Something in the water: Wasn't the fall of the evil Pacifica empire supposed to bring about a new era at KPFA? Rebuilding, the healing of wounds, programmers holding hands and marching forward toward the dawn of global peace and justice -- that kind of thing? Instead, a hundred flowers wilt. On March 20, Noelle Hanrahan -- radio activist, Friend of Mumia, and, until recently, associate producer of the KPFA program Flashpoints -- fired off a piece of e-mail samizdat accusing Flashpoints host and executive producer Dennis Bernstein of intimidation, violence, and perhaps poisoning.Hanrahan's memo, in which she refers to herself in the third person, contains a shocking timeline of alleged abuse at the hands of Bernstein, whom she calls a "misogynist perpetrator":
"Oct. 24th, 2001. Dennis Bernstein physically threatens Noelle Hanrahan. 'I am going to torture you until you quit or I force you to leave.'
"Oct. 26th. Someone goes into Noelle's office and destroys a valuable master tape. Dennis and one other person had a key.
"Nov. 13th. Noelle takes a swig from her water glass just before going on air and becomes violently ill; she throws up all over the station restroom."
For most people, a workplace poisoning would probably be the last straw. Some might even notify the police. Hanrahan, though, gamely stuck it out. Her chronology says only that "harassment of Noelle Hanrahan escalate[d]" between November and February, and that Bernstein delivered an on-air anti-Hanrahan diatribe on Nov. 21.
Why the hate? Because, Hanrahan continues, she "exposed sexual and gender harassment at KPFA" and "she has always told the truth about Pacifica ... and she is refusing to be silent and censored." Bernstein, she says, has "driven many women out of KPFA," and her exposure of him led to a criminal vendetta against her. It all came to a head on Feb. 11, she says, when KPFA station manager Jim Bennett offered her an "amorphous" position on another show. She refused, whereupon Bennett removed her from Flashpoints and barred her from the station.
As you might expect, others at KPFA have a different interpretation of the matter. Citing an agreement reached during a mediation session with Hanrahan, Bernstein and station management say that they cannot discuss the case. But Leslie Kean, a Flashpoints contributor, composed a counterblast shortly after the Hanrahan letter went out.
According to Kean, the charges of misogyny are simply unfounded -- she and four other female Flashpoints producers have never had any problems working with Bernstein. Hanrahan's true beef, Kean says, was that a power play she had attempted failed. Hanrahan referred to herself, sometimes on-air, as Flashpoints' "cohost" and "senior producer," even after management reminded her that neither title was hers. "On her own, she attempted to expand the jurisdiction, responsibility, and power of her job," Kean writes. "When her efforts were rebutted, she used the gender card to justify her actions."
As to Hanrahan's insinuation that Bernstein slipped something into her drink, Kean is incredulous: "This was so over the edge that it's not even worth commenting on."It appears that the question will be decided in a court of law. Hanrahan has filed a grievance with the union that represents KPFA broadcasters, and she says she will probably sue unless a settlement can be reached. She adds that she has a list of names of women who have suffered roughly similar treatment, which will be made public if her complaint goes to trial. Although she did not file a complaint with the Berkeley police in the case of the alleged poisoning, she says she has complained to police about Bernstein in the past.
Still, reconciliation is not impossible, one feels: the left's ability to apologize and shake hands after nasty fights like this is exceeded only by its propensity to get into them in the first place. Meanwhile, Hanrahan continues to draw KPFA paychecks. She's on "paid administrative leave."
Speaking of see you in court ... Like a marriage gone sour, the partnership between the Women's Economic Agenda Project and the City of Oakland will end bitterly in court. In 1995, the city loaned WEAP roughly $2.7 million to purchase the Atrium building at the corner of Broadway and Fifteenth Street with the idea of establishing a nonprofit center downtown. WEAP, a twenty-year-old organization that provides job training to poor women, fixed up the building, moved into the second floor, and rented the remaining space to other nonprofits at below market rates. It was good times and great publicity for all involved.But WEAP has not been able to pay back the loan, now totaling around $3.4 million with accumulated interest. And the city has run out of patience. In January, the city foreclosed on the property. Last month, WEAP filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws. "This is our last-ditch effort," explained Ethel Long-Scott, executive director of WEAP. "We're seeking a level playing field to protect this asset for the community."
Long-Scott says the city has abandoned its vision of creating a nonprofit center in favor of more profitable downtown development now that the value of the Atrium building has soared from $3 million to $6 million. "Our organization was treated like we were deadbeats," she said. "There are dealerships on Auto Row who have been forgiven debts of $2 million. Clearly there are two standards. I'm left to believe that given the facts, we're too individualistic, too black, too pro-working women for certain city officials."
Not true, says City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. If anything, the city has gone the extra mile to try to work things out with WEAP, he says. "The fact is we have restructured their loan two or three times," he said. "We have even reduced payments to half of what they should be paying because they failed to make payments for months and months."
The city also hired a real estate company to help WEAP turn a profit with its tenants. But in the process, a quarter of the nonprofits had to relocate to make room for higher-paying tenants -- which Long-Scott cites as an example of how the city gave up on nonprofits. Last February De La Fuente suggested foreclosing on the property and turning it into thirty office condominiums. WEAP could stay in the Atrium building by buying one of the spaces. But Long-Scott says the plan would have resulted in a huge loss of equity for WEAP. She turned it down.
If the building is now worth $6 million, "then they should sell the goddamn building and pay back the debt," said an exasperated De La Fuente." As long as WEAP doesn't return the money, the city can't loan it to others, he pointed out.
WEAP almost sold the building last year, but the deal fell apart in December. All but one potential buyer offered purchase terms significantly below market value, Long-Scott says. "We would have been happy to sell," she said. "We wouldn't mind having proceeds to help the program. But then 9/11 happened and the highest bid was taken off the table." However, William Claggett, director of Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency, says it was not the seller who refused to sign off on the deal, but Long-Scott.
For now, Chapter 11 proceedings buy WEAP some time. It halts the foreclosure until a judge hears the case. "They have to convince the court that they can take care of their obligations, which they've not been able to do with us the last four and a half years, Claggett said. "It's unfortunate. I think the concept was a good one."
Other concepts aren't so good: Only in comically corrupt Richmond would a campaign finance "reform" proposal suggest quadrupling individual contribution limits to $10,000 per city election. That's twice as much as allowed for some statewide offices, let alone other cities. Neighboring Berkeley, which has a larger population than Richmond, limits individual campaign donations to $250.Exactly why politicos in a city with fewer than 100,000 people need so much dough is not entirely clear. The city's current $2,500 cap is among the highest in the state.
Surprisingly, one of the two masterminds behind the "reform" proposal is Jim Rogers, the People's City Councilman. Rogers has always billed himself as a campaign finance reformer. In 1988 Rogers worked closely with Common Cause to draft one of the state's first campaign reform initiatives, Prop. 105, which was later thrown out by the courts. Rogers told the West County Times he favored raising the city's contribution limits because, without spending caps, contribution caps are ineffective. Which, of course, begs the question: Why not implement voluntary spending caps like they have in state legislative races?
More interesting than the proposal itself is how the city's politicos tried to sneak it through. The proposed ordinance first appeared on the city council's "consent calendar," a portion of the meeting agenda usually reserved for noncontroversial items. Some local gadflies, however, made noise, and the council has since referred the proposal back to the Rules and Procedures Committee for more discussion.
A final peculiarity of the proposal, which Rogers cosponsored with Councilman Nat Bates, would have tweaked the current law to apply the $2,500 donation caps for each calendar year instead of each four-year election cycle. The city attorney rightly cautioned against doing so because it would favor incumbents -- such as Rogers and Bates -- who could raise cash the whole time they are in office, whereas a challenger would have to play catch-up at election time. As an alternative, the legal team suggested just raising the cap to 10 Gs.
The editors must have done it: That was quite some headline the other day on the front page of the Berkeley Daily Planet. Topping off its story about the tragic beating of two Orthodox Jews near UC Berkeley's Clark Kerr campus, the paper penned this humdinger: "The Jews Are Attacked Near Campus."The Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, and the Zoroastrians, all possible suspects, got away.
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