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Editor's License

[whitespace] Outside of a small circle of friends

By Dan Pulcrano

Sometime in 1997 the mayoralty of Susan Hammer lost its way. The year had started headily enough with the San Jose Mercury News editorializing in a front page headline, "Hammer gives S.J. effective leadership," above a "news story" that reported, "She's been a damn good mayor." (Quotes added.)

By year's end, however, the Hammer machine had caught its muffler on a speed bump and was dropping engine parts all over the highway. Her designated successor, Margie Fernandes, melted down under the heat of pre-campaign opposition tricks, leaving no understudy in place. Aide Sean Morley opted out of a run for the District 3 downtown stepping-stone to the corner office. Then Hammer's chief of staff took a job with Master's Institute, a training mill of dubious academic merit.

While her organization sputtered, demagogues and critics grandstanded with impunity. The new San Jose Repertory Theater opened and boosted the mayor's standing. But visitors to the city's showcase downtown were greeted by aggressive parking enforcement officers in expensive new vehicles. They handed out tickets--fines increased to meet the city's fiscal goals during Hammer's lean years--when flags went up at meters whose rates had also been hiked for the same reason, but which were still needed because the city had failed during Hammer's tenure to follow through on its promises to build as much as a single dedicated public-parking structure.

Nowhere was the unraveling more apparent than in Hammer's concerted refusal to break her cozy lovefest with downtown developers to listen to the urgent calls from a wide range of community members pleading with her to save a couple surviving remnants of San Jose's historical downtown. In slamming the door on them, Hammer demonstrated just how far she had strayed from her community activist roots.

After the decision to demolish most of the Jose Theater, coming on the heels of the decision to deny landmark status to the historic Montgomery Hotel, several councilmembers expressed dismay at the mayor's backroom dealmaking. Councilmember Pat Dando, a Hammer adversary, said, "It was a closed conversation between Redevelopment and the developer," and, noting that the council overruled the recommendations of its planners and the Historic Landmarks Commission, added, "I hope that we have not broken the spirit of another commission." Trixie Johnson, usually a Hammer ally, agreed. "I don't think anyone had felt that the process had served them well," she said. On how the votes were put together to demolish the Jose, Johnson acknowledged, "It was so easy to pick us off one by one." Councilman John Diquisto was metaphorical. "They're always standing in a circle jerking each other off," he said. "I'm always outside the circle."

The Jose became a poster child for the general lack of meaningful civic input into decisions about the city's future. When the city's redevelopment budget swelled to a quarter billion and then to a half billion toward year's end, there was not even a cosmetic attempt to involve citizens in setting priorities or creating a new downtown plan--or even to create oversight and financial controls that ensure the money is spent in a fiscally responsible manner.

More disconcerting is the realization that city leadership appears to be losing its bearings at a time when the entire region's history, character and soul are under assault, evidenced in Los Gatos' bulldozing of two 19th-century landmarks, Santa Clara's red carpet for Sun Microsystems' scheme to wreck the Agnews facility, our area's mounting traffic congestion and airport noise, its loss of independent businesses and the displacement of modest-income residents by spiraling rents, taxes and mortgages.

Prosperity is supposed to be good for us, but we'll never know it if we're working late to keep up or stuck in traffic surrounded by ugly buildings erected to serve the profit objectives of business rather than the community's general well-being.

This being the last issue of the year, I'd like to note the passing of a few friends Metro lost in the past 12 months. Graphic designer Hank Wing, who designed the rectangular red Metro logo with the cut-off "o," died all too young at the age of 44. The passage of time got the best of columnist Robert Aldrich, who for 15 years captured the soul of our era and times past with uncommon grace and wit in the pages of Metro's Los Gatos Weekly-Times. Lobbyist Gene Lokey, who helped Metro's news writers on many a story, crashed his private plane in the Canadian Rockies, ending a remarkable career of public-spirited legislative advocacy. And to poet Allen Ginsberg, who stopped by in 1992 to inaugurate our new building with a reading, we'll keep our promise to produce at least a million words here.

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From the December 31, 1997-January 7, 1998 issue of Metro.

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