Whitman and her husband, Griffith Harsh IV.
Diaz Santillan said she worked for Whitman for more than nine years. She said that in the summer of 2009, she told Whitman she was in the country illegally, despite providing documentation to a referral agency when she was first hired.
The news conference set off a wild week in the gubernatorial race that featured two Allred news conferences, a number of phone calls from Whitman's senior advisors and a hastily called news conference with the candidate herself. Whitman originally denied reports that she and her husband had received a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating a potential problem with Diaz Santillan's paperwork. The next day, Allred and Diaz Santillan reemerged with the letter in question, complete with a handwritten note from Harsh to Diaz Santillan.
The story brought howls of hypocrisy from the Brown campaign and labor unions loyal to Democratic candidate. The issue came to a head during the second Brown-Whitman debate, hosted by Univision in Fresno:
Whitman turned to face Brown and accused Brown of being behind [Diaz] Santillan's emergence.
"Jerry, you should be ashamed," she said, turning to Brown and shaking her finger. "You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk. You put her out there. You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions."
Brown fired back, denying any involvement and accusing Whitman of failing to take responsibility.
"Let's be sympathetic and let's really empathize with the millions of people who are in the shadows and you want to keep them in the shadows and now you're trying to evade responsibility," he said. "Don't run for governor if you can’t stand up on your own two feet and say, 'Hey I made a mistake, I'm sorry, let's go on from here.' You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions, but you don’t take accountability.”
Whether or not the issue was the turning point in the campaign, it knocked Whitman off message for the better part of a week, and gave Brown an opening with Latino voters, a constituency Whitman had aggressively courted throughout her campaign.
-- Anthony York in Sacramento
Photo: Former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, reacts during a news conference Thursday Sept. 30, 2010 where her attorney Gloria Allred displayed a copy of a purported 2003 letter that shows Republican gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman knew all along that Santillan might be an illegal immigrant, keeping the letter from the government after Whitman's husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, partially filled it out and told the housekeeper to deal with it, in Los Angeles. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press