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[whitespace] Mike Honda Pledge Break: Rep. Mike Honda shouldn't sweat his vote against the Pledge resolution--come fall, who's gonna remember?

Public Eye

Pledge of the Specious

Rep. MIKE HONDA's singing may be winning the hearts of D.C. insiders, but his principles are leaving him lonely in the halls of demagoguery. With the rest of Congress falling all over itself to praise the Pledge of Allegiance after last week's appeals court ruling, Honda turned up on the short end of a 416-3 vote on HR 459, a resolution denouncing the court's ruling that the "under God" part of the pledge is unconstitutional. As Republicans sniffed an easy way to score some points by waving the flag, and Democrats, as usual, cowered in fear of their elephant overlords, Honda found himself joined by only Rep. PETE STARK (D-Fremont) and a third Democrat from Virginia. Honda apparently didn't know how the vote would go before casting his. "I asked him, 'Do you have any colleagues with you?' and he said, 'I don't know,'" says Honda chief of staff JENNIFER VAN DER HEIDE. "Mike doesn't make those kind of political determinations before he votes, though I'm not sure he expected to have company of two." But as media calls flooded Honda's office, his own constituents weren't so quick to condemn. "We got some pretty angry calls," Van Der Heide confesses. "We've gotten about 75 right now, and it's about 2-to-1 supporting him, but they're vehement on both sides." Eye didn't get the chance to personally vote in the straw poll--because Honda was on his way to speak to a Japanese-American group in Las Vegas--but the fax machine did spit out a statement on his vote. In the missive (also posted to his webpage), Honda says he voted nay because he represents a diverse district and because "the phrase 'under God' subtly erodes the religious freedom and diversity of our great nation." Honda also said that, as a former teacher and principal, he worries that kids are "asked to say the pledge by rote at a young age" before they really know what they're saying. Honda, as Eye watchers know, doesn't face any real opposition in November, so he probably won't have to worry about an opponent throwing the vote back in his face next fall.

Marriage Councilors

Eye can't think of a less likely place for love to blossom than City Hall, but that's where Sunnyvale Councilman TIM RISCH first met YOLANDA BROWN, chairperson of the City Planning Commission. Four years after a shy Risch introduced himself in the corridors of power, the two married last weekend at a ceremony packed with local pols. Councilman JOHN HOWE, Brown's former commission colleague, got into the act as Risch's best man, and the matron of honor was Councilwoman PAT VORREITER. Surrounded by so many local government officials, the altar must have looked more like the council dais. Six of seven councilmembers attended the black tie-optional event, including Mayor FRED FOWLER, who drew a few snickers by wearing his council name badge (Fowler tells Eye he wears the badge to every public event). But the municipal intrigue doesn't end there. Under the city's charter, councilmembers can't be married to commissioners, so one of the two would have had to resign. Instead of doing that, word is Brown pushed the wedding back a year so she could finish her term and do a stint as chair. Brown's four-year term on the commission expired the day after the wedding. The only councilmember who wasn't there, by the way, was JACK WALKER, who didn't get an invite. From what Eye hears, it might have had something to do with Walker's suggestion last fall that Brown should drop her commission gig if she was engaged to Risch. The council voted on the matter, letting Brown keep her seat because there was no legal relationship, but the play apparently didn't go over too well with the now-married couple.

Toni's Folly?

Opponents say plans for a bigger, better city hall are a waste of public money that could be better spent on other city services--and a monument to the mayor's ego. Sounds like San Jose, but it's Los Altos Hills, which has its own little controversy over a new Town Hall. Councilmembers are getting ready to approve a $3.5 million, 7,000-square-foot Mission-style building on the site of the old Town Hall, an aging structure with building code problems and termites. But as the plan wends its way through the approval process, some residents calling themselves LAH Outrage recently formed a group to block the proposal, which they say is too expensive, intrusive on the neighborhood, unsafe for pedestrians, environmentally insensitive and designed without public input. Led by ALAN BIEN, who, coincidentally, lives next door to Town Hall, the group calls the design "Toni's Folly," after TONI CASEY, mayor of the town of 7,902 (until a couple weeks ago). The council, however, seems poised to approve the building, with a majority of members telling Eye that they're supportive. "It has already been scaled back a lot," says new Mayor BOB FENWICK, who has been working on the project with Casey. "It's on the low side of what most people thought was required, and I don't see that it adversely affects anybody." And really, is $3.5 million so much for a new Town Hall in a place where some homes cost that much? Interestingly, city officials would like to pay part of the bill with donations from the townspeople.

Gonzo's Fortune

At a Rotary Club speech in June, San Jose Mayor RON GONZALES said he'd have some news soon about a chain of eateries opening a new location downtown. The chain and a developer were deadlocked, Gonzales said, so he stepped in to get both sides back to the table. "I'm happy to say the deal is back on track," Gonzales proclaimed. "I expect to announce the name of this restaurant very soon." Thing is, word was already out, revealed by none other than CIM Group partner SHAUL KUBA in a previous pep talk with San Jose Chamber of Commerce types. Eye's fortune cookie says an upscale P.F. Chang's China Bistro will be opening in the forever-dilapidated BARRY SWENSON-owned building at Second and San Fernando streets.

Abstention Tension

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board flogged legislators who don't vote on key bills last week, paying special attention to Assemblywoman REBECCA COHN from Saratoga. In a rare full-page editorial headlined "Do-Nothing Politics: When the going gets tough, more and more lawmakers are taking a walk," the paper slammed legislators who doom important bills by ducking votes. The paper pinned some of the blame on pro-business Democrats who, as moderates, try to serve their labor and enviro base without alienating their biz backers. An abstention on something controversial can be the same thing as a no vote, except it can't come back to haunt a legislator down the road. Better yet, a lawmaker can't get nailed for making a controversial vote on something that didn't pass--the worst of both worlds. Featured prominently in the middle of the page was the Saratoga Democrat's beaming mug, right next to a list of sensitive votes she abstained on, including HMO arbitration, financial privacy and accounting reform. The editorial said insiders cite Cohn as "a candidate for Most Likely to Abstain," but Cohn told the Chron that she hasn't abstained that much, and if she does, it's because "with term limits, you have to be even more respectful of your colleagues to get anything done in this place." Eye called Cohn to get more of her story, but the freshman lawmaker also abstained from returning Eye's calls.

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From the July 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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