A series of critical Facebook posts got under the skin of Democratic candidate for the State Legislature John Glenn.
So on Tuesday, Glenn, a member of the Phoenix Planning Commission, fired off an email to his critic's employer, attaching screenshots of the social media posts as a twist of the knife.
His target was John Barwell, a local attorney who ran as a Democrat in Legislative District 24 before ending his campaign late last year. Starting last Friday, Barwell wrote a string of Facebook posts casting scrutiny on Glenn's campaign donors – a story that media outlets, including Phoenix New Times, covered recently.
Glenn saw these Facebook posts and emailed Barwell's colleagues at the law firm Polsinelli.
"As a prospective incoming legislator, I am very curious if this level of professionalism is reflective of the entire Polsinelli office or is this an isolated instance?" Glenn wrote. He attached screenshots of Barwell's Facebook posts.
Glenn sent the email to shareholder John Shadegg and Phillip Guttila, the managing partner of the firm's Phoenix office. Guttila, in turn, forwarded the email to Barwell as an FYI.
"My immediate reaction was disbelief," Barwell said in an interview on Wednesday. "I was beside myself, stunned."
When reached via email, Glenn expressed regret for emailing the law firm, but he continued to criticize Barwell.
"For weeks John Barwell has used my professional network and my success as an architect against me and fabricated lies that my votes can be bought," Glenn wrote. "I regret lashing out in-kind, but my professional credibility has been under attack, and I took it personally. I’m disappointed politics gets this ugly, and I’m very disappointed that I added to this toxic political culture."
Glenn did not respond when asked whether his intention was to get Barwell disciplined or fired.
Barwell said he has known Glenn for years, and at one point considered him a friend. But instead of Glenn contacting Barwell to hash out the dispute in person, Barwell said that Glenn attacked him where he thought it would hurt: his employer.
"I am so offended that a candidate who a lot of people look up to in our community would [stoop] to such a low, underhanded move to silence someone who was providing a little bit of scrutiny," Barwell said.
After Barwell posted a screenshot of Glenn's email on Facebook, the comments became a long thread about Glenn's candidacy and the appropriateness of emailing someone's employer.
"Wow. This is pretty disgusting," commented Martín Quezada, a Democratic state senator from Phoenix who represents District 29.
The fight between Barwell and Glenn is an extension of a controversy about donors to Glenn's campaign.
As a member of the Phoenix commission that recommends changes to the city's general plan and zoning, Glenn votes on proposals from various developers and real estate lawyers. But as a candidate for the Legislature, Glenn has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from many of those same real estate heavyweights.
Some of these donors had active projects before Glenn's commission when they made their contribution.
Architects, developers, and real estate attorneys have thrown cash at Glenn, giving him the second-largest campaign fund among the Democrats running for the House in LD24.
Glenn is in the clear under the city of Phoenix's ethics handbook because political contributions to board and commission members don't count as a "gift." Opponents have raised the issue all the same, saying that the donations represent a conflict of interest. One rival has encouraged Glenn to give back the campaign cash.
The LD24 Democratic primary is competitive. Democrats that win on August 28 have a good shot at victory in the general election; the district is reliably blue.
Glenn is competing against six other candidates for the House, including incumbent LD24 Representative Ken Clark.
Clark and the other incumbent in LD24 – Representative Lela Alston, a candidate for the State Senate – have campaigned as a "slate" of candidates with Glenn, urging voters to support them as a trio. (Parties nominate up to two candidates in State House elections, and then in the general election voters choose two people to send to the Capitol.)
When the dispute over Glenn's donations arose last month, he said that he has always been an impartial commissioner. Clark has defended Glenn as a "very fair-minded guy."
Clark and Alston did not respond to requests for comment.
On Wednesday, the local LD24 Democrats issued a statement that said they were "very disheartened" by Glenn contacting Barwell's employer.
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"As a candidate, Mr. Glenn could have answered the concerns raised, or he could have chosen not to. Either would have been fine. But contacting the employer of a critic is not fine nor acceptable behavior," the organization wrote on Facebook.
Don't count on the powers that be at Barwell's law firm to fire him over the Facebook posts. Barwell says that he has the support of the firm's partners.
And as far as the contentious LD24 primary, Barwell said he has already voted for activist Jennifer Longdon and former Bernie Sanders campaign director Marcus Ferrell.
Barwell said, "I don’t think any true Democrat in this district can legitimately support John Glenn at this point."