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Redeeming Qualities: Consultant Roger Lee has cleaned up his act since getting busted a few years ago. But will any candidate for mayor hire him?

Kingmaking Is Addictive

He's a flamboyant recovering drug addict whose consulting business is so hot these days that he carries around two cellular phones. Of course, we speak of none other than Roger Lee, San Jose's tame answer to S.F. political maverick Jack Davis. Arrested for dealing crack a few years ago, Lee is staging a massive career resurrection: He and his partners at Strategy Source have just opened up a new office in Washington, D.C., Rodge has his own pad inside the beltway and he's even landed a few gigs in London. But Eye believes Lee's comeback won't be complete unless he can crown the next mayor of San Jose. Lee likes to brag that he's elected every mayor in San Jose since 1978. Janet Gray Hayes, Tom McEnery and Susan Hammer all owe a debt of gratitude to him for helping hoist their keesters into the leather chairs behind the dais. But will Lee be riding sidesaddle with the likes of corner office aspirants McEnery, Pat Dando or Ron Gonzales next year? He's coy about the possibilities. He's very busy these days, and if someone doesn't sign him up within 60 days, he might be all booked up. So far, Lee says, he's spoken with three potential candidates about working for them. (Eye hears that one of them was named McEnery; the Macster calmly replies, "I don't go to pollsters or to consultants to decide what to do with my life.") "I wouldn't be surprised if I got involved in the mayor's race," Lee confides, "but it's not something we've been actively soliciting." Meanwhile, Lee's partner, Greg Sellers, wants to stay out of the local mayor's race and focus on more profitable out-of-state races that promise fewer Mylanta mornings. Sellers allows that his partner doesn't feel the same way: Lee's a hometown boy who takes pride in his track record of electing San Jose big shots. Eye's prediction: Though he'd like to play hard to get, Lee wants this bad. He won't be the main consultant, but he'll be an important part of the winning mayoral campaign team.

Poll Mad

Around the same time mayoral prospect Margie Fernandes conducted her controversial testing-the-political-waters poll last summer, a triumvirate of other ambitious colleagues arranged another kind of poll. Pat Dando, Frank Fiscalini and David Pandori raised about $3,200 from land-barons Chester Wang and Cy Barbaccia, among unidentified others, to pay for a quick and dirty poll testing popular support for relocating City Hall downtown. The trio wanted to see if moving City Hall was politically viable; the results showed that indeed it was, if explained to voters properly. Insiders aware of the poll speculated that perhaps a few horse-race questions about next year's mayor's race found their way into the allegedly benign "issues poll" done by Nichols Research of Sunnyvale, a firm previously used by Fiscalini in his 1990 campaign against Susan Hammer. Alas, a copy of the 40-question poll shown to Eye by Fiscalini propagandist Joe Guerra revealed no horse-race questions, unlike Fernandes' blatantly political poll titled "San Jose Mayoral Assessment Findings." In fact, no individuals whatsoever appear to have been mentioned in the troika's poll. But a few things are still peculiar: One, because of the way the funds were raised and spent, the money that paid for the poll didn't have to be reported to members of the public. Wang, for example, cut a $1,200 check directly to Nichols Research, so, technically, no politician or campaign committee received the money, though he did so at Pandori's behest. What's also weird is the sudden Alzheimer's attack afflicting the participants. Pandori--who's usually such a tightass for details that if you put a piece of coal up there you'd get a diamond--couldn't explain why he originally said the year-old poll cost $10,000. Dando aide Erik Schoennauer repeatedly feigned amnesia, insisting that he couldn't recall who his boss talked to about coughing up cash for the poll.

To Run Or Not To Run

At the conclusion of a pleasant conversation with esteemed state Sen. John Vasconcellos, Eye took the opportunity to ask Vasco if he had decided whether to run for governor next year. "Call me on Tuesday," the listless lawmaker suggested. Come Tuesday, however, Vasco's office had nothing to report. "We thought there'd be something more to say, but there's not," Vasco aide Rand Martin conveyed. "We're so swamped with welfare reform and the budget, it's hard to do everything in a day that you want to do." New timeline for an announcement of some sort: At least one week, more likely two weeks. ... Vasco-watchers say the 65-year-old legislator, nearing the end of a distinguished career, wants his 15 minutes of fame and a few statewide TV appearances before he retires. Besides that, if he loses, which seems likely, he'd still retain his Senate seat. But as one Sacramento observer sniffed, "Stranger things have happened. They elected Jerry Brown."

Separated at Birth? Mayor Susan Hammer embraced
Attorney General Janet Reno during her visit to San Jose
last weekend.

Reno Heir

The similarities are striking. Eerie, even. They're both tough, take-no-crap, law-and-order, new-style Democrats. They both suffer from a less-than-inspirational monotone speaking style. They both wear eyeglasses and steer clear of glamour-gal makeup. Yes, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Mayor Susan Hammer standing side by side during Reno's visit to San Jose last weekend to check out a revitalized south bay ghetto... well ... it was like seeing double. Mayor Hammer was the more handsomely dressed of the two, modeling a tasteful pinstripe power jacket with shoulder pads. The attorney general wore an ill-fitting pastel outfit with gaudy white trim. Eye hopes that the mayor was able to offer her Washington, D.C., double a few fashion tips before Reno's departure.

Double Take

A couple weeks ago Eye reported that Supe Pete "Primo" McHugh paid political consultant Rich Robinson $6,000 from his taxpayer-funded office account to advise Primo on "governmental affairs." Turns out there's more to the story. At the end of McHugh's successful supervisorial race last year, which Robinson ran, the former Milpitas mayor had almost $10,000 in unpaid bills. According to Primo's campaign report, Robinson granted McHugh a $9,791 "credit for pre-billed services not rendered." Shortly afterward, McHugh hired Robinson with his office funds. There was absolutely no payoff involved, insists Primo's chief of staff, Gordon Reynolds: Robinson was hired solely for his expertise. As for the "credit" at the end of the campaign, Robinson dismisses the word as a misnomer. What happened, he says, is that they never finished a warm and fuzzy "meet the candidate" mailer originally planned.

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From the August 7-13, 1997 issue of Metro.

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