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Kill the Messenger: County Supe Blanca Alvarado chews out local reporters.

Public Eye

Call Me Crazy

County Supe Blanca Alvarado, a family woman who posts pictures of her grandkids on her website, has turned her attention to another family unit--Sharon and Frank Sweeney. Eyewatchers may know that Frank is a general assignment reporter for the Mercury News, but probably don't know that his wife Sharon is a pilot. Alvarado's chief of staff Sylvia Gallegos called Sharon on Tuesday, Nov. 19, not to discuss travel plans or send holiday greetings, but to talk about an airport expansion article that hubby Frank wrote. The conversation did not go well. In response to Gallegos' call, Sharon fired off a letter dated Nov. 25 to Alvarado. "Your aide began to criticize my husband's reporting and made several derogatory remarks about him. Since when has it become the business of county employees to harass private citizens?" she asked. A good question, Eye thinks. Another interesting question Sharon raised in her letter: "I don't know if your aide called me and made these complaints on her own or at your request. If she did it on her own, it's unprofessional. If she did it with your knowledge, it's unconscionable." Sharon's husband Frank confirmed that his wife did indeed send the letter after receiving what she considered to be "an insulting" call from Gallegos. But he tells Eye he hasn't had any luck soliciting an explanation. "I have no idea what their complaints are because, like I say, they haven't returned my phone calls," he says. ... "That's utterly rubbish," Gallegos says in response. "He has never called our office." She, on the other hand, did call Frank's house and talk with his wife, she admits. She says she made the call to verify "a rumor" that Frank, who covers pilots and aviation, is married to Sharon, who is a pilot, which in her opinion creates a conflict of interest in his reporting. "Obviously, I dispute the allegations that [Sharon Sweeney] makes in the letter," Gallegos says. "I mean, it's preposterous for anyone to suggest that I would indicate that we would sic the county executive on them." She's referring to Sharon Sweeney's claim in her letter that Gallegos told Sweeney, "The County Executive is watching you and your husband." Anyhoo, Gallegos also tells Eye, "We have a number of concerns about the objectivity of" Frank Sweeney's articles. The Alvarado camp is so concerned that Alvarado followed up by writing a six-page letter dated Nov. 27 to the Merc's prez and publisher Joe Natoli "to raise my gave concerns about the journalistic objectivity of your reporter, Frank Sweeney." She deconstructed some of his articles, criticizing his word choices, the sources quoted and omitted and the number of paragraphs devoted to specific ideas. "The entire article is one long recitation of pilots' views on the Master Plan," she said of the Nov. 18 story. Eye's calls to Natoli for a response were not returned by presstime. "I think they're going to share our concerns," speculates Gallegos, "because I've already talked to the assignment editor." Yowza.

Main Mann

City Hall newcomer Terry Gregory called the press last week to give a polite heads-up about his decision to hire Craig Mann, a member of the East Side Union High School District Board, as Gregory's new chief of staff. Why Mann? There are competing theories. Theory No. 1: because he has a policy background, Gregory tells Eye, and is "a trusted soul." "I'm very, very passionate about public service," says Mann, who proved his love by acting as the chair of San Jose's Human Rights Commission from 1995 to 1998 (one year longer than the term limit had permitted before he helped change the rules) and was a member of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee back when it was an office mate to the South Bay Labor Council. Mann, 43, was born and raised in Oakland, but earned his bachelor's and master's business degrees locally at San Jose State University and the University of Phoenix, respectively. He volunteered on Gregory's council campaign and says he's worked well with Gregory in the past. The two high-profile, politically oriented men bonded as members of school boards. Gregory was on the Franklin-McKinley board, which falls within the East Side Union District, where Mann says he'll continue to serve. Eye worried that this might be bad news for Rick Callendar, who supported Gregory's opponent, Ed Voss, in the recent race for the District 7 City Council seat and also went up against Mann in 1998 when both were on the Human Rights Commission. But, no, he supports Mann. "We've kissed and made up," Callendar says. "I think that's actually probably a good choice," he adds. "I'm never going to complain when we have a high-ranking African American." As for Mann, he says about his impending move to Gregory's office, "Oh, heck, I'm pretty excited." Well, sure. That brings us to theory No. 2. One Eye source says that Mann was laid off from his last job and that he survived just 90 days before Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME), a Bay Area business and science consortium that teaches teachers how to provide workforce training, let him go during budget cuts. That left him jobless for a month, the source says. Mann confirms that his "tenure was truncated due to business necessity." Perhaps hiring an unemployed Mann is Gregory's first pro-labor move as the incoming councilmember who has been given the task of tipping the balance in the labor lobby's favor. Or maybe he's just helping out a pal.

The Roasted Becomes the Roaster

George Shirakawa Jr. stole his own show on Dec. 10 with an uncensored rebuttal to his going-away roast. The get-out celebration in honor of Shirakawa's eight years on San Jose's City Council took place at the San Jose Stage Company on South First Street, with proceeds from the $30 tickets benefiting the Stage Co. ... Shirakawa delivered the following knee-slappers at his party. On predecessor, former Vice Mayor and Superintendent Frank Fiscalini, former administrator at Shirakawa's high school, the guy who signed all his certificates and diplomas only to leave Shirakawa stumped by the Latin in the council packets: "Thanks for the education." On council colleagues Cindy Chavez and Nora Campos: "I slept with 'em both." What a hoot! On Chuck Reed: "Captain America. Burn!" Proving that he does actually have a sense of humor, Mayor Ron Gonzales quipped that Shirakawa never had a problem with the Brown Act, because he thought the state's open-meeting law was one that applied to Latinos. Not in attendance: Dave Garretson Jr. In attendance: Little urban-planning guru Gary Schoenauer did a bang-up job playing big George, whose response to the jokes about his weight was a two-fisted, two-fingered salute. Eye salutes you back, Georgie.

Milpitas Strikes Again

Paul Hay took another stab at winning a damn close race for a Milpitas City Council seat against opponent Armando Gomez. Hay requested a machine recount, which the registrar of voters completed last week. The recount produced the exact same numbers as the earlier counts: Gomez led with 3,538 votes, and Hay trailed with 3,525 votes, according to Registrar of Voters spokesperson Elma Rosas. So, again, Gomez won by 13 votes. "The interesting thing is, this election has now taken longer than the San Francisco election that had to have a runoff," said Gomez's campaign manager, Vic Ajlouny. This proves once and for all that San Francisco has much to learn from Milpitas.

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From the December 19-25, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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