News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

May 17-23, 2006

home | metro silicon valley index | columns | the fly

Silicon Valley News Notes

Gonzales Takes The Fifth

The flagging candidacy of ostensible mayoral frontrunner Cindy Chavez could face new challenges in current weeks. Recent polls show Chavez in a dead heat with other contenders for the job, despite the councilwoman's fundraising edge and backing by the South Bay Labor Council's political machine. Now, Fly has learned that the current civil grand jury looking into Chavez's role in the NORCAL garbage contract scandal has criminal indictment powers. The council awarded the half-billion-dollar contract after Norcal undercut its competitors with a low bid, and then went back for more funds in a secret labor deal. Civil juries usually issue reports, not indictments. But a little-known timing clause gives them additional powers in some instances, and the current one has that ability, Fly has confirmed. A similarly empowered civil grand jury led to the ouster of Mountain View Mayor Mario Ambra in 2002. Moreover, sources with knowledge of the investigation have verified reports that Mayor Ron Gonzales has "taken the fifth," exercising his constitutional right to not incriminate himself. Gonzales isn't talking, and his office has referred all inquiries to high-octane criminal attorney . Even if no information tying Chavez to the Norcal pact surfaces, Chavez's closeness to the mayor would darken the cloud of suspicion that surrounds her if the grand jury throws the mayor under the bus. Although Chavez has tried to portray herself as independent of the mayor, recent revelations indicate that she, along with Gonzales, kept her council colleagues in the dark about Grand Prix organizers' requests for a multimillion-dollar subsidy. Chavez didn't volunteer that information, of course, when the council went sideways on the mayor over the backroom deal. Her role in the transaction only came to light when a public information request forced release of email correspondence.

The Nora and Nancy Show

San Jose City Council members Nora Campos and Nancy Pyle recently unleashed a broadside against fellow member Dave Cortese, accusing him of violating the City Charter during May of 2005. Now, this is hot news not because the charges are all that interesting but because Fly had almost forgotten Campos and Pyle were even on the council! They've barely said peep since they took office, and now they're picking through memos and blindsiding the opponent of their endorsee for mayor, Chavez? Under the circumstances, Fly couldn't help but pop into the May 9 City Council meeting to see how ridiculous this would get. And sure enough, the council haggled for 15 minutes over semantics—whether an "investigation" or an "inquiry" should be suggested, or whether the matter should just be "looked at." Yep, it's campaign season, folks, and that means there will be no shortage of harebrained schemes. The real surprise of the night was District 3 candidate Dennis Kyne, who filled out a card authorizing him to speak his two minutes' worth. But Kyne wanted more than two minutes. Apparently playing hooky from anger management classes, Kyne got upset when the mayor cut him off. "You're censured!" he railed at Gonzo. "You can't say anything!" Gonzales then instructed the powers that be to turn off the microphone and escort Kyne out of the chambers. Looking at the councilmembers, Kyne responding by shouting, "Does anybody second that?" He asked again for more time and Gonzales declined. A collective groan emanated from some of the audience members, as security led Kyne out of the building.

Lynch Pinned

Lynching is apparently making a comeback in Silicon Valley. But this time, according to police, it's social justice demonstrators who are behind it. Sound crazy? Well, it helps if you read section 405 of California's Penal Code, which defines lynching as the taking "by means of a riot" any person from the custody of a police officer. It's serious stuff—a felony offense that carries a prison term of up to four years. And it became one of the strangest story lines here on Cinco de Mayo, where revelers had set up what amounted to a (pre-approved) block party on the corner of Story and King Roads in east San Jose. Community activists set up a local Copwatch action at the festivities, and when SJPD officers dispersed the crowd, chaos erupted, resulting in six arrests—and one booking charge of lynching to Brian Helmle. Karen Maleski, a local member of San Jose's Copwatch, expressed her outrage afterward in an email to supporters: "When Sheriff Laurie Smith had her audience with the county HR commission, she threatened to charge us with lynching next time. Helmle was charged [with lynching] for putting himself between batons and two women. ... We have a huge problem ... it's very twisted!" Maleski was referring to Smith's address to the Human Relations Commission in the aftermath of the November protest of Colin Powell's speech on the De Anza campus. Smith warned the De Anza protesters—many of whom attempted to get between sheriff's deputies and people they believed were being roughed up—that their actions could be considered lynching. "When I heard Laurie Smith say, 'We will charge anyone who resists us with lynching,' it was out of left field," Helmle says. David Howe, an attorney in the DA's office, tells Fly that lynching does not necessarily relate to protests or demonstrations. "It's not an overly common charge," he says. It seems to be getting more so around here, at least, but both Howe, and SJPD press officer Nick Muyo say they are unaware of any conversations between the county sheriff and SJPD about strategies regarding local demonstrations.

Send political tips to The Fly. Or send a letter to the editor about this story.