BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
The red and white lawn signs supporting the campaign to recall Judge Aaron Persky depict two black-and-white photos side by side: Persky’s judicial headshot next to the mugshot of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student to whom Persky gave six months in county jail for sexual assault in 2016.
Though they were designed 30 years apart, the ad bears a formulaic similarity to the notorious Willie Horton commercial, a political attack ad showing an image of 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis next to the mugshot of Horton, an African-American murderer who committed grisly crimes while out of prison when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts.
Recall Persky’s communications director, Becky Warren, is a former partner at the Dolphin Group, the Republican-leaning Los Angeles public affairs firm behind the Willie Horton ad.
Warren worked on the recall campaign while at the Dolphin Group, and took the account with her when she left to co-found Elevate Public Affairs in Los Angeles last year. The Horton ad was run by George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign against Dukakis. Al Gore first brought up the problematic furlough program without mentioning Horton during the New York Democratic primary against Dukakis, but Bush took the issue and ran with it.
Horton was serving a life sentence for murder when he was released as part of a weekend furlough program in 1986, but didn’t return to prison.
After 10 months on the lam, Horton raped a woman in Maryland after pistol-whipping, binding, knifing and gagging her fiance.
Retired Palo Alto Judge LaDoris Cordell, a vocal supporter of Persky, said the Horton ad used white voters’ racist fear of blacks to stir up support for a tough-on-crime candidate.
“It really played on racism, you know, scaring white people. And it worked,” Cordell told the Post. “America’s response to what we perceive as injustice is to impose harsher punishment as a solution, and that results in harsher punishment for the poor and people of color.”
Cordell has said that recalling Persky would serve to make criminal sentences harsher, which would disproportionately affect people of color and the poor. The recall effort has already led to a new mandatory prison sentence for sexual assault convicts in California.
Placing Persky’s and Turner’s images side by side sends the same message as the Horton ad did, she said.
“I see a direct connection between the pairing of Michael Dukakis with Willie Horton as a racist appeal to the fear of white people, implying that Michael Dukakis was to blame, and the recall’s pairing of Brock with Persky to appeal to the fear of women of sexual assault, implying that Persky is to blame,” Cordell said.
Cordell also denounced the public shaming effect of putting Turner’s mugshot — taken when he was 19 — on campaign signs. In December, she criticized the recall’s continued shaming of Turner, more than a year after he served his time in jail.
“I’m back to 19, redemption. We don’t do this to our young people,” Cordell said. “We are taking the high road. We will not engage in this behavior.”
An employee at the Dolphin Group confirmed yesterday that Warren had left last year and that she had taken the recall campaign account with her when she left the firm.
Warren has since scrubbed the name “Dolphin Group” from her LinkedIn profile and from her biography on Elevate’s website, referring to it as “Los Angeles Public Affairs Firm.”
Warren referred the Post’s request for comment to recall leader Michele Dauber, who did not respond.
The recall campaign has pointed to Persky’s hiring of Brian Seitchik, a Phoenix-based Republican political strategist who served as Arizona state director on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Santa Clara University law professor Ellen Kreitzberg, a Persky supporter, said his campaign hadn’t been able to recruit any Democratic political consultants because they had been told to avoid the Persky campaign.
Kreitzberg said she had heard a Democratic crowd gasp after Dauber told them Persky had hired a Trump operative to run his campaign.
“Even if he had, that has nothing to do with whether or not the recall is valid or not,” Kreitzberg told the Post. “The fact that you have someone on your board that was a member of the Dolphin Group, who did the Willie Horton ads, also doesn’t have anything to do with your position. So let’s just get rid of all that.”