Dante Acosta, the Mayor Pro Tem of Santa Clarita and Republican nominee for Assembly in the 38th District, gathered with several other Latino leaders at a news conference outside Democratic headquarters in Newhall on Monday to denounce campaign ads mailed on behalf of Democrat foe Christy Smith as “blatant racist and bigoted messages of hate.”
The ads in question feature “darkened and seriously altered” publicity shots that Acosta, a sometime actor, has used as headshots in the past, Acosta said.
Paid for by the California Democratic Party, the ads “cast me as nothing more than some Mexican two-bit criminal,” Acosta said.
“We are all here today in mutual outrage over the blatant racist and bigoted messages of hate by my opponent, Christy Smith, whose sole purpose is to mislead and scare voters,” Acosta said at a podium erected outside Democratic headquarters on Lyons Avenue.
“These attacks are deplorable, and even more so because my opponent, Christy Smith, doctored some of my own acting portfolio for these attacks. She made the conscious decision not to use my (acting) roles as CEO, FBI agent, auto mechanic or even a chef – all honorable professions.’’
Flanked by blow-ups of the two pictures in question, Acosta also said, “Christy Smith’s campaign deliberately altered these to make me appear as a criminal thug.”
Smith, reached by The Signal for comment after the news conference, said, “I will stand on my background of decades of public service, working with all of the people of this community.’’
“I have consistently been willing to debate my opponent on the issues, and find these baseless attacks to be ridiculous and destructive to the democratic process,’’ Smith, a Newhall School Board member, added.
She also said, “None of the imagery used by my campaign has been doctored.’’
Separate from her Signal interview, Smith’s campaign issued this statement in reply to Acosta’s charges:
“Dante Acosta’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Acosta has repeatedly refused to reject and denounce the racist, xenophobic and hatred-fueled candidacy of Donald Trump — who has called for a deportation task force, and a federal judge biased, simply because of his Latino heritage. The fact is, Christy Smith is endorsed by California’s highest ranking Latino leaders and is the only candidate in the race for State Assembly who supports compassionate immigration reform by strengthening our border and enacting a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.”
For the record, in an August debate, Acosta said, “I’ve never aligned myself with Donald Trump. I’ve never endorsed Donald Trump.”
One of the pictures denounced by Acosta shows him posing in what a campaign spokesman called a “police detective look,” while the other shows Acosta glowering and wearing a chain around his neck.
Posing for headshots in such ways is a common means that actors use to pitch themselves for particular roles.
In one ad in which one of the pictures is used, Smith’s name does not appear – just attacks on Acosta. In another ad, Smith is spotlighted.
Both ads say that Acosta has “a record of extremism and financial misconduct” – charges that Smith, in her interview with The Signal, stood by on Monday.
But it was the pictures in the ads, more than the words, that Acosta and the other Latino leaders addressed in their news conference.
“I demand that my opponent, Christy Smith, do the right thing by denouncing these bigoted attacks, and to give me and the entire Latino community an apology for their hateful and racist attacks,” Acosta said.
“What kind of person are you, Christy Smith? Ask yourself, if my name was Smith or Johnson, would she be stooping to such deplorable tactics? The answer is, no she wouldn’t.”
Acosta was joined at the news conference by Assemblyman Rocky J. Chavez (R-Oceanside); Paul De La Cerda, a Saugus School Board member; and Bill Miranda, from the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Business Alliance, which is part of the Chamber of Commerce.
Each took the podium and, in turn, denounced the ads as well as Smith.
“When I saw these pictures, it offended me a great deal,’’ said Chavez. “This sort of racism will not be tolerated. I call on her to pull down these ads.’’
Said De La Cerda: “It’s a disgrace to use these kinds of tactics. … As a school board member, she has the obligation to represent people from all walks of life. It’s appalling, it’s depressing. … I call on Ms. Smith to apologize to the people of the Santa Clarita Valley.’’
Miranda, of the SCV Latino Chamber of Commerce, echoed those thoughts.
“This is a sad day,’’ he said. “I’ve been fighting racism all my life. I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like. I’m appalled, absolutely appalled, at the portrayal of Latino stereotypes.’’
Miranda also said he has never encountered Smith in any of his dealings involving the local Latino community.
“She doesn’t know us (Latinos),’’ Miranda said. “I’ve never seen her, I do not know Christy Smith.
“Christy, shame on you. Don’t take us back to the ’50s, don’t take us back to the ’60s – apologize.’’
In her interview with The Signal, Smith did acknowledge that she saw the ads and approved them before they were mailed.
Asked why those particular pictures were chosen, she said, “Because they were publicly available photos of him. There have been plenty of opportunities, pictures taken of me at inopportune times, that had shadows cast across me, and they have been used by his campaign and in Republican campaign literature.’’
Asked if — as Acosta and the others had demanded — she wanted to apologize for the ads, Smith said, “I stand by the content because I think my opponent has consistently misrepresented who he is to the public, and there is evidence to back that.’’
Asked if she stood by the presentation, Smith said, “I’m just going to leave it at I stand by the content.’’
The charge of Acosta misrepresenting himself — which Smith has brought forth in the past — concerns three client complaints filed against Acosta during his days as a financial adviser – none of which resulted in sanctions.
Republican campaigners last week fired back that Smith’s broker/financial adviser husband has had two similar complaints filed against him – one of which was “denied,” or found to have had no basis, while the other was settled with no admission of fault or liability.
Monday, Smith also stood by her earlier charge that Acosta’s job movement in the financial industry — 10 financial firms between 1992 and 2015 – suggested a “lackluster career.”
Smith’s charge of “extremism” is related to a speech Acosta once gave before the Oath Keepers, a right wing, anti-government group. Sam Spencer, an Acosta campaign spokesman, said Acosta did speak before the group — but at the group’s request, and as Gold Star father, sometime after Acosta’s son was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. Spencer said Acosta is not member of the Oath Keepers, that the speech was not political, and that Smith politicizing the matter “is disgusting.”
Smith and Acosta are vying for the Assembly seat being vacated by Republican Scott Wilk, who is running for the state Senate.