Wichita City Council candidate files complaint over food coupon on campaign literature

A candidate for Wichita City Council is accusing opponent Craig Gabel of using a food coupon to try to buy votes, according to a complaint filed Friday with the Kansas Ethics Commission.

Joshua Blick said he thinks campaign literature that includes a coupon for Gabel’s Mike’s Steak House offering a $5.99 chicken fry or half off any meal with the purchase of a drink is “more than nominal” and is violation of state ethics laws.

“What we’re doing is asking the state to take a look at this,” said Blick, one of three Gabel opponents in the Feb. 26 primary election in southwest District 4. “We’ve also passed this on to the city attorney’s office as well.”

Gabel downplayed the complaint, saying the issue has already been settled with the ethics commission.

“They’re just being whiners,” he said. “I’m pretty cutting edge on advertising and doing things like this. They are obviously misinformed.”

At issue is the inclusion of the coupon in a door card Gabel has been using in the race, and in a four-page campaign flier included in the Gabel-owned Wichita Post, a south Wichita newspaper. The coupon expires Feb. 28, two days after the primary.

A spokeswoman for state ethics commissioner Carol Williams acknowledged Friday that her office had received an e-mail complaint from Blick. Williams was out of the office Friday and would begin reviewing the complaint Monday, the spokeswoman said.

Gabel has offered food coupons on campaign literature before. This time is different, Blick said.

“The thing was two years ago when he did this helping out other candidates, the coupon was a discount coupon, something with a value of 10 percent off,” Blick said. “Ethics took a look at that and said it was nominal.

“But now, since he’s running himself he put a tangible amount on the coupon. He claims he’s put out 10,000 to 30,000 fliers, so if you take that times $5.99, it could be around $50,000. It’s a substantial amount of money and it makes it look like he’s trying to buy votes.”

Gabel said his campaign sold the advertising space on the campaign literature to his restaurant.

“We’ve been over this a couple of times,” he said. “I cleared this last year with ethics. It’s perfectly legal for Mike’s Steak House to buy advertisements on the back of my newspaper and all that.”

Candidate Jeff Blubaugh, who is running against Gabel, Blick and David Glover in the primary, thinks the issue is a big deal.

“I think Josh, David Glover and myself are trying to run a clean campaign and it seems like Craig isn’t,” Blubaugh said. “I’ve had several people approach me while I’m out knocking on doors and ask me how it’s legal to put a food discount on a palm card trying to buy votes.”

Glover could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Blubaugh also criticized Gabel’s attacks in the Wichita Post against Blick, the most recent of which includes a distorted photo of Blick.

“There’s some stuff in his paper that just isn’t right, taking Josh’s picture and stretching it, things that just look silly,” Blubaugh said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that the people of District 4 want to see. I’m not going to run a campaign that way, and I don’t think Josh and Mr. Glover will either.

“What we all need to be doing is showing what we can bring positively to City Hall.”

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