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Photograph by Michael Belkin

Witness This: Supe McHugh has a dream.

Public Eye


Backlash against post-9/11 civil liberties violations can actually be a political plus in Santa Clara County, and County Supe Pete McHugh, who hails from multiethnic Milpitas, knows this well. He spent a political moment at a Sept. 25 forum at the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara to "witness" personal testimonies about human rights abuses experienced by certain minorities under Attorney General John Ashcroft's leadership. Canned San Jose Airport screener Jaime Escober, 69, told a heart-wrenching story about how he aced increasingly rigorous job testing. But he lost his position anyway, because, like most people who were working as screeners, he wasn't a citizen. Mexican immigrant Maria (no last name given) recounted her 11-year career as a janitor in the United States and how she was fired after 9/11 amid the xenophobic hysteria. Then, after finding another job, her value had mysteriously declined from $12 an hour to $8 an hour. Fairux Abdullah read the personal account from a woman called Ms. A, who claims the Mountain View Police pulled her over for a broken taillight, then, after noticing she had some foreign money in her purse from a work trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, grabbed her arm so hard she was left with a huge purple bruise. They arrested her and questioned her about her religion and other nontaillight-related things for two hours, Abdullah said. McHugh says he responded to these and other stories with "basically a feeling of anger and shame. ... What we have to do, and this forum is a great example, is speak up," McHugh added, steadily turning up the grandiose-ometer. If we don't speak up, "it really will be another internment. ... We're in danger of losing the dream!" To McHugh's credit, he was the only invited politician who showed up on time. Manny Diaz arrived fashionably late. (Memo to Manny: Stopping for red lights is a fine idea. Keep up the good driving!) Though invited, South Bay Labor chief Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Councilwoman Cindy Chavez and Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan didn't make it. But McHugh, who is the only one of these electeds facing the end of his term in 2004, should naturally be in campaign mode. Is he? "Oh, absolutely," says campaign consultant Vic Ajlouny. "We've been campaigning and throwing fundraisers since January. ... We're doing all these different ethnic groups."

S.J. Law

Mayor Ron Gonzales has a busy court calendar. Maybe. He's supposed to be in San Jose family court on Oct. 8 to finish ironing out those unresolved divorce issues (mostly, how much money does he have to share with his ex-wife, former hairdresser Alvina Gonzales). But the date, which is a private affair before a mediator, keeps getting postponed, so we'll see. Meanwhile, in other mayor-justice news, the city is arguing against letting the attorneys for the Tropicana Shopping Center tenants call in Gonzales and the City Council members during the trial, which is finally starting. One of the reasons things are taking so long is that the case is on its fourth judge. The tenants' attorneys objected to one, another recused herself and the city attorney just got rid of the third judge in favor of Gregory Ward. Rumblings in the courtroom last week suggested the city exhibited anti-Asian behavior by ousting a judge whose last name is Chang. "There's been speculation in the general public audience about that," says Tropicana attorney Bradley Matteoni, who says she doesn't believe the city was being racist. But back to the dragging on of Gonzo's court cases. As of presstime, it's undecided whether the mayor will have to state his thoughts on taking the shopping center from one owner and giving it to another.


Patriot Whacked

During a district visit in August Zoe Lofgren freely volunteered that "Bush's basic policies are so out of step with mainstream America." Lofgren's outspoken opposition to the president's agenda, however, stops short of hammering on the most controversial domestic piece--the so-called Patriot Act. Perhaps that's because the U.S. congressmember cast one of the 357 votes in the House that overwhelmingly approved the federal government's massive expansion of its probing, surveillance and detention powers. But how does the San Jose beltway voice feel now that 178 government bodies across the country, including the Santa Clara County Supes, and the Los Gatos, Mountain View and, as of last week, San Jose city councils, have each passed a resolution challenging the Patriot Act? According to spokesperson Christine Glunz, Lofgren "has a pretty interesting perspective on all of this." But she was flying across the country and couldn't be reached for comment by this week's deadline. Despite an invite, she also was missing at the "People's Truth" forum in Santa Clara. So she missed those immigrants and other ethnically disenfranchised constituents talking about their predisposition to fielding civil liberties violations worsening in the Post-Patriot Act era. Others who have spoken out with concerns about this include Sen. John Burton, who in August scribbled a resolution against certain Patriot Act provisions, which now sits in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a 2004 hearing. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer just started complaining about it too while lecturing the Palo Alto Bar Association. Mountain View's Mayor R. Michael Kasperzak Jr. fired off a letter to Patriot General John Ashcroft on Sept. 22 requesting "further review" of certain "objectionable provisions" in the executive order. On Sept. 23, San Jose Council Reep Pat Dando voted against dogging the Patriot Act. Everyone else on the council supported a resolution to "affirm its strong support for fundamental constitutional rights and its opposition to the provisions of the Act that infringe on important civil liberties." Perhaps Lofgren plans to explain what she's doing to address local concerns about Congress' Orwellian behavior when she returns to San Jose for three town hall meetings on Oct. 11.

Going, Going, Gong

Falun Gong practitioners in the South Bay were at it again last week. The practitioners, despite their lack of numbers, are perhaps more organized--politically and socially--than any other dissident expatriate group in the area (MetroNews, "Falun Idols," March 13, 2003). As a result, several government officials officially recognized last week, Sept. 21 to Sept. 27, as Falun Dafa Week by issuing proclamations. Among the notables who gave speeches last Wednesday at the Santa Clara County Plaza were San Jose Councilmembers Chuck Reed and Forrest Williams and Saratoga Councilmember Stan Bogosian. The festivities included traditional music (a cellist), singing and dancing--"It was a really good turnout," practitioner Steve Ispas says happily. Falun Gong is a practice of meditation and exercises that is banned in its country of origin, China. The most pressing human rights case for South Bay practitioners is that of Charles Li, a Menlo Park doctor and naturalized American citizen who was arrested for sabotaging state-owned broadcast facilities while on a visit to China (Falun Gong advocates dispute the charge). Li is currently serving a three-year sentence in China and has claimed in a letter to family members that he has been beaten and deprived of sleep while in prison.

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From the October 2-8, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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