“76 Words. That’s about all you can say in 30 seconds. You’d better make them matter.”
That’s the tagline of 76 Words, a progressive political marketing team that apparently had no words and no time for officials at Skyline Elementary School in Ferndale on Sept. 10.
The folks at 76 Words aroused the suspicions of those school officials, and then the Ferndale police, by driving out of the school parking lot in their Subaru hatchback when approached. A woman in the back seat covered her face with her arm.
All this happened at 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, when school was in session.
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From the police report:
“The three occupants attempted to conceal their identities by shutting the dark tinted windows, and the female rear passenger was seen using her arm to cover her face. The witnesses saw the vehicle reverse at a high rate of speed through the parking lot and exit. ...
“During this incident no children were threatened or harmed. Other schools in the school district were notified of the incident and advised to remain vigilant. Ferndale officers checked the area for the vehicle but could not locate it.”
Police caught up with the woman in Seattle, after running the Subaru’s D.C. plates. Sarah Flowers is an award-winning political strategist who has engineered effective campaigns in Mississippi, Minnesota and Colorado, to name just a few places. Her clients have included the Planned Parenthood Federation and The Nature Conservancy.
Who she was working for that Wednesday morning at Skyline Elementary was not written into the Ferndale police report.
“If confronted, it is their policy that they do not engage with the public. She stated that this was to ensure the privacy of her client,” the report said.
In an email, Flowers responded to questions about what she was doing at Skyline that morning, and why she left “at a high rate of speed” instead of introducing herself to school officials:
“I am very sorry we concerned folks in the area. We have never had a situation like this. In fact, in a dozen years of work, I don’t think we’ve ever alarmed anyone. For what it’s worth, I really don’t believe we ‘sped away’ as has been described; nonetheless, I am personally very sorry for the concern we caused.
“I’m not prepared to discuss the particulars of the work we were doing, but I can tell you that it was routine background footage we were capturing.”
Police determined no crime had been committed and dropped the matter.
I asked Lisa McShane, a local progressive political operative, to put herself in the shoes of the 76 Words film crew and try to explain what they were up to.
“They obviously were uncomfortable with what they were doing and really should have explained themselves to school officials,” McShane said. “You can do that without exposing your client list. It just seems that that was handled poorly, and hopefully they will handle it better next time. You don’t hide your face and speed away.”
According to the police report, Flowers said she would contact the police first if they ever come back to Ferndale, which she said they have no plans to do.
76 Words’ Facebook page suggests the group is working or has recently worked on gun control, coal, same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.
“It sounds like they are on the right side of everything, so generally they’re good decision makers,” McShane said. “It sounds like they had an off day and kind of felt in an odd situation, and didn’t know how to handle it. Anytime there are kids involved you have to speak up and say who you are.”