City Council District 3 race degenerates into name-calling contest
By André Coleman 02/21/2013
With less than two weeks to go before the March 5 election, candidates for the City Council’s District 3 seat are pulling out their big guns — pardon the pun — to take over for former Councilman Chris Holden, who in November was elected to the state Assembly.
The “big guns” metaphor, though perhaps a little tasteless to some, seems appropriate enough, considering all three candidates — John J. Kennedy, Ishmael Trone and the Rev. Nicholas Benson — all own weapons, and two of the three men faced gun-related criminal charges, with Kennedy being acquitted of attempted murder after shooting a man accidentally in 1993, and Trone pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges after being stopped at Bob Hope Airport while trying to get on a plane with a loaded handgun in his bag.
But instead of talking about gun violence, like longtime District 3 resident Mae Gentry wants them to do, the candidates are using their remaining campaign time to smear one another.
“I wish they would talk about the issues,” said Gentry, a onetime journalist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “When I started looking into the other candidates in the race, I thought I wouldn’t want to vote for any of these guys. We can do better, but I am still going to vote.”
Benson essentially quit campaigning after the Pasadena Weekly reported two weeks ago that he did not attend either USC or Fuller Theological Seminary, as he had claimed, and that he goes by a number of different names besides Benson. He also routinely uses different birth dates.
Trone, too, has seen his share of controversy, with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigating complaints that he does not live in the district, at the headquarters of a bail bonds company he owns on East Orange Grove Boulevard, but really resides in Altadena, at a home that he owns along with his estranged wife, Juanita. Trone has emphatically denied the claim.
But just when it seemed as though the campaign could not go any lower, an anonymous flier started appearing in mailboxes and on emails last week, raising questions about Kennedy’s sexuality. Lena Kennedy, the candidate’s sister and campaign manager, called the attacks “sinful.”
“Isn’t it amazing that a man who values women, and is not running through women while he is single, is being lied about instead of being looked up to because he is honoring the example of our father, who waited to find the right woman,” Lena Kennedy said. “John stands for the way our parents raised us, which was to value yourself and other people. This sleazy type of campaigning is not who we are. This is not what our city represents.”
Lena Kennedy was referring to a lengthy article published in 1995 in the Richmond-Times Dispatch detailing Kennedy’s arrest — and subsequent acquittal — regarding the 1993 shooting of Jonathan Thomas in Northwest Pasadena.
In 1995, Kennedy followed former Pasadena Police Chief Jerry Oliver to Richmond, Va., where Oliver took as over as chief and Kennedy became deputy chief. Two years prior to that, the Virginia newspaper reported, Kennedy said he was mentoring Thomas, who was 20 at the time.
“The Trone campaign is spreading innuendo by posting that article,” Lena Kennedy said. “We wish they would talk about the issues.”
According to the article, which quotes Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Nancy Naftel, Thomas told Kennedy he would not be sleeping at Kennedy’s home because he was planning to spend that night with his girlfriend. Kennedy then asked Thomas for a .22-caliber handgun that Thomas had previously shown him and had brought into the car they were driving in. Kennedy then pointed the gun at Thomas’ stomach and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off, but the trigger action slid the lone round left in the gun’s magazine into the chamber of the weapon. When Kennedy pulled the trigger again, the gun went off, the bullet ripping into Thomas’ lower abdomen. Kennedy described his actions as innocent horseplay gone awry.
Kennedy, who testified that he did not know the gun was loaded, drove Thomas to Huntington Hospital, where surgeons saved his life. Kennedy was later acquitted of three felony charges. The jury deadlocked on two misdemeanor offenses, which were dismissed after Naftel decided not to retry Kennedy, who prior to the incident served as president of the NAACP Pasadena Branch.
Kennedy, now an executive with the Los Angeles Urban League, claims he had been mentoring Thomas for about five years by the time of the shooting. He said he often gave Thomas money, food and a place to stay.
Naftel points out in the article that it would not have been unusual for Kennedy to mentor a young man in the community. Several other prominent local African-Americans have mentored young men, including NAACP President Joe Brown.
“We have always tried to specialize and focus on what we could do with the young men in our community,” Brown told the Weekly. “That is part of the core requirement and specialization of the NAACP, and John has always exhibited that leadership quality.”
Brown has not endorsed either Kennedy or Trone for Holden’s seat.
Kennedy was hesitant to discuss the shooting when interviewed by the Weekly. Thomas died several years ago.
Copies of that article were also posted on electjjkennedy.com, and links to the article were posted on Kennedy’s Facebook page. Those links were removed shortly after they appeared. Hard copies of the article were sent to several churches in Altadena and Pasadena, as well as to several Kennedy donors, according to the candidate’s sister.
Trone, who is backed by Holden, told the Weekly on Monday that he was not behind the anti-Kennedy Web site and had no idea who posted the article.
“I am not even aware of it,” Trone told the Weekly. “I received a copy of the Richmond article in the mail with no return address. I have no knowledge of the Web site. This is the first time I have heard of this.”
The article has prompted the Kennedy campaign to respond with a counter mass mailing to 3,200 District 3 residents.
“An anonymous campaign mailer, with no return address, but with first-class postage, is the latest effort in a not-so-subtle smear campaign against me,” Kennedy wrote in the rebuttal. Just as he declined to address questions regarding the shooting with the Weekly, Kennedy also declined to address the issue in his mailer.
“Several decades ago, I was accused — accused, nothing else — of wrongdoing. I put my faith in our justice system, and I was completely acquitted. Nevertheless, my opponent keeps misleading voters — you — with scurrilous rumor and innuendo.”
Kennedy’s mailer also contains a picture of Trone taken by the Weekly — and used without the paper’s permission — with the words “Shame on you” stamped across the front and the word “campaigning” misspelled. The Weekly has not yet endorsed a candidate in the race.
“I am running to represent you at City Hall, to continue my family’s proud and enduring legacy of service to our country and community,” Kennedy wrote. “I do not — and will not — engage in smear campaigns but, equally, I will not deny any part of my past — because I have nothing to be ashamed of or hide.”
KCAL Channel 9 picks up Pasadena Weekly story.