LANCASTER (CBSLA.com) — An Antelope Valley mayor is under fire for circulating a mailer labeling a city council candidate a "gang candidate."
The mailer, circulated by Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, has been attacked as racist and outrageous. In it he calls on voters to "defeat the gang candidate," Johnathon Ervin.
Ervin, an engineer and Air Force Reserve officer who served 16 years of active duty, calls the allegation "one of the most hurtful comments that I've ever heard uttered in the public square."
"We are in an election, and that's my opinion," Parris said. "It is absolutely my opinion that if this particular candidate gets elected, we will have a much more difficult time controlling gangs."
Mayor Parris argues his crackdown on gangs has reduced the city's gang shooting death toll from 23 when he took office in 2008 to zero in 2011. The mayor alleges Ervin opposed efforts to rein in gang activity and allowed anti-law enforcement remarks at a peaceful Trayvon Martin solidarity rally in 2012.
In a video from the event, one man is recorded saying "their son was murdered by the sheriffs, in Palmdale, 11 shots was given to his back."
The reporter who broke the story for the Antelope Valley Press told KCAL9's Dave Bryan that one of the people who made similar remarks was appointed by Mayor Parris to a city commission, and has now resigned.
"I think it might be a little over the top, I also think it's politics," Parris said, when asked about the mailer. "But I also think when he led that march, he allowed people to be flashing gang signs to the cameras; he did nothing to control that event."
Ervin, seen in a video having a congenial conversation with Sheriff's deputies before the event began, said he never heard the remarks at the march and wonders why it took Mayor Parris so long to speak out if he was upset.
"It's taken the mayor two years, sending out a political hit piece, to stand up on this issue? I think the public sees right through this," Ervin said.
The controversial campaign mailer, which supports two other candidates for city council, warns Ervin's election would put members of the community at risk.
"If he is on the council, he will know about ongoing operations to fight the gangs," the mailer reads. "When he passes this information on to his 'friends,' the safety of our deputies and our families will be in jeopardy."
Asked by KCAL9's Bryan if warning of Ervin conspiring with gangs might be over the top, Mayor Parris defended the mailer's message.
"When you have 23 murders of young people, and you were the guy opposing everything we did to save those children's lives, I don't know that it's that far over the top," Parris said.
"That's exactly how I interpret it, that's how the public interprets it, this is why the public is outraged," Ervin said of the mailer's suggestion he would pass information onto gangs. "I'm an Iraqi Freedom veteran, and I've been trusted with some of our country's most sensitive secrets. And to say that I would put public safety at risk, and give information to the criminals, is an insult to me."
"Our community is safer without him. Our children are safer without him," Parris said. "Now, should I have used a different word? Probably. But we're talking about the lives of young people in my city. And if it means I have to use a word that maybe I shouldn't have, I'm using it."
The election will be held April 8.
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