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[whitespace] Don Gage County Fare: Don Gage gave one of two State of the County speeches.


Public Eye

Retort Card

Tough night for DON GAGE at last week's State of the County address. First of all, the state of Santa Clara County isn't so great, according to some new budget forecasts and a lousy report card that came out a couple days before the speech. Then, to make sure nobody forgot those things, campaign staffers from the board chair's District 1 rival DENNIS KENNEDY's camp showed up to pamphleteer. As attendees filed in, Kennedy consultant DARREN SEATON and a campaign volunteer stood outside the board chambers and handed out a six-page rebuttal to the soon-to-be-delivered speech. "Well isn't that about as tacky as you can get?" huffed one woman in a red pantsuit, holding the handout as if it were a dead fish. Seaton says an apoplectic Gage staffer asked him to leave and even dragged a sheriff's deputy out of the crowd to try to force him out, but he stuck to his guns, citing the whole thing about public buildings and free speech. Seaton says the rebuttal, titled "C-pluses and Sacred Cows: A State of the County Address by Mayor Dennis Kennedy," is par for the course in the game of politics, in which opposing parties get to take their shots. The C-plus refers to the county's overall grade in a nationwide survey of large counties. The study, conducted by public-affairs eggheads from Syracuse University, ran in the February issue of Governing Magazine. It gave Santa Clara County a C-plus overall and a D-plus for information technology, of all topics, dinging the county for things like incompatible email systems and a lousy webpage. "A C-plus is unacceptable," Kennedy wrote in the opening of his alterna-speech text. "County management needs to improve." Kennedy also blasted the county for not building up a sizable reserve to help it weather a looming $85 million deficit and called "for the appointment of a new Technology Czar." Kennedy didn't attend the speech. Gage staffers say the Morgan Hill mayor would have received an invite just like all the other electeds, but Kennedy says he didn't think he got one, and in any case he had a schedule conflict that night. Gage tells Eye he wasn't irked so much by the criticism but rather the way Kennedy didn't show up to do it in person. Gage, by the way, took the podium after a fawning introduction by labor kingpin Amy Dean, whose South Bay Labor Council is backing the Republican incumbent over the Democratic Kennedy.

Rod Diridon Jr.
Rod Diridon Jr.

Forum Factions

Last week was the big Democratic Forum face-off between state Assembly candidates Rod Diridon Jr. and Sally Lieber, each of whom extensively lobbied the group's 100 or so members hoping to lock up the votes they needed to walk away with the cash prize at the end of the night. But from the sound of things, it was a done deal before everyone got together last Wednesday. Assessor Larry Stone, one of the group's founders and a current member of the executive board, says it's a three-step process. First, the group votes on whether or not to endorse; second, on how much each member contributes; third, on which candidate gets the nod. That way, Stone says, members whose favorite doesn't get tapped can't vote to drop a roll of quarters in the hat (members agree to shell out $1,500 each election cycle). So when the AD22 race came up, the initial resolution of $750 per person was watered down to $500 apiece, then Rod cleared the 60-vote hurdle needed to get the endorsement with room to spare: a 65-24 vote. (Apparently, candidates weren't graded on spelling: In his letter to forum members, Junior listed a backer named RON GONZALEZ.) ... Attendees on both sides (excluding the candidates, who weren't in the room at the time) agreed that the meeting was tense and uncomfortable. "People were actually backing away toward the back door," says one local donkey. "It was an ugly meeting." Diridon and Lieber didn't want to go into the play-by-play, but Lieber supporter Doug Winslow complained that Stone, who is Diridon's campaign co-chair, walked in with 14 proxy votes from other members who couldn't attend and that the other team signed up Rod's dad, transportationista Rod Diridon Sr., plus stepmom Gloria Duffy and his sister just before the vote. But Stone says he played by the rules and shouldn't be expected to stay on the sidelines. "Politics isn't about neutrality," he adds. In the end, 103 members wrote checks to Diridon, for a total take of $51,500. Except, that is, for Lieber. After the vote, Diridon told Lieber she didn't need to write a check to him, so instead Lieber wrote hers to the Support Network for Battered Women in Mountain View. ... Interesting side note: At the same meeting, the forum toyed with making a foray into peninsula politics, too, by endorsing in the contest to replace Assemblymember Lou Papan (D-Millbrae). The group came within a couple votes of endorsing deep-pocketed high-techie Dave Pine. That meant Pine and rival Gina Papan, who's running to replace her dad, both walked away empty-handed.

Sunshine Statement

County jails chief TIM RYAN is quietly bailing out for a new post in Florida, but does it have anything to do with anything? Rumors that the Department of Corrections head would be leaving his post had been circulating for a couple of months, but Ryan, speaking through a department spokesperson, denied in December that he was departing--though it's obvious he had one foot out the door. When Eye bumped into Ryan at the reception after the State of the County, the chief cheerfully said March 22 would be his last day on the job. After that, it's on to a new gig as director of the Orange County Corrections Department in Orlando, Fla., a bigger jail system that pays slightly less. "Everyone retires to Florida; I just though I'd go there and work before I do," Ryan said. One difference, however, is that Orange County's corrections chief reports directly to a public safety director and the county commission--no tangled structure like Santa Clara County's, where the corrections chief and the sheriff each have a hand in running the jails. The first thing jail watchers wondered was whether Ryan jumped or was pushed.

None of the county insiders we talked to indicated that Ryan was somehow muscled out, but one source in the know says Ryan got an earful from county supes during his last evaluation in December. Eye hears supervisors hammered Ryan for his handling of a recent escape and riot and his subsequent spinning of those snafus to the press. Case in point: the October riot at the main jail, after which several inmates were rushed to the hospital by ambulance. The official line on the incident was that uprisings are normal and that this one was handled by the book. Supervisor Don Gage says he can't go into the details of the meeting because it's a personnel issue, but he did tell Eye that supervisors brought up the problems in the jails. "This was a normal appraisal process where we had concerns we wanted him to address. Gage says Ryan was not asked to leave. On top of that, an outside audit of the Corrections Department is in the works, and it probably won't look good. A draft was due in December, but county brass are still waiting for a copy of the management audit by DMG Maximus. Supervisors got word from the county executive last week that the Jan. 31 release date would be pushed back to March 18--just enough time for Ryan to give it a good read before heading east. But the move may bring its own headaches. One political observer in Orlando--yes, Eye has eyes everywhere--says the jail system has had repeated problems in recent years, with high turnover, pricey settlements with inmates over medical-treatment issues, and even a couple of inmate deaths. Says the source, "It's a mess."

For More Years?

Next month, California voters decide whether to extend term limits for state legislators. But one San Jose City Council member thinks it might be something to consider here, too. Rules Committee members voted last week to support four of the six propositions on the ballot. But when Proposition 45 came up, committee vice chair PAT DANDO asked staff to look at doing the same thing for San Jose electeds, who are limited to two terms. Staffers report back Feb. 27. The committee, at the request of Councilman DAVE CORTESE, also asked for more analysis on Prop. 45 and put off making a decision about supporting it until this week.

Ron and Gray

Barely opposed RON GONZALES is putting on a fundraiser lunch Thursday starring his old friend GRAY DAVIS. The Guv is a good draw for money, but he's not exactly soaring in the polls these days--and neither is the mayor. The Gonzales campaign has been doing polls for a while, but since none of the numbers have leaked out, it's probably safe to assume they don't look so hot. One smarty-pants observer familiar with the Gonzo data says that, while Ron may have high negative ratings, Gray's negatives are higher. Gonzo campaign manager DUSTIN DEROLLO says they're not worried about having Ron pal around with the puffy-haired governor. "We're really excited," DeRollo offers. "They've got a great friendship and a great working relationship." The rubber chicken plates cost $500 per person. ... Gonzales will also be welcoming another bigwig: Vice President DICK CHENEY will be in town Feb. 21 to give a speech on the economy and take the obligatory tour of the Tech Museum. SJ Chamber of Commerce prez JIM CUNNEEN says his organization and a couple other groups will be hosting the event.

Press On Press

From the press frenzy at Palo Alto's little suburban criminal court on Tuesday, Eye would have thought someone did something really bad. Not so. In fact, the hoopla was about someone getting let off the hook. Tuesday's hearing marked the official dismissal of molestation charges against Palo Alto preschool teacher David Eric Carlson brought by the mother of a 4-year-old preschooler (who reportedly decided to "trick" police). The hearing--which was really just procedural since both parties in the case had already agreed on the dismissal--lasted only a few seconds. But the media lurked around the court before and afterward waiting to corner the defendant, who hasn't said anything publicly since his Jan. 9 arrest and subsequent release from jail. After the judge granted defense attorney Ken Robinson's motion to dismiss the case, roughly 15 newshounds huddled around the falsely accused Carlson scribbling as he shared his statement thanking supporters, calling the experience an "ordeal" and noting that he's looking forward to the baby he and his wife are about to have. Apparently dissatisfied with the prepared quotes he offered (Robinson forbid any questioning of Carlson), reporters desperately prodded for insight whoever stuck around. Eye was oddly flattered when a determined Palo Alto Daily News reporter trotted up to yours truly for a quote.

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From the February 7-13, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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