San Jose Mercury News
By Ramona Giwargis
SAN JOSE — The letter sent by Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office to a taxi driver to submit to this newspaper as his own was written by a special interest group, new documents confirm, raising questions about why a member of his staff served as a third party in the exchange.
An email from Liccardo’s policy aide, Katie Scally, said the mayor’s office wrote a draft of the letter supporting the mayor’s position in the fight over allowing ride-sharing services to operate at San Jose Mineta International Airport. Scally sent the letter to longtime Yellow Cab driver Shakur Buni, president of the San Jose Airport Taxi Driver Association, to submit under his name.
But emails shared with this newspaper after the deadline for Friday’s article on the flap show the letter was actually written by Dave Sutton of Melwood Global, an East Coast public relations firm. The firm was hired by the international Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association to draft the letter.
According to the emails, Sutton sent a copy of the letter to Yellow Cab’s president, Larry Silva. But instead of passing the letter on to his own cabdrivers, Silva sent it to the mayor’s office. Scally later forwarded it to Buni to solicit his signature.
Buni signed the letter and sent it to this newspaper for publication on behalf of roughly 300 cabdrivers who serve the airport.
“It wasn’t my idea to send it to the drivers,” Silva said Monday. “That idea came from Katie (Scally) at the mayor’s office.”
While the mayor’s office didn’t write the letter, it’s unclear why the office took on the role of convincing cabdrivers to sign their name to it. Or why Silva didn’t directly contact his drivers to get their support.
“I’m busy,” Silva said. “I don’t deal that much with the drivers.”
Liccardo did not return calls for comment Monday, but issued a statement calling the episode an anomaly.
“It is not the practice of this office to provide draft letters for others to submit in their own name, and we will emphasize this point with our staff,” Liccardo said in the statement. “One of the responsibilities of the mayor’s office is to advocate for the administration’s priorities on a regular basis and encourage community participation in policymaking and public discussion.”
In a previous interview, the mayor could not say why Scally indicated his office “drafted” the letter when it hadn’t or why his office was a third party in the exchange.
Buni’s ghostwritten letter was never published. But it appears it wasn’t the first time the mayor’s office solicited a taxi driver to send a letter to the newspaper in support of Liccardo’s position. Scally said in a different email that she provided a letter to another driver, Kirpal Bajwa, to submit to the newspaper. Bajwa said the draft was “wonderful” but he made changes before submitting it July 24. The letter was not published.
The letters came in response to what Liccardo called a “ludicrous” opinion piece from Orson Aguilar, executive director of racial justice advocacy group Greenlining Institute, that claimed fingerprinting Uber and Lyft drivers would hurt minorities. Liccardo has made a strong push to fingerprint drivers of ride-hailing companies — the taxi companies’ high-tech competition — before letting them operate at San Jose’s airport.