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Columns
09.24.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

The Italian Job

It seemed like the grassroots effort to name a San Jose neighborhood Little Italy was cruising along with the grace of a Ferrari on a Formula One track. But in case anyone was getting ready to start belting out "Funiculý, FuniculÓ" prematurely, the lessons of Little Saigon should have been a warning: Members of an ethnic group don't always sing to the same sheet music. The horse head in the bed in this case was an Aug. 26 email grenade lobbed by one of the godfathers of the local Italian-American community to a mailing list of about 75 people, most of whose last names end in a vowel. The loosely linked coalition was developing momentum to convert a decrepit stretch of North 13th Street, near Japantown, into a stretch of Italian restaurants, cannoli bakeries and spumoni joints. Then Frank Fiscalini, the former vice mayor, weighed in with the view that "there are other locations in the city that have a significant Italian history." Specifically, Fiscalini suggested that "the River St ./St. John area ... was a major enclave for Italians during the early history of our city." Then, sprinkling some leprechaun dust into the mix, Fiscalini suggested, "Furthermore, I would think the developers of San Pedro Square would welcome a Little Italy development in the area." Given the emotional nature of ethnic wars, city officials may hesitate before biting into this meatball. "You can't blame them," said Joshua DeVincenzi-Melander, president of the Italian American Heritage Foundation, which is spearheading the Little Italy effort. Even though the Italians were making plans for a Little Italy business district in San Jose long before the Vietnamese rallied for Little Saigon, the controversy was in full swing by the time they rolled out the 13th Street plan. "They realize it's a different project," DeVincenzi-Melander said. As Fly sees it, city officials should relax a little on this one. We just can't imagine Italians going on a hunger strike.


Evite Wars

San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant isn't happy with the Police Officers Association for trying to ruin his weekend barbecue. According to Constant, the POA, frustrated by the lack of a union contract, attempted to "pressure" the San Jose Police and Firefighters Retirees Association to back out of their commitment to barbecue at his District 1 event this past weekend. The idea was that the retirees' group should be standing in solidarity with the POA until they get a contract signed. But Constant, a former cop and a Republican, considered it a cheap shot from his fellow law enforcers. "I think that, personally, that crossed the line," said Constant, who has recently been on the outs with the police officers' group. Bobby Lopez, president of the POA, says he hardly hammered the association to back out of Constant's event. What really happened, Lopez explained, is that he asked the organization—which said it couldn't bail on Constant 10 days before his event—to no longer participate in councilmembers' events until they get a contract in place. (They've been without one since July 1. "I just asked them," Lopez said. "To say that I forbid them is going way beyond. I was just telling them in these times we are the underdog in this fight." But Constant believes he is being targeted by the POA because someone is leaking statements he made regarding the union contract in closed council session, which are private meetings among councilmembers. "I have had people on POA board give me exact quotes of things I said in closed session," Constant said. "One of the 11 people [councilmembers] in that room is giving them information." The POA says that's not the case, though Lopex admits they're frustrated that Constant, being a former cop, hasn't come out and been a stronger leader for the POA, which is looking to score enhanced retirement packages and higher wages to recruit top-notch police officers. "We need to resolve this," he said. "We need some real leadership."


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