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Robot "Mike" Accuses O'Grady of Being Republican, But Mike's Origins Remain A Mystery (Updated)

Amy Silverstein |
March 7, 2011 | 6:07 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Updated:  A mysterious, robotic-sounding man named Mike has been creating some confusion in the City Council District 4 elections, which are on March 8, along with the other even-numbered districts. In phone calls, Mike urges Los Angelenos in CD 4 to vote for incumbent Tom LaBonge, and paints LaBonge's opponents as conservatives. 

City Council District 4 debate (Amy Silverstein)
City Council District 4 debate (Amy Silverstein)

"Tom LaBonge's opponents are running a negative Tea Party-style campaign against Tom," Mike says. "In fact, the campaign manager for Tom's opponent is a Right-wing Republican who worked for George W. Bush...Please join Democrats, and say no to the Republican mudslinging, and say yes to Tom LaBonge."

What Mike makes unclear is that LaBonge actually has two opponents in the race--Stephen Box and Tomas O'Grady--who are both known as staunch liberals.

Tom Berman, from Tom LaBonge's office, said on the phone today that the opponent being referenced in the call is Tomas O'Grady. 

He said the chief-of-staff referenced is John Thomas, who appears to be an outspoken Republican in charge of Thomas Partners Strategies.  

Tomas O'Grady has paid Thomas Partners Strategies $5,500, according to the City Ethics Commission website.  The most recent payment was made on February 7.  

O'Grady's office confirmed that the conservative Thomas did campaign consulting for O'Grady.  

Daniel Tamm, from O'Grady's campaign, was not sure of the exact date that Thomas stopped working for O'Grady. However, Tamm said he himself began working for O'Grady about 6 weeks ago, at which point Thomas no longer worked there, he said.   "What I know is that Tomas [O'Grady] worked with [Thomas] briefly, was uncomfortable with his political standing and let him go, fired him," said Daniel Tamm, from O'Grady's campaign.* 

Campaign statements show that O'Grady's first payment to Tamm was made on February 17, ten days after Thomas' last payment.  

"I dont know that [Thomas] really did much of anything, quite honestly," said Tamm. He also added that Thomas' politics made O'Grady uncomfortable. 

In phone interviews back and forth between O'Grady's and LaBonge's office, both camps had some harsh words for each other. 

"He's just deliberately trying to distract voters and suppress the vote," Tamm, from O'Grady's office, said.  "The fact is, we're all Democrats."

Berman, from LaBonge's office, said it was news to him that Thomas no longer worked for the O'Grady campaign.  He referenced the campaign statements, which show that Thomas Partners Strategies has been paid $2,500 more than Tamm has been paid.

"I think that's something that voters have a right to know," Berman said, in regard to John Thomas' conservative beliefs. 

More confusing, though, is the origins of Mike, the robotic man doing the mudslinging.

Berman, from LaBonge's office, would not officially take responsibility for Mike. Berman said that live campaign staffers have been making calls telling people about O'Grady's supposed Republican connection.  However, he said that their robo-calls have avoided making such accusations. 

"The only robo-calls made by the campaign have been positive," Berman said.  

The call was posted online by the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, which has been at odds with LaBonge over his views on food trucks. In the call, Mike says he is calling on behalf of Governor Jerry Brown and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Yet Brown's office also denied responsibility for the calls. "The governor did not authorize any voicemail," said Gil Duran, from Jerry Brown's office.  He would not comment on whether or not Brown was angry that his name was being used without his permission. "I work in government, so I don't handle the political side."

A message left for a member of the L.A. County Democratic Party had not been returned as of publishing time.* Check back later for updates.

*Update: O'Grady said on the phone today that he had no issue with John Thomas about their differing political beliefs, since he was just paying him for campaign work, not policy work. 

"Political professionals are political professionals," O'Grady said. He said the information given from his office yesterday about Thomas being fired was incorrect. O'Grady said Thomas was never fired, since he was just on board as a paid consultant. O'Grady added that Thomas is a "very nice man."  

*Update II: Mike remains an orphan. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party said they also had nothing to do with these robo-calls. "This is the first time we heard it. We never actually authorized this recording," said Clark Lee, Political Director for the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. "We're going to try our best to actually find out who was behind this."

Lee also noted that Mike left no disclaimer at the end of his voicemail, to indicate who actually paid for the call.  

Lee emailed this reporter a recording of a legitimate robo-call made by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which gives LaBonge a positive endorsement, without engaging in any mudslinging of his opponents.  

Reach reporter Amy Silverstein here.



 

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