Saturday, November 03, 2007

City Council Candidate Connolly Sent Anonymous Mailings Attacking Councilor Murphy

People all over town have begun receiving two different, but related, anonymous mailings about the Boston City Councilor-At-Large race which expresses negative comments about Councilor Stephen Murphy, who is running for re-election. The nature of the negative comments are given in a humorous way using a shopping cart and a deliveryman.

I received my first phone call about it on Thursday, November 1st. The first blogged report of one of these mailings was later that day from Adam Rosi-Kessel (via UniversalHub):
Today’s mailing attacked Stephen Murphy for repeatedly trying (and failing) to win some other office or get some other job than City Councilor. The return address was 31 Milk Street, which is the address of many different businesses.
One non-business at 31 Milk Street is a U.S. Post Office.

Murphy-attack-mailing #1 has a front cover the photo of packages in a shopping cart zooming down a store aisle: "Steve Murphy is always shopping for another job. Trouble is, he isn't very good at the one he has." Murphy-attack-mailing #2 shows a deliveryman with a stack of cartons: "Steve Murphy spends a lot of time shopping for a new job. But when it comes to the job he has, he isn't carrying the load." Both were mailed 9-5/8" x 8" glossy card stock. Both are stamped, rather than using a permit which would allow you to easily track down the sender.

The Boston Herald picked up the story in the November 2nd edition, quoting one flyer as saying:
“You know it’s election time when Steve Murphy is out looking for a different job that [sic] the one he already has,” states the flier. “On Nov. 6th, tell Steve Murphy that if he doesn’t want the job he has, you’ll elect someone who will.”
The Herald noticed that the printer "bug" on a Murphy-attack mailing matched that of other mailings from challenger John Connolly. Here is the "bug" on a previous Connolly mailing sent to me:

where the fine print on the right-hand-side reads "GCIU 274C". It stands for Graphic Communications International Union, where the tag "274C" identifies the printer as Standard Modern Company of Brockton, MA. A Brighton resident who received both of the Murphy-attack mailings informed me that both carry the same "GCIU 274C" bug as this previous Connolly mailing. The Herald considered this identical "bug" as evidence sufficient to write a story:
The mailing has a Milk Street return address and was printed by a Brockton company that produced another flier [sic] for John Connolly, one of Murphy’s opponents in Tuesday’s election. Connolly and his aides did not return repeated calls.
Nowhere on Connolly's campaign finance reports is there an expenditure referring to either a Brockton printer or the name Standard Modern Company. Other candidates for public office in Massachusetts, such as Christy Mihos, Governor Deval Patrick, Joanna Gonsalves, and Thomas Reilly, have recently listed this company in their expenditure on campaign finance reports; none of them appear to be directly linked with Connolly.

Adam Gaffin of UniversalHub further discussed the similarity between the attack mailing and a previous Connolly flyer by comparing the shape of the "Boston Globe" cutouts on the two: amazingly similar scissors work, although it is quite possible the the creator of both flyers downloaded a graphic from the same source. He also notes that the mailing addressee name, "The Gaffin Household," is identical between the two, and that both are the same size and card stock.

New Evidence Linking Attack-Mailings to John Connolly

I asked a Boston resident with direct expertise in writing software for campaign mailings to inspect the attack mailings and a previous Connolly flyer to determine if they were similar. His experience in the field provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to the technical aspects of such campaign mailings.

He confirmed most of the above points raised by the Herald and Gaffin: similar size and card stock; similarly structured name for the addressee; and same GCIU bug.

He also found one much more compelling similarity between the attack mailing and the Connolly mailing: the computer entry line, sandwiched between the addressee's name and the postnet code, was a direct match in one case. The computer line likely originates from the sender's computer database of addresses.

In particular, the "Shopping Cart" attack flyer has the same prefix characters "S125 P6" as a flyer previously sent to the same addressee by Connolly. These numbers appear on the line above the address with the ECRLOT number (which is the Enhanced Carrier Route, Line of Travel) code. The whole line is like this: "S125 P6 *********************ECRLOT**C006."

The "Delivery Man" attack flyer has a slightly different pattern for the beginning of the database entry line, "S166 P7"; these prefix characters are nonetheless very similar to the "Shopping Cart" flyer ("S" followed by three digits, then "P" followed by one digit) and very different from the database lines coming from other candidates' mailings.

Locally in A-B, Greg Glennon has had flyers printed by the same shop carrying the "274C" bug. The computer database entry line for two identical mailings sent to me and my wife by Glennon show a different line from the Murphy attack mailing, "****************ECRLOT**C033 S22 P1"; another one sent a while ago reads, "*******AUTO**5-DIGIT 02135 T3 P1". Clearly, all recent mailings sent out by Standard Modern Company do not carry the same ECRLOT line.

All told, the mounting evidence -- particularly the exact match of the ECRLOT line -- appears quite strong in pointing towards Connolly's campaign having sent out these two flyers as anonymous attacks on Councilor Murphy.

Connolly Campaign Admits Involvement

Connolly's campaign did not return calls and emails seeking comment on whether or not they were behind the mailings attacking Councilor Murphy. (I had set a deadline in my request for comment for 4:00 pm, after which I would go to press.) As noted above, they also did not return repeated phone calls from the Herald on Thursday seeking comment.

As I was "going to press" Saturday afternoon, the Connolly campaign issued a statement to the Herald and UniversalHub that they are responsible for the mailing. (The Herald's website indicates they published it around 3:00 pm.) The Connolly campaign issued no apology, nor did they explain why they went to great lengths (anonymously sent, USPS return address, stamps instead of permit for postage) to hide their involvement; instead, they defended the nature of the statements made in the mailings attacking Murphy.


What was Connolly's motivation in sending out these attack mailings? The obvious reason is that Councilor Murphy finished took the fourth and final Councilor-At-Large seat in the 2005 election, while Connolly finished out of the money in fifth place. Some pundits think that Councilor Murphy is therefore the most vulnerable sitting Councilor to being unseated by Connolly.

A deeper reason might be that Connolly sees the close synergy between him and Councilor Murphy: the two share more than just Irish surnames. Despite recent arguments to the contrary, they both appear to share some positions that are more socially conservative than the other competitors (particularly Councilors Felix Arroyo and Sam Yoon). Connolly and Councilor Murphy are pro-casino, anti-Planning Department, vocal proponents of more police officers, etc. If Connolly wants to unseat Councilor Murphy, he has to figure out a way to differentiate the two of them. Reminding voters how Councilor Murphy keeps running for other offices is one way to do it.

Connolly Campaign Enters Slow Burn Phase of Bad Public Relations

The inability of the Connolly campaign to get out early, on Thursday, in front of the story puts them into a repeated news cycle problem that will likely get worse before it gets better. Early on, they should have been returning phone calls and emails from the media and issuing strong statements of admission or denials; instead, they didn't return phone calls or emails, and only issued a statement after two days. Good PR officials time-and-again recommend getting out in front of a story quickly in order to limit damage.

Their failure to apologize for the anonymous nature of the attack mailings was another big blunder by their campaign. If I made a statement like that to my wife after making a big mistake, then I would be sleeping on the couch for a long time... if I were so lucky not to have the locks changed first. Does politics mean never having to say you're sorry? Obvious answer: no.

A series of comments posted on the Herald site, plus Gaffin's personal opinion, suggest that many voters who believed Connolly to be connected with this attack mailing will not vote for him on Tuesday. One Brighton poltical insider, who up until now has supported Connolly, responded negatively towards Connolly with a Bronx cheer when confronted by the increasingly likely possibility that Connolly is responsible for the attack mailings. The damage is mounting; we'll see if their statement, continuing the attack on Murphy rather than apologizing, can stem the tide. I doubt it.

It would be a sad outcome for Connolly if, after running such an effective campaign all year, he then gets clubbed in the end by making a lousy decision to send out these attack mailings a few days before the election. Nobody would be raising a stink about this if the attack mailings had carried his name on them. But politics is all about standing up for your actions, and Connolly took quite a while to take responsibility. I predict he will undergo a slow burn over the next couple of days -- and he might also be greeted by an unsurprising and unfavorable result on Tuesday night as a result of both his delay in taking responsibility and his refusal to apologize.

I don't normally link to attack-meisters like Howie Carr, columnist of the Boston Herald. But he ran a column in today's Herald containing relevant information (amidst Carr-like foaming rants) that was filed before Connolly's statement was released; the Herald website promises another column from Carr tomorrow. (EDIT: it can be found here.) Remember that the Herald editorial board endorsed Connolly, as did the Globe; it will be interesting to watch if either editorial page comments on Connolly's stupid mailings, or even retract their endorsements. I doubt it.

When all those newspapers, plus the Allston-Brighton TAB and sort-of the Boston Phoenix, endorsed Connolly for all the new and fresh ideas that he might bring to the City Council, was this what they meant? If so, the constables guarding City Hall might not be sufficient to contain the fighting that will break out inside among the Councilors themselves.

1 comment:

Walt_R said...

When I made the finial weigh-in tonight I came to the conclusion that Connolly had way too much to spend on bulk mail. It appears that he tried to buy my vote with about ten bucks of slick direct mail graphics, Murphy about five bucks, Yoon about two bucks and Flaherty probably wisely ignored my zipcode (02130) altogether. Now it's time to dig up the Office of Campaign Finance reports and find out where he came by the big bucks.