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Nurses union begins ads attacking Whitman

San Francisco Chronicle, 6/25/10

By Carla Marinucci, Drew Joseph
San Francisco Chronicle
June 25, 2010

The California Nurses Association said the incident shows how disconnected the GOP gubernatorial nominee is from working people.

At a news conference outside its Oakland headquarters that was attended by 150 nurses in red scrubs, the union unveiled a new ad campaign - "Nurses Won't Be Pushed Around" - and released posters showing a heavily jeweled hand adorned with rings that was meant to represent the billionaire candidate.

Union leaders said its new campaign makes direct references to a June 14 New York Times report of a 2007 incident in which Whitman, then the chief executive of the online auction firm, became angry and shoved a subordinate employee. The paper reported that Young Mi Kim, who now is a corporate communications director with eBay, received a $200,000 settlement in the case.

Whitman earlier this week called the incident "verbal" and the result of a "stressful" work situation. She dismissed it as a "fascination of the chattering class." But Thursday she acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that she had "physically escorted" Kim from an eBay conference room and said the Times' story was correct.

In today's news conference, leaders of the 80,000-member union, which has endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown, said they were responding to the Whitman campaign's attacks on the nurses' union - and they intended to target the Republican as out of touch.

"We work in one of the most stressful work environments every day, and we maintain our professional composure," said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse who is also the organization's political director. "It's really about her whole persona of feeling entitled."

The nurses also announced a July 15 statewide forum for nurses in Whitman's hometown of Atherton. Jill Furillo, a registered nurse for 28 years and the Southern California director of the organization, said that after Whitman has twice turned down invitations to appear before the group, "we are going to bring the nurses to Meg Whitman."

The union's moves drew a sharp response from Whitman campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei, who said "the California Nurses Association is a group of one-party union activists that unequivocally support Jerry Brown. It is tightly controlled by partisan union bosses, and they are knowingly misrepresenting Meg's positions on the issues and the opinions of California's nurses."

The events underscored an increasingly aggressive match between Whitman and the union, which has dogged Whitman's campaign for months with satirical protests that include a fictional "Queen Meg" entourage bearing signs declaring she is "rich enough to rule."

The Republican candidate in recent weeks has fought back, last week requesting a mailing list from the organization so Whitman could directly address its members. The union countered by inviting Whitman to address the nurses alongside Brown, or for Whitman to appear alone. She has declined the invitations.

Whitman's team has reached union members by phone and sent thousands of nurses direct mail questioning the $293,000 salary of the union's executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro, which it noted was five times the annual earnings of an average nurse in the United States.

Members of the union's board, elected by the nurses, defended DeMoro, saying they determined her salary and that it was appropriate for her responsibilities.

"Queen Meg," wearing a velvet crown and sash, arrived at the news conference in a black Cadillac Escalade and accompanied by two security guards - one of them donning a sash reading "Goldman" and the other one "Sachs" - a reference to Whitman's 15-month tenure on the Goldman Sachs board of directors and her close ties to the Wall Street bank.

The queen character, played by Elaine Burns, a drama teacher from the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced she was "pushing through" the crowd of nurses as she entered a building and referred to them as part of the "chattering classes" - a phrase Whitman used on a radio talk show Monday when describing media coverage of the 2007 altercation.

Bill Whalen, Hoover Institution research fellow and a Republican strategist who has advised former Gov. Pete Wilson, said the nurses may be miscalculating in trying to make something of the incident.

"I think this is one of those instances where the press is far more interested than the average voter," who he said cares about "how these people will create jobs."

But Democratic strategist Chris Lehane - who advises an independent expenditure group, Level the Playing Field 2010, that is backing Brown - said the Whitman campaign's effort to target nurses could become as big a distraction for the GOP candidate as it was for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after he quipped to nurses union protesters that he could "kick their butts."

"It makes absolutely no sense for someone with a corporate background" to go after a union that is "loved like Mother Teresa and fights like a hyena."

"I don't understand the political calculations," Lehane said. "Sometimes, you pick fights with the third parties - but it's the tobacco companies. You don't pick fights with nurses, wounded vets or America's soccer team."

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