News & Notes 

Jerry's valuable essence; Pombo's failing grade; Shirley's latest award; and the underpass that time forgot.

Three Town Cars for sale, avec cachet: Oakland's Jerry Brown -- the politician with the oh-so-green rep -- might be expected to drive a hybrid. Actually, the mayor drives a Lincoln Town Car. Matter of fact, he's on his third Lincoln Town Car in four years. Now as much as 7 Days would love to relate sordid tales of dinged doors and fenders on the past two sedans during midnight mayoral trips to Taco Bell drive-thrus, it turns out that the quick car turnover is not exactly Jerry's doing. The mayor leases his wheels through a Ford Motor Company program targeted at governors and mayors that demands rapid return of their vehicles. According to John Betterton, a former senior aide to the mayor, Brown spends slightly less than his monthly $750 city car allowance for the privilege of driving a brand new Town Car every year. (That's a mighty good deal, considering that the sticker price on the 2002 model exceeds $54,000.) The mayor, says Betterton, is supposed to return the car every year so that Ford can resell it with a celebrity pedigree. Is someone out there tooling around in a former Moonmobile, proudly admiring the dent Jerry left in the front seat? And how much, exactly, is the mayor's essence worth to prospective buyers? We may never know, since Ford wouldn't return phone calls to discuss the lease program.

Why not four Lincolns in four years? Says Betterton, the frugally minded mayor kept last year's model an extra year because he was reluctant to trade in a car that had racked up such a low score on the odometer. "The first time it was due to be turned back in, it had never even had an oil change; it had less than 10,000 miles on it, so the mayor balked at sending it back."

Or perhaps the new car smell simply hadn't worn off yet.

Three seats to the wind: Four years ago, local gadfly Nancy Jewell Cross stunned local politicos by defeating incumbent Joe Bischofberger to win the Fremont-area seat on the AC Transit board. Cross had been considered a nonfactor and a kook by opponents -- she was once even declared a vexatious litigant by a judge for filing frivolous lawsuits. What made her victory even more amazing was that she didn't have a ballot statement for her AC Transit bid. She reserved that self-promotional verbiage for her concurrent (and unsuccessful) bid for a BART board seat.

Since being elected, Cross has distinguished herself -- she has been accused of biting her landlord, and doing personal business on a district-paid trip to Sacramento. Her AC Transit colleagues generally view her with borderline contempt and would love to see her go away. As an incumbent, Cross should have an advantage over potential opponents. But in her typically atypical fashion, she has thrown a wrench in her reelection plans by filing notices of intent to run for three different seats: her current one, the at-large AC Transit slot, and the BART board. "I don't expect to occupy all three," Cross boasts, "but I think I can serve any of the positions well." Spreading herself so thin would seem like political suicide. But as fellow transit board member Greg Harper quips, "To most of the rest of us out there, Nancy commits political suicide every day."

Seven out of eight ain't bad: It's time once again for the annual report card from the California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, which evaluates the how the state's lawmakers have voted on public interest issues. This year the Bay Area contingent is totally screwing up the curve, with Democrats Barbara Lee and George Miller taking home perfect scores. In fact, of the eight Bay Area members of Congress, seven managed scores of 80 percent or above. The weak link: ahem, Richard Pombo, and he was very weak indeed.

What's going on in District 11 that caused the Tracy Republican to rack up a measly ten percent score? According to CALPIRG, the cowboy-hatted politician consistently zigged where environmentalists zagged: He voted against shifting $52 million in fossil fuel subsidies to fund more-efficient ways of producing electricity, against legislation aimed at limiting gas and oil drilling at national monuments, and against stepping up enforcement for the Clean Air and Water acts. Readers can check out legislative scorecards for their local reps at Calpirg.org.

One more for Shirley: Welcome to round two of the Shirley Dean dubious-awards extravaganza! Last week we reported that a local services provider had crowned Berkeley's mayor with its "Friend of the Homeless" award. This time, the accolades came courtesy of Avi Rosenfeld, coordinator of the Berkeley Task Force Fighting Hate Crimes. Shortly after someone vandalized the office of Jewish student group Hillel in March, Dean declared that hate crimes were bad, and proposed that the Anti-Defamation League advise the Berkeley police on investigation tactics. (Last time the ADL cooperated with Bay Area cops, things didn't turn out so well; in the early '90s, San Francisco police officer Tom Gerard was caught spying on hundreds of left-wing activists, including anti-apartheid groups and people calling for the end to the nuclear arms race, on behalf of the ADL.) For her bold action, Rosenfeld gave the mayor an anti-hate crime button and told the Berkeley Daily Planet, "She was the only person to take official notice and to very clearly say how intolerable it is and how this problem has been addressed."

This ruffled the feathers of City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who has attended Holocaust Memorial Day for years and recently proposed several measures -- a town hall meeting on hate crimes, a $5,000 reward for the arrest of hate crimes suspects, and a study on the feasibility of a police hate crimes unit -- all of which were actively opposed by the mayor. Worthington e-mailed Rosenfeld, a big Dean supporter who created his hate crimes task force a mere seventeen days before honoring the mayor, and asked him to correct his remark about Dean's lone moral stand against anti-Semitism. "You know in your heart and mind that I have been actively involved in responding to hate crimes, and it is unfair to me for the media reports to say she is the only one," he wrote. "I don't expect you to always agree with me, but I do expect you to be HONEST."

Rosenfeld zapped back the following message: "Dear Kriss: Whoever taught you that successful politics and morality are consistent was a BUMBLEFUCK!"

Elie Wiesel couldn't have put it better.

Five artists and a highway: To follow up on last week's story about Oakland's long-delayed fountain sculpture, another local public art project may finally see the light of day after being on and off and on again for two and a half years. Back in October 1999, a group of artists called the Team of Five won a city competition to remake the I-880 underpass at Broadway to look a little less like, well, the I-880 underpass at Broadway. The team's distinctly non-Caltrans approach, which included serpentine guard rails, a spongy black walkway, bright red pillars, and an ever-changing light sculpture above, brought mixed reviews from city officials and local artists. Since then, the Five has gone on a bureaucratic roller coaster ride because the project isn't something that can be made in a studio and simply installed; it must be built on-site, which means Public Works, Risk Management, and other city departments need to be involved. The project gathered dust and looked like it might be dropped for lack of interest from city officials, which would hardly be fair to the winners of the design contest. But the artists were pushy (as they tend to be) and with help from a few members of the Public Art Advisory Commission (PAAC), they finally got the city to put its Hancock where its mouth is. Now the Five finally has a contract to produce the design drawings, and the city can entertain construction bids. Ben Hazard, the city's crafts and cultural arts chief, says he hopes to see the snazzy underpass built within six months.

Six months from when is the question. After all, the darn thing might already be built if the city had gotten its act together from the start. And though grateful for the chance to beautify an urban space, the artists can't help but be slightly miffed by the delays. Then-PAAC member Susan Pontious, now a project manager for the San Francisco Arts Commission, was all ready to green-light the project the first time around, says Nick Gomez, one of the Five. "She said, 'Let's cut them a check and have them do a design drawing.' But no one listened. She was just talking to the wall.

"Now, two years later, they say, 'Let's give them a design contract,'" he adds. "Duh!"

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