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[whitespace] A Little Sidestep: Supervisor Joe Simitian is passing up his turn to be chairman of the board next year.

When a Pol Loves a Woman

Being chair of the county Board of Supervisors is both a one-day honor and a 364-day chore. A chore because despite the job's modest perks--extra money for staff, a higher profile in the media--it also requires lots of time attending to a variety of ceremonial bric-a-brac. So who could blame Supervisor Joe Simitian for passing up his turn to become chair next year, leaving the task to Pete McHugh? Simitian is telling his colleagues that he wants to spend more time with his weekend wife, San Francisco-based political consultant Mary Hughes, who should have plenty of time off now that the election season is over. But anyone who knows the Palo Alto supe--a regular C-SPAN-loving political simian known to harbor ambitions for higher office--suspects that marital hand-holding isn't the only reason he is saying "no thanks" to the job. ... Next year the county enters into contract negotiations with all-powerful SEIU Local 715. If talks between union reps and county administrators get stalled, a knowledgeable wag pontificates, the parties look to the chair to move things along. Being caught in the middle of tense contract talks would be a headache for any politician, but it's a potential migraine for someone like Simitian, who will need the support of labor if he tries for Assemblyman Ted Lempert's seat in four years. Skeptics, however, insist that the chair's role in labor talks is minimal--which means Simitian must have another motive. ... Insiders are also speculating that Simitian may want to delay his chairmanship a year so he can maximize the benefits of the job in an election year. That sounds reasonable, but with Supe Don Gage apparently becoming vice chair, he should be next in line to become chair in 2000, not Simitian. ... So, if Simitian isn't fretting over labor talks or his election-year profile, could it be that the calculating pol is, well, being truthful about his motives? What a concept.

Go Figure

What has gotten into the usually surly David Pandori? The termed-out councilman is acting unusually sweet and statesmanlike these lame duck days. The day after his anointed successor lost to Cindy Chavez, Pandori called Chavez to congratulate her and offer his help in the upcoming transition. Eye also hears that Pandori even congratulated Mayor-elect Ron Gonzales when they bumped into each other at City Hall the other day. (Gonzo beat Pandori's good pal Pat Dando for the job.) ... But the real shocker came Tuesday night when Pandori told a stunned labor-laden crowd that he would be supporting the union-backed "living wage" ordinance. Throughout the months-long debate over the wage law, Pandori appeared to remain firmly in the capitalist camp. On Tuesday, however, spectators say Pandori delivered an emotional speech in which he described leaving public office as a liberating experience that allowed him to make decisions without giving thought to political consequences (a statement some took as signaling the end of his career not just in City Hall, but in electoral politics in general). ... The next day, Eye sought an explanation for Pandori's last-minute switch. "No one knows," a sixth-floor wag shrugged. One theory floating around, though, does sound plausible: Pandori has unfinished projects in the district and needs unionista Cindy Chavez to see them through to completion. Eye tried to get the straight dope from the horse's mouth, but Pandori didn't immediately return our call. At least some things never change.

Kumra Chameleon

An excess intake of Hostess products can't be blamed for multimillionaire bad-boy owner Ravi Kumra's wacky behavior this year. Police busted the Mountain Winery owner recently on suspicion of assaulting a security guard and making threatening phone calls to Elisbeth Challener, director of Villa Montalvo, the arts foundation that oversees the summer concert series at the winery. "They were all voicemail messages," reveals supervising prosecutor Rebecca Hayworth. "Generally, the pattern tends to be multiple messages on her [Challener's] voicemail until it's full. And then he'd start on other employees." ... Kumra, CEO of Western Cellular Management, cut a deal with prosecutors to plead no contest to two counts of disturbing the peace and go on probation for three years. The court also ordered Kumra to stay away from his $6.5 million winery on concert days, avoid booze, drugs and Twinkies, and keep taking prescribed psychiatric medications, which he apparently neglected to take when he decided to put his cell phone to illicit use.

Glad to See Ya

Don't mess with straight-shootin' Milpitas Vice Mayor Bob Livengood. The career politician is packing heat now that he is a reserve police officer in his hometown. So don't go asking any stinkin' questions like why it's just peachy for the Bobcat to serve as both a cop and a councilman while it wasn't kosher for fireman Ernie Gomez to serve on the city parks and rec commission. Milpitians will no doubt recall that Livengood led the charge last year to stop Gomez's reappointment to the commission, charging that the earnest firefighter had a conflict of interest because he is a city employee. Surely, Livengood himself might be ethically torn at budget time when he must approve police funding. Livengood already can't vote on anything pertaining to his employer, the Great Mall. But Livengood, formerly a flatfoot for the Fremont PD, won't need to abstain during budget talks concerning the cops. City Attorney-for-hire Steve Mattas declares that Livengood doesn't have a conflict of interest because the volunteer post is unpaid. (Memo to city employees: Remember, that really is a gun in Livengood's pocket.)

Pearl Arbor

Saratoga school board trustee Jill Hunter is standing by her deeply rooted convictions this week to protest what she considers an abomination--something in short supply among the plush and economically verdant avenues of Saratoga. Hunter resigned her post last month in protest of her hatchet-happy colleagues' decision to cut down 27 trees at Saratoga School, including two 75-year-old eucalyptus trees. "My position on the redevelopment of Saratoga School and primarily on the removal of the majestic eucalyptus trees puts me at odds with the majority of the members of the board," Hunter eulogizes. "I find this is one stand I cannot in good conscience abandon." Her colleagues argue that the trees need to go for safety reasons and make way for a playing field. The district is now scrambling to appoint a replacement for the veteran trustee, taking applications through Thursday. Hunter has met with an architect to try and come up with an alternative plan to save the trees. "I didn't do this to give up," she says bravely. "I did it to save the trees."

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From the November 19-25, 1998 issue of Metro.

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