Dozens of residents and three candidates for Ashland City Council gathered on the downtown Plaza Monday afternoon to decry a negative political ad and mailer paid for by an Ashland political action committee that has long played a role in the town's politics.
The PAC — which this year is calling itself Ashland Residents for a Great City Council — successfully helped boot some of the most liberal members of the City Council out of their positions during past elections. Previously it was known as the League of Ashland Voters.
This month, the PAC ran an ad in the monthly Sneak Preview and sent a mailer to residents targeting City Councilor Carol Voisin, who is seeking re-election.
At the Monday rally, Voisin said the PAC's activities amount to political bullying.
"As citizens of Ashland, we don't like this," Voisin said.
She and fellow City Council candidates Regina Ayars and Keith Haxton spoke out against the PAC's ads, as did several residents who came forward out of the crowd.
The PAC's director, Bill Heimann, was also on hand and Voisin invited him to speak.
Heimann said the ad and mailer had a "heavy-duty slant" and he promised to use a more positive tone in future advertisements.
But he insisted that all the information put out by the PAC was correct.
Among other actions, the PAC accuses Voisin of voting against giving city grant funding to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and voting against banning repeat offenders from the downtown.
Voisin said she supports OSF, but other nonprofit organizations such as the Ashland Independent Film Festival and ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum may deserve a greater share of annual city grant funding than they receive now.
Voisin said the city should provide services for mentally ill people and disabled homeless people rather than adopting a downtown exclusion zone affecting repeat offenders.
"You're twisting what you find, and that I find very disturbing," Voisin told Heimann at the rally.
Heimann said he appreciated that Voisin had explanations for her votes because that encourages good conversations.
He said the PAC is not conservative and instead supports moderates without fixed ideologies who can contribute to the community in a positive way.
"A right-winger in Ashland is a centrist Democrat," Heimann said.
It's not clear what the effect of the PAC's ads will be.
Several people from the crowd at the rally said they would vote against Ashland City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Rich Rosenthal and Salvation Army Development Director Jackie Agee — who have been endorsed by the PAC — because of the negative ads.
Rosenthal and Agee are seeking seats on the City Council, while Lemhouse is seeking re-election.
Heimann said the candidates endorsed by the PAC have had nothing to do with its ads. He said election law prevents his PAC from strategizing with the candidates it supports.
The PAC reported $6,045 in contributions and $3,882 in expenditures as of Monday.
"It makes me uncomfortable," Rosenthal said about the ads. He said he had nothing to do with them and only saw the mailer when it arrived in the mail.
"Ashland voters are smart and they will make informed and objective decisions," Rosenthal said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.