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Editor forced out after candidates complain

Les Mahler, editor of the Benicia Herald, says he has been suspended after writing a column that angered two candidates in next week’s City Council election, according to a report in today’s Vallejo Times Herald.

Mahler’s column last Thursday quoted an anonymous letter criticizing City Council candidate Scott Strawbridge’s campaign ads. In what the Vallejo paper said was a widely circulated e-mail, Mahler claimed that Strawbridge and mayoral candidate Bill Whitney went to the Benicia paper’s offices Friday “looking for my head” and wanting an apology.

The two candidates confirmed to the Vallejo paper that they had a meeting at the Benicia Hearld on Friday. Ad manager Pam Poppe and Publisher David Payne did not return the Vallejo Time Herald’s calls for comment.

Sunday, the Benicia paper (which is not online) printed a retraction of Mahler’s column, saying the editor violated policy by publishing an unsigned letter and attacking a candidate’s position.

Tuesday, Strawbridge paid to have the retraction reprinted as a half-page advertisement.

Mahler said his immediate fate is up in the air, as he has cancer and was scheduled to go on disability leave this month. Mahler said the Herald was “infringing on his freedom of speech,” and that he was justified in using parts of the letter in his column. A Benicia resident is organizing a boycott of the paper because of Mahler’s suspension, the Vallejo paper says.

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