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Theater of the Absurd

A brief guide to key local races

March elections are a cruel joke. Residents had barely put holiday trees on the curb when mailboxes and recycling bins started filling up with campaign literature. The valley's few remaining spring vistas of fruit blossoms and mustard flowers have been marred by badly designed placards with the names of people we'd rather forget about. Is nothing sacred?

Voters can be forgiven for being apathetic, confused or angry. The major parties' presidential primaries are a done deal. Term limits have made races more interesting and less predictable, but they force us to work harder. And the content and meaning of debates at the state and local level continues to become even more irrelevant to solving the major issues of our time.

Bizarre things happen, too. Like a Japanese-American heterosexual in political drag as a gay Latino. While Mike Honda's transparent attempts to corner those constituencies shows admirable embracing of diversity, even the best of chameleons will have trouble prying votes away from the representatives of those constituencies he must defeat.

Then there are familiar names like Alquist, Cortese and Diridon. Like licensed designer wares that attempt to leverage the good name of the flagship product, this new generation will no doubt benefit from the goodwill associated with those they slept with or were sired by.

Finally there is Ed Foglia, who is not running, but whose name appears on the ballot anyway. He had the good sense to get out of the Assembly race when his former employer endorsed his opponent.

In keeping with the idiosyncracies and absurdity of the 1996 spring political contests, we offer our own idiosyncratic and absurd rundown of this year's key races.
Dan Pulcrano, Editor

11th Senate District

This is perhaps the most important race in the county, since it is a special election to succeed Tom Campbell--not a primary--and could determine whether California Republicans can control the Senate, in addition to the Assembly and governorship. Wilson has handpicked aide Patrick Shannon to battle veteran midpeninsula legislator Byron Sher for the seat. Sher is intelligent and thoughtful, known for his support of education and the environment. If Shannon is anything like his sponsor, the two E-words won't be high priorities for him as a legislator.

13th Senate District

This messy contest pits term-limited Assemblyman John Vasconcellos against Tom Hayes, a corporate public affairs activist who has waged an aggressive pro-choice campaign, forcing Vasco to defend his record on reproductive freedom and inoculate himself by rounding up endorsements from women's groups, including NOW and Gloria Steinem. Hayes would bring youth, energy and business savvy to Sacramento. Voters who want an advocate rather than just a vote for choice should punch the pin next to Hayes' name. Vasconcellos is a veteran member of Sacto's old Democratic guard; those who value his experience, knowledge and connections will want to keep him in the capital.

22nd Assembly District

This will be a close call between San Jose Councilwoman Trixie Johnson and Elaine White Alquist, a former Republican who jumped parties and took on the well-known Alquist moniker when she tied the knot with the venerable San Jose legislator three years ago.

23rd Assembly District

For its entertainment value alone, this spicy race on San Jose's east side wins our vote as the contest to watch. This four-way primary has favorite son David Cortese (will some voters think they are voting for his dad?) scrapping with Supervisor Mike Honda (who's been running a very bizarre campaign), the loopy Patricia Martinez-Roach (who will do better than expected since she's the only Latina or female in the race) and gay educator Ken Yeager, who's run a strong, solid campaign. All bets are off in this race.

24th Assembly District

Reep incumbent Jim Cuneen will face off against solo Democratic nominee Ed Foglia, who dropped out of the race after his former employer, the California Teachers Association, failed to endorse him. As election laws stand, Foglia would have to die in order for Demos to name a successor to his candidacy.

District 2 Supervisor

This is really a warm-up for the 1998 San Jose City Council and mayor's races. Ex-SJ Mayor Tom McEnery and former aides with mayoral ambitions have aligned themselves with Scott Mathieson, a downtown neighborhood activist who has never held office and is challenging board-appointed Supe Blanca Alvarado, a former San Jose councilwoman. Or it's a continuation of a century-old ethnic war that began when the city's first Irish-American mayor raised the U.S. flag over then Mexico-controlled San Jose. The clash flared up in recent years when McEnery's million-dollar tribute to that flag-raiser wound up in storage instead of at the park's northern tip, while Alvarado's Aztec snake god came out the south end.

District 3 Supervisor

While on the San Jose council, Pat Sausedo was known for her fondness for taxpayer-financed junkets to the picturesque city of Rouen, France. She left office under an ethical cloud after she formed a consulting practice to help developers win project approvals, an act that raised revolving-door concerns but stayed within the letter of the law. Later, she was forced off a city commission because of her close ties to developers. Sausedo's attempt to regain the public's trust pits her against the folksy mayor of Milpitas, Pete McHugh, and two others.

District 5 Supervisor

Two municipal pols--Republican Barb Koppel of Cupertino and Palo Altan Democrat Joe Simitian--along with health clinic owner Mark O'Connor are competing to represent the county's northern frontier. Simitian has the blessing of the supe board's clubby liberal majority, business-friendly Koppel is an advocate for open space and libraries, and O'Connor wants to save taxpayers money by reforming the county's workers comp system.

San Jose City Council Districts
6, 8 and 10

A big yawn. Watch three incumbents get reelected.

Measure A--Parks

Parks are always a good thing, and this measure would simply change the county charter to permit the transfer of money from the general fund for acquiring, developing and maintaining parks. In and of itself, it won't raise taxes.

Los Gatos Measure C

Residents of the town of the cats will decide whether they want to pay four dollars more a month in utility taxes to keep streets paved and well policed. The town's political and business establishment supports the increase, though critics say the Town Council has spent money recklessly on items such as buying an expensive house for LG's police chief.

Saratoga Measure G

In Saratoga, a dissident faction is trying to tie the hands of a council they consider unresponsive and too developer-friendly. If passed the measure would force the council to seek voter approval for any density-increasing rezonings. The proponents say it will simply require the council to follow the general plan. Opponents argue that it will force homeowners to hold a special election when they want to add a patio or pool, a charge G's drafters dismiss as poppycock.

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From the Mar. 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro

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