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Alan Aerts and Jim and Rachael Compagna celebrate passage of West Valley's college bond measure beneath the marquee of Aerts' backyard cinema.

The Fly: Election

From Palo Alto to the Almaden Valley, we buzzed through the parties of the political elite to find who had the best to offer this electoral season


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It started as another deadline in paradise with a double latte at the neighborhood coffee stop. Thankfully, that was walking distance from the church that serves as one of the community's cogs in the democratic process—in addition to being a drop-in center for the mentally ill. Smothered in second-hand smoke as we entered the patio where fellow Americans at picnic tables meditated over black coffee and cigarettes, we correctly surmised this was the wrong spot and located the gymnasium, where a mirrored ball and basketball hoops hovered over those newfangled electronic voting pods. The long, slow-moving line was filled with chatty neighbors, and the electrolights staffing the check-in table thoughtfully supplied cookies and donuts to sweeten the mood. As we were handed something that resembled a supermarket rewards card or hotel key, we were assured that our vote would be counted without any electronic glitches. Card bless America! We were of course encouraged by the Tuesday morning Kerry endorsement by recovering heroin addict Scott Weiland, of one of our favorite bands, Velvet Revolver. If junkies are finally opening their eyelids to the political process, maybe the election wouldn't be a nod-out after all. As the day wore on, blogsters became the news source of choice as they began calling the election for Kerry. These typists, of course, have no compunctions about reporting news before it happens, unlike the now-gunshy television networks. Bay Area technology lawyer Markos Moulitsas was one of the first to tally the Kerry victory on his Dailykos.com site, and dueled with Matt Drudge over bragging rights to the coup. As polls closed and official news sites began to color their maps, Gawker Media's Wonkette blog site was one of the first to report that Florida, one of the key states in the Kerry victory scenario, was falling to the Reeps. The Zogby poll wasn't the only prognosticator with yolk all over its face. Normally astute former legislator Jim Cuneen, now the Chamber of Commerce boss, had his knickers all in a twist over the what he believed would be the certain defeat of George W. Bush. "I thought Kerry was going to win," Cuneen admitted. "He was driving me nuts," confirmed his friend and political ally, Mike Fox. Beer man Fox dragged Fly and our limoload of political troublemakers to the world's smallest city, Monte Sereno, to celebrate the success of a bond initiative to help a college district for rich kids who can't get into four-year universities. We're mighty glad we took the ride because we got to see how the other half a percent live. The gated home of Pepsi vending machine guy Alan Aerts and his attractive wife Bonnie boasted one of the most impressive collections of fountains, reproduction statuary and silk flowers that we have ever laid eyes upon. But that's not all. We're talking signed jerseys of every major sports figure, living or dead, ancient gold coins, genuine Egyptian tomb artifacts, autographs of Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin. Prehistoric skulls. A backyard cinema with marquee and ticket window, surrounded by topiary. Bathrooms with gilded Corinthian columns. Did we leave anything out? On the way to Monte Sereno, we checked in with Fil Maresca and Debby Afraimi, who had just left Miami, where they had served as poll watchers. "Things went so smoothly," Afraimi reported. "They did everything possible to get people their vote. It was weird." Sounds suspicious to us too. The last stop was the De La Rosa party at an Almaden Valley pizza parlor, which was packed with a random assortment of local Latinos, anti-queer marriage mayoral recall advocates, shopping center owners and public safety representatives. De La Rosa pulled ahead in the squeaker just as we arrived. When his opponent was leading earlier in the evening, one wag commented that a Nancy Pyle victory would sink Pat Dando's mayoral prospects. No matter. Dando bragged, "They've offered me a job in the governor's office," but she wouldn't say which one. If Dando goes to Sacramento, that would pave the way to draft Sheriff Laurie Smith for San Jose mayor. Smith, of course, claims she wouldn't surender the best local job around. Then why's the Palo Alto resident talking about becoming a Democrat and buying a home in San Jose, where she lived for most of her adult life?


Julie Dinapoli with King David at the Aerts residence.

A Tale of Two Parties

Election night in Palo Alto was a night of contrasts. Stately cocktail drinking versus something that resembled a college tailgate party; style and pizzazz versus old-fashioned earthiness. Milk chocolate bars with the candidate's name stamped on them versus homemade goodies on paper plates. However, the little guy—Ira Ruskin, in this case—was looking to take home the prize. At midnight, his campaign staff boasted to Fly that he was ahead by four points, but his opponent had yet to concede. That opponent for District 21's assembly seat, Steve Poizner, was the same Steve Poizner who spent $5.8 million of his own gelt to run. Predictably, the candidates' parties were strikingly dissimilar. Poizner's gala was held at Palo Alto's Sheraton. Ruskin was headquartered out of the shabby Democratic Party offices just three miles down the road, next to Happy Donuts, Ernie's Liquors and Coin Wash, a local laundromat. At about 7:30pm, the Sheraton's Oak Room was still relatively empty, and Poizner supporters didn't start trickling in until close to 8. The chef for the evening, Frenchman Pierre Arcè, however, prepared a spread that ran somewhere in the the $15,000-plus range. Starbucks coffee, soda (tiny glass bottles of Coke and Sprite), water was free; alcohol required producing a wallet with some money in it. The treats for Poizner's supporters included a platter of local cheeses—goat cheese, Brie, gorgonzola, Monterey Jack, sliced fruit, Italian brouette, grilled Portobello mushrooms, smoked trout on cucumber, canapé with Brie and Napa Valley grapes, Dungeness crab salad, California sushi with pickled ginger, sea scallops wrapped with turkey bacon, coconut beer battered prawns with mango chutney and a carving station with prime rib. Down the road, Ruskin's group chowed down on KFC out of cartons, crackers, chips and salsa, and beer drunk from cans or plastic cups. DJing for Poizner was Raffi Nalvarian, an Armenian-American better known as King Raffi of Mix 106.5. It was Nalvarian's first political gig and he wasn't about to get partisan. "The bottom line is that whoever wins, their supporters are going to be happy," King Raffi told Fly when asked if Republicans party better than Democrats. "If Poizner wins, then the people here will be tearing it up." A little later, he did concede a degree of political ambivalence: "I was tired of both Bush and Kerry," he said. "I was saying on the radio, wouldn't it be a lot easier if kids ran the country?" Others at the event weren't as hesitant in taking some digs. "We're not at Barbara Boxer's party," said David Douglas, a health care venture capitalist. "That's a botox party. They're probably giving Botox injections over there." Jerry Lami, owner of Mulligan's Pub & Grill in Redwood City and an old friend of Poizner's, nodded his head in agreement. "The guy [Poizner] is a billionaire," Lami gushed. "He's got a billion dollars sitting in the bank, and I'm guessing he's making $100 million dollars a year just off the interest." Joe Simitian, easily winning a state senate seat, ambled into the party at about 9:30pm to a rousing round of applause and whistles. Minutes before, Ruskin, himself, entered the scene, but melted into the background, waiting for a Poizner concession. Simitian, sporting a golden tie, looked visibly drained. "I'm ready to call it a day," he admitted. Did he party or work more on Election Day? "I spent most of my day thanking people," Simitian cleverly responded.

Beauty and the Beast

Rebecca Cohn was at the height of her perky persona election night, hovering over a computer with aides and two of her brothers who flew in from Texas for the occasion. Cohn pronounced herself a winner even though what she calls the 8:01s were the only returns streaming to her laptop at that point. The 8:01s are the absentee ballots that are typically the first returns to be released by the Registrar's office, usually the minute after 8pm when the polls close. Cohn uses this formula to determine the winner of any election: If the 8:01s show a Democratic candidate is within 10 percent of a Republican opponent, the Democrat stands a chance for victory. If the Dem is not within 10 percent, the race is over. Cohn, who made headlines when two aides complained about being forced to help Cohn dress during a risque photo shoot last winter, was already 16 points ahead when the 8:01s were released. Cohn said she'd focus on health care and domestic violence in her third and last term. Fly asked if she intended to do any more photo shoots like the one that landed her in trouble with her aides. "I'm not even going there," she said, temporarily suspending her good mood. Meanwhile, her younger brother, Steve Wilson, held court on why Bush was considered a carpetbagger by most of his Texas brethren. Bush, for example, holds his arms away from his body as if he were about to pull a pistol from a holster. "Texans don't do that shit," he said.

Dullsville

It used to be the County Chambers was the place to be election night, back in the days when county workers scrawled returns on chalk boards arranged behind the dais. The mayor dropped by, supes roamed the aisles, the media twittered about. Not in the post-Internet age. The county building is such a dead place election night that several news stations decided not to send television cameras. No supes dropped in though several staffers had told Fly they were likely to. It's just as easy and quick to receive election returns over the Internet and television. A small idea is brewing that Santa Clara County could follow cities like San Diego and host election night parties under one roof, like the convention center. The media wouldn't have to roam far and wide for coverage and political friends and foes could associate (or be hostile to one another) in a confined space.


Rich de la Rosa and his finance chair, Mike Fox, admire an engraved piece of glass at the pizza parlor hosting RDLR's faithful.

Stoned in Boston

Early on election night, Fly phoned Santa Clara Assessor Larry Stone to find out what was happening inside the Kerry HQ. Stone, who backed Kerry for more than two years before Election Day, was optimistic about his candidate's chances, saying "even some Republicans say they've lost." Five hours later, Stone had collapsed in his Boston hotel room in a gloomy mood. "I'm licking my wounds," he grimaced. So what happened? As Stone tells it, there were no surprises. Bush won the states he was supposed to and Kerry won the states he was supposed to. The election came down to Florida and Ohio, both of which Kerry lost. Stone repeated the well-worn anxiety over Bush's future Supreme Court appointees, concluding we're in for a long four years. "This is a monumental bummer from my point of view," he says.


De la Rosa and Fox.

The Queen and the Loser

Nancy Pyle waltzed into the Democratic "victory party" at 9pm with all the confidence of a winner. But waiting for election results would drag on for the next two hours, and the carefully manicured candidate for SJ City Council District 10 would be clutching her bouquet of champagne roses in anticipation. A flock of photographers stopped her at the door, and she generously granted them bright smiles, often stopping in mid-conversation to strike a queenly pose. When Steve Preminger, chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, announced her name over the loudspeaker, the crowd thundered with applause. Fueled by the support, Pyle shot her fist into the air, hooted, and bounced her tiny body into the air. The circus inside the South Bay Labor Council hall reeked of a family barbecue. People lined up for chicken, beef, corn, salad, bread, and cookies. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber worked her way through the crowd wearing a brown suede jacket over a brown turtleneck, her long hair sweeping over her shoulders as she shook hands and gave hearty hugs. Her down-to-earth greetings contrasted to those of Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, who drifted in looking fragile in a royal blue crewneck blouse and black blazer. She patted backs and leaned forward for half-hugs, apparently afraid to displace a single wavy, dyed strand of hair. Meanwhile, on the other side of Almaden Valley, Pyle's opponent, Rich De La Rosa, schmoozed with supporters at Amato's Restaurant. Suited business people replaced most of the perky politicians at this smaller "victory" shin-dig. Dressed to impress in a silky gray suit and gold-tinted tie, De La Rosa wasn't as adept at hiding his fatigue. He bent and twisted to shake people's hands, but the tension evident in his jaw and the edge in his nasal laugh betrayed him. "He's been up since 3am," his wife Misty explained. Someone handed him a paper cup filled with cola, which he sipped briefly and carried around for the next half hour. De La Rosa trailed Pyle by four points for much of the evening, and the votes creeping in later than usual began to close that gap. For all the excitement of the evening, De La Rosa shied away from the cameras. A young newspaper photographer trailed him through the tight crowd, snapping dozens of pictures and missing a straight shot of his face. Finally his wife pressed him, "Come on Rich, look at me so this lady can take a picture of you." He glanced at her lense for one second and then shifted his body. "I don't like photos," he said with an awkward laugh. Ironic that he played the annoyed loser, because only an hour later, the county's election website revealed he'd won the election by 183 votes.


Correction: In this column, the impression was given that state Senator Joe Simitian walked into Steve Poizner's party on election night. That was not the case. Simitian walked into Ira Ruskin's election night party. Fly apologizes for the confusion.


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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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