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Portfolio Play

At least one former Mercury News employee has a novel idea how to send a message to the Knight Ridder news organization, which owns the Merc and about 40 other papers across the continent. With Merc managers forcing some retired employees to pay full insurance costs, SYLVIA LANG, a special projects writer and editor who retired in July, is proposing retirees join her in dumping shares of Knight Ridder stock, currently trading near $67. "I ask you to join me in doing the same," Lang wrote in an email sent to as many former employees as she was able to contact, which was only 23. "The best way to fight greed is to hit the greedy where it hurts the most—the pocketbook." Knight Ridder seems to be doing fine. The communications company's $545 million ad revenue for the past quarter was $1.7 million more than forecast by industry analysts. But perhaps because revenue is down at the Merc, the paper has cut frills like giving out Thanksgiving turkeys and free popcorn. The paper is currently in negotiations with the San Jose Newspaper Guild over health insurance for current and past employees. (See, "Rewriting the News," Sept. 15.) Trapped in the middle are about 80 employees who opted to take early retirement. Their insurance premiums are expected to increase from 10 percent to 100 percent under the Merc's current proposal. Will a stock dump help? Probably not. Knight Ridder trades about half a million shares of stock per day. If former employees were to dump even several thousand shares, it would barely nick one day's trading price. It is also possible that dumping the stock might backfire, especially for retirees whose stock is connected to retirement plans or who aren't ready to pay capital-gains taxes. For those reasons, retirees have balked at Lang's proposal, much to her frustration. She is planning to sell her home in West Point in order to move to a city within the coverage area of Kaiser Permanente, whose policy is cheaper than that of her current provider. She also vows to sell her Knight Ridder stock, all 35 shares, after Jan. 1, if Merc managers are successful in pushing health costs onto early retirees.

Dems' Revenge

Democrats aren't quite as peeved as they were in 2000. But they're still calling on the General Accounting Office to investigate claims of voter fraud and irregularities in this year's election. Last month, the South Bay Labor Council, which doubles as the region's de facto Democratic Party, voted unanimously to join congressional Democrats, led by Michigan Rep. JOHN CONYERS, in asking the GAO to investigate. Dems say more than 30,000 election complaints warrant a report. After Thanksgiving, the GAO agreed to investigate allegations of voter fraud.

Whither Reed?

In July, District 4 Councilman CHUCK REED told reporters he'd decide by September whether he would run to become the 64th mayor of San Jose. That month has come and gone but Reed has remained mum on his decision. Until now. Reed's answer is ... that he's postponed a decision until after the holidays. Reed allowed himself an extended deadline because the Assembly voted last session to return the state's primary to its original date, from March back to June, which means city elections will also return to the June time frame. Reed says he's received positive feedback about a run but is worried about the stress a (no doubt) contentious campaign will put on his family, mostly his wife, PAULA. "I'm a family-first kind of guy," beams the Chuckster.

Dando Done?

Rumor of the week is that District 10 Councilmember PAT DANDO is out of the mayor's race. One theory: Dando lost faith in her campaign team, headed by consultant TAB BERG, after Berg failed to help RICH DE LA ROSA win her seat—despite a 12-point lead coming out of last spring's primary. The normally reliable Dando failed to return phone calls.

Gary the Greek

Prognosticating is an inexact science—just ask all those football forecasters whose winning percentage is below par week in and week out. Even so, some of Merc columnist GARY RICHARDS' pre-election predictions show just how tough crystal-ball gazing can be. In an Oct. 26 sidebar to a story about the prospects of future BART funding, Richards, who writes the popular Mr. Roadshow column, predicted the odds were against five California counties passing transportation measures—Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Marin and San Diego—because they wouldn't meet the 66 percent threshold needed to pass. The sidebar was part of a larger piece warning that if measures in 10 counties across the state passed, that would be bad news for Santa Clara County, where a majority—but not a supermajority—of voters favor additional transportation taxes. Those taxes are important if BART is ever to extend to downtown San Jose. If too many counties pass trans taxes by a supermajority, the thinking went, supporters of lowering the threshold to a simple majority would no longer have reason to move forward. As fate would have it, of the five counties Richards said would likely fail, only Santa Cruz didn't pass the 66 percent threshold. (Overall, seven of 10 counties passed the tax by the higher threshold.) Richards says he based his estimate on the valuations of pundits across the state, whose guesses were based on history and other factors. Marin County, for example, has a history of shooting down transportation taxes. Two others, San Diego and Sonoma, passed by the slimmest of margins. Even so, if you look at the bulk of Richards' predictions, he was correct on six of the 10 counties, or a 60 percent success rate, much better than his colleagues in the sports pages.

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From the December 8-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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