After writing about Del. Vivian Watts’ possibly-racist mailer earlier today, I e-mailed her office. Watts’ defended herself in the AP thusly:
Watts said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the phrase is simply meant to highlight three decades of community service and that she has used similar wording in past campaigns against white opponents.
“It’s just saying that all politics is local, and it’s a reference to how long I’ve been active in the community,” she said.
If that’s so, then she ought to be able to provide documentation of those past references to referring to “us,” “we,” “our community,” etc. Right?
Well, to her credit, she did just that. Her campaign manager, Hope, scanned in a series of old mailers and e-mailed them to me. Here they are:
And, for reference, here is the mailer in question:
I have also a PDF of the mailer that shows both sides of the mailer, in high resolution.
After seeing the progression of her mailers over the years, I have to admit that I feel a little silly. The theme throughout all of them is one of community, one of us-ness, and one of “hey, you know me.” While the specific phrase used in this latest mailer is new, it’s wholly consistent with the theme of 22 years of reelection campaigns.
I’m torn on whether or not she should have stuck with the theme this time around. Is it racist for her to deliberately shy away from that “our community” theme with an opponent who is an immigrant? Or is it racist to go ahead and use it anyway? Is it OK to accuse an opponent of only having lived in the community for a brief period? What if that opponent didn’t move to the community from New York but, instead, Egypt? Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in too many “racial healing” workshops, but the gray areas here seem to be gray only when overanalyzed.
Del. Watts has been consistent in her message over the years. It is unfortunate that her opponent feels slighted by her message but, clearly, that message is not tailored to him. I think Del. Watts would be wise to apologize to her opponent, not because she’s done anything wrong, but because he’s clearly upset, and it would be a nice gesture. She owes him an explanation of her campaign history which, to be completely fair, he may not know because she’s been in office far longer than he’s lived in the district. But I don’t think that Del. Watts owes any kind of an apology to the public or to anybody else. There’s no fault to be assigned here.