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[whitespace] Jerry Williams
Hazardous Material: Ex-fire Capt. Jerry Williams writes about past racism in the San Jose Fire Department in a new book.

Public Eye

Smoking Gun

When Jerry Williams became one of the first African Americans to join the San Jose Fire Department in 1972, it wasn't what he expected. Instead of being lauded as a hero, Williams says, racial overtones started creeping in the minute he started work. Williams, who was classified as a firefighter-trainee for three years before being granted the title of firefighter, rose to become a captain and provisional battalion chief before he was forced into early retirement by a back injury in 1997. After leaving, Williams started working on a book about his experiences, putting memories and documents together into a memoir. "I decided I would write a book because, historically, I wanted there to be some memory," he says of the nearly 30 years that have transpired since his hiring. "I have to put this down from a black perspective, because if I don't, it'll just go by the wayside." Now, the book is out, and in it Williams does his best to crack open what he calls the old boy's network of the department. Not one for subtleties, Williams called the book Being a Fireman Was My Dream: Only in Reality Was it a Nightmare, and the cover shows the author with thick flames rising behind him. Although Williams says the names have been changed "to protect the innocent," the identity of one figure is not so well-veiled. Capt. Anger appears to be an off-duty San Jose fire captain who killed a 30-year-old black man in 1996, raising racial tensions in the department. That firefighter, Robert Gremminger, also made headlines the year before when he filed a reverse-discrimination suit accusing black firefighters of cheating on a promotions test (a judge dismissed the suit). Williams says he initially took the book around to publishers, but later decided to self-publish to avoid making changes. A spokesman for the department says fire officials haven't seen the book yet. The book is available at San Jose's Saint Claire News Stand, 311 S. First St. Over the years, Williams says the department has made progress in race relations but charges that after his departure "they went back to the good ol' boys." To current leadership wincing at the portrayals in the book, Williams assures Eye a lot of the worst parts were left out: "It would have made the book too long."

Planning Personae

A couple weeks after longtime San Jose Planning Director Jim Derryberry retired July 7 after 32 years, Eye got word that mayoral lieutenant Joe Guerra was hot to bring in a civil servant from the City of Los Angeles to fill the empty chair--and that Mayor Ron Gonzales was giving the idea a thumbs up. By cell phone, a vacationing Guerra shrugged off the notion and said the city manager's office was already on the case. A non-vacationing City Manager Del Bergsdorf said he'd already hired a Sacramento-based headhunter that has started a national search and should have a few candidates to let the City Council sniff out in three or four months. In the meantime, acting Planning Director Joe Horwedel is keeping the seat warm, and will almost certainly be sending a résumé. Eye did hear, however, that the SoCal favorite was a familiar name around town: Andrew Adelman, San Jose's former chief building official and deputy planning director. Adelman is an old friend of Gonzales and still owns a home here. Developers here liked him and he was generally regarded as efficient and hardworking, Adelman left in 1997 to run L.A.'s 9,000-employee Department of Building and Safety. Adelman offered that he is happy living and working in L.A. but said he couldn't confirm or deny anything about being approached by anyone up north. He did, however, deny having conversations with anyone in the mayor's office, but when Eye asked if he'd talked to anyone else at the city Adelman only reiterated that he was happy working in Los Angeles. But while Adelman was tongue-tied when first asked about returning, he called back 20 minutes later with a more prepared statement: "I have not applied for the job in San Jose and I am not a candidate for it."

Tax Pitch

Across the country, activists are waging a campaign to get taxpayers to donate their refund checks to lefty causes like Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club or any group that's anti-Bush. Cupertino council candidate and self-described moderate Republican Geoff Patnoe pledged his to something different: the San Francisco Giants Community Fund. Matching his refund check with another $355 from his own pocket, the baseball fanatic bid on some box seats and the chance to toss the opening pitch--and won. Patnoe proudly reports that he threw a strike to open last Thursday's 3-0 win over the Pirates, then took in the game along with his mom, fiancée and sister-in-law from seven rows up behind the visitor's dugout. "It was for a good cause, so thank you George Bush," he says, "Throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game is the most presidential thing you can do without being president." Although he's not shy about saying he crossed party lines to vote for Al Gore instead of the former owner of the Texas Rangers (he just wasn't comfortable with W), Patnoe points out that his donation wasn't done in opposition to the tax cut or the administration--although the humor of others doing so isn't lost on him: "I think it's hilarious that folks are using it as a protest."

Redefining Tony

Downsized Merc serfs: Ever wonder how Tony Ridder sleeps at night? Well, Eye can't help you there, but anyone who wants a peek inside the Knight-Ridder CEO's master bedroom can pick up the September issue of House Beautiful. The cover story is devoted to the remodel of Ridder's Woodside home and features a pic of Ridder's designing daughter Katie Ridder, who decorated the house. Her secret? "Columns from a French flea market give character to a little foyer off the powder room."


Eye reported July 12 that Valley Scene publisher Sandra Farris unloaded her monthly newspaper to SV Biz Ink after initially offering it to Silicon Valley Community Newspapers for $1. It seemed strange, but nothing has a way of clarifying things like public records--in this case, a petition for dissolution of marriage. Farris was known for years for showing up at every charity event and social gathering in town, sometimes hitting several a night, with her hubby and volunteer photographer Ray Farris II. But just days after her 34th wedding anniversary, Farris filed to divorce her longtime love. Eye hears that while the mister was on one of his frequent business trips visiting some of the mobile home parks he bought up after getting out of the nursing home business a few years ago, Sandra had a moving van roll up to the couple's Monte Sereno home, filled it with her goods and headed off to a new pad in San Francisco. She also hired a high-powered San Jose attorney, divorce specialist William L. Dok, whose firm is across the street from the old Valley Scene office.

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From the August 9-15, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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