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Public Eye

Smoke and Mirrors

For the past couple years, Valley Medical Center boss Bob Sillen and consultant Barbara Perzigian have not-so-inconspicuously conducted their romance. Now comes word that the two lovebirds have more than just romantic ties. Last October the public health department, which ultimately falls under Sillen's authority, awarded Perzigian Consulting a one-year, $40,000 contract to lobby local agencies for more stringent anti-smoking regulations. The contract was approved administratively--without being reviewed by the board of supes--on the recommendation of an advisory committee that oversees the spending of state tobacco tax money. "It has absolutely zero to do with Sillen," Perzigian assures Eye. Indeed, she's well qualified: Perzigian held the same anti-smoking contract in the early '90s, before she dated Sillen. And Babs worked on the original state tobacco tax initiative campaign, during which she smoked two packs a day. (Perzigian says she has since quit the nasty habit, though Sillen regularly sucks down a few nails each day.) Health officials, however, were nervous enough about the appearance of nepotism--in a memo, Deputy Health Director Anne Moses diplomatically refers to Perzigian as a "close personal friend" of Sillen's--to ask the county counsel's office for its opinion. County lawyers ruled there was no conflict of interest. ... Health officials solicited proposals from Perzigian and three other consultants: Roger Lee, Brenna Bolger and Rich Robinson; the latter, Perzigian's old boss, held the anti-smoking contract the year before. Neither Bolger nor Robinson responded; Lee's firm turned in an "inferior proposal." Health staff had an easy time locating Perzigian, even though she had just split with Robinson and had yet to take out a business license or file a fictitious business name, city and county records indicate. Explains Rich Nichols, a public health staffer, Perzigian stayed in touch.


Two Trick Pony

Speaking of Rich Robinson, the erstwhile political fixer may have waved adios to the aforementioned anti-smoking contract, but he's still pulling a public paycheck, thanks to an old campaign client, Supervisor Pete "Primo" McHugh. McHugh tapped his public office account for $6,000 to hire Robinson, who ran Primo's supervisorial campaign against Pat Sausedo last year, to provide "governmental advice" to the frosh board member. Robinson was vague about which issues he advised his client, though the soon-to-be attorney did note that he helped Primo devise a "governmental strategy" as opposed to a political one. See, Robinson was once an aide to the likes of Sen. Alan Cranston and then-Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, so he has policy expertise, not just political expertise. Gordon Reynolds, McHugh's chief of staff, says Robinson educated the new supe on the finer points of state-county relations and welfare reform.


Biting the Hand

Earlier this year, mayor-turned-mayoral-wannabe Tom McEnery bumped into attorney Chuck Reed at a downtown hotel. As Reed recalls the encounter, McEnery confided that he was thinking about running for mayor and wanted to chat further. Reed politely informed the Macster that he already had pledged to back Councilwoman Margie Fernandes, Mayor Susan Hammer's protégé. For his part, McEnery vaguely recalls bumping into Reed, though he didn't remember the details of their conversation. (He also didn't deny floating the idea of running for mayor to Reed.) ... The next day or so, Reed says he received an angry call from Councilman David Pandori, a dark-horse contender for the mayoral crown and a McEnery ally. Pandori, a former employee of Reed's, proceeded to chew out his old mentor for pledging to support Fernandes before consulting him and griped about the premature mayoral maneuvering. As Reed tells the tale, shortly thereafter Pandori filed a complaint against Fernandes with the city's campaign ethics board for her June '96 citywide poll testing the political waters for a future mayoral run. Reed's conclusion: The timing poses an interesting coincidence. Pandori could not be reached for comment. McEnery, however, snorted that Reed and Margie's minions were desperately trying to deflect attention away from an upcoming ethics investigation into whether the poll--paid for with surplus funds left from Fernandes' unopposed council campaign--broke any local campaign laws. ... In truth, the Fernandes camp's legal explanation justifying the $19,000 survey as an "issues" poll that happened to also rate mayoral prospects rings hollow. Casting doubt on Pandori's own political motives seems like a smart diversionary tactic. "If David Pandori isn't a candidate himself, then he's a hatchet man for another candidate," sniffs Barry Barnes, one of Fernandes' campaign advisers. Despite the counter-offensive, insiders suspect that the damage may have already been done: The mere fact that the ethics board has chosen to "investigate" is all any political consultant worth his salt needs to craft a damning hit piece next year.


Cupertino Watch

Though it's still too early to say exactly who'll be running for three open Cupertino City Council seats this November, there are some interesting names being bandied about, such as that of former mayor Barbara Koppel. A crafty insider says the chances of Koppel's running are "very high.". ... Another name being floated is Sandra James, currently head honcha of the local school board. One wily commentator likened the ever perky James to a persistent gnat that keeps buzzing near the ears even after repeated swats. Eye also has it on good authority that incumbent Don Burnett will be seeking another term. He'll have the dubious distinction of being the only candidate to vote against campaign finance reform. The only person to actually pull papers so far is John Statton, the executive director of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. Statton says he plans to quit his day job and take a massive pay cut to run for council. One guy who won't be running is boy wonder John Bautista, who's quitting his job as mayor to tend to his very pregnant wife. The wunderkind pol, however, won't rule out running for higher office (i.e. Congress) in the future.


Tongue Lashing

Upon returning from his recent goodwill mission to Hong Kong, state Sen. John Vasconcellos immediately encountered further evidence of the decline of Western civilization: tongue piercing. The topic arose during a debate over a bill that would impose $250 fines on flesh mutilators who perform body piercing on minors without parental consent. Vasco and other legislators floated the idea of outlawing pierced taste buds. An online wire report recounted the story this way: Lawmakers on the public safety committee demanded to know exactly what, if any, are the benefits of tongue piercing. "The whole thing is absolutely grotesque," Vasco said. A professional body-piercer assured the senator that many men his age get their tongues pierced. "It's grotesque at any age," Vasco exclaimed. Ultimately, Vasco and the other senators relented and chose not to ban the primitive practice. Reflects Vasco aide Rand Martin, "His position on government imposing itself on personal decisions is long-standing. While he may find the act itself grotesque, it is a personal choice."


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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro.

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