An image on an Arizona Democratic Party mailer has shifted the focus this week away from national issues and put the spotlight on race in the competitive contest between former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker (R) and former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D).
At issue is a direct mail piece with a photo of Parker, an African-American, that appears to be darker than his natural skin tone. The Arizona Democratic Party sponsored the mailer, which can be seen at the bottom of this post. It was reported by local news outlets earlier this week.
"When you make me four, five shades darker and my teeth 10 shades whiter and my eyes 10 shades whiter, I think they get the point I am black," Parker told Roll Call. When asked if he thought the image resembled a minstrel, Parker said yes.
"The mailers are being used as a divisive factor in the campaign," Parker said. "It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party goes around saying that they're ecumenical and inclusive would use a photograph like that."
According to state Democratic Party spokesman Frank Camacho, an original version of the photo was taken from Parker's Facebook page. No Photoshopping was done beyond transferring a color photo to black and white, he said. He described the practice as "very common in political campaigns" and said the notion that the photo was further altered with a racial intent was "completely false."
"No one did anything beyond turning the picture from a color photo to a black and white photo," Camacho said. "The only one who has introduced race into this campaign is Vernon Parker. No one has brought it up, no one has made any statements that could be described as racist."
Parker said he first heard about the mailer from supporters who called his campaign about it. Initially, he said, he brushed off their complaints. But then the supporters brought copies into his campaign office and he was unhappy with what he saw.
Parker essentially indicated that Sinema shared culpability for the piece, even though her campaign did not sponsor it.
"I put it in front of her, I asked her point blank to denounce it and she refused to," he said. "If you are going to use race to exploit a campaign, then don't call yourself a civil rights activist."
Sinema's campaign manager disputed the characterization that she was in any way responsible for the mailer.
"Last night Sinema attended an event in the black community and got a standing ovation," Sinema campaign manager Rodd McLeod added. "That's because people know she's going to stand up for Medicare and equal rights for everyone and Vernon Parker just isn't."
This is the original photo, that both Parker and Camacho said was from Facebook.
This is the front of the mailer, scanned and provided by the Parker campaign.
This is the back of the mailer, scanned and provided by the Parker campaign.