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Newsom, Maldonado get personal with new attack ads

October 23, 2010 |  6:36 pm


The leading candidates for lieutenant governor traded searing online attack ads this week. And they got personal. 

On Tuesday, one day after he made a surprise appearance at the Los Angeles campaign rally of his Democratic opponent, Gavin Newsom, Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado released a YouTube video questioning the temperament of the San Francisco mayor.

“Can we trust Gavin Newsom?” a scrolling text asks, as a thumping heartbeat sounds. Then excerpts of quotes from several former Newsom campaign staffers flash on the screen.

“He’s probably the worst mayor in modern history,” says one from Jack Davis, a strategist who worked on Newsom’s 2003 mayoral campaign. “If lightning should strike and [Gavin] . . .  becomes governor amidst the problems that the state has . . . he’d have a nervous breakdown.”

The quotes were culled from a 2009 San Francisco Weekly article about Newsom’s struggling gubernatorial campaign. According to current Newsom staffers, the views represented in that story, and in the ad, are those of a few people with personal grudges against the mayor. 

"I don’t have to look any further from myself to know how distorted those quotes are," said Newsom spokesman Francisco Castillo, who has worked on several Newsom campaigns. "Throughout his career, Mayor Newsom has developed a reputation of high integrity."

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Newsom campaign released its own YouTube ad accusing Maldonado of putting workers in danger at his Santa Maria family farm.

The video cites an Oct. 15 Los Angeles Times article about safety violations at Maldonado’s Agro-Jal farm operation. It features footage of workers sprinting through fields, carrying large flats of strawberries. It also shows Maldonado's response to an interview about the death of a farmhand who was crushed beneath a tractor in 2007.

“There's accidents that are going to happen,” Maldonado says in the clip.  

According to government records, Maldonado's farm has accumulated dozens of violations from California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1990, including multiple citations for exposing workers to toxic pesticides and skirting clean-water regulations. Four of the violations were for running tractors across the fields with no driver at the wheel and no means of steering or stopping the machines.

In a statement Friday, Maldonado said, "We work every day to improve the safety of our employees." And then he turned the tables, raising questions about the safety record at a San Francisco restaurant owned by Plump Jack Group, the restaurant, winery and resort company Newsom used to head.

According to documents sent to reporters by Maldonado campaign staff, the Balboa Cafe was cited for 21 violations by CAL/OSHA in 2001.

Two of the violations, related to the storage of compressed-gas cylinders, were deemed serious. The other violations ranged from electrical infractions to inadequate ladder maintenance.

Castillo, Newsom's campaign spokesman, said comparing the violations at Balboa Cafe to those at Maldonado's farm "is like comparing a parking ticket to a hit-and-run.” 

"Unlike Abel Maldonado, Mayor Newsom took responsibility and fixed them," Castillo said. "The bottom line is all of them were recognized, settled and corrected in a timely manner."

Neither video has had a very large audience. As of Saturday morning, Maldonado’s video had 453 views, and Newsom’s had just 282.

-- Kate Linthicum  in Los Angeles