Some University of Southern California alumni on Monday accused a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board candidate of sending a last-minute campaign mailer that misrepresents their alma mater and wrongly implies that USC endorses her candidacy.
But candidate Jo Ellen Allen of Corona del Mar defended the mailer, which was done in the school colors of cardinal red and gold and went to hundreds of USC alumni living in the Newport-Mesa enrollment area of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
The letters from Allen's campaign committee started arriving over the weekend. The letter and the envelope each bear USC's mascot Tommy Trojan and the notation, "Attention: USC Alumni."
"I got it in the mail on Saturday and flipped. I was furious," said Patricia Hitt, a USC alumna and former assistant cabinet secretary during the Nixon administration. "I think it is a deliberately deceptive mailer, and this is what turns people off to politics."
The correspondence tells the reader that "a good friend of ours and a fellow Trojan" is running for the Newport-Mesa school board. Allen, a lecturer at USC, is running against incumbent Sherry Loofbourrow of Corona del Mar. The letter describes Allen's qualifications for school board, notes that her husband graduated from USC and urges alumni to get behind her candidacy to ensure a "resounding victory this Nov. 7."
The mailer closes with the cheer "Fight on," and is signed by builder William Lusk and Anita Ferguson, Allen's campaign manager and wife of state Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach). At the bottom of the letter in small print, it states the mailer is being paid for by the Committee to Elect Jo Ellen Allen.
Allen denied any impropriety Monday and blamed complaints on a "lunatic fringe" that wants to undermine her candidacy. She pointed out that the letter contains a disclaimer and that there is no USC endorsement of her candidacy.
"Whoever these people are, are the same people who threatened Mrs. (Anita) Ferguson today (Monday)," Allen said. "It is so ridiculous. People can use any colors they want to."
Allen said she did not use any USC alumni lists for the mailer and declined to name the people who purportedly threatened her campaign manager. Ferguson could not be reached for comment.
Hitt and USC alumna Mary Lou Gray said they will complain to USC's administration about the Allen mailings. Gray said that she talked with USC authorities Monday and that they requested copies of the letter to see if there was anything improper.
"I was upset because the letter gives the impression that it's a university mailing," said Gray, who is backing Loofbourrow. "It doesn't matter what candidate I'm backing. A lot of fellow Trojan alumni are outraged that Allen's campaign would attempt to trade on the university's name."