Huber Sign Stakeout Gone Awry

For months, we’ve heard stories about lost campaign signs with some subtle and some not so subtle finger pointing toward the supporters of opposing campaigns. Last week, I posted an article about a property manager taking down Bob Huber’s signs claiming proper permission was not obtained. This week in the Simi Valley Acorn there’s a report of a police stakeout on a Bob Huber campaign sign at the McDonald’s on Yosemite Ave. where more signs were disappearing. The results of the stakeout concluded the signs were being removed by a McDonald’s employee:

Like clockwork, at 4:30 a.m. a man removed the signs—including ones for council incumbent Glen Becerra—putting them in the back of his pickup truck.

When Arabian confronted the man, he discovered he wasn’t a thief, but a property maintenance worker, clad in a McDonald’s shirt.

Though permission to post the signs had been granted, this worker was apparently just unaware.

It’s the nature of the crime that prompts a stakeout by the Simi Valley Police. The dollar amount of the damage combined with the identifiable pattern of the crime offers an investigator an opportunity to solve it. The signs were apparently expensive and enough were stolen to qualify this as a felony.

Santino said it’s been frustrating to see sign after sign taken down. At $65 a piece, it easily adds up to felony theft, which requires $400 or more in damages.

“We knew we were going to lose signs, but the frequency and the vast amount has just been a huge surprise,” he said. “In my opinion, some of our signs have been systematically removed because they don’t want our message out there.”

Though Santino didn’t say it, Huber’s supporters have insinuated that Sojka’s camp is behind the thefts. Sojka, who has also had dozens of signs removed, said that is “totally out of line and unfair.”

Naturally, the question I asked when I first heard this story was were they expecting to find a Steve Sojka supporter creeping around at night stealing their signs? I may never get a straight answer to that question. I can tell you that a few evenings ago, a Huber supporter was discussing his stolen signs on Facebook and is suggesting that his opponent’s supporters are the perpetrators.

And just when you think it can’t get any uglier, the phrase “inappropriate use of resources”  is heard. The Acorn article goes on to discuss the fact that an outspoken Huber for Mayor supporter volunteered to conduct the stakeout, and that his salary range and overtime pay resulted in a relatively expensive night.

Read the article at the Simi Valley Acorn by clicking here.

Was the stakeout a success? That may be a matter of perspective. The signs will likely stop disappearing now that the truth is revealed. No one pressed charges. And if you were hoping a Sojka supporter would be caught and arrested, then this was a stakeout gone awry.

As an added note, I also think City Manager Mike Sedell shows good judgment by choosing not to investigate this until after the election. While it’s easy to draw the conclusion of a conflict since the detective who chose to conduct the stakeout is a known Huber supporter, Sedell opts not to make it into an election issue. I appreciate that he can make that decision despite being a frequent target of criticism by Huber supporters.

Huber Didn’t Do It

Even though I’ve been on the receiving end of venomous badgering by Huber supporters, I do feel inclined to answer those who have submitted links to the Ventura County Star article regarding Russell Takasugi who works with Bob Huber. Huber isn’t the one being accused of theft, his associate is.  Earlier this week, Huber took proactive measures to distance himself from Takasugi. According to the article:

Huber said Monday that he was “shocked” at the allegations and needed time to look into them. By Wednesday, Huber had dismantled the Huber & Takasugi website and issued a statement announcing the dissolution of their business relationship.

“I have informed Russell that our formal relationship has ended immediately,” Huber said. “Russell’s actions and decisions are not those I can approve, condone or accept.”

Huber said he and Takasugi were in an association, not a partnership, meaning they kept separate trust accounts, files and clients. Huber said his name was not on the trust account in question.

“Russell has numerous cases and clients, most of whom I do not know about,” he said. “He has his clients and I have mine.”

Huber hired Takasugi as his law clerk 27 years ago. Takasugi began having ethical problems with the state bar in 1996, records show. A total of five complaints have been filed against him, several for failure to act competently. The most recent complaint resulted in Takasugi being placed on a two-year probation that began in June 2009, according to the bar.

Huber said he was aware of the disciplinary problems but hoped Takasugi had learned his lesson.

If something shady were happening under Huber’s nose and he simply turned a blind eye, then I’d say we have an election worthy issue. To me, this seems more like a partner or “associate” gone rogue and getting caught screwing up at a very bad time. Huber was smart to drop his relationship with Takasugi, and tearing down the website is actually the responsible thing to do. For Huber, I think this issue will be dead by tomorrow.  Probably not so for Mr. Takasugi…

Read the full article by clicking here.

Mitch Green Endorsement

Earlier, Candidate for Simi Valley City Council Mitch Green announced that his new yard signs were available at the Simi Valley/Moorpark Democratic HQ on Cochran Street. I stopped by to see his new signs and to chat with him. Mitch had some news: The Local 721 Service Employees International Union is endorsing Mitch Green for Simi Valley City Council. In the letter congratulating Mitch for his endorsement, it reads:

This decision was reached after careful consideration and discussion by our Executive Board members and the SEIU Committee on Political Education (COPE)… We will be paying special attention to the work that you do in your capacity as a public official, especially as it pertains to our members.

As a former City of Simi Valley employee, Mitch was delighted to receive the endorsement. Regarding the announcement, Mitch said, “These are the folks I hung out with and represented while at City Hall. In that regard, this really means a lot to me.”

If you check his campaign statements, you won’t find thousands of dollars worth of donations for Mitch Green. Nevertheless, he’s moving his campaigning efforts forward. His car was pretty easy to spot, wrapped with his campaign slogan and logo, and he is armed with a collection of signs hot off the press. “My campaign materials were all provided by local vendors,” Mitch pointed out, a fact that means a great deal to him.

For those interested in learning more about Mitch Green or if you’re interested in getting one of his new yard signs, stop by the Democratic Election Headquarters at 2904 Cochran Street.

Fun with Comments

With the recent announcement that my comments section has been grossly tainted by a hearty astroturfing effort, the most frequently asked questions I get these days are “Who is ‘Sedell soldier’?” and “What are all their real names?” I think you have to really understand the technology behind identifying internet “sock puppets” and how to definitively connect the pseudonym to the real name to fully appreciate the magnitude of the answers to those questions. Eventually, I’ll share that process with those interested here.

To get you started down that path for those of you who are interested, I located the following notable examples of “Internet sockpuppets” from Wikipedia. Check out these noteworthy incidents:

John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, who, between 2000 and 2003, posted under the “sockpuppet” name of “Mary Rosh”, praising Lott’s teaching, and arguing with Lott’s critics on Usenet. The name was also used to post outstanding reviews of his books, and panning books of rivals on online book sites. Lott admitted he had frequently used the name “Mary Rosh” to defend himself, but claimed the book reviews by “Mary Rosh” were written by his son and wife.

Lee Siegel, writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments using the user name “Sprezzatura”. One such comment, defending Siegel’s bad reviews of Jon Stewart: “Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be.”

In 2006, a top staffer for then-US Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a “concerned” supporter of Bass’s opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms “IndieNH” or “IndyNH” “IndyNH” was “concerned” that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was “unbeatable”.

In January 2007, the press secretary of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peter Ragone, admitted that he posted pro-Newsom comments to the blog SFist from his computer variously as “John Nelson” (a friend) or as “Byorn.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ragone stated that “he answered Newsom’s critics using others’ names because being online ‘was fun — it’s where people are having fun.'”

In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted on the Yahoo Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for their rival Wild Oats Markets while concealing his own relationship to both companies under the screen name “Rahodeb”.

On January 13, 2009, a councillor from Bournemouth, England Ben Grower was exposed by the Daily Echo newspaper for repeatedly posting comments praising himself, and fellow Labour councillors, on the newspaper’s website using many sockpuppets, one of which was named “Omegaman”. When questioned about the matter Grower was initially ambiguous in his response but later he admitted it was true saying “I have done nothing against the law. And probably next time I will just use a different pseudonym.” The story of Grower’s sockpuppetry was covered widely in the media.

In April 2010 the British historian Orlando Figes was exposed as having written critical reviews of books by professional rivals on the Amazon website under the name ‘historian’.

The amount of time dedicated to these types of efforts is massive. Phony comments on this blog were posted in times ranging from as early as 4:34AM to well beyond midnight. The number of “astroturf” comments was nearly 1000.  Of those, approximately 58% were posted by (…drum roll…) one single tortured soul among many of his fake monikers, spanning months!

The now deleted Booster Club articles were the ultimate demonstration in Internet Sock-puppeteering. What appeared on the first article were angry people seeking immediate action. The follow-up article resulted in even more people angry at me. Nearly 140 comments were posted between the two articles. All 140 comments were posted by less than 10 unique people. Some comments were posted pretending to be misguided supporters of “the other side” saying inappropriate things in feigned support of a candidate in a blatant effort to fan the flames. Shameless. Embarrassing.

Mitch Green States His Case

I overlooked the Simi Valley Acorn article regarding Mitch Green, Candidate for Simi Valley City Council, so I’d like to mention it this morning. I first met Mitch Green at the Simi Valley Sunrise Rotary Club several weeks ago and I immediately liked him. It’s tough to throw your hat in the ring for City Council when you’re surrounded by so many who have supported other candidates for so many years. I spoke briefly with Mitch about those challenges and his take on his candidacy. It’s never been about a desire to unseat one particular candidate for Mitch, but rather to make himself known as someone with a desire to offer new insight.

A snippet of the article from the Simi Valley Acorn…

It was a long shot that a poor kid from Oregon would grow up to be an attorney. It was unlikely that an 18-year-old private in the Army National Guard would one day command an Army helicopter company—and retire 27 years later as a major.

But he accomplished those things.

“You’re never going to know what you’re capable of unless you try it,” he said. “It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who try to do something than it is to actually put on your suit and jump into the ring.”

Whether Mitch Green has earned your vote or not, one undisputed fact is that he’s run a super clean and honest campaign. You won’t find phony comments on his behalf on blogs and forums or catch him speaking negatively of other candidates. He is interested in playing a positive role in shaping our City’s future and will continue to hold that interest regardless of the November election results.

Read the entire Simi Valley Acorn article on Mitch Green by clicking here.

Grassroots or Astroturf?

I get a lot of comments. A lot. If you’ve ever been suspicious about the authenticity of my comments, your concern is legitimate. I’m a software programmer by trade. I am able to extend the software platform on which this site is hosted. This gives me capabilities that go beyond normal security measures and analytical tracking. I’ve discovered a disappointing fact: the comments submitted on my posts are largely bogus.

Not Jackie

There are approximately 9 people who post under pseudonyms, each with a minimum of two names, some with as many as eight, all of whom throw rocks from behind a wall of anonymity. These 9 people account for nearly 83% of my comments since May. I cannot definitively say I know everyone’s true identities, but the ones I discovered were disappointing. Many of these people have had pleasant and engaging conversations with me, only to cut me down or skewer a candidate behind a pseudonym on this website. Some engage their own pseudonyms in conversations, an unusually schizophrenic behavior that is at first funny upon discovery, but ultimately deceitful. I located one instance of more than 30 comments between 13 unique names but actually posted by the same 3 people.

I will not reveal any true identities. I will say that it needs to stop now. I choose not host an archive of this behavior. If you’re a participant in all this, your instinct may be to challenge this. Please don’t. Don’t post from the Town Center Apple Store. Don’t use proxy services. Don’t bother changing your writing style. It will not work.

I’m not surprised by every discovery, but two in particular really bothered me. In politics, even if you’re not a politician, you have to be careful who you trust. I learned this lesson when I scrubbed my tracking database this week. This is putting it mildly, but I am really let down.

For the rest of you, things will seem pretty quiet around here. I hope that we can enjoy more genuine commentary going forward and that we can restore things to a level of civility.

Permission for Campaign Signs

I’ve said before that I love campaign sign season. This election will probably undo that for me. This morning, a property owner was quoted saying this in a letter to the editor of the Ventura County Star:

As a property manager responsible for several shopping centers in Simi Valley, a situation has reached a point where I am obliged to inform the public of a wrongdoing and ask that a candidate cease an ongoing practice regarding political signs.

Mayoral candidate Bob Huber stated back in July that he was going to delay putting up political signs out of “respect for the community.” We find this statement somewhat ironic in that no respect for property owners is actually being displayed by Huber’s campaign, and his campaign workers have no respect for the city’s political sign regulations.

Under city regulations, candidates are supposed to obtain permission to place campaign signs on commercial property. Huber did not contact us to obtain permission, yet every day his signs are posted on our properties. You would think after 20 or more signs are removed, his campaign would attempt to call for permission. No call. No letter. No e-mail. No permission.

Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

Several weeks ago, I read a letter in one of the newspapers from someone who felt his house had been TP’ed and vandalized because he had Huber for Mayor signs in his lawn, and he held Huber’s opponent responsible. Signs have been disappearing mysteriously throughout the past several months with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that the culprits are connected to opposing campaigns. Most people, including myself, have taken those suggestions at face value, but this letter suggests signs might be disappearing for other reasons.