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Portrait of Success

Former East Side Superintendent ESPERANZA ZENDEJAS didn't say a word about her local school district when the HISPANIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION honored her with a Portrait of Success on Friday. The crowded luncheon in San Jose's Doubletree Hotel resounded with clinking glasses, syrupy speeches and quiet tiptoeing around the fact that they were awarding a woman who, in her two-year stint here, managed to carve a deep rift between the district's teachers and administration before abruptly resigning in July under heated criticism. Instead of acknowledging her "success" in San Jose, both the HDC and Zendejas focused on her Stanford education and former superintendent position in Indianapolis—which, by the way, she also left under fire. The lesson she took away from her trials, Zendejas shared with the audience on Friday, was to let what people say go in one ear and out the other. "If that's the Hispanic Development Corporation's definition of success, we'd hate to see their definition of failure," write the authors of UNRULYRUS.COM, a blog created by disgruntled ESUHSD teachers who wish to remain anonymous. HDC board member KATHY CHAVEZ-NAPOLI, whom unruly skeptics suspect of having aspirations to the East Side school board, denies any bias in selecting the five honorees. Zendejas was chosen by a nomination selection committee, Chavez-Napoli explains, "that has nothing to do with the board. It's one of the most objective, fair processes that's around." While some teachers are shaking their heads in amazement at Zendejas' tribute, Acting Superintendent BOB NUNEZ remains diplomatic. "We [the district] were feeling very fractured for a long time," he says. "So first we're trying to become a whole again." Nunez came to the East Side District last year as the head of Human Relations and noticed disharmony the first day on the job. Since then, he has been trying to improve communication. "My goal is to drive out fear," he says, "so a person can speak out without feeling as if their career will be threatened."

Measure C Déjà Vu?

Political activist and former grand jury member GARY WOOD was struck with a sense of déjà vu when he read about political consultant VIC AJLOUNY's conversations with District Attorney GEORGE KENNEDY and DSA President JOSE SALCIDO, who is embroiled in the Measure C scandal and escaped prosecution for allegedly committing perjury. Ajlouny vehemently denies any influence brokering. "To even think that George would bend one way or another based on a personal friendship is outrageous," the consultant insisted. "He has served this county for 33 years and no one has ever questioned his integrity." Well, not quite. Wood suspected a similar pattern in 1998 when his civil grand jury investigated Berryessa Superintendent HERBERT WADLEY for complaints of racial discrimination, harassment of female employees, illegalities in handling a bond election and improprieties in hiring Ajlouny. By the time the grand jury discovered the consultant's links to Kennedy, who had just won a re-election campaign, it was too late. The DA's office reportedly sat on the grand jury's request to subpoena Wadley for a week, during which time the superintendent left the state, saying he had to attend to a family emergency. Wood and several grand jury members were convinced the suspect had been tipped off. "When there's something afoul, Ajlouny seems to be right at the heart of it," Wood says. Seven years ago, Kennedy slammed down the accusation of impropriety with an f-bomb: "Are you asking was there an inappropriate, crooked-fucking fix by the district attorney's office to spirit some individual out of the area and prevent him from answering a subpoena?" But the grand jury never had a chance to reach its own conclusions. The presiding judge disbanded the group shortly after, when Wood and four other members complained of racism in the jury's deliberations. The majority, in turn, criticized the rebellious five for pursuing personal agendas. The dissidents were later dismissed for speaking openly about internal procedures—and Ajlouny fixated on this when asked about the parallels drawn by Wood. "Who the hell is Gary Wood?" he said. "These are wild, faceless accusations made by a bunch of conspiracy theorists."

Whine Country

Here's our question: Will Merc columnist VICTOR DAVIS HANSON ever stop whining? He and ARIANNA HUFFINGTON faced each other at a tense live webcam debate from Michigan a couple of weeks ago over the question: Is the United States an empire? Hanson, the conservative scholar of Ancient Greece who also holds a fellowship at Stanford's HOOVER INSTITUTE, loves to moan about the evils of immigration and glorifies an Anglo-Protestant America. He harped on his same one-note arguments in the debate. "We are the most powerful, influential, democratic country in the world with the most egalitarian, multiracial society in the history of civilization. We do more good than people give us credit for." Poor us! Hanson, who was supposed to be arguing that the United States is not an "empire," defined the term as a regime that exercises power outside of its boundaries where it's not wanted. You can bet Arianna jumped all over that. He also went on about how this country is above taking other people's territory and then dictating what they have to do. Yawn. Hanson should have taken a page from Huffington, the sometimes erratic pundit who's at her best when she's at her most unpredictable. She gets put in the lefty column all the time now, but at least she ended the night with a nonpartisan twist, plugging for Republicans who have come out against the war and criticizing Democrats who can't form a straight sentence about it.

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From the September 28-October 4, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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