Updated at 3:45 p.m. Nov. 2, 2012
Imperial Beach Councilman Brian Pat Bilbray didn’t stay silent when an online commenter accused his father of exploiting sister Briana with a TV spot noting her “terminal cancer.”
On Wednesday, a Patch user posted a scathing comment on a story about TV spending by Rep. Bilbray and Democratic opponent Scott Peters.
“Bilbray should be ashamed of himself to exploit his daughter's cancer to help him get re-elected,” wrote RATSJ. “He doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote. What a loser!”
Ten hours later, the Republican congressman’s son replied: “Its [sic] not exploitation, it was her idea to do the ad. … She is benefitting from the research that pops championed in the past. UCLA gave up on her and gave her 5 years; now with this new treatment at least she has options!”
The younger Bilbray, now 27 and going by Pat Bilbray, won election to the Imperial Beach City Council in 2010 and is running for re-election.
He hopes to regain a seat on the same body where his father once served as mayor in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.
The commercial featuring 25-year-old skin-cancer victim Briana has drawn media scrutiny as well.
KPBS said Friday that the ad “reveals contradictions in Bilbray’s position on health care.”
“I’m Briana Bilbray and I have terminal cancer,” she says in the ad. “My dad’s work may not save my life but it could save thousands of others.”
But KPBS noted that Rep. Bilbray had set up a skin cancer research fund that derives from a 10 percent tax on tanning salons.
“That tanning salon tax is an element of the Affordable Health Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, which Bilbray has pledged—along with his party—to repeal,” KPBS said. “Carl Luna, a political science professor at Mesa College, said the inconsistencies in Bilbray’s political position get lost in the drama of the ad.”
Later, KPBS updated its story with this statement: “Since the story was written, Bilbray’s campaign said that his legislation creating the cancer research fund seeks to separate the tanning salon tax from the Affordable Health Care Act.”
In its own look at the TV spot, U-T San Diego—which has endorsed Bilbray and featured a series of full-page ads backing the incumbent—quoted a prepared statement by challenger Scott Peters:
“I met Briana; she’s an impressive young woman. My heart goes out to her, Brian and the Bilbray family. I have a 21-year-old daughter, and I can’t begin to imagine how hard this must be for them. Tragically, every single one of us has been affected by cancer. If I’m elected, I will do everything in my power to support cancer research. And I will fight to make Congress work again so we have more resources available to fight this awful, awful disease. I wish Briana all the best.”
The U-T confirmed that Briana Bilbray said the ad was her idea and “a way to contribute as she battles the deadliest form of skin cancer.”
“I haven’t seen the polling. I don’t know what the messaging is,” she told the U-T. “This is really important to everybody and people should know what dad is doing for this community.”
She defended her narration and appearance in the ad.
“It’s different when you’re a cancer patient,” she was quoted as saying. “You really don’t understand until you’re in the position I’m in.”
The U-T also quoted Los Angeles-based Democratic media consultant Roy Behr as saying: “This ad makes me cringe. Even if it turns out to be effective, it’s so exploitive, it’s painful to watch.”
The debate continues on the Patch story, however.
A day after Councilman Bilbray posted his comment on the Patch report, a reader using the name Catwoman wrote: “I agree with RATSJ that Bilbray is going for the pity vote.”
On Friday, supporters of Proposition S, the ballot measure aiming to legalize medical marijuana dispenseries in Imperial Beach, said Councilman Bilbray had endorsed their effort.