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Council race: phone survey raises questions

Mountain View voters are being surveyed about how they might vote in the November City Council election, prompting questions about who is gathering such information and how it will be used.

The phone surveys have become a topic of discussion around town, with some people contacting the Voice to say that they find the surveys "disturbing" and an intrusion.

According to emails forwarded to the Voice, one recent survey asks a number of questions about development issues in Mountain View and whether the interviewee might vote for a candidate who was supported by a union or had advocated for rent control, among other things.

"The whole thing left me wondering who is funding this," said resident Alison Hicks.

Hicks, who participated in the survey, said many of the questions seemed relatively "normal" until there were a number of questions that seemed to be focused on candidate Lenny Siegel, a housing advocate and leader of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View. Siegel lead two unsuccessful campaigns to establish rent control in Mountain View in the late 1970s and early 1980s, says he generally supports unions and was once a member of the radical group Students for a Democratic Society while protesting the Vietnam war as a student at Stanford University -- all were subject of questions asked in the survey.

"It really stood out that he had been singled out to find a way to disparage him in some way," Hicks said of Siegel.

When asked to comment, Siegel said he suspects some group is preparing an attack ad against him, possibly a landlord or developer. He said Merlone Geier would be the "logical suspicion" as Siegel pushed to have offices towers replaced with housing in Merlone Geier's San Antonio shopping center development. A Merlone Geier representative denied the accusation.

"Merlone Geier Partners has not hired any firm to do any polling in the Mountain View area," Ron Heckman, Merlone Geier's public relations manager, told the Voice via email.

"I'm happy to have people challenge me on issues, I'm not hiding anything, but it looks sleazy to me," Siegel said. "The fear is that something will come out, without attribution, right before the election."

The caller ID for the survey call that Hicks and others recently received indicates that the survey is being conducted by Survey Sampling International, which bills itself as "the premier global provider of opinions to drive business success" on its website.

Other City Council candidates denounced attack ads and disavowed responsibility for the survey, including Ellen Kamei, Greg Unangst, Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg, Mercedes Salem, Lisa Matichak, Margaret Capriles and Jim Neal

"With the $22,000 (campaign finance) limit we have all agreed to adhere to, it sounds like something outside of a candidate's price range," said Showalter in an email to the Voice. She said she sees personal attacks on other candidates as "out of bounds. Being civil and even kind to one another is crucial."

Other candidates expressed similar views to the Voice via email.

"I am not in favor of attack ads in any election including this one," said Salem.

Kamei said she does not support attack ads, and Capriles said she did not think attack ads are appropriate in any election.

"I am fundamentally against attack ads in any election. Campaigns should stick to facts and viewpoints," said Rosenberg.

"I am not supportive of negative campaigning and I am running a clean campaign," said Matichak.

"I don't accept anything from special interests, and cases like this are exactly the reason why," said Neal. "If someone is trying to get around the campaign spending limits, or gain an unfair advantage by smearing other candidates, I want to see it exposed because this kind of politics has no place in Mountain View."

"I would hope we could keep attack ads out of this campaign, but we have the First Amendment," wrote Unangst. "All the candidates signed the Code of Fair Campaign Practices but if some third party wants to run negative attack ads, there's not much legal recourse to stop them. If it does happen, the candidates are obligated to repudiate such a group."

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