This week has seen the mayoral campaign -- or at least Thomas Stith's half of it -- take a decidedly negative turn. First came what Barry pointed out, some questionable mailers mocking Bill Bell as being soft on crime.
Then, we have yesterday's report of robo-calling for the Stith campaign, with in the words of blog-pal Joe, the campaign saying "something like he thought others were making Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants."
Barry Saunders has already run a great column today about why Stith's negative campaigning is a bad idea. But there's more to this particular story that's worth exploring along two different grounds. First, is Durham actually a sanctuary city for immigration? The evidence is murky, but there are plenty of grounds on which to say, no, it isn't.
And second: to the extent this is a tet-a-tet, it may most clearly be between Stith and his own political past, since he voted for the policy he's now calling to change.
Is Durham a Sanctuary City?
First off: John Ham (the former managing editor of the Herald-Sun caught up in the ridiculous Paxton Media bloodletting) commented on a John Locke Foundation-run blog about the question of Durham being a so-called 'sanctuary city' for illegal immigrants on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 6. To Ham, it seems, the vote of the City Council back in 2003 on a document titled "Resolution Supporting the Rights of Persons Regardless of Immigration Status"--
The naive and embarrassing vote by the City Council four years ago to declare Durham a “sanctuary city” may soon come back to haunt the Bull City. Sanctuary cities, those that have chosen to ignore federal laws and allow illegal immigrants a pass, are a magnet that draws illegals.
Just a few hours later, Stith's campaign had (according to the N&O's helpful account) sent out a press release the morning before the council meeting calling for a change in the City's policy. The policy in question was enacted by the City Council in 2003.
That afternoon, the immigration question popped up in the City Council work session, with Stith apparently raising the charge that the City's policy was wrong and needed review.
(Interestingly, Ham notes in his follow-up that only hours after his post about illegal immigration went up at the JLF's Right Angles blog, the 'sanctuary city' question "became a topic of discussion among City Council members," though not noting that Councilman Stith and Ham shared, until this spring, a common source of funding for their employment.)
In a follow-up post on the subject, Ham goes on to note that Durham is a sanctuary city in part because, ipso facto, it appears on lists of such cities on the Internet. (A list that includes such notable blogs as "Be A Soldier in the Army of the Lord," taglined "Want to Join the Battle? Accept Jesus Christ!", and of course, antimullah.com. I didn't really cherry-pick these, either -- they're among the top hits at Google's blogsearch site.)
Ham also cites a Durham P.D. general order that enacts the City Council resolution and quotes some text from it by way of arguing that the DPD was essentially "ignor[ing] illegal immigration."
But what, precisely, is a sanctuary city? And are we one?
I decided to look for a definition and could think of no better place to start than the home of our fairly unbalanced friends at Fox News; a commentator there describes them as cities whose policies "prevent the federal government from enforcing our immigration laws and removing non-citizens who have no legal right to be here."
Well, if you read both the City Council resolution and DPD order as posted at the JLF blog, I think your interpretation might be the same as mine: namely, that the City doesn't go around asking Spanish-speaking individuals if they're here illegally, and doesn't threaten deportation in interrogations, go around trying to sweep up illegal immigrants, etc. What the DPD will do, however, is also clear:
"This General Order shall not be construed as prohibiting any member of the Department from cooperating and sharing information with federal or state authorities and other governmental entities as required by law.
If upon investigation probable cause to arrest exists unrelated to a person’s individual immigration status, officers may arrest for an offense, using discretionary guidelines set forth in General Order 1005, Limits of Accountability, Authority and Discretion. Verifying the undocumented status of any person and processing prisoners appropriately will be the responsibility of the detention facility."
This jives with what was revealed in the Sept. 6 City Council meeting by Ron Hodge, namely, individuals who are arrested are in fact name-checked against databases of immigration law violators, and the Feds are called in if someone so discovered is in custody.
(Update: I think it remains open to interpretation whether DPD's current practices are at variance with General Order 4073. Ray Gronberg from the H-S asserts that it is in the comments here and has a useful discussion on the subject in his Sept. 10 discussion of the subject. The matter looks grayer to me, but I wanted to highlight the fact that there's some question as to this point. See the comments for more. I would note that, even if the City's practice is at odds with the technical rule in General Order 4073, even by the most restrictive policy (the General Order), Durham still wouldn't meet the righties' definition of being a 'sanctuary city,' since the City does cooperate with immigration enforcement officials.)
Not exactly what I'd define as a 'sanctuary city' for illegal immigration. For that matter, even if Durham has passed this now-infamous October 2003 resolution guiding today's policies, how many American cities -- and I ain't talking about Hazelton, Pa. -- are sending cops off the beat to go rounding up illegal immigrants?
But on to the second issue:
Is Stith Flip-Flopping on Immigration Enforcement?
The second, and just as interesting, question is -- what's up with Stith coming out with automated phone calls questioning Durham's policy on illegal immigration?
After all, Stith was on the City Council that voted in the policy four years ago.
From the media coverage of the Sept. 6 Council meeting, I accepted at face value Stith's mention of wanting to review the policy as typical electioneering, but not the worst example of it I could imagine. And, technically, wanting to review a decision you made four years ago is not per se a flip-flop; it's reasonable to reconsider past decisions. Anyway, it's passive campaigning, taking a stand in a meeting and living with the news coverage.
But when you start making a campaign issue out of it, marketing yourself as wanting to change the City's policy when it's a policy you voted for four years ago -- you've stepped from passive to active campaigning. And, to my mind, you've officially flopped what you once flipped.
Now, the JLF blog mentioned that Stith voted for the resolution, though moving past the subject so stoicly ("[Stith] urged support for the resolution as a human rights issue") you could almost hear the Popies trying to explain it away as a matter of conscience.
But, from what I could find, the H-S and N&O haven't picked up on this little discrepancy in the voting record. (Correction: The H-S covered this on Sept. 10 - see H-S reporter Ray Gronberg's comments below.)
Will this matter? I tend to think it might, for a few reasons.
First, Durham voters aren't the kind of knee-jerkers who'll immediately flock to Stith based on an immigration stand. It would work in some of the Wake County suburbs, or up in Granville County somewhere, but it probably ain't going to fly here with most voters.
Secondly, if you look at the voters who would care about such an issue -- when they find out Stith voted for something, before he voted against it (metaphorically speaking), they're likely to look rather askance at where Mr. Stith is coming from on the subject.
Third, negative campaigning on a local level is something that, from what I've gathered, hasn't been seen in a big way in recent memory 'round these parts.
And frankly, if you're going to put yourself out on a limb with a robo-call attack ad, you better not have something like a change of position in your voting history.
Fourth, I think Durham voters are smart enough to understand that cracking down on the "crime problem" in the Bull City means going after people causing havoc in the City, not wasting time stopping persons of possible Hispanic origin on the street and asking for their IDs. (Which, as far as I can tell, is one of the few things that's different between the status quo and a Durham without the so-called 'sanctuary city' rule.)
I'd like to see Durham's finest going after the gang-bangers, drug dealers and miscreants, too. And if they're on the U.S. immigration alert databases in use today, hand 'em over to ICE as required by Federal law. But focus our law enforcement efforts on people actively committing crimes that affect public safety and order.
It's hard for Stith to run as a law-and-order candidate in Durham if he's really more concerned with immigration law over public order. I don't think he'd say that he is -- but that's the impression you get from today's ads.
If you assume I'm a panegyrist for Mayor Bell -- I'm not. I find I generally agree with him on many positions and I think he's done a good, though certainly not stellar, job as mayor. I also think there are serious issues of accountability and responsibility in City government that need to be fixed. And there are those who think Bell has lost the passion to run an aggressive campaign, and they might be right.
But even if Stith could fix those problems that exist in local government -- which, by the way, would be a matter of great interest to many Durham voters -- I have to wonder why he's spending time on attack advertising instead of addressing the tough questions.
Frankly, this whole issue has brought to my mind the concern I had when I first heard he was running: Would a Mayor Stith be an independent voice for Durham, or a parrot of the John Locke Foundation's cause? I think he's shown some good sense on issues like the ballpark vote and other topical questions, so I haven't thought the latter.
But the timing of the JLF blog-meets-campaign statement, all in the same morning, looks bad. It's something you'd see if the JLF were running the campaign.
The best thing Stith could do is to explain how he can justify these phone calls, or discontinue them entirely. Because it doesn't look the platform he's standing on here is all that steady.