Sacramento mayoral candidate denies reporter access over critical story

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ryan lillis sacto bee

Angelique Ashby campaign advisor Patrick McGarrity and Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Lillis discuss a press briefing on Thursday. (Photo: The Sacramento Bee)

The editorial board of the Sacramento Bee newspaper issued a sharply-worded rebuke on Thursday after one of its political reporters was temporarily blocked from attending an election campaign event.

Campaign officials for Angelique Ashby, a former city councilwoman who is running for mayor, informed reporter Ryan Lillis that he had not been credentialed to appear at a press conference at the Sacramento Police Officers’ Association building.

In a video published by the Bee online, Lillis repeatedly asks campaign consultant Patrick McGarrity why his access to the event — which had been announced to all media outlets earlier in the day — had been denied. McGarrity says he is not sure but promised to get an answer from another campaign consultant at a later time.

Another consultant, Josh Pulliam, later told Lillis by phone that he had been denied access to the event because of a report in which the Bee scrutinized inaccurate crime data repeatedly cited by Ashby. According to the Bee, Ashby had repeatedly asserted that crime rates had been cut in half during her time as a city councilwoman for Sacramento’s Natomas neighborhood.

After a Bee investigation, Ashby acknowledged that the data was inaccurate. The candidate said she relied on statistics provided to her by the Sacramento Police Department. Sam Somers, the agency’s chief, and another city official later acknowledged passing along the faulty data the Bee said.

Despite the admission, the report rankled some in Ashby’s campaign. The Bee believes it also annoyed the candidate herself.

“Lillis’ story was accurate and fair, but hardly one that blew the lid off the town,” the Bee’s editorial board wrote. “Ashby should have moved on by focusing on issues that matter, like how to control crime citywide, house the homeless and bring jobs here. But she cannot let it go. Indeed, the mere mention of it at a Wednesday mayoral debate caused her to bristle again this week.”

At the press conference on Thursday, Ashby released updated and accurate statistics that showed crime in her district actually fell by a little more than 13 percent during her time as city councilwoman.

The Bee said it received prior notice that Lillis was not invited to attend the press event. The paper sent Lillis anyway along with a video photographer, suggesting the paper knew the reporter’s presence would lead to a conflict.

About 15 minutes after the event started, campaign officials reversed their decision to prevent Lillis from attending. Ashby repeated portions of her presentation that Lillis had missed and answered questions from the reporter after the briefing.

Lillis asked Ashby why he had been initially denied access to the event. Ashby acknowledged that the reporter’s earlier story on the crime data was the reason, the Bee said.

Lillis filed his story on the press briefing Thursday evening. His confrontation with campaign officials received a perfunctory mention at the bottom of his story.