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Merc Flunks Out

Fans of the Merc-News investigative powers might be disappointed to discover that the journalism watchdogs at Stanford disapprove of the paper's Feb. 2 story debunking the teacher housing shortage. Written by Tracey Kaplan and Griff Palmer, the story analyzed census data to reveal that teachers owned homes at a higher rate in the valley than software engineers, accountants and other professionals. The report called into question the need for subsidized teacher housing, including a proposal to add a countywide increase to property taxes to the ballot next November. According to John McManus, director of Stanford's Grade the News project, the Merc de-emphasized several crucial details within their own report. Such as? The huge gap between young teachers, who often quit within their first five years, and older teachers retiring in large numbers. "As that experienced group leaves the classroom," McManus writes, "the proportion of teachers able to own their own homes will likely fall." The story revealed that teacher homeownership decreased 10 percentage points in a decade while other professions dropped only 1 percent. A veteran East Side Union High School District teacher, who asked not to be identified, said many teachers were "infuriated" by Kaplan and Palmer's story. He said only 10 of 80 teachers at the school where he teaches own a home, and he has noticed a sizable increase in the number of educators on district carpool lists. Teacher-owned homes in the valley tend to be modest, he said--condos or shared arrangements with tenants. "That's not a myth," the teacher said. "That's reality."

Anthro 101

The world's largest organization of anthropologists has weighed in on gay marriage, and while their points may appear conventional for the liberal-minded, things become more interesting once Fly probes a little deeper. In a statement released Feb. 25, the board of the American Anthropological Association responded to George W's call for constitutionally banning gay marriage by "strongly opposing the president" and declaring, in part, "Anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies." Intrigued, Fly placed a call to Roger Lancaster author of The Trouble with Nature: Sex and Science in Popular Culture. While Lancaster did point out historical examples of same-sex unions (he's uncomfortable with the word "marriage")--in native North America and the Sudan, some warrior castes--the anthropologist focused on the slippery slope gay-marriage opponents like to slide down: polygamy. If gay marriage is accepted, conservatives like to say, then what's to stop the acceptance of polygamy or other forms of multipartner marriages? Indeed, Fly wonders on what grounds San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom would withhold a polygamous marriage license--that polygamy is not "natural"? Not if Newsom looks to the Bible for inspiration. "The patriarchs of the Old Testament were polygamists," Lancaster says. "This is against the one-man, one-woman business that they are now attempting to codify into law."

Boos and Bravos

Audience members at the Cinequest Film Festival kickoff gala last Wednesday gave a warm reception to San Jose mayor and stroke survivor Ron Gonzales. Gonzo took the opportunity to issue his standard request of city guests: Spend lots of money in San Jose. When the governator's name was mentioned, he received a healthy round of jeers, likely from critics who remember Kindergarten Cop, Twins and Conan the Destroyer.

Low-Key Winning

True, Councilmember Forrest Williams faced token opposition in his District 2 race. Even so, Williams was missing a key endorsement for his last race. While Mayor Ron Gonzales had endorsed Williams in 2000, Fly noticed that the mayor's endorsement was conspicuously absent this time around. Williams, though, says his campaign was on cruise control. "I didn't need it," he tells Fly. "We were low-key. We hadn't even planned to run a campaign. It wasn't one of those things that was necessary." Williams, or course, creamed 42-year-old Ted Scarlett, a home mortgage broker whose main contention was that District 2 was losing out on city projects. Scarlett registered a null on Metro's candidate profiles two weeks ago--when a reporter called the candidate, Scarlett said he was "too busy" for an interview. Mayoral spokesman David Vossbrink says Gonzo was ready with an endorsement if needed.

2006 and Beyond

Subtle messages were floated the week leading up to last Tuesday's election, and not all of them were aimed at this year's dull council races. David Cortese, who ran unopposed in San Jose District 8, used about $20,000 from his campaign funds for a 30-second commercial ostensibly to tell valley residents to register to vote. The commercial, which ran on cable television stations like ESPN2 and the History Channel, was also a sly way for Cortese to introduce himself citywide, almost definitely for a run at the mayor's seat in 2006. In other words, the race to replace Mayor Gonzo is already under way--call it Silicon Valley's hidden primary, if you will. Cindy Chavez and Pat Dando, two councilmembers believed to be interested in the chief executive job, didn't see Cortese's commercial. But Dando, for one, says it will have little impact. "Two years is a lifetime in politics," she says. "It's way too early to go down that path." Cortese agrees. "How much upside it has I don't know," he says. "But I'm smart enough to know it doesn't hurt." Cortese's memory also might be good enough to remember four of the last five mayors were former councilmembers.


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From the March 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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