Holocaust image used in Fresno council campaign

FRESNO, Calif.

"To me, it's the biggest blunder I've ever seen in a campaign," said ABC30 political analyst Tony Capozzi.

Mike Wells approved the mailer in his campaign against incumbent Fresno district seven council member Clint Olivier. Wells tells ABC11's sister-station KFSN he was trying to show how Fresno has decayed on Olivier's watch, but because his image of urban blight is actually an image from the death camps at Auschwitz, his message appears to have backfired.

The message was sent to thousands of Fresno voters last week. The words blame Olivier for selling out Fresno neighborhoods. But it's the picture in the background getting the most attention now.

"That's not urban blight with barbed wire around a stone brick building," Capozzi said. "That's not Fresno. That's something that no one ever wants to see again."

Fresno's Jewish community recognizes the image as one of the most painful places in their history -- the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Temple Beth Israel rabbi Rick Winer says he didn't spot it right away because he's seen so much Holocaust imagery. When he realized what it was, he says he was disgusted, and after looking for images of urban blight on Google and not finding it, he was even more upset.

"This was not something you could find accidentally, so someone who is putting this out knew what they were doing and made a really bad decision," Rabbi Winer said.

A KFSN reporter showed the images to the head of the local Democratic Party, then watched as he removed the flyers from the downtown office.

When we first asked Wells about the image, he denied it was Auschwitz. But then we sent him an unadulterated photo from Auschwitz, undeniably the same one used in the mailer.

"When I found out where it really came from, I was very troubled," Wells then told us. "If there was anyone who received that flyer in the mail and it conjured up thoughts or memories of World War II era happenings, I would be even more devastated."

Capozzi says it may be the type of blunder voters can't forgive.

"Even if it's an innocent mistake, it's a major mistake and it's something you have to be held accountable for," he said.

A KFSN reporter arranged a conversation between Wells and Rabbi Winer late Monday afternoon. The rabbi says it was a "productive" conversation and that Wells accepted responsibility for the mistake. He's hoping the end result is nobody ever again using Holocaust imagery for political campaigns.

Copyright © 2024 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.