2006 Senate: Kean camp outraged by guerrilla video

Kean camp outraged by guerrilla video
Tuesday, October 10, 2006


 YouTube video: Tom Kean Jr Turns His Back On A Soldier's Mother

Ambush tactics, guerrilla camera work and light-speed video distribution became the latest flashpoint in the U.S. Senate race, as rival camps traded charges Monday about campaign techniques and fair play.

The issues arose after Jo Ann Sohl, the mother of a Marine, confronted Republican Tom Kean Jr. at a weekend event with pointed questions about the mounting carnage in Iraq.

An operative working for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez filmed the exchange, and within hours Menendez's campaign launched its mass distribution on the Internet.

Electronic copies of the encounter were quickly posted on a variety of Web sites and blogs catering to political interests. It also appeared on YouTube, the video archive Web site bought Monday by Google.

In addition, representatives of the group Military Families Speak Out -- of which Sohl is a member -- held a press conference in Teaneck on Monday to criticize Kean for avoiding their questions. The group says Kean met with it Aug. 14, answered some of its members' questions and promised additional answers later in writing.

The Kean campaign has accused its rivals of foul play, saying the Democratic campaign was underhanded when it brought Sohl into the CBS television studios where the candidates debated Saturday.

"It's inappropriate for the Menendez camp to smuggle Ms. Sohl into the post-debate room that's reserved for members of the press and campaign staff," said Jill Hazelbaker, a Kean spokeswoman.

She said the Democrat was simply using Sohl, of Old Bridge -- and the anti-war group she represents -- as proxy fighters to make a coordinated partisan attack.

"I think it's sad that Bob Menendez is trying to exploit this group's grief," Hazelbaker said of Military Families Speak Out. Menendez's campaign, she said, is "preying on their emotional distress to further their own political campaign -- it's tasteless."

Menendez backers countered that the videotaped encounter shows Kean walking away from Sohl in an effort to dodge important questions about the future of U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

Matt Miller, a Menendez spokesman, said the campaign invited Sohl to attend the debate at the Manhattan TV studio along with its only other guests, Governor Corzine and Rep. Rob Andrews, D-Camden.

"We invited her because she has serious questions about the prosecution of this war," Miller said. "We think she adds an interesting voice to this debate. To suggest that someone shouldn't be in the [studio] 'spin room' after the debate because they're not a public official, that's rather elitist."

It is not the first time that Sohl, who until recently lived in Palisades Park, has made an issue of Kean's position on the war in Iraq. Nearly a month ago, the Bergen and Essex chapters of Military Families Speak Out distributed a flier criticizing the state senator from Union County for supposedly refusing to answer detailed questions about his Iraq war policy and promising to a send a written response.

That has not happened, Sohl said Monday in Teaneck.

"Why hasn't he answered our questions?" she asked. "I think he is a liar."

The Kean campaign declined to comment on the issue.

Among the questions the group wants answered are whether Kean would send his children to fight in Iraq -- they are now in elementary school -- and whether he would consider joining the military and going to Iraq.

The videotape shows Sohl walking toward Kean, who is several feet away and surrounded by reporters. As she asks her questions, Evan Kozlow, Kean's campaign manager, intercedes. Kozlow reminds Sohl that Kean has already met with her group and answered their questions. At that point, Kean turns and walks away.

It marks the second time in the hotly contested Senate race that the camera work of Patrick McKenna has taken center stage. The 25-year-old Menendez operative works as a "tracker" and follows Kean at campaign events, which he films with a $200 handheld video camera.

McKenna's videotape of Kean ducking into an elevator to avoid confrontational questions after a campaign appearance has already seen wide Internet distribution. In the June incident at Bally's Atlantic City, Kean appeared confused and took an elevator ride to nowhere, getting off the elevator on the same floor he had entered it.

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