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The Ire of March

Boy, March elections sure are great--aren't they? In a true measure of electoral genius, Milpitas voters voted to, in theory, throw the bums out, approving term limits by nearly 3 to 1. Meantime, area voters decided to keep the bums in. John Vasconcellos was promoted from Assembly to Senate, also by nearly 3 to 1, despite a well-funded challenge by Tom Hayes, who portrayed the Vasculator as vote-skipping beach bum. Senator Al Alquist bummed a ride back to the state Capitol, despite term limits, by bequeathing political power to his much-younger spouse. . . . It was not, you might say, a good year for mavericks. Fringe candidates like Bill Chew and Doris Liu, who together mustered about a third of the ballot punctures in their challenge to the grand old man of San Jose politics, Frank Fiscalini, assured that they will remain, for now, mere tassels on the city's political upholstery. Same for Patricia Martinez-Roach, who, despite being the only woman or Hispanic in an Assembly district where non-Latino males are a minority, still placed fourth in the wide-open four-way contest. . . . In our great state of California, we can sleep better knowing that murderous carjackers and drive-by killers will go to the gas chamber while mountain lions will not have to stare down the business ends of hunting rifles. Lawyers, however, will neither be shot in open season nor sent to the gas chamber; their contingency fees are safe for now, as the public decided they were still needed to sue corporate executives for stock hanky-panky and inattentive drivers when we suffer whiplash injuries. Drive carefully.


Sombrero Smarts

Even if it was a bad night for many candidates and handlers, it was a good night for restaurants, where victors toasted their good fortunes and the vanquished comforted one other. Some candidates displayed their competitive vim at South First Street's sports bars and pool halls. The more image-conscious showed their cool at Mexican restaurants: Fiscalini hit the salsa at the tony Willow Glen beanery Aquí; Alvaradians munched chips at downtown's Maria Elena's; and Martinez-Roach supporters outclassed them all at Tacos Al Carbon on Story Road. ... Distant second-place District 6 council finisher Liu sulked at the county building. "I predicted a runoff between Frank and I," she confessed. The conspiracy-sleuthing Liu, who four years ago suggested that Fiscalini was behind heavy-breathing phone calls to her home, this year fingered Fiscalini samurai Joe Guerra for a snafu in labels she purchased from the county registrar's office and the disappearance of a stack of newspapers that contained her political ad and a letter to the editor penned by Liu. . . . The Fiscalini campaign, however, didn't need Liu's PR assistance. A last-minute response to a Liu mailer bore no union bug. This despite receiving $250 from the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. Michelle McGurk, Fiscalini's spinmeister, explained that the campaign's regular printer, Globe Printing, rejected the last-minute rush job. McGurk didn't know who printed the flier, but swore, "If there was a union shop available we would have used one." . . . Fiscalini's strong showing could reignite his mayoral ambitions. One spinner hinted that an announcement could be made as early as Christmas.


Dueling Machines

Speaking of that mayoral business, some wags suggest that the District 2 supervisor race was just a warmup for the 1998 faceoff between the McDandori and Gonzalgren-Hammer political machines. In that slugfest, Blanca Alvarado managed to squeak out a victory over challenger Scott Mathieson. . . . While the race was tight, the real fireworks came when Alvarado, being interviewed on KNTV, blurted out what many observers had long been whispering--that by making a campaign issue out of Aztec snake god Quetzalcoatl he was playing the race card. The televised comment sent a ripple through the crowd at the Mathieson home, with Councilwoman Pat Dando asking the insiders working in Mathieson's basement, including fellow councilmember David Pandori, "Did she say race?" . . . Whatever the rationale, the plumed serpent's appearance on Mathieson literature (the official story was that it represented Alvarado's wasteful spending habits) appeared to work well. Mathieson registered a strong showing among absentee voters, a traditionally conservative group, and in the heavily non-Latino districts in Willow Glen and the Rose Garden.


Loud Shushing Sound

Just as pundits predicted, the shootout between Assemblyman Byron Sher and former Pete Wilson aide Patrick Shannon for Tom Campbell's 11th State Senate District seat was too close to call until the wee hours. But in the final count, it was Sher who claimed victory, protecting the Democrat's narrow Senate majority. . . . Corned-beef sandwiches and the stark interior of a former lumberyard lent redwood-hugger Sher's victory party a working-class patina, despite its Los Altos address. His supporters are nothing if not earnest; a sign hanging in the office urges volunteers to "try to honor Byron by recycling right!" Byron, the sign notes, was the author of landmark recycling legislation. . . . Conversely, there was no such pretense of down-home charm in the sterile, chandelier-strung Holiday Inn room opposite Stanford University where Shannon's party rumbled. . . . By winning, Sher gets to complete Campbell's term, which expires later this year. The seat goes up for grabs again in November.


Just Did It

For those of you who thought "Sí Se Puede" was a slow pitch to entice San Jose's huge Latino vote, incoming 23rd District Assemblyman Mike Honda has another three-word slogan for the doubters: eat my dust. The party never stopped at the Hyatt Hotel's presidential suite, home of the Honda election-night party. That is, until a haggard, pajama-clad hotel guest walked in, protested about the noise, then padded off to her room. An admonishment by hotel security sent the hearty party downstairs to the J.P. Willows bar, where drinks flowed freely and a supporter made good on a promise to propose to his girlfriend if Honda won. Outbursts of "Sí Se Puede" rang out with every election-night update. The first thing Honda says he plans to do is bring the losing candidates together and get everyone's input. Hey, sí se puede, right? "It was a theme, a spirit," said Honda, chilling with a scotch rocks.


Milpitas Pete

Warm fuzzy of the evening goes to Pete McHugh, a big, babyfaced Bostonian who forgets his consonants and whose whispers sound like shouts. Jubilation seems to emanate naturally from McHugh, and he was happy announcing his early lead over the "downtown candidate" at the election party at a home in Milpitas, where he's mayor. ("We're having it at a home," a volunteer said, "because there's no union hall in Milpitas.") The crowd was fairly middle-aged and the town's large Asian population was represented well. . . . Vic Ajlouny, McHugh's campaign consultant, said the campaign had called every registered Democrat in Milpitas in the previous 24 hours. Milpitas represents only 15 percent of the total voters in the district, but it's an important bloc in a low-turnout election. . . . The scene at Pat Sausedo's party was considerably cooler. A couple of dozen clean, young, white, Hootie and the Blowfish-type kids played pool upstairs at South First Billiards (yes, it's downtown) as the older suit-and-tie politicos huddled around a TV set announcing results. Michael Van Every, 27, the campaign manager, was actually biting his nails at the news that his boss was trailing, but correctly predicted a runoff. . . . Sausedo had run a positive campaign, Van Every said, "but it'll be different in November," he noted ominously. "Put that in your column." . . . Sausedo herself was colder to the press than the frost in her blond hair. What has been the effect of the local media's conflict-of-interest slams on her job as a consultant to developers? "No comment."


Cheap Talk

There's nothing like an election party to demonstrate core constituency. The crowd at Ken Yeager's bash, held at campaign headquarters adjacent to the Billy de Frank Gay and Lesbian Community Center, was mostly white and mostly gay. Yeager may have sold himself as the candidate of education reform, but more supporters said they knew Ken from his gay organizing days. When Eye started wondering aloud whether Yeager's base of support had stayed a little too insular, however, we were greeted with a lot of defensiveness and a little anger. "Almost all the support, all our money came from the gay community," acknowledged Wiggsy Sivertsen, who teaches at San Jose State along with Yeager. "What that says to us is that people in the heterosexual community talk a lot about equality. But when push comes to shove, they're not there for us."


Unforgivable Acts

The crowd of about a hundred or so Vasconcellos supporters, including San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, that gathered at Vasco's Santa Clara headquarters didn't have to wait long for the good news to roll in. However, despite his landslide victory, Vasconcellos' mood wasn't entirely cheery. Speaking to his supporters at about 10pm, just before rushing off to the county building for a KNTV interview, Vasconcellos first thanked his opponent, Tom Hayes, for pushing him into discovering how many friends he really has. "The outpouring of support has been wonderful and touching," Vasco gushed before lambasting Hayes from the podium one last time. What bothered Vasco so much was the last-minute hit postcard Hayes dropped in voters' mailboxes last weekend that showed a cropped picture of a laughing Vasconcellos atop a list of allegedly wasteful public expenditures, including Vasco's renowned self-esteem task force. Still obviously miffed, Vasco explained that the cropped postcard portrait was originally a shot of a delighted Vasconcellos with his granddaughter sitting on his lap. "They cut her out of the picture and then tried to make it look like I was happy to be wasting public money," Vasconcellos huffed, adding that attacks of that sort "only contribute to the cynicism" that threatens to destroy vital public institutions. "It was a truly despicable, unforgivable act," he said. ... If Vasconcellos was a sore winner, Hayes was magnanimous in defeat. He conceded early, congratulated the legislator and promised to help elect Vasco. The November race for that seat won't be completely dull, with Vasco's former Assembly colleague Dom Cortese on the ballot as a Reform Party candidate.


Election Lemonade

Meanwhile, the mood at north-county supervisorial candidate Joe Simitian's victory party didn't brighten until very late in the evening, near midnight, when final returns showed the former Palo Alto mayor coming within a few percentage points of his rival, Cupertino's Barbara Koppel, forcing a November runoff. For hours early in the evening, Koppel appeared to be pulling the 50 percent plurality that would have shooed her into office sans another election, with Simitian initially far behind. "We have no idea where those returns are coming from," fretted startled Simitian aide and longtime Simitian friend Cliff Staton as the bad news piled up. "Any minute now," Staton vowed, "those Palo Alto returns are going to come in and turn this thing around." When they did, in a sudden rush near midnight, the spirits lightened considerably as Simitian's supporters presented him with a gift designed to remind him of his childhood years, when he operated a lemonade stand in Cupertino. The gift, a replica lemonade stand complete with handlettered signs and a pitcher, sent Simitian into a full belly laugh as he promised his supporters, including Cupertino Mayor Don Barnett, that he would get back to business in Cupertino immediately.


Cat Tax Fever

In the lovely burgs of Los Gatos and Saratoga, voters showed how little they trust the councils they elect. In the town of the cats, they told budget pencilheads to balance their accounts without tagging residents with another $50 a year in garbage, light and phone taxes. In the town of the rat, voters surgically removed their council's ability to rezone properties without asking voters first. Jeff Schwartz, a backer of the latter, tossed modesty to the wind and gloated that it was "a huge victory," adding, "The message here is it was a very good idea, and it wasn't going to be defeated by a bunch of bureaucrats lying to the population." . . . Schwartz, however, did lie about obtaining the permission of Metro Publishing Inc. to reproduce a sheaf of cartoons by Steven DeCinzo from Metro's Saratoga News in a last-minute tabloid that may have tipped the election. . . . "I'm very surprised. I'm shocked," gasped beer distributor Mike Fox Sr., chairman of No on G. He attributed the measure's success to the filched cartoons. "We didn't have [Steven] DeCinzo," Fox lamented. . . . DeCinzo's felt tip may have also contributed to the defeat of the Los Gatos tax measure, but more credit can be claimed by ex-mayor Egon Jensen and current Councilman Steve Blanton, the council's sole vote against the utility proposal. Blanton's nay vote cost him the mayoralty this year; his colleagues snubbed him when it was his turn to take the gavel for the rotating ceremonial position, so the lopsided result was particularly sweet. . . . Blanton was even caught fantasizing about becoming a supervisor, declaring that he could win a race for the seat Honda will most likely abandon--assuming that the supes don't appoint an ideological running mate to what is becoming a very cozy club. . . . As for Jensen, he is having visions as well about reentering municipal politics after two decades of sitting in Los Gatos' peanut gallery. "I see [Measure C] as a vote of no confidence in the town government," he assured us.


Even Bigger Yawn.

Last week, we wrote in our roundup of local races ("Theater of the Absurd," March 21, 1996), "San Jose City Council Districts 6, 8 and 10: A big yawn. Watch three incumbents get reelected." ... Actually we should have written, "Watch five incumbents get reelected." The results, of course, prove that our ability to predict outcomes still ranks ahead of our math skills.

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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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