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Civic Accord: Assemblyman Mike Honda paid the price to become chair of the powerful Public Safety Committee.

Give and Ye Shall Receive

What does it take to become chairman of a headline-grabbing committee in the state Legislature? The quick answer: Money and friends in high places. Witness the ascension of second-term San Jose Assemblyman Mike Honda. Honda, a Spanish-speaking compadre of Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, was gunning for the high chair of the Public Safety Committee. But chairmanships come with a price tag. In this case, Honda enhanced his standing with party leadership by altruistically donating more than $75,000 from his campaign bank account to the Democratic cause in the general election. Eye is sure, however, that Mighty Mike's in-depth understanding of crime fighting and stuff was, like, the real reason he got what he wanted. ... And what happens to those who don't help the cause sufficiently? A tacit rule in Sacramento states that those who don't do their share risk losing chairmanships or seats on juice committees. Eye doesn't mean to suggest that this is what happened to Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist, of course. But Lady Alquist did indeed lose her regionally appropriate slot as chair of the Information Technology Committee--which Fremont newcomer John Dutra is taking over--for a somewhat less glamorous committee position. She also didn't get the top seat on a budget subcommittee, something she had her heart set on, a Sacto snoop tells Eye. Alquist coincidentally gave only $35,000 to the Dems' Assembly Victory Fund, less than half of what Honda donated. ... By the by, Alquist is going to chair the Committee on Aging, a fact which is inspiring a few chuckles around the Capitol, where not everyone accepts her marriage to Viagra poster boy Al Alquist. A headline in Elaine's press release boasts: "Serving seniors a high priority." We would hope so.

Career Ladders

Earlier this month, termed-out Councilmember Trixie Johnson got some bad news when the boys from the Senate Rules Committee tapped retired brother David Roberti to replace Wesley Chesbro on the state's Integrated Waste Management Board. In the past, Johnson has mentioned in mixed company that she would just love one of those quaint patronage jobs on the Waste Board, which earns its name by paying board members six-figure salaries. But Eye has learned there is still hope out there in Trixieland. A couple of other guv-appointed seats are expected to open up soon. Question is: Does Ms. Trixie have the clout to land a plum $106,000-a-year political appointment? ... Meanwhile, gums are still flapping about Councilman David Pandori taking an entry-level gig in the district attorney's office. Deputy DA Dave will prosecute lowly misdemeanor cases and shine George Kennedy's wingtips. To illustrate how little clout Pandori possesses, mayoral chief of staff Sean Morley--who hasn't even passed the bar exam yet--has been offered a job with the prominent Palo Alto law firm of Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich. But politicos shouldn't gloat too openly. After all, it is within the realm of possibility that Mr. Personable could one day be the head of the DA's political corruption unit. ...

Knock It Down

Planning Director Jim Derryberry gave developer Jim Fox his Christmas present one week early: a demolition permit to gut the 94-year-old Jose Theatre to make way for Fox's planned mixed-use housing project. Derryberry tells Eye that he signed off on the permit because Fox completed photo documentation of the theater for historical purposes. ... The news came as a surprise to history buffs with the Preservation Action Council, which called an emergency meeting to figure out a plan of action. The obvious short-term step would be to file for a court injunction to temporarily halt the wrecking ball. One problem: A Superior Court judge last month ruled against the PAC in its legal effort to save the theater. ... In order for the court to issue an injunction, the party asking for the stay--in this case, the PAC--must have a good chance of winning its lawsuit. But at the moment they don't have a lawsuit after getting spanked in court last month. PAC board member Tom Simon says the group plans to file an appeal this week in a last-ditch effort to save the theater. Sighs Simon: "This sucks."

Much Ado

Courthouse insiders say that the recent suspension of the embattled Santa Clara County civil grand jury by Presiding Judge Leslie Nichols is a repeat of the line in the Shakespeare play: sound and fury, signifying nothing. Reportedly, Nichols did nothing last summer and fall while concerned grand jurors attempted to meet with him with complaints about racism and favoritism by grand jury foreperson Joan Doss (who was appointed by Nichols after serving as his court clerk). After the dissidents went public with those allegations last month, Nichols appointed a Special Master to investigate. After Metro broke the story last week of allegations of tampering with grand jury investigations, dissident jurors faced everything from official vindication to abolishment of the entire grand jury to possible indictment themselves. ... Now, after careful deliberation, Nichols has acted. Sort of. In an order delivered by registered letter over the weekend, Nichols told jurors to "discontinue all studies or investigations, refrain from meeting, and suspend all action pending further direction from the Presiding Judge." No reason for the suspension was given. ... Fact is, the grand jurors weren't doing anything for a while anyway. Their last meeting before the holiday break was held on the day before the order was signed, and no investigations or other actions were planned until January, when Superior Court Judge Jack Komar takes over as the new presiding judge. As might be expected, Nichols wasn't scoring high marks for courage around the courthouse. "It was his mess, but he couldn't clean it up," says one courthouse insider. "He didn't have the cojones."

Have a Cigar

Clinton humor is so six months ago, but that message hasn't trickled into the ad department of the Chronicle. Portola Valley landscaper Ramon Falkowski just about blew his top last week when his morning Comicle came in a plastic bag with two gag postcards--a promotion for the Chron and www.egift.com. The first says "Seasons Greetings from the White House" over a cigar, and the second says "Happy Holidays from Hillary Rodham" and features a picture of the couple with Bill's head carved out. When Falkowski called to complain, a Chron flack told him there had been many calls on the cards and he would talk to someone in advertising about it. "I was so ticked off," Falkowski raves, noting that the publisher of the cards, The Sunflower Group, is based in Overland, Kan. "That's where Bob Dole came from."

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From the December 24-30, 1998 issue of Metro.

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