The Rancho Mirage City Council election may not take place until April 8, but the campaign leading up to that election turned ugly when a blatantly homophobic mailer was sent out, targeting an openly gay incumbent who is up for re-election.
In mid-February, some Rancho Mirage voters opened their mailboxes to find an anti-gay postcard attacking openly gay Councilmember Scott Hines with the message “Send Hines Packing Back to Palm Springs (where he belongs).”
The postcards feature a shirtless picture of Hines with a caption in rainbow-colored lettering that says “No More ‘Fab’ Party Guy Scotty.” The letters of the message line up vertically to spell out “FAGS.”
The mailing was sent out without a return address, so no one knows who sent it. Hines, an educational technology company CEO and former Air Force Intelligence officer, has been careful not to point any fingers, but many residents suspect the postcards came from his campaign opponents, a group Hines sometimes refers to as “The Gang of Four.”
“The Gang of Four has painted themselves into this corner with all of their nasty emails and mailers attacking me,” Hines told KESQ Channel 3. “So it’s reasonable that people of Rancho Mirage would point the finger. We have not done that. You’ve not heard any accusations from our campaign.”
That group of four, running a joint campaign under the banner “Experience You Can Trust,” consists of three Rancho Mirage City Council incumbents—Dana Hobart, Ted Weill and Iris Smotrich—plus political newcomer Charles Townsend, a furniture store owner and interim CEO of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, the longtime life partner of the late Gordon Moller, a Rancho Mirage Council-member who died in 2012.
Hines’ four opponents flatly deny they had anything to do with the postcard and suggest it came from Hines supporters seeking to discredit them.
“We suspect this postcard was probably sent by someone or some group friendly to Mr. Hines,” read an email the group sent to The Desert Sun. “The four of us would absolutely never authorize anyone to distribute a mailing like this piece that belongs in the gutter. We suspect that the postcard was mailed by someone who sought to create the impression that it was mailed by the ‘Experience You Can Trust’ team.”
In fact, Hobart, an attorney who has served on the Council for 12 years, so adamantly denies the accusations, he’s filed a complaint with state Fair Political Practices Commission asking for an investigation to find out who sent the postcards. Hobart has also called for all six City Council candidates to take a lie detector test. Stuart Ackley, a former CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, is also a candidate.
Hines’ campaign manager, Richard Oberhaus, told The Desert Sun, “Whether or not the Gang of Four is responsible for this despicable mailer is for voters to decide based on past, present and future campaign tactics. Scott takes his colleagues at their word that they had no involvement; however, what is clear is that Dana Hobart and his cronies have created a climate in Rancho Mirage where someone out there thinks this kind of attack is OK, and that is most regrettable.”
Meanwhile, political fundraising group The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has not surprisingly condemned the mailer.
“We stand with Councilman Hines in solidarity against these egregious campaign tactics that focus on Hines’ sexual orientation—these types of tactics should never be tolerated for any candidate,” said Torey Carter, Chief Operating Officer at the Victory Fund, in a statement. “Councilman Hines has a long track record of supporting the LGBT community, and we are proud to have endorsed his re-election campaign.”
Hines says the shirtless photo of him was taken on a family vacation three years ago. The image was on his iPhone, which was stolen from his City Hall office in December, according to a police report.
Hines was first elected to the Rancho Mirage City Council in 2010 by a mere 11 votes. That 2010 election was also ugly, with many of the city’s 9,500 registered voters receiving robo-calls and mailers saying Hines would “infect” the Council with ‘Palm Springs style’ (i.e. gay) politics.
This year’s City Council election is being conducted entirely by mail. Ballots were mailed out by the Rancho Mirage City Clerk’s office on March 10.