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Cartoon Ad Opposing Miramar Project Sets Off Firestorm

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By Jorge Casuso

September 28, 2020 -- An anti-Miramar cartoon ad that depicts hotel owner Michael Dell as a greedy billionaire counting his money has ignited a firestorm in Santa Monica.

Top local politicians and at least one major organization have denounced as anti-Semitic the ad that appeared as an insert in a local daily newspaper days before the Council is expected to vote Tuesday on the Miramar Hotel expansion project.

Dell caricature in anti-Miramar ad Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion (SMAME) took out the ad, which claims the 500,000-square-foot project would create a construction nightmare, snarl traffic when it is completed and "change the city forever."

The ad's first of two cartoon panels depicts Dell with an exagerrated red nose smoking a cigar and sipping champagne next to piles of green bills.

"Undisturbed on his Texas ranch, tech billionaire Michael Dell enjoys his serenity and riches," the text reads.

The second panel depicts a massive black building surrounded by a traffic jam. "Meanwhile, our previously peaceful Santa Monica is in turmoil," it reads.

In a statement sent to The Lookout, SMAME said the caricature was not intended to be anti-Semitic and noted that the group's leader, Steve Linett, is Jewish.

"The caricature of a wealthy, out-of-touch developer never signaled red flags of anti-Semitism for any involved, which includes active members of the Jewish community with a history of combating Anti-Semitism," the statement said.

SMAME noted that all of Dell's features in the ad "are exaggerated including his chin and ears, a common practice of cartoonists."

"To anyone who was upset by the caricature, we apologize," the statement said. "Our message has always been and remains about corruption and pay-to-play politics related to this project.

"We will learn from this as we continue to fight a project that is bad for Santa Monicans."

The cartoon triggered heated responses on social media, as political activists speculated who funded the fledgling group's ad and politicians denounced its "anti-Semitic" caricature.

Santa Monica Assembleymember Richard Bloom quickly took to Twitter to denounce the cartoon.

"Outraged to see this antisemitic caricature of Michael Dell in my local Santa Monica paper, replete with obligatory nose & wads of cash," Bloom tweeted.

"Whoever is responsible for this should be ashamed of themselves."

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), the city's most powerful political organization, called the ad "offensive."

"There is no place in our community's public dialogue for racism or anti-Semitism in any form," the group's leaders wrote. "We urge all of those participating in our community debate to refrain from such expressions."

Councilmember Terry O'Day, who is up for re-election in November, warned in an email seeking campaign contributions that "racism has become rampant even in this local election."

"I apologize for sending you this image, but you really have to see what is happening in this election," O'Day wrote. "It is a blatant anti-Semitic caricature, replete with over-sized nose and wads of cash.

"The cowards responsible for this have not come forward, nor have my election opponents denounced this behavior," O'Day wrote. "In a year with so much hate, I need your help to get our message out."

Other City Council candidates, including challengers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre, noted they had denounced the ad.

"All of my life I have denounced anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination," said de la Torre, a School Board member.

"As someone who has been the target of racist and biased public attacks, I understand how it feels to be targeted.

"I hope we can all rise above this and stay focused on the issues," de la Torre said.

Some activists have speculated the ad was funded by the Huntley Hotel, which mounted an expensive attack against a previous version of the Miramar project that led to a record fine from the California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) in 2017.

When informed of the rumor by a local political activist, Huntley general manager Manju Raman said neither she nor the hotel were "involved with any decisions or actions taken by SMAME.

"I am not on the board of SMAME and I don’t have a clue as to what is on SMDP (the Santa Monica Daily Press). I haven’t read Santa Monica Newspapers in a few years."

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