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July 5-11, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Pride Goeth Before a ...

Mayor Ron Gonzales didn't waste any time in playing the race card at last week's special City Council meeting when he said "I'm innocent" and "I'm Latino" in nearly the same breath. The tension at City Hall was already ripe, with eight councilmembers calling for his resignation in the wake of the grand jury indictment. But racial undercurrents running through council chambers that afternoon intensified the bizarre atmosphere. In an effort to salvage the shards of his political goodwill, Gonzales put an ethnic spin on his refusal to resign. African American Councilmember Forrest Williams, one of two not in favor of booting the mayor, took the people-of-color-plea and ran with it. "Is there a need to rush? In 1933, the citizens of San Jose rushed and they hanged two men in St. James Park," he warned, referring to the public lynching of guilty white men Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes. "We don't want to continue that legacy." A handful of speakers from the public stirred the same sentiments: one immigrant man said the council reminded him of the Nicaraguan government that he fled; another man said Gonzales shouldn't be singled out "just because he's Mexican-American," and a Latina activist dubbed the whole controversy "systemized racism." Stanford University professor Luis Fraga said he wasn't surprised that race came up because it's common for elected officials of color to claim they are unfairly held to higher ethical standards. But the brown vs. white dynamic got complicated when Latina Councilmembers Cindy Chavez and Nora Campos voted for Gonzales to resign. "This is one of the hardest votes I have ever had to make," Campos told the mayor, her voice quivering with emotion. Neither she nor Chavez were available for comment. As for Gonzales, Fraga hinted: "Public officials have found it advantageous to fully embrace their racial background at times." Funny how the mayor picked this particular time to make himself the champion of the Latino community.

We Come in Peace

The words "labor peace" just don't sound as warm and fuzzy as they used to since the mayor's scandalous dealings with Norcal over keeping a higher paying union. So Fly took a second look when it saw that catch phrase on a contract the City Council recently approved to fill retail space at City Hall. The agreement with the leasing company, Imwalle Properties, to bring in tenants like Starbucks and Prolific Oven includes a tricky provision requiring that the tenants maintain "labor peace." One problem: giant retailers like Starbucks don't usually hire unionized workers. And the coffee chain's worker-friendly reputation has been called into question by a federal lawsuit recently filed by a former store manager in the East Bay. Steve White alleges that he and other supervisors weren't paid overtime and were forced to work through meal breaks. That's not a good omen for labor peace or a decent employee-grievance policy that San Jose officials want for the coffee shop at City Hall. So why stick with Starbucks? Why not live on the wild side and try someone else's java? After all, the new tenants will get a huge rent break to help cover the costs of renovating 6,000 square feet of unfinished retail space: $500 a month for the first five years instead of the original asking price of $21,000 a month.

Alum Rock Steady?

Is Alum Rock's elementary school district back to its old tricks? Or have times really changed? Already, the district suffered through sniping back and forth between board members during the tenure of its polarizing and now-departed superintendent, Alfonso Anaya, and, now, with the emergence of the district's newest superintendent, Norma Martinez, board members are trying to play nice—at least, publicly. "We're not a split board," insists board member Tanya Freudenberger, who, others tell Fly, could not exactly be described as an avid Martinez supporter. "Just because you're a board that does not vote 5-0 all the time doesn't mean you're a split board. If we were a split board, we would be rubber stamping stuff." Alum Rock malcontents, however, paint a different picture, saying that Martinez's selection as superintendent was due to one thing the troubled Anaya was good at: cronyism. For starters, the superintendent search was limited only to in-house candidates. "They rigged the process so that Norma was the only one who would qualify," says one Alum Rock insider, complaining that the board also structured the search so a doctorate degree and previous superintendent experience—two characteristics that Martinez did not have—were not relevant. Judy Thompson, the editor of an online community newsletter, the "New Neighborhood Voice," concurs. The board had hired Uvaldo Palomares to conduct a series of community meetings in order to acquire community input to develop the criteria for selecting the new superintendent. Thompson attended a few of the meetings, including the final meeting that tallied up the community responses from the various meetings, and wasn't impressed by the result. "He and the whole board sat down together in an open board meeting and discussed [the results]," she concedes. "However, several people had mentioned, in different ways, that they thought a new face [from outside the district] would be important. Dr. Palamores did not include that request in the final tally. It seemed that she [Martinez] was chosen lock, stock and barrel by three members of the board without any input from anybody." Freudenberger, meanwhile, says she has no qualms about the result. "Let's put it this way," she says. "We voted for the superintendent. Once the vote is taken, she is our superintendent. She's gonna get our support. It's the right thing to do with the kids." And Martinez tells Fly that she's heard no complaints. "Obviously, I'm not going to know anything about this," she says. "I've always competed for every single job that I had in my career. People will always talk anyway."

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