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Used in Mailer on ‘Illegal’ Housing : Controversial Photo Was No Blunder, Griset Says

Times Staff Writer

Democratic state Assembly candidate Dan Griset denied Thursday that he had blundered by including a picture of a house occupied by a family of U.S. citizens in a political mailer attacking “overcrowded” and “illegal” housing for “immigrant workers.”

Moreover, Griset insisted Thursday that the flap over his political mail would actually gain him votes in Tuesday’s election by focusing attention on his support for strict enforcement of housing codes to alleviate unsightly, overcrowded conditions.

But veteran political consultant Harvey Englander described the use of the controversial photograph as a “classic error made by an overzealous staff” and said Griset should personally visit and apologize to the family involved.

Added Englander, who helped produce Griset campaign literature earlier this year but is no longer associated with the campaign: “The issue is no longer one of code enforcement. The issue has become one of sensitivity. Politicians are allowed to make mistakes and go on to win, but only if they can face them head on and know when to apologize for them.”

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Meanwhile, Richard E. Longshore, Griset’s Republican opponent, said the photo incident proves that Griset “doesn’t do his homework.”

Griset and Longshore are locked in a close, bitter struggle for central Orange County’s 72nd Assembly District seat. Both parties have targeted the district for extra campaign help on the state level, including money. Total spending for both campaigns reached the $800,000 mark this week.

Tried to Reach Griset

“If it was your house (in the photo),” Longshore said, “you’d sure be angry, wouldn’t you?”

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Indeed, an angry Sonja Taffolla, whose ancestors were Juaneno Indians, said she had tried to reach Griset by telephone several times since a Griset campaign brochure arrived by mail at her home last Friday. “His staff kept telling me that he would call me back, but he never did,” she said. “Now I’m looking for a lawyer.”

Taffolla said she was particularly angry that the photograph, which showed cars parked illegally on her front lawn, was coupled with text that said: “Code enforcement seeks to stop single-family homes from becoming overcrowded hotels for immigrant workers. Twelve men can be crammed into a two-bedroom, one-bath house. These illegal residences crowd neighborhoods and lower property values.”

“Our family’s U.S. citizenship goes back farther than Griset’s could ever hope to,” Taffolla said. “And there are no 12 men living here. . . . Only my two sons, two daughters, myself and my husband.”

Taffolla admitted that she has been ticketed once for illegal parking on her front lawn but said the situation was unusually bad the day the photograph was taken because of a wedding in her family the previous night.

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Taffolla said the photo incident persuaded her to vote for Longshore, whom she had been leaning toward anyway. Taffolla’s uncle, a volunteer in Griset’s campaign, could not be reached Thursday.

‘Keep Dan Out of It’

Gale Kaufman, Griset’s campaign manager, said she had declined to put Taffolla in touch with Griset because “I felt I should keep Dan out of it.”

Kaufman said she had given a paid photographer a list of Santa Ana streets on which to look for photo opportunities. Kaufman said she selected the photograph of the Taffolla home from several prints “precisely because it could not be identified as any particular person’s house--you could not see an address, and some of the other photographs of other locations had addresses on the curb, or someplace else, and we decided we couldn’t use them.”

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“It was never our intent to single out any family, but I understand that some people could read it that way, and for that I’m sorry,” Kaufman said.

“Would I do the same thing over again? Yes, I would,” Kaufman said, “because the photograph shows a problem that is occurring in Santa Ana,” namely overcrowded, illegal parking.

Several Letters Received

Griset agreed. “The picture speaks for itself,” he said.

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Kaufman said she had received several letters and calls from people who strongly agreed with the points raised in the campaign mail. Latino activist Amin David claimed that the mail containing the photograph appealed to the district’s most “redneck, racist voters” by referring to “immigrant workers” and “illegal residences.”

Griset disagreed, saying that he believes voters of all kinds are interested in improving their neighborhoods and protecting property values.


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