RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - It will still be another two weeks until ballots for the Rancho Mirage city council election get mailed out, but things are already heating up. Anti-gay slurs, theft and bullying are just some of the allegations being thrown around. At stake are three full-term council positions and one short-term position. The election is scheduled for April 8. Ballots will be mailed out March 10.
At the heart of the controversy is an anonymous mailer that was sent to a small number of Rancho Mirage residents on February 13. It shows openly gay incumbent Scott Hines shirtless with the message "No More Fab Party Guy Scotty." The letters of the words line up to spell out an anti-gay slur. "The gang of four has painted themselves into this corner with all of their nasty e-mails and mailers attacking me," said Hines. "So it's reasonable that the people of Rancho Mirage would point the finger. We have not done that, you have not heard any of those accusations from our campaign."
Hines is referring to current council members Iris Smotrich, Dana Hobart, Ted Weill and newcomer Charles Townsend Vinci. The four are running a joint campaign under the slogan "Experience You Can Trust." Smotrich, Hobart and Townsend are running against Hines for the three full-term positions. Weill is running against Stuart Ackley for the one short-term position. A note on the group's website denounces the mailer and speculates that it came from "someone friendly to Mr. Hines." "I take it as an effort to injure my campaign through devious and deceitful ways that are totally contrary to anything I believe or any of us believe," said Hobart.
Nearly two months before the mailer went out, Hines filed a police report alleging his I-phone was stolen from his city hall office during a closed session meeting. Hines says, the phone where the photo came from. In the police report, Hines told the officers about the upcoming election and that his opponents would be interested in obtaining information saved on the phone. To try and get to the truth, Hobart wants his team and Hines each to take a lie detector test. "We're really respecting law enforcement's lead on this," said Hines. "Dana Hobart doesn't tell us what to do or call the shots." Hines later said he would not take the polygraph test, doubting its accuracy.
Hobart says the election turned ugly far before the postcard incident. He cites a radio interview Hines did on January 11. "He referred to us as the gang of four, bullies, henchmen, that's where the campaign went off the rails," said Hobart.
While tensions continue to run high leading up to the April 8 election, Hines and the group of four do agree to one thing, voters should focus on the issues not on any brand of dirty politics. "The four of us believe that it is within the best interest of the city to make a change," said Hobart.
"I think it is unfortunate that one small group of people wants to seize absolute power and control in city hall," said Hines.
Hines also told us, the one candidate not involved in any of this, and not being asked to take a polygraph test, Stuart Ackley is working with the district attorney. Hines said Ackley is filing possible claims of voter fraud against Charles Townsend. NewsChannel 3 and CBS Local 2 will continue to investigate the claims.