By CHRIS JACKETT
DEARBORN – Details surrounding an anti-election campaign against current City Council President Thomas Tafelski during his 2009 re-election bid recently have been divulged, raising more questions than answers.
Hundreds of anonymous letters questioning Tafelski’s background were mailed to residents, the Times-Herald and other publications throughout July, September and October of 2009 signed, “We Care About Dearborn.” He said many residents who received the letter in September were those with pro-Tafelski lawn signs.
Between Oct. 1 and 16, 2009, up to 500 residents, as well as the city’s Ethics Board, received similar letters accusing Tafelski of paying lower taxes than his neighbors and bringing up an unrelated lawsuit he had with a former employer. Those also were signed “We Care About Dearborn.”
“At least the slimy campaigning done by the past campaigns, people knew who it was paid for by,” Tafelski said last week. “What was done to me is the lowest form of politics. The people that put that out need to come forward and apologize.”
During the same time period last year, an e-mail signed, “Concerned citizen of Dearborn” was circulating between more than 200 residents. It contained links to both details on the lawsuit and a Facebook group with a unique collection of personal photos of Tafelski that were captioned out of context.
“As a society, we have to think of the repercussions of forwarding an e-mail” and how it makes the sender look, Tafelski said. “People get burned.”
Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak forwarded such an e-mail to the school where Tafelski’s mother worked, but the commissioner since has apologized, saying he didn’t know she worked there.
“A seasoned veteran like Commissioner Woronchak should know better than to get involved in mudslinging,” Tafelski said.
Current Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini forwarded the e-mail to 14 people on Oct. 31, and one of them forwarded it to Tafelski’s wife on Nov. 2, prompting Sareini to send out an apologetic e-mail the same day, less than 24 hours before polls opened for the 2009 election.
“I forwarded it to a list of friends that I send junk to that includes my children,” Sareini said Thursday. “It was a mistake. I apologized right away. It was probably the 15th to 20th I received. Not malicious, just, ‘Hey, did you see this crap?’ It was a mistake on my part. I’ve never done that before and I’d never do it again.
“When you do something wrong, I think you should own up to it, and I did that right away. I had been getting them for a while. It was wrong, because you don’t take pleasure in anyone’s pain, and I didn’t. I’m very sorry I forwarded it.”
Sareini also was the victim of some negative campaigning during this month’s race against fellow council member George Darany for the 15th District State Representative position, which Darany won.
“That kind of stuff really shouldn’t happen, but really will continue as long as people respond to it,” Sareini said.
The negative campaigning against Sareini zeroed in on her bankruptcy history and lack of attendance at about 240 regular and special council meetings over the course of the past 20 years, an average of about one per month.
She said the pair of bankruptcies occurred because she lost everything in a divorce 23 years ago, and that her business, Village Cafe on Greenfield, went under when she signed over operations to a woman who did not pay the bills.
Sareini attributed the missed meetings to a long list of personal and family health concerns, including knee and shoulder surgery, which put her in a sling for seven months, about the time her ex-husband died last year.
“I was the first female who lost everything to her ex,” Sareini said. “If we don’t make a meeting, we still get the materials, they record it for us. I’ve always been responsible.”
Both Tafelski and Sareini were re-elected to the council in 2009 alongside five other members. Resident David Bazzy, who is president and chief operating officer of Kenwal Steele, finished eighth in the 2009 race, but will join the council in January 2011 because Darany will vacate his position to head to Lansing.
On Jan. 7, 2010, postal inspector Carla Menendez revealed an anonymous letter sent to the Times-Herald Sept. 21, 2009, with its postage stamped by the Pitney Bowes machine at Kenwal Steele, a privately owned company where Bazzy and about 60 other people work.
“We have a Pitney Bowes machine, and we let people use the machine as long as you hand off 44 cents,” Bazzy said last week. “I’m finding out there are a couple letters sent out to the editors. There were tons of anti-Tom Tafelski letters that were nasty.
“One came to my house. I don’t know anything about the letters. My campaign committee is my mom, who handles the finances, and myself.
“I don’t run against Tom Tafelski and I don’t have (anything against) Tom Tafelski. I can tell you with extreme clarity that I’m not behind any letter-writing campaign. If I had something against Tom, I’d sit down and discuss it with him.”
After the postage discovery, Tafelski met with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Feb. 11 regarding the Facebook page. The Sheriff’s Office was able to get Facebook to remove the images on May 12 and eventually closed the case Sept. 29 after discovering three potential Internet Protocol addresses that may have contributed to the page’s creation.
“I want to thank Wayne County Sheriff’s Internet Crime Unit. They were able to get these photos off the Internet,” Tafelski said. “Even though the Internet Unit has closed the case, if it gets reopened on Facebook, they would want to dive into it because they have questions for those people.”
Tafelski said he is investigating the Facebook issue further on his own, and that a civil lawsuit may be the end result.
“One thing politics has shown me is people will do anything to (get ahead),” Tafelski said. “I’ve suffered and my ex-wife has suffered. This has caused us a great deal of hardship. Shame on the people who sink this low.”
The stress on Tafelski’s family surrounding the slanderous letters and Website contributed to a divorce three months ago. Other than continuing to help the community in his role with the City Council, he said his goals are still to “live, work and, most importantly, raise a family.” He has three sons, ages 10 and younger.