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Demanding Presence? Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist has seen nearly half her employees head elsewhere in the last year. According to one ex-staffer, Lady Al is difficult to work for.

Rhymes With Rich

Judging from the steady exodus of staffers from her office, working for Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist must be something akin to toiling for N.Y. hotel diva Leona Helmsley. According to records provided by the Assembly Rules Committee, at least seven out of 16 Alquist hires have come and gone during her first year in office--six of those from her district office alone. By contrast, San Mateo Assembly geek Ted Lempert has only seen two staffers leave his employ during the same period; and nice guy Mike Honda has bid farewell to only four subordinates. ... A former Alquist staffer says that working for Lady Al is impossible because she's a control freak who "won't let you do your job." For instance, it took her office weeks to reply to constituent letters because Alquist insisted on editing, re-editing and fine-tuning her staff's draft responses. "By the time the letter was finally ready to go, usually weeks later, the issue being contemplated had already been resolved," the ex-staffer recalls. ... Alquist's designated apologist, Jason Kinney, says that in "very few" instances have staffers left because they were dissatisfied with their jobs. They often end up leaving the Capitol because better opportunities arise elsewhere. (Donald Rocha, for example, says he bailed from Alquist's district office to go work for S.J. Councilwoman Charlotte Powers because he prefers working on more local issues.) "She is demanding," Kinney allows. "She demands perfection. She has very high ideals." Apparently, one of her demands is that when she appears in public before her subjects, she insists that her staff address her as "Assemblywoman Alquist" and not by her first name. ... In comparison to S.F. Assemblywoman Carol Migden, however, Alquist is a charmer. News reports from Sacramento have detailed Migden's reputation for being so verbally abusive and demanding that her staffers are afraid to take lunches. Those who tick her off may not only get a tongue-lashing but be sent to retrieve her gourmet coffee or bring fresh flowers to decorate her desk.

Medical Malpractice

With tax assessor Larry Stone grabbing all the headlines recently for the pending audit of his office, it almost went unnoticed that county politicians have finally agreed to audit the $325 million money pit known as Valley Medical Center. VMC and its grit-sucking health chief, Bob Sillen--the county equivalent of San Jose's Teflon czar, Frank Taylor--have managed to avoid an audit for nearly 15 years. Sure, there have been grumblings over the years about the hospital's sweetheart contracts, like the $3.58 million public relations agreement granted--without competetive bidding--to political fundraiser and publicist Brenna Bolger (who doubled as a board member for the VMC Foundation). But there was never the political will to take on the public hospital system. Ex-Supe Ron Gonzales tried to get his colleagues to authorize an audit a couple years back without success. So why the change of heart now? Well, there's a new cast of supervisors on board. Don Gage, a Republican, started pushing for an audit last summer, and from the start seemed to have an ally (on this issue) in new tightwad supervisor Joe Simitian. And Pete McHugh campaigned on a platform that stressed the need to audit all the county's major departments. With the handwriting on the wall, VMC defender Jim Beall revealed that he, too, would support an audit. The only question now is, when will the audit happen? The answer is: not anytime soon. Sillen's minions have persuaded the supes to hold off until the hospital's reorganization is completed, which means it may not get under way for two more years.

Brain Trust

The political science department at San Jose State University appears to be faced with a massive brain drain. First, prof Larry Gerston, a pollster and local TV pundit, landed a job as president of Masters Institute, a high-tech "diploma" mill. Now comes word that prof Steven Van Beek could be headed elsewhere as well. Van Beek confirms that he is "under active consideration" for a senior-level appointment in the Clinton administration. Though it's not entirely clear where Van Beek will land, the smart money has him going to the Department of Transportation. Van Beek, who worked on Clinton's re-election campaign, hopes to hear from Washington within the next month. If he gets a job with the feds, the professor says he will take a professional leave of absence from the university. One consolation for department chairman Terry Christensen: ex-supe Rod Diridon will be joining the SJSU faculty, teaching a special poli sci course on public decision making as part of the university's four-year-old "leader-in-residence" program. The addition of Rod Almighty to the podium may temporarily plug the department's brain drain, but he may want a building named after him or something.

Scrappy Napoli

City gadfly Bill Chew roller-skated right on into Metro's S. First Street lobby a couple of weeks ago with a "hot tip": He was running for mayor. Again. Now that he's a public-access media celeb, he's sure to break the 1,000-vote barrier. ... This week, another familiar figure tells Eye that she's entering the fray for mayor. Unlike Chew, she could inflict some real damage on the two main contenders, Ron Gonzales and Pat Dando. Ladies and gentleman, welcome back Kathy Chavez Napoli. Remember her? She's the scrappy junkyard owner who ran against Susan Hammer in 1994 and won one-fourth of the vote, what insiders spin as mostly anti-Hammer ballots rather than pro-Napoli votes. This time, however, she could chip off a chunk of the Latino vote from Gonzales and the women's vote from Dando. And, quite possibly, she could force a November runoff in the mayor's race.

Yuletide Pat

Was that deep-down yuletide spirit or political opportunism being expressed in mayoral wannabe Pat Dando's mass-produced holiday card? Although the card was paid for with funds from Dando's City Council officeholder account, it turned up in mailboxes outside her Almaden Valley district (including inside a couple belonging to Ron Gonzales supporters). For the conspiratorial, this could mean that the "Christmas" card was really a citywide campaign plug for her upcoming mayoral bid. But, in fairness to Yuletide Pat, the card never mentions her plans to run for mayor, though it does invite card-getters to join her in making San Jose a better place to live and work in the future. ... It's worth noting that historic Peralta Adobe is featured on the front of the holiday mailing. Explains Dando's gatekeeper, Erik Schoennauer, the image is supposed to convey his boss's longevity in San Jose. Doublespeak translation: Gonzales is a carpetbagger who moved to San Jose just five years ago. Dando, it should be noted, moved to San Jose two decades ago--not exactly an early mission settler, either.

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From the January 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro.

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