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Where Am I? Bustamante ticks off Tropicana merchants.

Public Eye

The Deflectorator

In the days leading up to Tuesday's recall election, Cruz Bustamante stopped by San Jose on his "Polaroid Tour" to impress the locals with the magic of instant film. Instead, the absent-minded Democrat underwhelmed commercial tenants of the Tropicana Shopping Center with his professed ignorance of their huge dispute with the city. "I don't know the local issues," Bustamante said when asked for his opinion on the Tropicana-redevelopment issue. "Why is he coming to my community if he doesn't understand my issues?" demanded hopping mad Dennis Fong, the lawsuit bringer and owner of the Tropicana property that the city repeatedly voted to give to someone else. Bustamante, an uneasy combination of self-deprecation and smugness ("I don't look good in hats. I don't look good without hats," he said, refusing to try on a sombrero during his ethnic bonding tour), had perhaps missed or ignored the Coalition for Redevelopment Reform's anti-RDA signs, which followed him around the ambiguously-fated strip mall. "I think this is a very big local issue," RDA foe Loraine Wallace Rowe told Eye after watching Bustamante's duck. "It's also a state issue. ... The whole issue of eminent domain is national." Of course, Wallace Rowe, a Republican, likely wouldn't have supported Bustamante even if he had grabbed one of those anti-RDA signs and batted the RDA board around with it. Bustamante, however, failed in his apparent mission to make an enemy out of everyone. Lucy Mendoza, daughter of San Jose Menswear owner José Mendoza and supporter of the existing tenants, for instance, planned to vote for him despite his disappointing statement. Assemblymember Manny Diaz stood by him as well. "I don't think he's been groping any women," the red-light runner told Eye. "He really cares about all communities in California. He's a champion of immigrants." The Tropicana is located in Diaz's district; nevertheless, like Bustamante, Diaz takes no position on whether the city has the right to use eminent domain to seize it. He explains, "This is an issue between the owner here and the city." Despite repeated calls to Bustamante central, it remains unclear why campaign consultants chose to send their candidate to a center of controversy without prepping him on the local hubbub.

Running Men

Building trades union boss Neil Struthers (a.k.a. Mr. Nora Campos), real estate consultant Pete Carrillo and redevelopment welfare mother Jerry Hunt may be keyed into the local political machine. But when the law comes a-calling, these members of the establishment start a-running. Attorneys Bradley and Norm Matteoni, the daughter-father team going to bat for the Tropicana merchants in the eminent domain suit against the city, tried to serve Struthers, Carrillo and Hunt with subpoenas and haul them into court. But sources say the men have all been dodging the process server. "Neil Struthers is definitely evading the server," says Kimberly Lutjen, owner of Kimberly Lutjen Process Service in Los Gatos. "At the resident's address the wife is saying he's not there." As for Hunt, of Blake Hunt Ventures, the beneficiary of the City Council's efforts to redevelop the Tropicana, "He's an issue." Lutjen says her crew continues to chase him down. "Pete Carrillo did get served," Lutjen notes. "But we had to change the date on the subpoena three times." She confirmed that at one point Carrillo drove off in a car and escaped the process server. "Basically, she was trying to stop him and running after the car. He saw her and knew that she was running after him." Carrillo denies fleeing from the process server. "I don't know what she's talking about," he tells Eye. "I've been served. She came in last Wednesday or Thursday and that's the first time I've seen her in my life." Hunt and Struthers did not return Eye's calls. Eye caught up with Tropicana property owner Dennis Fong Monday morning, Oct. 6, at the Superior Court, where his attorney Bradley Matteoni expected to give her opening statement. "If they don't have anything to hide, why are they hiding?" said Fong, who's always good for a quote.

Chasing Ashcroft

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has set out on damage control duty to deflect concerns about questionable parts of the Patriot Act (more wiretapping, less paper trail ... ). Lofgren posits that scattershot criticisms aimed at everyone responsible for passing the legislation should actually be channeled toward getting rid of Attorney General John Ashcroft. The controversal law is one which Lofgren, Rep. Anna Eshoo and 355 other House members supported. (Congressmember Mike Honda, who was interned as a baby during a previous period of anti-foreigner hysteria opposed it.) Last week Eye reported that she was unavailable by presstime to explain how her views may have evolved since the congressmember, normally a civil libertarian, joined the large majority of representatives in the U.S. Legislature in passing the Patriot Act ("Patriot Whacked," Oct. 2). This week, the House Judiciary Committee member made herself available.

She doesn't apologize for supporting the anti-terrorism policies, which expanded law enforcement officials' authority to monitor, search and detain potential terrorists. But she calls the act "problematic." ... "The measure was considered by Congress just a few weeks after the attacks," she says. "It became quite clear to me that anything proposed was going to pass." Lofgren adds, "Politically, it would have been better for me to vote no. But then I wouldn't have gotten a chance to put in the sunset law." She takes credit for the fact that law has an expiration date, which was extended by two years against her wishes to December 2005. "Strategically, how do you deal with a problematic measure?" she asks. "I think we have something that's less draconian because of what I did." She also asserts that the law contains useful provisions. For instance, its Section 220 makes it easier to obtain a search warrant, and Lofgren likes the heightened scrutiny on illegal trespassing across the Canadian-U.S. border. But in response to all of the government resolutions and community forums airing concerns about the discriminatory tendencies of the Patriot Act, Lofgren concludes that, "It's a mistake to focus just on the legislation." Instead, she wants to wage a political coup against Attorney General Ashcroft by supporting Democratic presidential candidate and Ashcroft critic Howard Dean. "Ashcoft is running amok," Lofgren says. "He's interfering with prosecutorial issues, covering up [selective use of Patriot Act statutes] ... the guy is a piece of work."

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From the October 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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