The weekend before last, as the race for mayor of Grand Rapids came down to the wire, a brouhaha boiled up between the two major contenders, incumbent George Heartwell and challenger Rick Tormala. Tormala took Heartwell to task for a postcard that Big Sister's campaign had mailed only to Catholics. The card had Heartwell mugging in front of well-known Catholic landmarks in the city such as St. Adalbert's Basilica and listed the endorsements of prominent members of the local clergy. Naturally, connecting Hizzoner, Catholic religious imagery, and the endorsements of well-known priests and nuns gave the impression (a superficial one, at least) that Heartwell received the thumb's up from the Catholic Church, or if not that, he was in accord with the key political positions of the Church -- namely, the right-to-life issues (i.e., abortion, assisted suicide, and experimentation on human embryos).
Tormala, a Catholic who was the only candidate in the race who had received the Michigan Right to Life endorsement, objected to the postcard as dishonest. It certainly is. Even though Heartwell has refused to publicly declare his stand on abortion and other right-to-life issues for fear of alienating pro-life voters, he had received the endorsement of the Progressive Women's Alliance. These liberated ladies make it plain that their first political priority at the top of the usual dreary list of "progressive" causes is "the right of privacy to make choices regarding reproductive freedom" -- i.e., the right to abortion. Indeed, no candidate for political office gets their blessing who does not support abortion-on-demand. So, Big Sister wasn't being square with Catholic votes and his postcard targeted at them was a sleazy campaign ploy.
Of course, Tormala should have clubbed Hizzoner over the head with this, as he did. But at the end of the day, it's the responsibility of voters to make sure they know where candidates stand on issues fundamental to them. If any Catholic voter was taken in by Heartwell's postcard, then he wasn't doing his homework. That said, one important aspect of this whole story was never raised by the candidates or the media: How did Heartwell know which Grand Rapids voters were Catholic so that he could target them? A voter's religion is not a matter of public record, so where did Heartwell get this private information? Who gave him the names and addresses of Catholics living in Grand Rapids? How did Big Sister come to know which voters are Catholic?
There are, of course, parish directories. If any of the Catholic clergy or laity supporting Heartwell provided his campaign with these directories, not only shame on them, the Grand Rapids diocese has a duty to ensure that there are consequences for abusing this information. Parishioners are not listed in these directories so that pandering politicians can track them down. The same goes to any business a parish or the diocese provides with mailing addresses of local Catholics. As it is doubtful in the extreme that church authorities would permit a business to sell or otherwise turn over that information to a political campaign, a business that did so should be prohibited from doing business with the Catholic Church.
It is certainly possible that no one in town abused a trust and gave the Heartwell campaign any lists of Catholics. A mailing list can be put together from commercial demographics that target households that fit a supposed Catholic profile, though it would be imprecise. If that is the case, then Big Sister is guilty of nothing more than dishonest pandering with his notorious postcard. Whatever IS the case, Heartwell should come clean. It is one thing for a candidate to broadcast messages to appeal to particular religious groups, and it's another thing for a candidate to gather private information about the religion of individual voters. We know Heartwell did the latter to pander, and now we should know how he did it. Was an abuse of trust involved or not?
And if Big Sister won't tell us, then there is always his list of campaign expenditures he must file with the city clerk that will tell us something. Either there will be a line item for the purchase of a mailing list or there won't. If he bought the list from a direct marketing firm, then there likely was no abuse of parish directories or other address information the Catholic Church maintains of parishioners. If there is no line item for that expense, then how did Heartwell's campaign get the information except from a source that had already compiled it and then handed it over?
This is the real story, and it's an important one.