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[whitespace] Ruben Diaz Dissed Abilities: Assistant sheriff Ruben Diaz, who lost his bid for sheriff to Laurie Smith, hasn't been coming to work lately. And it's not clear if he will return.

Cringe and Purge

When Laurie Smith was elected sheriff in November, people immediately wondered what would happen to her opponent, assistant sheriff Ruben Diaz. Shortly after the election, Smith told reporters that she wanted to eliminate the assistant sheriff's position, a move that obviously didn't bode well for Diaz (or Tom Sing, the other assistant sheriff who ran in the primary). Smith has yet to take a reorganization plan to the Board of Supervisors for approval, but Eye gets the sense that a shakeup is near. ... Sgt. John Hirokawa, a spokesman for the sheriff, confirmed that Diaz is out on "administrative leave," but wouldn't elaborate. Sources familiar with the situation say that Diaz has applied for disability. During a phone interview this week, Sing confirmed the story of Diaz's absence with a simple "He's off on disability." ... Hirokawa wouldn't say whether the department expected Diaz to come back to work or not. But precedent suggests a permanent parting of the ways. County officials who go on extended leaves of absence have a way of never returning. ... In the meantime, Smith has reassigned captains Bob Wilson and Steve Cushing to handle the assistant sheriffs' duties. One has taken over Smith's old job; the other is "filling in" for Diaz. ... Finally, Tom Sing says he's still not sure how the expected reorganization of the sheriff's office will affect him personally. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Sing should fare better than Diaz. Sing, of course, happens to be buds with Pete McHugh, chairman of the board of supes, and was also endorsed by Supervisor Jim Beall in the primary. The Singster says that he'd like to stick around, but acknowledges that retirement is always an option for him at this point in his career. "I'm in my 30th year now," Sing reasons. "That was kind of my goal when I started [in law enforcement]."

Sue Bug

Over the years, San Jose's Lazarus Kipkirwa has filed so many lawsuits against local public officials and agencies that the court system has come to consider him something of a nuisance. His legend grew to the point that Mercury News scribe Tracey Kaplan wrote a story about Kipkirwa's legal follies one year ago, just as the county was about to prevail in an employment discrimination suit filed by Kipkirwa. As might be expected, Litigious Lazarus has risen to the occasion and is now suing Kaplan and the Merc in Superior Court for libel, asking for $10 million in general and special damages, plus punitive damages. Kipkirwa, acting as his own attorney, claims the Merc invaded his privacy and that the article "was a newspaper lynching of a Black-African male." One way the Merc allegedly tied the noose around his neck: printing his age (34 at the time). "[P]laintiff's age is not public information and is not newsworthy." Another alleged journalistic transgression: reporting on one of Kipkirwa's lawsuits in which he accused the city of San Jose of conspiring to violate his right to free speech by giving him a parking ticket. "It makes Plaintiff appear to have done something wrong," Kipkirwa grouses in his court complaint, "by making a true statement." Merc attorney James Chadwick observes, "It's very vexing to be sued by a vexatious litigant for reporting that he is a vexatious litigant."

Darth Ridder

Sometimes the best news stories are not on page one, but buried deep inside the newspaper. Consider the gem that ran on page C9 in a recent edition of The New York Times. The story details how Tony Ridder, CEO of Knight Ridder, the corporate parent of the Mercury News, received a $300,000 "relocation bonus" in 1998 to help him make the move from Miami to San Jose. The company was also kind enough to give Ridder $274,163 to pay his incomes taxes on the bonus and another 25 Gs for incidental moving expenses. Less important employees received a minimum of $70,000 plus a tax reimbursement to make the cross-country move. In fairness, how can one expect Ridder to make a go of it in high-priced Silicon Valley on his paltry $810,000 salary (that doesn't include the $415,242 regular bonus he got last year)? The Times couldn't resist pointing out the irony of "Darth Ridder," known for his heartless cost-cutting among the rank and file, accepting such a generous "relocation bonus" on top of his generous salary. The Times, however, didn't find room to print another amusing tidbit from the company's proxy statement: A small-fry shareholder, it seems, is asking the company to make its stock option grants to executives performance-based. The board of directors, led by Ridder--who got 80,000 stock options last year--is recommending that shareholders reject the proposal.

Pucker Patrol

Sucking up to the winner is a time-honored tradition in politics. It's especially necessary when someone needs to make amends for backing the loser during a campaign. In that spirit, the San Jose Police Officers' Association and San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 will team up next week to put on a $50-a-head steak barbecue. The proceeds of the meat-fest will help fund Mayor Ron Gonzales' upcoming state of the city gala, which event planners estimate will cost up to $35,000. The cops and the firefighters, of course, pushed Pat Dando for mayor during the campaign. Mark Skeen, vice president of Local 230, says the firefighters never had anything against Gonzo. Rather, Skeen explains, they went with Dando because she was a known quantity. "We assured [Gonzales] that if he was elected mayor," Skeen recalls, "we would do whatever we could to support him." The unions, however, won't be funding the mayor's office remodeling, which is adding a bunch of Herman Miller cubicles on the sixth floor for his staffers.

Star Search

Just how badly do Democrats want to find a credible candidate to challenge U.S. Reep Tom Campbell next year? So badly that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt placed a phone call to Santa Cruz Assemblyman Fred Keeley a couple of weeks ago, asking the state lawmaker if he might be interested in the job. Gephardt, Washington-watchers know, passed up a run for president so he could focus on winning the House back from Republicans in 2000. ... Keeley, of course, was flattered. But he's not suicidal. Santa Cruz County represents only a sliver of the district. And as speaker pro tem, Keeley is in a good position to make a move to become the Assembly's next top dog. "It is fully my intention," Keeley told Gephardt, "to run for a third term in the Assembly." ... Meanwhile, Campbell was in the district holding town meetings last week. At a Los Gatos retirement home a wise constituent asked Campbell which presidential candidate he was supporting. Here's a hint: Her name isn't Al Gore and she didn't invent the Internet.

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From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro.

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