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Better Late: Assembly candidate Napoli could gain from foe's pain.

Public Eye

Oh No, Coto

JOE COTO, the retired school district superintendent whose ride to succeed Manny Diaz in the state Assembly was previously presumed easy, continues to take one sling after another. Last week, faithful readers will recall, Eye laid out Coto's cozy dealings ("Juice for Joe," Aug. 14) with construction firms that later became his campaign donors. At the end of last week, the money-math police, Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corp., came out with another whammy for Joe. Under his leadership, the East Side Union High School District spent at least $379,084 more than it had to and may have violated both district policies and state laws in the mix, the bean counters estimate. ... The Rose Corp. hit the streets on Aug. 15 with its district general-services management audit. Sound exciting? Actually, it is, because Mr. Coto claims that his experience at the district qualifies him to move up to Sacramento. As he told Eye last week, he thinks he's set to play at the big kids' table. His exact words were: "The last year [before retiring], you feel that you are ready for state level because you have exhausted what you can do on the local level." His 14-year record at the school district speaks for itself, but it may not say to potential voters exactly what Coto wants it to. Back to the audit. Harvey Rose Corp.'s wrist-slapping includes concerns about the "risk of improper or fraudulent purchase activities such as improper vendor selection" and split-bidding, an illegal tactic used to circumvent bidding law. The audit recommends "establishing district conflict-of-interest policies regarding vendor selection and the purchasing process." The 79-page audit emphasizes the importance of competitive bidding (also known as finding the best deal when spending taxpayers' money). "Competitive bidding would have saved the district an estimated $79,300," the audit notes, further pointing out that competitive bidding is actually mandated by state law. ... As of presstime, the Harvey Rose Corp. had not returned our phone calls. New district Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas, who assumed the position Aug. 1, tells Eye she only just got the audit and hasn't studied it yet. "Not all the board members have received it. It would be uncomfortable for me to comment on it," she says. But she promises that if findings demand legal action, "then we will make those recommendations immediately." ... Meanwhile, Coto, who began with a nice head start in the Assembly race, now has a confident opponent to watch out for. Kathy Chavez Napoli had to spend her own cash on her campaign to meet Coto's $100K-plus funding level. And she was stuck when it came to securing high-profile political backing because Coto had already snapped it all up. "I think by the very fact that I did get a late start," Napoli says, "and apparently he's been planning this for a long, long time," explains why her hobnobbing trips to the Capitol haven't yet paid off in donations or endorsements. Nevertheless, she says, "People have been coming to me and saying I didn't know you were running, and that makes them reconsider their support [of Coto]." Eye asked Napoli if the surfacing of Coto's back-scratching relationships with several major contractors caused any Coto endorsers to defect. She said, "No, but they've indicated that they will vote for me."

Sally Lieber.

Hippie Birthday

Sally Lieber, the assemblymember who went out on a limb to convince Kathy Chavez Napoli to take on Joe Coto, lent her support to another lucky lady recently. Well, lucky may be the wrong word. A new father going by the dorky name "Slipshod" posted a thank-you note to Lieber on Morons.org. Slipshod announced in his note that Lieber rushed to help him in a battle with the state of California when officials refused to let him pass on his middle name to his baby daughter. "Assemblywoman Lieber's staff attorney hadn't found any reasonable legal basis for them to deny my request," said blogger Slipshod. Ultimately, Lieber was able to convince the bureaucracy that Slipshod should be allowed to give his daughter the middle name of the peace symbol. "I would like to thank CA Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and especially her staff for going out of their way to help an ordinary citizen," the father wrote. "Sometimes the good guys do win."

Mad Radicals

San Jose protests aren't much to write home about. And the Iranian-American political foment last Friday at the steps of San Jose's federal building followed suit. But being a glutton for boredom, Eye attended this minor lash-out against CIA involvement in Iran's 1953 coup and contemporary U.S. foreign policy. It, of course, rocked no one's world, and aside from an occasional honking car, everyone basically ignored it. The protest did, however, draw nearly three dozen mostly tame upper-middle- and middle-class protesters. These were no raving anti-globalizationists. They had no body piercings; no dyed hair; not much armpit hair. They recycled slogans and chants: "Get our troops out of Iraq," "Leaders Lie/Soldiers Die" and (the ironic) "The Patriot Act is unpatriotic." Standing quietly to the side, however, with their own setup, were two young men representing the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists--both smartly dressed, with shirts tucked into pressed khakis. Eye, bored with the Iranian-Americans, infiltrated the socialist clique. Ryan Scott, a 20-year-old furniture mover from San Francisco, told Eye that he had been asked to come to San Jose by his "comrades," who had heard about the Iranian-American protest--the socialists, it seemed, engaged in a lot of piggyback appearances where they would show up at such "anti-imperialist" events as this. "Dude. I went to Cuba two weeks ago, dude," Scott pointed out before postulating on his political views (anti-imperial, revolutionary, pro-farmer, pro-worker, Fidel, Malcolm X, Che). "Brazil, man, Brazil's going crazy," he later said about a recent uprising on the lower continent. Then he explained in more detail: "They're not a revolutionary group per se. They're just a peasant group right now." Scott, who also mentioned he was preparing to campaign for district attorney in San Francisco, said he had to head to San Jose's airport to pick up the Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor, the former meatpacker from Los Angeles, Joel Britton, who was holding a reception in San Francisco that same night. Then, perhaps realizing he had strayed off-topic (Eye had come to the federal building for the Iranian-Americans, after all), Scott went back to his stand to retrieve some of the books for sale. He brought back a work by Castro that had been translated into Farsi. "They're selling like hot cakes in Iran, man," he said proudly.

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From the August 21-27, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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