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POST-ELECTION WAR OF WORDS IN PETALUMA

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The election has been over for days, but one particularly provocative campaign mailer is still reverberating through the Sonoma County labor and business worlds.

Anger over an independent committee's mailer that hammered Pam Torliatt for her support of sanctuary status for illegal immigrants has erupted into a fiery fusillade of words from the director of the North Bay Labor Council aimed at the Sonoma County Alliance, a business and labor organization that helped fund the mailer.

The issue has sparked mutual accusations of racism and the withdrawal of the Labor Council from the Alliance.

A seemingly innocuous e-mail Thursday from Lisa Schaffner, head of the Alliance, referred to businessman David Rabbitt's win over Torliatt, Petaluma's mayor, in the 2nd District supervisors race: "If balance remains at the top of the voters' minds, then I believe we have done our job since that has always been our focus."

That generated a strongly worded reply Friday from Lisa Maldonado, the Labor Council's executive director, e-mailed to 50 or so Alliance members.

"Congratulations on your success," she wrote. "I am sorry that it came about through your participation in one of the most despicable and racist campaigns I have ever seen.

"That the Sonoma County Alliance PAC would create a campaign mailer that implied that Mexican immigrants were awaiting Ms. Torliatt's election so they could come to your picnics and murder all the White people was truly beyond the pale," it continued.

"It is indeed shameful that your PAC thought so little about basic decency and ethics that you were willing to play the racist 'sanctuary' card and to target immigrants with an appeal to the basest and most vile of xenophobic stereotyping."

"Needless to say," she wrote, "North Bay Labor Council will not be renewing our membership."

The mailer in question was sent by an independent committee that was funded by a number of groups, including the Alliance's political action committee and members of the North Coast Builders Exchange.

It linked Torliatt, who expressed her support for a local "sanctuary" policy for illegal immigrants at a Latino community forum, to a 2008 slaying of a San Francisco father and his two sons by an illegal immigrant who had benefited from that city's sanctuary policy. Backers of a Sonoma County sanctuary proposal say it would specifically exclude violent criminals.

Schaffner and other Alliance members called Maldonado's response unprofessional, ignorant and irresponsible.

"I think she likes the fight. We have too many problems in Sonoma County to fight," Schaffner said Saturday. "I'm looking for places to agree, not fight. I don't think the 'us and them' works anymore. We're going to end up on different sides sometimes, like we did with Pam Torliatt-David Rabbitt race."

Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, had even stronger words for Maldonado.

"What she needs to learn to do is hit the delete button," he said, calling Maldonado a "sore loser."

Maldonado said Saturday she stands by her e-mail.

"We are an organization that supports all workers for decent wages. We don't want to be part of an organization that thinks it's OK to scapegoat people just because they're here illegally," she said, saying the withdrawal from the Alliance will save about $500 in annual dues.

"I don't think any of us are obligated to give money to an organization that works against us."

Schaffner and Woods said their groups didn't have control over or approve the flier before it went out, but they didn't disavow it. The other major financial backer of the campaign committee that sent the mailer, the Operating Engineers No. 3, has distanced itself from the ad, calling it a "hit piece."

Woods and Schaffner both said they agree with the concept of opposing illegal immigration and working against a candidate who would support those who violate federal immigration laws.

"What Lisa tries to do is turn it into a racist issue, when no one I know would have wanted it to be," Woods said. "It's interesting to hear racist comments in an e-mail accusing us of racism."

In her e-mail, Maldonado called the Alliance hypocritical "since many of the contractors, vineyards and farmers that belong to your organization have no problem hiring undocumented immigrants.

"I guess that since you exploit them as workers you may as well exploit them in your campaign propaganda as well," she wrote.

Paul Gilman, head of the Police Officers Association of Petaluma, said while Maldonado's title is one of a labor leader, she doesn't represent all unions.

"She's not a spokesperson for the (labor) community," he said. "She doesn't speak for us. ... Instead of creating dialogue, she creates hostility."

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