Monday, September 24, 2007

Ups and Downs on the Campaign Trail for Alex Selvig

The campaign for Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor is in the last 48 hours, with the candidates making last-minute phone calls, knocking on doors, attending events, and planning how to get out their voters. I've already received a call from one campaign not only asking me to vote, but reminding me how to find my precinct's polling place. The candidates all showed up to the Allston-Brighton Day Parade Sunday that started in Packard's Corner and ended in Oak Square.

Against that backdrop, Alex Selvig's candidacy took a big bump up in the standings this weekend following an endorsement by a prominent activist; unfortunately for him, it may now be followed by a very hard hit over an online smear campaign undertaken by someone with access to his house's computer network. And it is no stretch to think that some of his supporters may become disillusioned, if not outright angry, with his campaign over the rapid turn of events.

Endorsement for Selvig by a Harvard Expansion Watchdog

After fellow Allston-Brighton blogger Harry Mattison and I posted the campaign finance reports on Friday for the candidates for the Allston-Brighton District 9 City Council seat, it became apparent to me -- and events subsequently confirmed this -- that Mattison would be throwing his support to Alex Selvig. On Saturday morning I received Selvig campaign literature, with hand-signed notations by Mattison, saying that he is "voting for [Selvig] on September 25th, and hope you will, too." Sunday morning, he made it official by endorsing Selvig. (In contrast, I announced in July that the Brighton Centered Blog would remain non-partisan and not endorse a candidate in the election.)

Mattison has been vocal of his dislike of contributions made to Allston-Brighton campaigns from outside the district. He analyzed Greg Glennon's and Tim Schofield's online campaign finance reports from their 2005 race for State Representative, and showed that only a small fraction of each candidate's total support came from A-B. Rosie Hanlon and Mark Ciommo, on the other hand, are long-time residents whose campaign finance reports from their last race -- for the same District 9 City Council seat in 2002 -- showed that a large fraction of their money comes from A-B contributors.

Selvig, however, is a first-time candidate and a self-described long-shot who railed against "rich downtown lawyers, developers" and "lobbyists," thereby attacking "politics-as-usual" as well as "the usual politicians"; he supported taking on the BRA by breaking out its planning functions, but he also diplomatically noted his background in diplomacy. He had few contributors, instead relying on infusing massive amounts of his own money into his campaign -- whether by choice or by limited public support for his candidacy, he told me that he wanted to make it clear that he was beholden to no special interest.

While not likely to change the election result by itself, Mattison's endorsement is no small story. Mattison carries enormous respect among the North Allston and North Brighton community as an individual who has consistently: pored over Harvard University's expansion documents with a fine-toothed comb; organized the online community through his blogging, two Google Groups ("AllstonBrighton2006" and "Harvard Neighbors Forum"), and now a website; and spoke out persistently at community meetings to demand that Harvard keep their promises as well as back off on proposals that would doom the neighborhood.

Selvig's voter base are people opposed to Boston College's expansion; Mattison provided the keys to the similar crowd opposing Harvard.

When asked about Mattison's endorsement, Selvig said that it was "fantastic having somebody who is so [involved] with the [Harvard Allston] Task Force to back me up." He sees it as a sign that "people are really happy with my active work" on institutional expansion issues. "I have great admiration for [Mattison] and his work on the task force."

Before Mattison's endorsement, wouldn't the North Allston residents already see in Selvig the candidate with a style that they have been longing for? Many say yes, but a number of activists opposed to institutional expansion on both sides of town have said to me that they don't believe Selvig can win, and have been looking to vote for a candidate who's got a better shot at making the final. That vote of confidence from Mattison is likely to encourage residents on both sides of Allston-Brighton to look again at Selvig as someone who just might have a chance in this election.

As I prepared to write those words Sunday morning, however, I saw some emails fly by that may turn Selvig's candidacy upside-down. You'll have to decide.

Anonymous Online Smear Campaign by Person Close to Alex Selvig

Friday evening and Sunday morning a member of the "AllstonBrighton2006" and "Harvard Neighbors Forum" Google Groups sent out a series of anonymous emails (here, here, and here) under the pseudonym, "", that was increasingly inflammatory about two of the candidates in the race. One candidate was said to have "moved here six years ago just to poach a seat. Any seat. State Rep, Councillor [sic], Dog Catcher"; another candidate was described as taking money from "any slumlord, big developer, or bar owner" because the candidate "needed the money, I guess." In short, this was an online smear campaign.

The facts underlying those emails from "BoughtPolitician" were based on contributions to those two other candidates' campaigns, as stated in their September 17 campaign finance reports and described both on the Brighton Centered Blog and the Allston Brighton Community Blog.*** In particular, it is true that a member of the legal counsel at the BRA contributed to one candidate's campaign and that a landlord who has been reported on critically by the Boston Globe contributed to another candidate's campaign. The issue at hand, however, was not whether or not the contributions were accepted; instead, it was the smear language being used and the fact that it was done anonymously.

I personally replied to the first posting at the Google Group partly out of a desire not to have my writing quoted out of context, but also in order to encourage a person to tone down rhetoric that appeared to be stepping over the line of decency. Since the writer continued the anonymous emails on Sunday, I thought it necessary to get to the bottom of it.

I was surprised that the evidence seem to point directly at the home IP address for a candidate for City Council.

I examined the "most important" IP address (keyword "X-IP") in the email headers of those three anonymous emails and compared them to the same IP addresses of emails received from those two Google Groups, a third Google Group ("BC_Neighbors_Forum"), and my other personal email folders:
  • The IP addresses in all three anonymous emails sent September 21-23 by "" matched IP addresses in all sixteen emails sent by "", Selvig's campaign email address, to me since September 7; and
  • That IP address was used in no other emails in all my personal files.
The IP address match was therefore unique, and likely that of the internet router at Selvig's house (which was later confirmed). Any computer using Selvig's home network could have been used to send the anonymous emails -- so it could have been either Alex Selvig or someone else in his house.

Selvig could not be reached for full comment on Sunday, because that day was full of a 5-K race, parade, post-parade party, and street fair. When I finally caught up with him Monday morning, he stated that he did not personally send those anonymous emails, but confirmed that it came from "a very enthusiastic supporter who has access to the network" at his house -- not a member of his campaign -- and that he "didn't know it was happening." He declined to name the person.

"This wasn't sanctioned by the Selvig campaign," he continued. "It's not the way we want to do business." He said that he was "willing to accept full responsibility" for the comments.

When asked if he agreed with those comments that were posted anonymously, he responded no. "I agree with the gist of it, but not the way it was said... It's something I don't like." Of the person who did the email posting, he concluded, "I guess people are entitled to their own opinions."

Will these shenanigans affect the vote on Tuesday? It is hard to tell, because Selvig is already viewed as a long-shot. Selvig's supporters are clearly drawn to him for his willingness to confront the issue institutional expansion aggressively; the hardball politics of his broader candidacy, like these anonymous emails, might be something that goes alongside the hardball activism. His supporters may be disappointed in what has happened, as well as any role that Alex Selvig or his close supporters had in it. One activist, however, is sticking by his man: Harry Mattison, when contacted Monday morning, said that he would eagerly support Selvig even if Selvig were found to be behind the anonymous emails, because Selvig's positions on the issues are what matters to Mattison.

As they say in politics, let the voters decide. Tomorrow is preliminary election day in Allston-Brighton.


I was personally extremely worried that leveling allegations about one of the candidates for City Council one day before the preliminary election would be contrary to journalism standards, and possibly not consistent with serving the public interest. Readers of this blog should be assured that I consulted with two professional and highly-respected journalists prior to my decision to run this story.

*** Note that I have reported here on the contribution of James Tierney, Senior Counsel for the BRA Director, to the Tim Schofield campaign. His campaign manager was offered the opportunity to comment and provided an explanation of Schofield and Tierney's long personal ties.

The initial reporting at the Allston Brighton Community Blog about the other campaign contributions did not offer any of those candidates the opportunity to respond. Mattison has since requested comment from the candidates related to those postings, and edited the posts accordingly, so readers are encouraged to re-read the recent posts on that blog related to campaign finance.


Alex Selvig said...

I apologize publicly for the actions of one of my supporters.

The comments expressed were neither sanctioned, shared, nor approved by me or anyone on the Alex Selvig campaign. People who know me know that I would never do this.

I deeply regret that damaging postings about the Hanlon and Schofield campaigns were made in a way that implied my participation. I condemn them without reservation.

I have run on the principles of openness, transparency and integrity. I stand by those principles. The independent actions of this person have been unfairly damaging to Tim Schofield and Rosie Hanlon, but also to me.

I had nothing to do with this, and I am deeply sorry. Being a leader requires me to accept full responsibility, and I do. The buck stops here.

Alex Selvig.

Harry Mattison said...

Hi Brighton Centered readers,

To follow up Mike's post about me and Alex, I have written a bit more about this on my blog at: