Protesters in Murrieta blocked and turned away three Department of Homeland Security buses full of Central American women and children on July 1. Afterward, the City of Murrieta hired a crisis-management expert to help defend the city's actions and protect its image.
CrisisPros’ Xavier Hermosillo, who says the city paid him $5000 for the month of July, came aboard following a second demonstration, when a confrontation between demonstrators turned ugly. Soon after, Hermosillo dove into a confrontation on Facebook with cartoonist and San Diego native Lalo Alcaraz.
Alcaraz pens La Cucaracha, a nationally syndicated cartoon that includes the L.A. Times among its publishers.
The July 14 strip has the two baby stars of “Anchor Baby News” discussing the bus-repelling incident, saying that "racists in Murrieta" didn't realize the kids were being prepped for deportation.
Alcaraz also set up the hashtag #Murrieta HateCityUSA. But, by then, Alcaraz had already taken Hermosillo to task on his Facebook page, where he called Hermosillo "literally, an anti-immigrant tool." Hermosillo responded by calling Alcaraz's cartoon "actionable."
"I never said the city was going to sue him. I simply said his words were actionable," Hermosillo said.
"You are working overtime to damage Murrieta," Hermosillo wrote on July 23. Alcaraz was unimpressed and put out a second cartoon on July 24 that suggested a name change for the city: "Murriacist."
"He said my posts were 'actionable' and that sounded like a legal threat to me," Alcaraz explained via email. “I always respond to threats and intimidation by expressing myself even more.”
Calling Alcaraz's cartoon “hate speech” in a phone interview this week, Hermosillo said, "We can't allow ad hominem attacks that are racist, baseless, and slanderous."
According to city manager Rick Dudley, the city looked to Hermosillo for help when it was inundated by news media from all over the world.
"We have a part-time public information officer," Dudley said. "We don't deal with an onslaught of media requests — I mean, we had a TV station from Brazil here — during the World Cup!"
Hermosillo helped the city government, both elected and employees, with his understanding of the wide variety of news and news-related shows, Dudley said.
"When you get more into requests from O'Reilly or Sean Hannity or the Today Show — who we got requests from — you don't know what to strategize for," he explained. "So having someone with a good understanding of the segments of the shows and the news media was really helpful."
But once the demonstrations and news coverage died down, the city stopped asking for Hermosillo's help.
"We have a one-month contract with him," Dudley says. "But the number of media requests has dropped, so I called him and said ‘let's take a hiatus.’”
That was last week, about the time Hermosillo started his Facebook fight with Alcaraz. For Dudley, the question of rehabilitating the city's image isn't as critical as Hermosillo thinks it is.
"We are a very mixed, very tolerant, very compassionate and caring community," says Dudley, noting that as the son of a member of the foreign service, he grew up in South America and Africa. "If this was a racist community, I wouldn't work here. People who know Murrieta know that we are good, caring people in a safe, friendly community."
But economist John Husing, whose consulting business specializes in the Inland Empire and Southern California, says Murrieta does need some image rebuilding — at least in the business community.
"Anytime somebody manages to twice get themselves in the L.A. Times with people laughing at them, they're in trouble," Husing said. "They're trying to attract high-end businesses, but, if you're a business, would you look at a place where the mayor ginned things up to make people spit at each other?"