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Lavase las Manos: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other gubernatorial aspirants are staying neutral for now on the anti-bilingual education initiative.

Double Talk

It definitely took some cojones for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Al Checchi to come out so early against a proposed initiative abolishing bilingual education last month. The controversial initiative--which has been popular in recent media polls--promises to be next year's Prop. 187 or Prop. 209, and politicians are being extra-cautious. Other gubernatorial hopefuls like Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Attorney General Dan Lungren all are straddling the border-crossing for now, taking no formal position. It seems the moderate Checchi--whose polling numbers barely register on the political scoreboard--is taking a calculated left turn from his centrist course to woo the state's Latino vote, though a recent Los Angeles Times poll showed 84 percent of Latinos support the initiative. Checchi's ploy may appeal to Latino activists who haven't been overly fond of Feinstein, the race's unofficial frontrunner, because of her enthusiasm for border patrols. Checchi, however, still says the state's bilingual education system needs to be overhauled--he just wouldn't get rid of it entirely. ... One gubernatorial aspirant who isn't hedging his bets on the initiative is John Vasconcellos. Next week the headstrong state senator is sponsoring a forum called "Bilingualism: Key to the Future." Speaking of Vasco, the latest word coming out of his camp is that his exploratory run for governor is not exactly setting the political landscape afire. But according to one pal, boosters want Vasco to stay in the mix in case Feinstein chooses not to run (and instead fixates on being Al Gore's running mate in 2000). ... An interesting aside: Feinstein's local monolingual ally, mayoral candidate Ron Gonzales, reveals that he doesn't have a position on the aforementioned initiative yet. "I'm doing a great deal of research on it and plan to talk to some local educators in the community." Watch what Gonzales does. In a city with a huge Mexican population, Gonzales no doubt benefits from his Spanish surname in the primary, though he's carefully avoided conspicuously milking his heritage.

Bye, Gary

After 15 months of soul-searching, the Merc and "Dark Alliance" reporter Gary Webb have finally agreed to part ways, sources tell Eye. The Merc settled a grievance that Webb filed with the San Jose Newspaper Guild, the terms of which union officials say are confidential. The fallout began soon after Webb was named "Journalist of the Year" by the Society of Professional Journalists in 1996. First-tier national newspapers, scrambling to catch up to the story, questioned the assertion that the CIA could have started the crack epidemic or that top spooks even knew about the crack-for-arms deals. In May, Merc editor Jerry Ceppos wrote an editorial explaining the series' "shortcomings," which ironically took another SPJ award. After the editorial, Webb told Eye he was sitting on a stack of followup stories the Merc refused to publish. Ceppos removed Webb from the national desk in Sacramento and banished him to a bureau in Cupertino. As of presstime, Webb was not answering either phone--too busy booking speaking engagements, perhaps, or writing a screenplay for Oliver Stone.

See You in Court

Two weeks ago county assessor Larry Stone sent out an unusual campaign fundraising letter to the landed gentry warning them of a "serious problem" threatening the independence of his office. The "serious problem" is named Supervisor Jim Beall. In the missive, Stone beckons his supporters to send up to $500 each for his re-election campaign and a pseudo legal defense fund to combat Beall's "personal political agenda" and "defend the integrity of the assessment roll" in Superior Court. Stone tells Eye that he won't let Beall-friendly auditors look at his tax rolls without a court order. Stone suspects Beall wants to use the results of a pending audit by the Harvey Rose Corp. to pressure him to jack up property taxes on thousands of properties that got rollbacks during the recession. He also thinks the firm is trying to line up a permanent post for itself as auditor. Ultimately, though the Board of Supervisors can order an audit, Beall and the board can't legally force the assessor to raise taxes, according to Stone. "Curiously, this issue of underassessments arose soon after I announced my candidacy for re-election in 1998," Stone wrote supporters. "Possibly supervisor Beall is looking for a new assessor he can influence." ... Meanwhile, Big Jim's not taking too kindly to Stone's double-barreled assault. "I guess the campaign season has arrived here," Beall sniffs. "Some people will say anything to raise money, whether it's true or not." Board-hired auditor Roger Mialocq just issued a memo pointing out that the audit of the assessor's office was originally requested by ex-supe Mike Honda and approved by the board in 1994--before Beall was elected. As for the chances that the squabble lands in court, that depends upon what the board does at its Dec. 9 meeting. But judging from Stone's emerging taxpayers-against-politicians theme, he's more worried about the court of public opinion.

Missing in Action

The downtown Zanotto's Family Market has only been open a couple of months now, but already some 75 of the store's original 100 shopping carts have been stolen. According to assistant store manager Cary Kolm, the downtown market has been forced to import carts from other Zanotto's markets. So who are these cart-stealing culprits? "I'm not sure," Kolm says. "It could be a professional thief ring, where people break them down and sell the parts for scrap." Bill Carlson, the charitable owner of nearby Bella Mia Restaurant, has another theory: They were converted into "homeless mobile homes." ... "If they go down to St. James Park," the cagey Carlson suggests, "they'll find all the [missing] carts."

Bloody Sun Day

Will former Santa Clara Mayor Eddie Souza run for public office again? Souza-watchers speculate that he is. Souza has played a high-profile role fighting Sun Microsystems' project at the historic Agnews site, showing up at council meetings, talking to reporters and collecting signatures for a referendum. But Santa Clara's clown political prince, who ran against Aldyth Parle for City Council last year and lost, says loose talk about his political career is being spread by Sun propagandists. "No way I'm running. That's a ploy by the other side to get people to stop supporting what we're doing." ... Opponents of the Sun project have collected more than 6,000 signatures to force a referendum and let voters decide the project's fate. The registrar still must check and verify the signatures for authenticity. If they check out, the Sun project will go on next year's ballot--a delay that in itself scuttles Sun's fast-track demolition and relocation schedule.

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From the December 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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