San Jose Inside has learned that a staffer for county Supervisor Cindy Chavez has been involved in running the anonymous links blog The Daily Fetch.
Kerry Hillis—a policy aide currently on leave from Chavez’ staff who served as communications director for San Jose’s police union and is involved with Dave Cortese’s mayoral campaign—purchased the site from political consultant Jay Rosenthal in late 2012, according to a source with knowledge of the transaction.
It was at this time that the site went from a collection of daily political links, littered with moderately snarky jokes and inside baseball references, to a far more aggressive attack blog reminiscent of the also-anonymous San Jose Revealed, the now-defunct website run by a former member of Chavez’s inner circle.
When reached for comment Tuesday evening, Hillis refused to conduct a phone interview after being informed in a text message that The Fetch would be the topic. Hillis insisted he would only answer questions by email or text. Rather than answer specific questions sent by email, Hillis then responded with a one-paragraph answer that touched on several topics unrelated to the The Fetch. Hillis also did not address a specific question asking him to confirm or deny he purchased the site from Rosenthal.
“I have no interest in responding to an anonymous source,” he wrote. “This is all I have to say on the subject.”
Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Rosenthal would not confirm or deny he sold the site to Hillis. But his previous ownership of the site is not in dispute. Rosenthal, who now lives in Toronto, approached San Jose Inside about purchasing the site in early 2012. He confirmed that the site is not under his current control.
San Jose Inside’s source said that ownership of The Fetch changed hands in late 2012, and with it came a dramatic difference in tone. The site began to aggressively target San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Sam Liccardo and supporters of pension reform on the City Council, while leveling little criticism against corruption-plagued officials supported by labor, such as George Shirakawa Jr. and Xavier Campos. The Fetch often uses photoshopped images that depict public figures and journalists it disagrees with in silly if not unflattering positions.
Hillis’ purchase of the site makes sense. He has immediate connections to three of the most powerful limbs of the South Bay political machine. He worked as a communications director for the San Jose Police Officers Association (POA) from August 2010 to October 2013, and many of the The Fetch’s posts over the last two years have hammered away on POA talking points. In the spring of last year, Hillis also worked on the Chavez supervisor campaign, according to his LinkedIn profile. A year ago he left the POA to join Chavez full time at the county.
Hillis is currently on leave from the county and sources say he has been actively working to get Cortese elected. (Side note: On the night of the June primary election, I bumped into Hillis at the Cortese election night party and we had a brief conversation.)
Vince Rocha, a spokesman for Cortese’s mayoral bid, told San Jose Inside on Wednesday that he was not aware if Hillis had any role in the campaign. He said he would find out, but since that time Rocha has not returned multiple follow-up requests for clarification.
Chavez’ office also did not return a call requesting comment on Hillis and his involvement in the site.
In his email to San Jose Inside, Hillis said he has “never been employed by either San Jose mayoral campaign,” but he did not say if he has volunteered or worked for an independent committee supporting Cortese. A receptionist for the POA, which also did not return requests for comment, told San Jose Inside that Hillis is not working for the police union this election cycle.
Presumably in response to a question about his employment with the county, and whether it was appropriate for a public employee to be publishing anonymous attacks that benefit his boss, Hillis wrote: “My personal leave with the County ends in two weeks and I do not have any intention of returning to county employment.”
This isn’t the first time an operative for Chavez, formerly CEO of the South Bay Labor Council, used an anonymous website to attack political opponents and journalists. In 2009, San Jose Inside reported that Philip Bump, a former political director for the SBLC, was an administrator for the site San Jose Revealed, which published particularly vicious attacks, including maps to the home addresses of prosecutor David Pandori and the owner of San Jose Inside.
After the map was published in the latter story, San Jose Inside reported, “the home’s owner, falsely accused of making money through pornography, became the victim of a hate crime that involved property destruction and swastika graffiti.”
The Fetch has not published information as brazen as Revealed, instead focusing on links to articles and public documents. But the rhetoric of the site, along with another mostly anonymous blog created by SBLC officials, The Left Hook, has taken a more poisonous tone as Election Day nears.
The Fetch recently compared an op-ed by Mercury News editorial writer Barbara Marshman to propaganda on the level of Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels.
The site has also routinely depicted San Jose Inside’s staff as pimps, due to an agreement with this site’s parent company to classified ads site Backpage. The coordination between The Fetch and The Left Hook has grown closer even closer in recent months, as the sites have linked to one another’s content more often than the past. The tone in both work is similar.
Two weeks ago, Bob Brownstein applauded Cortese for refusing San Jose Inside’s request for an endorsement interview by mentioning this site in the same breath as the KKK.