I Have No Strings

Nicky Diaz back in the news, with her backers

You’ll recall straw-that-broke-the-CEO’s-back Nicky Diaz Santillan, the former housekeeper to California’s unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Diaz Santillan made well-orchestrated headlines late September and throughout October after she said Whitman had employed her for nine years knowing she was undocumented, and then cruelly fired her in 2009 for the sake of her campaign. The fallout didn’t help Whitman’s already flailing efforts to court the Latino vote. According to a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll, 71 percent of Latino voters “disliked” Whitman.

But we haven’t heard much from Diaz Santillan—at least in the national press—since she held her first conference, and made appearances after that to answer charges from Whitman that her publicity-hungry liberal lawyer Gloria Allred had put a “gun… to her head.” Diaz responded, “I’m not anyone’s puppet.”

Diaz Santillan was back in the news this week after winning $5,500 in a suit against Whitman and her Dickensian-sounding neurosurgeon husband Dr. Griffith Harsh for unpaid wages and mileage. And as San Francisco Chronicle reporter/blogger Carla Marinucci writes, she has become something of a hero, and cause célèbre, for California’s labor groups.

Diaz’s appearance Tuesday in San Jose alongside attorney Gloria Allred was met with support from several members of SEIU, who showed up with signs and the announcement of a new fund to help Diaz with her legal and living costs now that she is unemployed.

They said checks to help Diaz can be sent to: Nicky Diaz Defense Fund, 1442-A Walnut Street #303, Berkeley, CA 94709.

It may now be interesting to see if labor takes up a heftier role in support of Diaz.

California Labor Federation head Art Pulaksi Tuesday hailed Diaz as a hero representing millions of immigrant labors in her decision to go public regarding her firing by the billionaire Republican candidate. His statement: “Every day, immigrant workers like Nicky are exploited by unscrupulous employers simply because those employers believe they can get away with it.”

One question as yet unanswered in the fits and spurts of publicity Diaz Santillan has attracted is how exactly she managed to attract that publicity—and how exactly she got the ear of publicity-magnet Allred. She may be no “puppet,” but she’s hardly an operative. There was always a story here in the motives and maneuvers of those with whom the former housekeeper became associated during the campaign, and how that association came about.

In the week that Santillan wades back into the news cycle, The Sacramento Bee’s Susan Ferris has commendably begun putting the pieces together. It’s a scattering of denied reporting and unconfirmed whisperings, but the curious reporter gives us a rough sketch. From her report on Wednesday:

Republican political consultants suggested that, after she was fired, the housekeeper told her story to an acquaintance who linked her to labor union activists, who in California have strong ties to immigrant workers.

The California Nurses Association, the consultants also said, may have helped arrange the politically powerful development.

“I just can’t confirm or deny it,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, the nurses association executive director. “Honestly, I just can’t get into it.”

Diaz Santillan’s story “reminded a lot of voters of the serious credibility problems that Whitman had - and the double standard. She had one standard for employers, and another for herself,” said Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Association.

Idelson declined to discuss rumors that he was spotted at Allred’s office the day of Diaz Santillan’s first press conference. The union acknowledged that Idelson was in Los Angeles on vacation at that time.

Ferris offers some nice context on the role the nursing union played in the election, and in past political issues.

The nurses, who battled with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over hospital staffing requirements, created a character called “Queen Meg” to follow Whitman on the campaign trail.

Months before Diaz Santillan went public, the nurses union had launched Spanish-language radio ads portraying Whitman as a hypocrite. Diaz Santillan’s story, DeMoro said, drove that point home.

It’s solid, simple, and important reporting from Ferris—something CalBuzz says deserves “mega-kudos” for “digging into the tantalizing, still-unanswered question of how eMeg maid Nicky Diaz found her way to media-savvy Gloria Allred.” With Diaz Santillan involved in a pending appeal seeking legal status, there will no doubt be more digging into the forces behind her. It will be interesting to see if it reveals who’s pulling the strings, if there are strings at all.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,