Exactly who was behind a nasty mailer attacking West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding was secret, even though election laws require disclosure. But now the secret, at least part of it, is out.
The person responsible is West Jordan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Aisza Wilde. The city recently cut funding for her chamber and canceled its City Hall lease in the wake of criticism from her group.
She also is the daughter of former Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman — who was charged, but acquitted, for funding ghost county employees who actually worked for Wilde when she directed a Boys and Girls Club. One of the people who decided to prosecute Workman is the current city manager in West Jordan.
Riding said the mailer is a key reason he finished second in the primary election behind City Council member Dirk Burton, who currently leads by 329 votes in the state’s fourth-largest city before the final canvass next week.
“Somebody I know very well received one of those flyers. He told me, ‘You know, if I didn’t know you, I probably wouldn’t have voted for you,'” the mayor said.
The mailer alleges that money has been disappearing from the city and blames Riding. It urged residents to vote for one of the other two candidates in the race. “There are things in that flyer that were absolutely untrue and false and some misleading,” Riding said.
The mailer said it was from the “West Jordan Citizens Alliance.” Such a group has never registered as a political action committee. Justin Lee, the state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, says that groups that raise and spend money for or against candidates must disclose their donors and expenses.
City Council member Alan Anderson — who finished third in the mayoral primary and was eliminated from the general election ballot — called The Salt Lake Tribune to say some of his constituents told him how they had discovered Wilde’s involvement with the mailer.
She used the freelancer.com website to anonymously wage a contest to design the flyer with information she provided. She later gave an online endorsement for the winning artist.
“Great design, and you can tell this freelancer spent time thinking about the goal of the piece and how to best communicate it,” the endorsement said. It was signed by “Aisza W.”
“With that unusual spelling and the endorsement tied to that specific ad, it was pretty clear who was involved,” Anderson said.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Wilde acknowledged that she ordered the graphic — but says neither she nor her chamber of commerce paid for printing nor mailing.
“I did help them with the graphic design. I did not put together the content for the flyer. They provided me with the information, and they did the mailing,” she said.
Wilde declined to say exactly who “they” were.
“I don’t feel comfortable saying. But I will tell you this since Alan Anderson is the one who contacted you: Alan Anderson was in the meetings where the creation of that flyer was discussed so he can tell you who they are,” she said.
Anderson said he was never in a meeting where a flyer was discussed. He said he was in a strategy meeting with Wilde, Burton and a former city clerk talking about how to beat Riding, but no flyer was discussed.
Lee, with the lieutenant governor’s office, said such a group should have formed a PAC and disclosed its spending and donors. He said he earlier received anonymous calls about the matter but had been unable to do much because no names had been provided. Now, given Wilde’s name, he said of his office, “We’ll look into it.”
Wilde said she was unaware that such a group must form a PAC and reveal donors.
Riding said the group should come out of the shadows and say who its members are.
“If they don’t want to identify who they are, what’s wrong with this picture? Because if everything is on the up and up, then identify who it is and say everything is honest,” he said.
The mayor added that he suspects that the citizens group sent out the mailer in concert with his current opponent, Burton, who is also a member of the City Council. “I suspect it but have no proof.”
Burton said he had no involvement.
“It did not come from me or my campaign and I did not see it ahead of time. I did get a copy mailed to me. That’s the first time I saw it,” he said. “I wasn’t happy when I saw it, either. I was quite disappointed to see what’s happening.”
Anderson said the city had cut ties recently with the West Jordan Chamber of Commerce led by Wilde, and formed new ties with Chamber West — which Anderson said he had led four years earlier.
Anderson said the switch came after Wilde had frequently attacked, or in his view, misrepresented city proposals to her members. When the City Council reviewed the $48,000 a year it gave the chamber plus office space in City Hall, “We didn’t know that we were getting $48,000 worth of services when everything we do, she attacked.”
Wilde said she did not become involved in the situation directly because of that.
“I've developed a reputation as an advocate, somebody who's willing to take on the government. I think that's why this group of citizens approached me,” she said.
“Jim Riding and David Brickey, the city manager, have done some pretty unconscionable things to business, nonprofits and citizens — and they’ve hurt a lot of really good, innocent people,” she said. “So yeah, we’re kind of invested in seeing that change.”
Brickey, back when he was a Summit County prosecutor, was part of an outside, four-person panel that Salt Lake County asked to decide whether to prosecute Wilde’s mother when she was the county mayor. Anderson questioned whether Wilde may also be attacking the city because of that.
When asked about that, Wilde said, “I had no idea” that Brickey had played that role.