Fact-check: Preck­win­kle mis­rep­re­sents Mendoza’s stand on death penalty

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY KIANNAH SEPEDA-MILLER Bet­ter Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion The Bet­ter Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion runs Poli­tiFact Illi­nois, the lo­cal arm of the na­tion­ally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning fact-check­ing en­ter­prise that rates the truth­ful­ness of state­ments made by

Afew months ago, we gave a Mostly False rat­ing to a claim by Chicago may­oral can­di­date Su­sana Mendoza that, as a mem­ber of the Illi­nois House in 2011, she had cast the de­cid­ing vote to abol­ish the state’s death penalty. Mendoza, now the state comp­trol­ler, did vote to end ex­e­cu­tions, but the fate of the mea­sure didn’t turn on her sup­port.

Now, may­oral ri­val Toni Preck­win­kle is out with a new ad that re­vis­its Mendoza’s death penalty stand. It uses se­lec­tive and de­cep­tive video edit­ing of a House floor speech by Mendoza just prior to that Jan. 6, 2011, vote to make it wrongly ap­pear Mendoza was an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

The ad from Preck­win­kle, the Cook County Board pres­i­dent, in­cludes a grainy clip in which Mendoza ac­knowl­edges a decade ear­lier hav­ing pushed in the House for an ex­pan­sion of the death penalty. Mendoza is also heard declar­ing ex­e­cu­tion meth­ods had be­come “too com­pas­sion­ate” and that she “could ad­min­is­ter the death penalty my­self and sleep like a baby at night.”

But there was a lot more to Mendoza’s re­marks that the Preck­win­kle cam­paign chose to leave on the cut­ting room floor. And those dele­tions tell a very dif­fer­ent story.

Se­lec­tive edit­ing

Tran­scripts of the House de­bate from the day Mendoza spoke make clear that her point was to de­scribe an evo­lu­tion in her think­ing.

In the ad, Mendoza’s line about how she could ad­min­is­ter the death penalty “‘. . . and sleep like a baby at night. . . ’” is em­pha­sized with text. What both the edited footage and those el­lipses leave out is that she was re­fer­ring only to cases where she knew “with­out a doubt” that a con­victed crim­i­nal was “a cop killer or a se­rial mur­derer.”

The ad also cuts off Mendoza’s re­marks be­fore she reaches her main point — that too many people on death row in Illi­nois had later been found in­no­cent.

“This de­bate for me is no longer about whether or not guilty killers de­serve to die for their crimes, they do de­serve to die,” Mendoza said. But she then went on to de­scribe how the state’s track record of sen­tenc­ing people to death row who were later ex­on­er­ated and freed had changed her mind.

“I have come to re­al­ize that in or­der to en­sure that jus­tice is served in the form of death to an evil cancer in our so­ci­ety we must ac­cept the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­e­cut­ing an in­no­cent per­son. I’m not OK with that and none of us should be OK with that,” she said.

Preck­win­kle’s ad not only omits that but also leaves the im­pres­sion that Mendoza was ar­gu­ing to keep the death penalty in place. It does that by jux­ta­pos­ing the se­lec­tively edited por­tions of her re­marks with an old ci­ta­tion from a story by FactCheck.org that ref­er­ences the state’s woe­ful record of wrong­ful con­vic­tions.

The prob­lem of course is that Mendoza, in the re­marks the Preck­win­kle ad chose to omit, specif­i­cally refers to wrong­ful con­vic­tions as the rea­son she had changed her mind about the death penalty.

When we reached out to Preck­win­kle’s cam­paign to ask why it con­sid­ered the ad an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mendoza’s record, spokes­woman Mon­ica Trevino re­sponded with an email high­light­ing a House vote by Mendoza in 2001 for a death-penalty ex­pan­sion, which she spon­sored.

Our rul­ing

With highly se­lec­tive edit­ing, Preck­win­kle’s ad uses video clips from a speech Mendoza gave on the Illi­nois House floor in 2011 in which she de­clares op­po­si­tion to the death penalty to leave the im­pres­sion she re­mained an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of it.

While it is true that a decade ear­lier Mendoza backed an ex­pan­sion of the death penalty, the speech from which the clips are taken made an en­tirely dif­fer­ent point. She had changed her mind and wanted to end cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in Illi­nois be­cause the state had sen­tenced too many people to Death Row that later had been found in­no­cent. In­deed, Mendoza then voted for a mea­sure that abol­ished the death penalty.

None of that footage or con­text was used in the ad, which grossly mis­rep­re­sents Mendoza’s po­si­tion. We rate it Pants on Fire!

Toni Preck­win­kle

Su­sana Mendoza

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