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[whitespace] Prime Cut: Supervisor Pete McHugh wants to be where the money is at on the Valley Transportation Authority board. So does everyone else.

All the Way With VTA

Spending other people's money is what politicians do best. And with a new countywide half-cent sales tax earmarked for transportation projects, it should come as no surprise that elected officials want an aisle seat on the Valley Transportation Authority board--the regional agency in charge of spending the dough. A clear indication that the VTA is a hot ticket: San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and the new chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Pete "Primo" McHugh, have signed up for seats aboard the gravy-train. What could be a more concrete attention-getter with voters than creating extra lanes along clogged traffic arteries? But by selecting themselves for the choice assignment, Gonzo and Primo almost by necessity had to cut some of their colleagues out of the action. ... The victim of the mayor's self-gratification is new Councilwoman Linda LeZotte, who badly wanted a seat on the VTA board, which she cited as a top priority during her campaign. Her predecessor, Trixie Johnson, was on the transit board, so LeZotte seemed a natural replacement. Instead, Gonzales made her a lowly alternate. LeZotte, who didn't endorse Gonzales for mayor, insists she isn't disappointied; she figures to be next in line for a spot on the starting team. "I would have been disappointed if I wasn't in the picture at all," she rationalizes. ... Meanwhile, McHugh--who is up for re-election next year--provoked whispers in the board chambers last week by proposing to give himself the VTA slot held by his ally Jolly Giant Jim Beall. Supervisor Beall seemed genuinely surprised by the move, spectators say. After all, he just became the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and is known to tingle at the mention of spending Measure A and B funds. ... Unfortunately for McHugh, he lacks unilateral spoils-granting authority. Beall and the other supes refused to rubber-stamp McHugh's proposed committee and board assignments, handing Primo a not-insignificant setback in his first meeting as chairman. The supes are now negotiating for better seating accommodations, and McHugh is trying to make everyone happy without giving up his spot in first class.

Reiner Reigns

Speaking of spending other people's money, the new state commission created by Proposition 10, the 50-cents-a-pack tobacco tax initiative, promises to give its appointees a chance to do just that. Which might explain why Supervisor Blanca Alvarado is apparently lobbying for a seat on the so-called California Children and Families First Commission. Eye's capital sources say Alvarado has put in a request to Gov. Gray Davis for a spot on the tobacco-tax commission. She might have to go peddle her résumé elsewhere, though, because word leaked this week that Davis is going to spinal-tap actor/director Rob Reiner, who bankrolled the initiative and gave 10 Gs to Gray's campaign, to become chair. ... The commission post is part time and unpaid, so Alvarado wouldn't have to give up her job as supervisor. Nonetheless, speculation is rampant that the 67-year-old supe is ready to call it a career and won't run for re-election next year. At this point, Alvarado isn't talking about her plans, but a Blanca-booster dismisses rumors of her retirement as self-serving hogwash being spread by people who want her job.

Poodle Tailings

Lawman George Kennedy suffered possibly his worst defeat last week as the county's top prosecutor when the jury in the Pink Poodle murder case handed down a not-guilty verdict. The odds favored at least an involuntary manslaughter conviction for the strip club's bouncer, Steve Tausan, since he didn't deny beating the crap out of the victim, Kevin Sullivan. Why did the prosecution fail? According to lead defense attorney Dennis Roberts, the prosecution's case started to unravel before the trial during the preliminary hearing. That's when, Roberts recalls, the star witness, security guard Frank Adams, admitted to compensating for memory lapses with "visions" that would come to him. The DA also couldn't show for sure that Tausan attacked Sullivan without provocation (the bouncer claimed self-defense, saying Sullivan lunged at him first). The backup star witness, a dancer who was on the stage at the time of the incident, did finger Tausan as the instigator. But the physical characteristics of the person she described as throwing the first punch resembled Sullivan more than Tausan. Finally, the defense was able to powerfully portray Sullivan as a loathsome jerk who once threatened to kill his girlfriend and threw her dog off a balcony. Roberts admits it was a classic "deserve-to-die" defense. "[Sullivan] was an unmitigated asshole," Roberts delicately opines of the dead man. "It was only a matter of time before someone killed him."

Election Insurance?

He is a "moderate" Republican who has served in the Legislature and reportedly harbors ambitions to reach the U.S. Senate. No, it isn't Congressman Tom Campbell. It is Chuck Quackenbush, one of the Reeps' few bright spots in last fall's dismal election. The West Valley assemblyman-turned-insurance-commish is being touted as a possible challenger in 2000 to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently announced her intention to seek re-election, squelching loose talk that she wanted to be veep. Quackenbush's pro-choice credentials make him a legitimate statewide candidate. But pundits sniff that he would have as much of a chance beating Feinstein as a policyholder has of getting a fair claim settlement from an insurance company. This is Dianne Feinstein we're talking about here, not Diane Martinez, his underfinanced opponent this past November. A spokesman for Sir Charles ducked giving a definitive answer about his boss's plans. He had better make one soon. Orange County Congressman Chris Cox has already raised $900,000 toward the privilege of losing to Feinstein.

Dog the Wag

It was news to Eye, but apparently journalists everywhere are mourning the loss of former Mercury News political editor Phil Trounstine to the dark side, in this case, the Gray Davis administration. At least that's what Sacramento consultant Jeff Raimundo (another journalistic turncoat) suggests in a recent website-for-wags posting titled "Press Corp Laments Loss of Trounstine to Davis Administration."... "Even his dog doesn't mourn his loss," snickers one South Bay hack. To Eye's great amusement, Raimundo reports that capitol scribes are amazed at how quickly the Philmeister has adjusted to his new role. One example: He's always among the first people in the crowd to clap at Davis' public appearances (suggesting he has a promising backup career as an applause sign). Another example: He is honoring the longtime flack tradition of not returning calls from annoying reporters.

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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