Commissioners criticize Mercury letters policy

By Corene Brisendine

Two city commissioners took the Manhattan Mercury to task Tuesday for its policy of charging for endorsement letters to the editor during election season. Commissioner Jim Sherow said the policy hampered the ability of some campaigns to compete with others in getting their message out.

Citing a letter written to commissioners by a citizen that was critical of the policy, Sherow said “money already plays too large a role in our elections.” He said the policy restricted citizens with “limited means” from voicing their opinion of the candidates “publicly in editorial forums.”

He said it seemed campaigns that raised a lot of money could pay to have those letters of support published, but other campaigns who didn’t raise as much couldn’t “compete on the same level.”

Commissioner John Matta agreed with Sherow. He said other communities are comparatively better off because their newspapers allow such letters to be published free of charge.

The Mercury instituted the policy last August in advance of the November general election. In an editorial announcing the change, the Mercury said it was doing so because the letters were coming “less often from individuals with strongly held views,” and more in mass produced form from campaign staffs. It said those staffs “solicited not just supporters who would write letters but also supporters who could allow their names to be used on letters that were generated by campaigns.”

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