Mechanical Bull 

Dems hope DeLay links could cost Pombo his seat -- wishful thinking. Olds: Shirek Senior Center might fly. And does Wilma Chan hold grudges?

Okay, okay -- settle down, all you East Bay liberals. Sure, it was fun to watch last week's Republican leadership meltdown, culminating in two indictments for House Majority Asshole Tom DeLay. And I guess we all deserve a few moments to rejoice in the misfortune of our enemies. Now, sorry to poop on your fiesta, but let me remind you that the Democratic Party remains in a persistent vegetative state, the enemy controls the White House, a young conservative was just named chief justice, and Republicans hold an insurmountable House majority.

And yet the Persistently Vegetative Party persists in believing it can regain its majority, or at least whittle away at the GOP's dominance of the House. Here in the Bay Area, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting Tracy Republican Richard Pombo. During the summer, the committee took out ads blasting the congressman, saying, "Richard Pombo's work in Congress is generating headlines ... on his ties to lobbyists, his conflicts of interest, and his alleged misuse of tax dollars."

For Feeders who missed our August 24 cover story "Welcome to Pombo Country," here's a quick bio: Pombo is a Central Valley rancher famous for wearing a cowboy hat and a cheesy mustache. He was first elected in 1992, and has easily won re-election every time since. Two years ago, he bypassed more senior pols and got himself appointed chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee -- an honor often credited to his friendship with DeLay.

So it's no surprise that Dems are now trying to exploit Pombo's ties to DeLay. This week Jerry McNerney, who ran against Pombo in 2004, planned a press conference to highlight the connection. The DCCC's blog, meanwhile, pointed out some of those links last week, such as a $5,020 donation made to Pombo from DeLay's embattled political action committee, and Pombo's vote to weaken House ethics rules that created problems for his benefactor. The committee is pushing Desert Storm vet and commercial pilot Steve Filson of Danville as Pombo's next challenger. "People judge a man by the company he keeps," says DCCC spokesman Bill Burton of Pombo.

Or do they? GOP consultant Kevin Spillane doubts that the Democrats' "bogeyman" strategy, as he calls it, will work. "The average voter doesn't even know who Tom DeLay is," Spillane reasons. Besides, he adds, Pombo represents a district in which Republicans outnumber Democrats.

It wasn't always that way. Just four years ago, 45.1 percent of that district's voters were Democrats, while 42.5 percent were Republican. But after the lines were redrawn, the gerrymandered district -- which now includes Pleasanton, San Ramon, and Danville -- broke down 44.6 percent Republican and 37 percent Democrat.

Who can the Democrats blame for that? Only themselves. Democratic leaders in the state Legislature redrew those lines, according to one theory, to ensure that the district next to Pombo's, previously represented by scandal-tarnished Gary Condit, remained under Democratic control.

Maudelle's Consolation Prize

Speaking of mean ol' Republicans, last week one of 'em derailed Rep. Barbara Lee's proposal to name Berkeley's main post office after its most famous little old lady, Maudelle Shirek, the 94-year-old former Berkeley councilwoman. The snub was engineered by an Iowa Republican who objected to her sympathetic views of Mumia Abu-Jamal and communists. "It just goes to show you how deeply steeped in Cold-War values the Republican Party is," says Max Anderson, Shirek's city council successor.

Anderson and others have suggested that the city instead name one of its own buildings after Maudelle, most notably Old City Hall. But not everybody in town is so keen on that proposal. Take Councilwoman Betty Olds, who sits on a committee contemplating how to renovate and retrofit Old City Hall. As one of the council's more conservative members -- in Berkeley, that means she's a mainstream Democrat -- Olds often disagreed with Shirek politically. But the two became friendly later in their careers after some time sitting next to each other at council meetings. In other words, it's nothing personal, Olds says: "I have never been for this business of naming [buildings after people]; I've never liked it." However, Olds allows that she could support naming one of the two Berkeley senior centers Shirek helped found after her former colleague.

Wilma Weirdness

Last month term-limited state Assemblywoman Wilma Chan dropped her bid to reclaim her old Alameda County supervisor seat from erstwhile protégée Alice Lai-Bitker. The way Chan bowed out, though, was muted and kinda weird -- as though maybe she were doing so grudgingly. Her office initially notified only Asian community papers of her decision, leaving the mainstream press out of the loop. Now comes another strange tale involving Chan and Lai-Bitker.

Judy Gallman, editor of Alameda magazine (full disclosure: Gallman is married to Express editor Stephen Buel), says that after assigning a story on Lai-Bitker, she got a call from Chan's press flack, Rachel Richman. Gallman's writer had been trying to schedule an interview with Chan because Lai-Bitker used to work for her and still considers the legislator a mentor. Gallman says Richman left a message warning that a story on Lai-Bitker might pose a legal problem for the magazine and recommended she check with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. Gallman did so and, of course, was told there'd be no problem writing such a profile. She suspects Richman was trying to throw up roadblocks so her boss wouldn't have to talk about Lai-Bitker. "I'm a little miffed that she would use that as an excuse not to talk to my reporter," the editor says.

Richman, however, insists she was merely trying to be helpful. "I wanted to give the editor a heads-up that she may want to take a look at it," she explains. The veteran legislative aide tells Feeder that in the past, media outlets have been reluctant to run stories featuring one candidate "once a campaign becomes active."

There are a couple of problems with that explanation. First, while TV stations sometimes have to worry about providing equal time for licensing reasons, the print media, thanks to the First Amendment, has no such concerns. Second, the Lai-Bitker profile is slated for December -- and the election isn't until June.

An East Bay political operative who knows both Chan and Lai-Bitker speculated that maybe the mentor harbored some hard feelings about having to drop her campaign for supervisor. "I think Wilma resents the fact that Alice didn't just step aside for her," opines the operative. Richman, however, assures Feeder that there's no animus. She says the relationship between the two is "professional and cordial."


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