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Be warned — the worst attacks on political opponents often arrive in your mailbox just before Election Day. You can’t believe everything you read, especially when an opponent has no time to respond. Those last-minute attacks can be vicious, outlandish, awful.
So it’s a perverse sort of achievement that this mailer by Chris Norby, sent out to arrive the latter part of this week, may be the weirdest and most despicable thing that I’ve ever seen in local politics. If you have any thoughts about voting for Chris Norby, put them aside until you’ve read this piece.
Take a look at the above. Ask yourself: what horrible act by 65th Assembly District candidate Sharon Quirk-Silva is being discussed here? It must be something truly terrible. How could she do it?
There’s just one problem: neither I, nor anyone I spoke to about this yesterday since learning about it, have any idea what Norby’s campaign is talking about here.
Sharon Quirk-Silva or her campaign has neither produced nor authorized any mailers or other campaign material accusing Chris Norby of being anything other than “a dedicated husband [and] father,” or issuing “personal attacks against Chris Norby and his family,” or mentioned the sexual harassment charges dismissed against Chris Norby in 2005.
To the best of my knowledge, no other mailers or other campaign material paid for from independent expenditures against Norby have done so either. I would not have received them if they did, but I checked with several Fullerton voters last night and no one could think of anything matching this description. Even if they had, Quirk-Silva and those associated with her campaign could not have legally known of nor authorized such attacks – so, by personalizing his attack against her, Norby is here accusing her of illegal not only without evidence (that’s not so unusual) but apparently without the existence of any attack with which she could have coordinated. That takes real nerve.
Over the course of today, I will be trying to contact Dr. Sueling Chen of Fullerton, Mayor Pro-Tem Elizabeth Swift of Buena Park, and Alexandria Coronado of Cypress to find out what “smear mailers,” “personal attacks against Chris Norby and his family,” and “shameful act” to which they respectively refer. I’d like to know when they were contacted and by whom, what they actually said, and to what they referred when they said such things. (I don’t think that one can presume that these quotes are themselves accurate and in context.) I’ll also want to know if how and if and when they were informed that their words of attack might be used.
I’m so interested in this because what this looks like to me is that Chris Norby’s campaign expected Sharon Quirk-Silva to attack him on, apparently, his fidelity or physical abuse of his wife Martha — and wanted to have this piece ready to go in case she did so.
And then — she didn’t do so. I know from my personal conversations with her — in which she was not nasty, but firm — that she wanted to take the high road in her campaign.
So what was Norby to do? This powerful attack mailer was all printed up and ready to go. All that it lacked was the expected provocation from the Quirk-Silva campaign that might justify it.
What would he do, in light of Quirk-Silva’s treacherous failure to provoke him?
HE SENT IT ANYWAY! HIS CAMPAIGN FALSELY TOLD UNSUSPECTING VOTERS THAT HIS OPPONENT HAD MADE A PERSONAL ATTACK THAT SHE HAD NOT MADE!
That’s not the worst thing, though. Not by a longshot.
The worst thing is what’s on the other side.
WHAT THE HELL IS MARTHA NORBY — OR WHOEVER DICTATED THIS MESSAGE TO HER OR WROTE IT FOR HER — EVEN TALKING ABOUT HERE?
The truth behind this letter will lie somewhere on a continuum between two polar opposite possibilities. One is that Martha Norby is acting as a free agent and stating her own beliefs, opinions, and perspective. The other is that she is being told what she had better do to preserve her own welfare and that of her children. I find the latter possibility, for the wife of a public official, too horrifying to contemplate — so I’m going to write this response as if Martha Norby wrote it and meant to say every word, whether those words were truthful or not. Here are some questions for her, which I hope that she’d address, in a public statement after which she could take questions (in Spanish, of course) after proper notification in the press, sometime between today and Monday noon.
(1) Did you write this letter, or was it dictated for you — and if so, by whom?
(2) On what date was the statement in your letter produced or provided?
(3) How do you allege that Sharon Quirk-Silva has been lying about your husband, Assemblyman Chris Norby?
(4) You specify that Chris Norby has never “voted to cut schools.” Has he ever advocated cutting back state support for education — even without a proposal to do so being put before him to vote upon?
(5) What “false and nasty claims” has Sharon Quirk-Silva made “against [your] marriage and [your] family?”
(6) What if any factual information do you have that convinces you to state definitively that the sexual harassment charges against your husband were “phony,” as opposed to being dismissed for other reasons?
(7) You state that Sharon Quirk-Silva “wants to destroy everything sacred to me just to further her political career.”
(a) To what actions of hers do you refer here?
(b) How do you profess to know her motivation for those actions?
(c) Is your concern that she is lying — or that telling the truth would risk “destroy[ing] everything sacred to you” because of potential retaliation against you and your children?
(8) You call Chris Norby “a dedicated and devoted husband and father.” Given that characterization:
(a) Did you ever file a police report alleging that your husband physically attacked you on Sept. 2, 2010?
(b) Did you suffer any injuries, on or about that date, due in whole or part to your husband’s actions?
(c) Were any such injuries ever photographed — and by whom?
(d) Are you willing to ask the Fullerton Police Department — in writing and before the election — to release any records, both written reports and any photographs, related to this alleged incident of domestic violence?
(9) You say that “you understand all of the horrible things that Sharon Quirk-Silva is saying” about your husband. Can you explain in detail, not just using general terms, what those things are?
(10) Your statement that “her lies come right to my mailbox” suggests that you are referring to physical mailers. When did the mailers to which you refer arrive?
(11) Did you allow your children to “read the horrible things [Sharon Quirk-Silva] says about their Daddy?
(a) If not, where did they encounter them?
(b) If the information came to them from others, who were then and when did it happen?
(c) Which of your children asked you “why does she do that?”
(d) What did you tell them?
I’ve had several well-meaning people approach me and ask whether I’m concerned that I’m endangering the welfare of Martha Norby and perhaps her children by raising the issues of Chris Norby’s possible acts of domestic violence — which I’ve done without the prodding or consent of the Sharon Quirk-Silva campaign, by the way — publicly.
Yes, of course I’m concerned. If Martha Norby didn’t compose that statement herself — and it sounds to me like it’s some male political consultant’s idea of how to tug at voters’ heartstrings — then it’s clear what sorts of people we (and she) are dealing with here and at least some of the lengths to which they’ll go. They’ll even bring this issue out to the light because they expected — wrongly — that their opponent didn’t, and they may well have had Martha Norby’s purported statement about Sharon Quirk-Silva’s mailers ready to go before her campaign had even sent any such mailers out. Yes, I’m concerned.
Society’s response to domestic violence is a research interest of mine. (For those interested, I wrote about it in Columbia Law Review, 102 Colum. L. Rev. 729. I provide that just in the interest of disclosure.) The question of how one deals with a man who is physically abusing his wife — which I don’t assert that Chris Norby has ever done because, among other things, I can’t get access to that blasted police report, if it still exists, so that I can view the photos and contact the prime witness directly — is a very difficult one, because intruding into a man’s home “castle” may provoke a more devastating violent response than ever before. The easy decision is to leave it alone and pray for the best.
That’s also, generally, the wrong decision. ”The best” doesn’t necessarily follow — and the suffering may end up affecting others in the family as well. For someone with something to lose — and even if the worse possible scenario one could imagine here, Chris Norby has something to lose — shining a bright spotlight into those “private affairs” is generally the best way to protect the wife and family.
It kills me that I have to think in these terms about an elected official. I wish that Chris and Martha Norby would just ask the Fullerton P.D. to release their relevant records today and be done with it. If there are no such records, I’ll be among those most relieved.
But the fact that this mailer came out as and how and when it did doesn’t give me a good feeling. It seems to me like someone is guarding the castle with great determination — because the castle contains dark secrets.
If so, then they were dark secrets that Sharon Quirk-Silva left out of her campaign. Instead, it was Chris Norby, “just to further his political career,” who dragged them into the light in the days just before this month’s election.
[Disclosure: I'm a candidate for State Senate in a district overlapping most of AD-65 and both Sharon Quirk-Silva and I share a campaign office with the Democrats of North Orange County and the Jay Chen for Congress campaign. I sent a copy of this story to Jesus Silva a half-hour before publishing and asked him for comment. He said that the campaign didn't plan to comment on my story, but did note that the Norby campaign has already sent out no less than 7 "hit pieces" against Quirk-Silva.]