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Private Parts: After losing his bid for the Sunnyvale City Council, Michael Szymanski went into hiding. "Since I resigned from the public venue, I care little about what the public thinks."

Handle With Care

Beware the fragile psyches of small-town politicians when faced with a touch of controversy. Witness the touchiness of thin-skinned Sunnyvale politicos Michael Szymanski and Mayor Stan Kawczynski. ... After losing a tough battle for City Council to Julia Miller earlier this month, Szymanski accused Miller of running a smear campaign, spreading falsehoods and planting them in the local rag, The Sunnyvale Sun, a Metro Newspapers publication. (Before the election, allegations surfaced that Szymanski used gender and age to compare his qualifications with Miller's while speaking at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.) While Szymanski blames the Sun for his downfall, a top supporter blames his defeat on the candidate's impersonal campaign style. Szymanski obviously suspected the worst on election night, when he hid out and didn't return calls. ... The Monday following the election, Szymanski abruptly resigned from the Planning Commission. When a Sun reporter tried to get a comment from him, Szymanski replied via email, "I would be happy to talk to you if I felt there was any reason to do so. Since I have resigned from the public venue, I care little about what the public thinks." At press time, Eye was hearing rumblings that Szymanski still cared enough to be thinking about asking for a recount. ... Then there's the irascible Kawczynski (no relation to the Unabomber). His critics recently filed a seemingly flimsy complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, accusing the goodly mayor of renting a house at a sweetheart rate from the influential Olson family, who have had several projects come before the city in recent years. As a Sun reporter discovered (and dutifully reported in a page 5 story), the house is actually owned by landlord Caroline Musso, not the Olsons. The Stan man indignantly called the complaint a "witch hunt" and hyperbolically accused the Sun reporter of being a "stalkerazzi." Puh-leeze. Needless to say, he didn't return Eye's call.


System Failure

Could the murder of 25-year-old Gina Barnett of Healdsburg have been prevented? Women's rights activists up north say yes, and are pointing an accusatory finger at Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins for being too soft on wife-beaters. Police believe that Barnett's abusive ex-husband, James Nivette, 54, shot her 13 times and abandoned their toddler son, Tyler, on a San Bruno street. Nivette has a history of domestic violence and was on probation for beating Barnett at the time of the murder. As reported by the Sonoma County Independent, a sister paper to METRO, a local judge earlier this year granted Nivette a conditional dismissal on the recommendation of the D.A.'s office--despite Nivette's violent history. It's not the first time Mullins' office has been criticized for pulling its punches when dealing with wife-beaters. Last year, in the fallout after the murder of Maria Teresa Macias by her estranged husband, Attorney General Dan Lungren blasted the Sonoma County D.A. for his flawed handling of domestic-violence cases. Mullins promised to make reforms, such as stopping the practice of conditional dismissals--like the one granted Nivette this year--where offenders forgo court-ordered counseling or probationary supervision. "This most recent failure of the district attorney's office is not an aberration," says Marie DeSantis of the Santa Rosa-based Women Against Rape.


Nobody Wuvs Me

A month ago, an acquaintance prodded Councilman David Pandori for the scoop on whether his old boss, Tom McEnery, would run for mayor again. "Why doesn't anyone ever ask me that question?" Pandori reportedly replied. His interlocutor insists that Pandori was merely displaying his self-effacing dry wit, not jealous resentment. Nevertheless, no one in the know has ever really considered the antisocial Pandori a serious mayoral contender, except perhaps Pandori himself. Word around City Hall is that Pandori used to complain to Mercury News reporters if they wrote a political story without mentioning him as a possible mayoral candidate. (He's apparently chilled out on that front, though.) He jokingly tells Eye that he plans to stage a one-man civil disobedience protest against term limits next year by refusing to leave his City Hall office. "Heck no, I won't go," Pandori says he'll chant, chained to his desk.


Blessed Are the Troublemakers

Bless the troublemakers at the Proposition 103 Enforcement Project, a consumer watchdog group that has made a living needling Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and his department. This time the good folks at the project have uncovered hundreds of dollars in gifts from insurance-industry lobbyists that the Quackster's deputies apparently forgot to report. Their omissions were discovered because insurance-industry lobbyists were good enough to remember to report the giving of the gifts, as required by law. ... The award for most amusing omission goes to Deputy Commissioner William Palmer. According to records gathered by the Proposition 103 Project, the Association of California Life Insurance Companies paid Palmer $35 for baby-sitting fees so he could attend an ACLIC event at Pebble Beach. Greg Butler, a former deputy commissioner, forgot to disclose a $200 gift from an insurance lobbyist for a Pebble Beach golf outing. Tony Gonzales, a spokesman for the Dept. of Insurance, says that he and others are investigating the charges and have already found a couple of errors. Gonzales promises they'll make things right with the FPPC. ... Even with the scandals that have plagued Quackenbush's administration, few, if any, Democrats appear to be considering taking on the well-heeled Republican. The only name being mentioned with any frequency is Jeff Smith, a Contra Costa County Demo who ran for state Senate last year.


Frank Praise

What's this--U.S. Reep Tom Campbell a Frankophile? Not quite, but his comments at last week's Rotary Club meeting sparked some whispers. P.R. whiz Dan Orloff cleverly asked the Campster what qualities he thought are important for the next mayor of San Jose to possess. The ex-Stanford professor then proceeded to pay high compliments to only one of the prospective mayoral candidates by name, elder statesman Frank Fiscalini. Many insiders have simply assumed that Campbell would throw his support behind fellow Republican Pat Dando. (Fiscalini's a "Decline to State.") They forget that Campbell was one of Fiscalini's major endorsers when he ran in 1990. Still, Campbell's political adviser, Amber Henninger, tells Eye that the congressman hasn't endorsed anyone yet. "It's way too early. We don't even know who's going to be in the race."


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From the November 26-December 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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