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Putting the Race in DA Race

When Deputy District Attorney CHRIS ARRIOLA, president-elect of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, openly criticized Chief Assistant DA KAREN SINUNU's efforts to diversify the public office this summer, he unwittingly launched an email battle that brought campaign politics to the workplace. Arriola took the upcoming DA race between Sinunu and Assistant DA MARC BULLER as an opportunity to make his concerns public. In June, he sent a message to a few friends and family, saying, "I do believe the only candidate who 'gets it' on diversity is Marc Buller and for that reason I am giving him my support." Buller would be the first Latino DA in local history, and Arriola believes he will do more than Sinunu has in improving racial diversity among attorneys who represent a county that is more than half minority. In fairness, Sinunu could be the first non-male DA in a county that's half female. "Karen may be an able administrator, but she simply does not take making our office more representative seriously," Arriola wrote. Sinunu has been the hiring coordinator for the past 10 years, and Arriola said in his email that less than 20 percent of the attorneys are Latino, Asian or African American. Only three people of color occupy the 15 managerial positions, less than five attorneys speak Spanish or Vietnamese, and there have been no official efforts to recruit more minorities. He says he thought the numbers would speak for themselves, but Sinunu took the message as a personal E-attack. "To say that I lack a serious commitment to a representative office impugns my integrity by calling into question everything thing I have done to increase office diversity. It is a recklessly ignorant and false statement," she wrote in her five-page response. Sinunu then compiled a packet of information, including a "diversity snapshot" of the attorney staff that has some questioning her tactics, mainly because she separated Middle-Eastern, Jewish and Portuguese from the Caucasian category to boost the appearance of nonwhite attorneys. Racial/ethnic minorities recognized by the U.S. census (Hispanic, African American and Asian) actually make up only 22 percent of the office. Sinunu says these numbers are better than they statistically should be because only 17 percent of California lawyers were Latino, Asian or African American in 2001. Still, the public defenders office has managed to build a staff that is nearly 42 percent minority. Arriola thinks the DA's office could try harder and, despite her rather strong initial reply, he says he is encouraged by Sinunu's recent efforts to contact minority law associations. The two will be attending a diversity conference together later this month.

Not Easy Being Red

For Monte Sereno resident CAROLYN WHITAKER, being a conservative Republican in the South Bay isn't easy. "I don't dare put a bumper sticker on lest my car is keyed," she says, adding that her wealthy neighbors have stooped so low as to kick down political signs she posts in her front yard. The outgoing woman spouts ultraconservative opinions with a broad white smile and jokes about illegal immigration with zingers like: "Why clean up the bodies? Leave 'em there to scare the others off." This comment seemed, weirdly enough, not out of place at a recent ASSOCIATION OF REPUBLICAN WOMEN meeting held at the Almaden Country Club. About 50 women, all white and over 40, gathered over breakfast to discuss the perils of illegal immigration that is supposedly draining California's coffers. Remember now, only a month ago, many community groups and public officials fiercely protested the idea of the Minutemen being invited to a local debate, calling them vigilantes that have no authority to talk about immigration. But here, in this plush meeting room just 10 miles south of downtown San Jose, a group of right-wing cheerleaders have invited State Assemblyman RAY HAYNES from San Diego to talk about his campaign for a state-led border police force. Many of the Minutemen participants come from his district, and he says they are harmless senior citizens with lawn chairs and binoculars. He might as well have been recruiting "Minutewomen" at this shindig, with all the gasping at what "illegal Mexicans" are doing to American society. ARW member JUNE FROMM says her group's goal is to stay informed and help elect Republicans. Presenters like Haynes keep them "on their toes," she says. But with only 10 GOP candidates running in upcoming elections across the county, these ladies still have a long way to go.

Old and in the Way

Mountain View gadfly DON LETCHER describes the racket at recent City Council meetings as "flamboyant protest" by senior citizens who are calling their politicians "deceptive" and "dishonest." What's all the fuss about? Well, the city plans to build a day care center in Rengstorff Park, on a shady green acre that neighbor PETER MESSINA says is the "nicest area in the park." He says he visits every day to get some peace and quiet, and sees hundreds of other seniors, adults and children doing the same every week. So he doesn't understand why the city wants gobble up a piece of open space for a private day care center that costs $1,000 a month per kid. BARBARA GOODWIN, a member of the RAGING GRANNIES, got 250 people to sign a petition against the development, tied the pages on a string like toilet paper, and "shook them" in the faces of city leaders. But they said it was too late. Councilman MICHAEL KASPERZAK told the activists 250 signatures didn't represent 73,000 Mountain View residents. "We have a process," he added, "and it's time to move on." Councilman TOM MEANS says the location of the day care center has been discussed since 2000 and was approved in 2002 after many public meetings and 1,800 notification letters. Community concerns, he says, should have been raised earlier. But Goodwin and Letcher claim many of the neighbors weren't properly notified and the specific location of the day care center was muddled in a lengthy planning document. Letcher hopes that by making enough noise, protesters may delay a $2.8 million loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation loan that will help fund the day care center. Foundation spokesman CHRIS DECARDY says the loan was approved in concept earlier this year and has only final paperwork to go through. New concerns about its purpose, he says, would only be discussed in private with the city.

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From the October 26-November 1, 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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