Zen and the Art of Mayoral Maintenance 

Jacques Barzaghi is back at Jerry Brown's side after being sent to the woodshed following an embarrassing sexual harassment case. Officials say this should keep Barzaghi out of trouble and them out of court. But other experts aren't so sure.

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The lean and intense aide, who introduced Brown to the practice of Zen meditation, also gained a reputation as a kind of funky guru who was masterful at using the pregnant silence. "Jacques would often sit there and not say anything," Rapoport recalls. "Then he would disappear. He was always there. He's the sidekick. Jacques is very articulate and kind of like a one-man brain trust."

Years ago, Barzaghi was evidently given a nickname by a Zen master with whom he studied. One former City Hall associate says the name sums the man up perfectly. In Japanese, the word is "kiku," which means "he who is constantly surprising, like the sharp corner of a table."

Even as Brown's political star ascended higher and higher, Barzaghi remained unrepentant about just how different he was from other politicos. His sense of decorum as to just what should be said to whom is, at best, off-kilter. Once, after being assigned to report on conditions in the California penal system, Barzaghi announced, "We are all prisoners." And during Brown's quixotic 1992 presidential bid, he told a New York Times reporter that the effort was not disorganized, it simply "transcends understanding."

But being made fun of by reporters never did trouble Barzaghi. "The thing about Jacques is, unlike everybody else, he never seemed to be worried about what people thought," Rapoport says. "He wasn't a poll-driven person."

Barzaghi certainly didn't seem too worked up about this story. He failed to return numerous phone calls from this newspaper. One of his friends called the paper to report that Barzaghi planned on ignoring the story altogether. "He told me he wasn't going to participate in your story and he wasn't ever going to read it," Betterton says.

Despite Barzaghi's public silence on the harassment matter, his City Hall shenanigans reportedly created big problems between him and Brown. Insiders say that while the mayor is reluctant to publicly discuss his friend's indiscretions, privately the mayor "took Barzaghi to the woodshed" over the ordeal. "Jerry Brown," recalls one former colleague from Brown's days as governor, "can be a very cold Jesuit."

Lopez-Bowden was an unlikely character to have brought such trouble to Barzaghi's career. After all, the 32-year-old woman had a big problem herself. According to city officials, she apparently lied on the résumé she submitted to the city, erroneously claiming she graduated from law school, among other things. Her attorney, Mike Meadows, calls it an "error." "This issue is a red herring and it wouldn't have made one bit of difference and was irrelevant to her case," Meadows says. "This is what happens when you make allegations of sexual harassment against highly placed officials."

Meadows suggests that Lopez-Bowden's appearance was an issue from the moment Jacques interviewed her for her job. "She was hired because she was attractive," he says. Her looks apparently remained an issue throughout her brief career with the city. Lopez-Bowden testified in a legal declaration that Barzaghi had her office moved from the eleventh floor to the third just so she'd be closer to him. She claimed he often glared at her, told her she was beautiful, and one day summoned her to his office simply to declare, "I want you." The harassment culminated, she alleged, during an official trade trip to Mexico where he proclaimed that he wanted to bite her neck. When she protested, he became quite clear about his intentions, she alleged. "You and I should just fuck," Barzaghi allegedly said.

Back home in Oakland, Lopez-Bowden says she complained to two city officials: Mayor Brown, who allegedly told her to back down and stop "undermining his position," and Assistant City Manager George Musgrove, who told her to "not wear out her welcome" at City Hall. Brown denies he ever discouraged Lopez-Bowden in any way and says he passed on her complaints to the appropriate people. "I handed it over to Robert Bobb and he handled it appropriately," Brown says. Musgrove did not return this newspaper's phone calls.

Clearly, Lopez-Bowden would have been easy to discredit in court. But the matter didn't get that far. Instead, she left her job and the city paid her $50,000 to settle her claim in early 2001, just three months after she'd started at City Hall. She has since moved to Arizona, and could not be reached for this story.

The settlement didn't end Barzaghi's sexual harassment problems. Prior to settling the case, the city brought in an outside attorney who specializes in the subject to investigate Barzaghi's dealings with women at City Hall. That lawyer interviewed nineteen women who'd worked with the Frenchman. The results of that inquiry probably would have remained confidential had not the Oakland Tribune stepped in to fight the decision that left the investigation closed to public scrutiny.

"Essentially, we'd heard Barzaghi had been accused of harassment and we were trying to get information about the details," says Tribune editor Mario Dianda. "What we wanted to find out was what happened, and how did the city enforce this zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in City Hall. ... We knew he'd been disciplined but John Russo wouldn't tell us any details."

Russo himself was in an uncomfortable position. His own wife once had been an editor at the Tribune who had sued and settled a sexual harassment case against the paper years earlier. Now, he was on the other end of the stick, essentially defending the rights of someone who'd been accused of harassment. The city had ruled that nearly everything related to the matter, including what kind of discipline was imposed on Barzaghi, was off-limits to City Hall reporters. Russo contended that he was prevented from releasing any information because of Barzaghi's right to privacy. Tribune officials weren't persuaded. "This is a very influential person, essentially Jerry Brown's right-hand man, with a lot of influence," Dianda points out. "If he was allowed to go around harassing women and wasn't being disciplined, the public had a right to know."

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