Flurry of North Bay anti-Semitic graffiti concerns ADL

About 24 hours after Marin state Assembly candidate Russ Weiner's posters were defaced with symbols of anti-Semitism, similar incidents occurred in Santa Rosa.

Barbara H. Bergen, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific region, said: "It's the first time that much anti-Semitic vandalism occurred in such a short period of time. It concerns me. I can't feel comfortable about any act of anti-Semitism. We'll give it a good deal of attention."

Thirty posters promoting Weiner, a Republican from Sausalito, were defaced in the predawn hours on Oct. 31 and the Santa Rosa vandalism occurred the following night.

In Marin, swastikas and devil's horns were spray-painted in red over face shots of Weiner, who lost the election to Democratic incumbent Kerry Mazzoni.

"When I saw one of the pictures, with blood-red across my face, it brought back documentaries I saw as a kid about the Holocaust," Weiner said.

Several law enforcement branches, including the Novato and San Rafael police departments as well as the Marin Sheriff's Department, are investigating. But there are no solid leads yet.

However, the S.F.-based ADL office announced a $17,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Weiner poster vandals.

Initially the ADL put up $5,000. Within a few days, it was upped by members of the community, including a $5,000 pledge by Bob Larive, the owner of Fior d'Italia Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach and a close friend of Weiner's father, KSFO radio call-in host Michael Savage.

"The police are appreciative of the posting of the reward. A financial incentive is more likely to, as the cops say, `rat them out,'" Bergen said, adding that the reward may be extended to help solve the Santa Rosa case.

Oakmont, a remote senior complex in Santa Rosa, was defaced with backward swastikas and racial profanities in several areas, including the resident directory.

In addition, Wild Oak, an affluent gated community of 125 homes behind Oakmont, was also defaced with similar graffiti on the development's front gate and on a wall near the entrance.

The ADL believes the Weiner and Santa Rosa defacements were not done by the same people.

"Obviously, at Oakmont and Wild Oak, it wasn't someone who was very familiar with Nazi symbols. So we don't think it was a skinhead," said Jessica Ravitz, associate director of the ADL's Central Pacific region.

It's possible that the Weiner vandalism may have been done by more than one individual, since so many posters were methodically defaced across the county during what police believe was a four-hour period.

"I would love to see the person or persons caught," said Weiner. "If kids did it, I wouldn't prosecute. I would take them to a Holocaust museum and educate them on just what that symbol means. If it was a group of adults, I would throw the book at them."

Wild Oak resident Trudy Gorman, who is Jewish and whose parents were killed in the Holocaust, said: "The only question is, who did it? The dyslexic swastikas were very deliberately aimed at Jews. There are many other symbols they could have used."

Three days after the vandalism, the Gormans got a bizarre crank call, which may or may not be related to the incident. Nevertheless, the police took it seriously.

Around noon, Trudy Gorman talked to her daughter, who lives in Redwood City and was packing for a business trip in the east. At 1:35 p.m., when her daughter was supposed to be on a plane, Gorman's answering machine recorded a call that played the following lyrics from a song, "I don't know why she went away."

When Gorman pressed *-69, to find out where the call originated, she was connected to her daughter's home. "I was horrified that something had happened to her," she said.

Nothing did happen to Gorman's daughter, who was on her scheduled flight, but the Redwood City police considered the call suspicious.

On Tuesday, Gorman said a security system was being installed in her home. "We've been here for a year and a half and didn't think we needed it before."

The Santa Rosa police are continuing their investigation. No suspects have been identified.

Meanwhile, the ADL is coordinating a meeting with Rabbi George Gittleman of Santa Rosa Congregation Shomrei Torah, enabling Jewish residents of Oakmont and Wild Oak to air their concerns.

"We want to help the community vent and to process this," said Ravitz. "We want them to know that there are people behind them who are not going to tolerate this."

For Weiner, losing his first election isn't as puzzling as trying to find an answer to why he was a target of vandalism.

"I'm trying to open my mind and search for a reason other than the fact that I'm Jewish," he said.