Saturday, September 18, 2010

Councilmembers DeMaio, Gloria Debate Prop. D at Hillcrest Town Council

Audience Reaction Signals Trouble for Proposed City Sales Tax Increase


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO, L to R: Carl DeMaio, Todd Gloria

San Diego’s two openly Gay City Councilmembers, Carl DeMaio and Todd Gloria, debated the merits of Proposition D, a measure on the November 2 ballot to increase the sales tax in San Diego by one-half cent per dollar for five years once 10 budget reform conditions are met, before the Hillcrest Town Council at the Joyce Beers Community Center on Vermont Street September 14. Though Hillcrest is in the middle of Gloria’s district and is ordinarily considered one of the most liberal in the city, audience reaction was far more supportive of DeMaio’s than Gloria’s position and indicated the proposition faces tough sledding with city voters.

Besides DeMaio and Gloria, the meeting also included presentations by city attorney Jan Goldsmith and city auditor Eduardo Luna. Both stressed that there were there as objective sources and not advocates for either side on D. Goldsmith said the only person who knows how he’s going to vote on it is his wife and Luna said he hasn’t even told his wife how he’s going to vote. They were there because it was Goldsmith’s job to write the ballot measure once the San Diego City Council decided what it should contain — and it will be Luna’s to decide when the reforms called for in the proposition have taken effect and the city can go ahead and start the tax.

“I believe initiatives are a contract,” DeMaio said in his opening statement. “Read the contract and ask if you would be satisfied with the accountability provisions. What are we getting out of it? A lot of reasonable people might be willing to pay more [in taxes] to save the city, but I’m opposed to this because it will not achieve our goal of a city government that’s more accountable and reliable.” DeMaio called the measure “a blank check for politicians and labor unions,” and criticized the City Council majority that passed the measure (on a straight party-line vote, with all six Council Democrats in favor and DeMaio and fellow Republican Kevin Faulconer opposed) for not guaranteeing that the additional tax money would go only to the police and fire departments.

Though Proposition D lists 10 “reforms” the city must enact before it can start collecting the additional taxes, they deal with just two issues. Seven address the pension issues that have long bedeviled San Diego, and are aimed mainly at making city workers pay more for their pensions and health care once they retire. Two of them would set up “second-tier” pensions for newly hired firefighters — so their pensions would be lower than those of people currently on the fire department payroll — and allow city workers to take a 401(k) plan instead of a traditional defined-benefit pension. The other three attempt to speed up the transfer of city services to private companies according to the so-called “managed competition” initiative passed by San Diego’s voters in June 2006.

Just how much money the city would save as a result of these reforms is unknown. An analysis of nine of them published by the Voice of San Diego Web site said that only two of the proposals — an end to so-called “retirement offsets” (the city agreeing to pay part of an employee’s contribution to the pension system as well as the city’s own share) and the second-tier pension for new hires in the fire department — actually generated savings that could be estimated with confidence. The economic impact of the others, said Voice of San Diego’s analysis, was “unknown” since they depend on the outcome of negotiations with the city’s labor unions. As for the privatization measures, the savings they would generate are based on which departments are privatized and how much the private companies bid.

Councilmember Gloria, making the argument for the tax increase, focused on the $72 million budget deficit he, DeMaio and the other Councilmembers in office on July 1, 2011 are going to face if it doesn’t pass. “You’ve never once told me your libraries are open too long or the police are answering your calls too fast,” Gloria said. “We have a $72 million budget gap we have to fill after making $300 million in savings in the past five years, including eliminating DROP” — the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which is actually the subject of one of the 10 “reform” proposals in the proposition. Gloria said that the city is in trouble because of the overall economic recession, not because of what he ruefully called “our colorful past” in which the city promised its workers and their unions pensions they couldn’t afford.

“Nine out of 10 American cities are in the same boat,” he said. “Our economy is the worst it’s been in seven years, and the state of California has taken over $300 million from San Diego in the last seven years. Our situation has already led to severe cutbacks, including fire-station brownouts … [which] saved $11.2 million. The Mayor is asking the fire department to cut $7 million more if D doesn’t pass. Without D, we’ll see the brownouts expand and become permanent. The Police Department will shrink permanently. The improvements in our roads will stop. … District 3 has the lowest per capita income of any in San Diego. We have the worst roads in San Diego. I’m asking you to sacrifice to get 10 reforms that will save the city money.”

Asked just why both sides in the Proposition D debate are presenting privatization — “outsourcing” — of city services as a financial panacea when the experience of other cities that have privatized indicates that the savings have come either from lower worker salaries, inferior quality of service, or both, DeMaio said, “I want to make sure we pressure all service providers to provide services at the lowest cost possible. I believe competition needs to be part of our business ethic at city government. City government should not be excused from these reforms. City voters approved managed competition by a 60 percent margin, and we need to respect the will of the voters.”

Gloria, who portrayed himself as a reluctant privatizer — he opposed the “managed competition” initiative when it was on the ballot but agreed with DeMaio that the Council is duty-bound to implement it — used the question to address the criticism that point two of the 10 “reforms” in Proposition D only obligates the city to “complete [a] managed competition guide” rather than actually to privatize anything. “The guide is important to provide a framework,” Gloria said. “It’s a pretty seminal document. In San Diego we had a debris-cleaning contract after the 2007 wildfires where the city got taken for a ride. We will make sure all your money is well spent.”

Asked who he represents besides city workers and labor unions, and whether anybody in the “free market” has told him they support increased taxes, Gloria said, “I won the support of 55 percent of the voters [in my district] but I represent all of them. All employees rely on police and fire, libraries and roads. We are all dependent on city services. The No on D side has no plan for solving the budget deficits. We’re down from 48 hours of library services citywide in 2001 to just 36 now.” Responding to another question about the potential savings from privatizing the Miramar landfill — listed as unknown in the Voice of San Diego analysis — Gloria said that information from the Mayor’s office and the city’s independent budget analyst indicated it could be up to $800 million.

“Over 10 years,” DeMaio responded.

Gloria then returned to the pension issues and said that many of the savings were uncertain because “we have to negotiate some of it with our employees. Increasing the cost of my pension is certain. Reducing retiree health care is a question. Proposition D expedites these reforms. We have certain time frames, and all of us are incentivized to do that. The employee unions’ endorsement is an indication that we’re on the same page.” He pointed out that, contrary to arguments made by DeMaio and other Proposition D opponents, city workers already have taken salary hits. “Last year we imposed 6 percent salary reductions on the police and blue-collar city workers, and we did outsource IT [information technology] services,” Gloria said. “When this City Council has been given the opportunity to save money, we’ve done it.”

But DeMaio said the current City Council is only interested in making it look like they’re saving money so they can get their hands on the additional taxes Proposition D would generate. “They wrote the standards like a little checklist,” he said. “A lot of us are good-natured people, but I want you to check your gut. If they wanted to do it [privatize city services and reduce the city’s pension costs], they would have put it in the measure.” Pointing out that Gloria had said the cost of his pension was going up, DeMaio boasted that his pension won’t cost the city anything because he renounced it on the day he took office. “Politicians get the sweetest, highest formula for their pensions,” DeMaio said, ridiculing Gloria for saying that he wouldn’t be able to meet the City Charter requirement that the employee and city contributions to a pension be “substantially equal” because “he said he couldn’t afford it. If you’re not willing to lead by example, you don’t have credibility.”

“Leading by example can take different forms,” Gloria replied. “I took the 6 percent pay cut; DeMaio did not. I’m doing this job for substantially less than Toni Atkins [his immediate predecessor].” He also pointed out that under state law, existing pension agreements are “vested” — meaning they can’t be changed unilaterally but can be reduced only if the people receiving the pensions agree. According to Gloria, the only way employees can be persuaded to give up their vested pension rights and switch to a 401(k) is “if it’s going to be in their interest” — either because a 401(k) would give them more money in their pockets now or if the city enforced the “substantially equal” contribution requirement so stringently many workers found the traditional defined-benefit pension unaffordable.

Goldsmith, who’d begun the meeting by stressing his objectivity and mostly talking about the technical difficulty of drafting a sales-tax measure with 10 “triggers” that had to be met before the tax could be collected, chimed in at this point. “A lot of people urge the city to file for bankruptcy and throw out the pensions,” he said. “That’s not an option.” He said even a city bankruptcy wouldn’t break the contract with the workers the city made when it offered the pensions on a “vested” basis in the first place, and conceded that Proposition D wouldn’t solve the pension problem and its drain on city finances.” Our annual payments are increasing every year,” he said. “Even though the benefits are vested, contributions are not.” Goldsmith conceded that the charter’s “substantially equal” requirement has never been enforced, and “it will be substantially hard on our employees” if it’s implemented now.

“What’s wrong with that?” said a woman from the audience.

Another audience member, Allan Arulato, introduced himself as a 20-year veteran of the San Diego Fire Department and said, “I have never missed a payment to the pension system. In the last few years, the city did not make its contributions, and now the city is trying to make up.” Arulato said that if the city had kept up with its obligations to the pension system, the annual contribution would be about $60 million. Instead, it’s about 3 1/2 times that — which, according to DeMaio, represents 69 percent of the city’s total payroll cost — due to the need to make the pension system whole for all the years the city didn’t fund it. “The question then becomes what do we do on July 1, 2011,” Arulato said. “The question is, if Proposition D passes, will you use the money to add more engines and stop closing fire stations?”

“Employees have not made their fair share of contributions, because of offsets,” replied DeMaio — referring to various ways in which the city has agreed to fund the employees’ share of their pensions, some of which are addressed in the 10 “reform” proposals listed in Proposition D. “The city didn’t fund the pension system, but in order to get the support of the labor unions, they increased pensions 20 percent. These are the costs of the decisions you and your unions made — and your union president, Ron Saathof, led the way.” He called on city employees to “be part of the solution” by voluntarily negotiating their vested pensions downward, and said that should happen before city government “asks hard-working families” to pay more in taxes.

“This is a tall ask for the voters,” Gloria conceded, “but I’m committed that this money will go first for public safety.” (One point he didn’t make is that, due to a quirk in the state constitution, the reason Proposition D doesn’t guarantee that the extra tax money would go to police and fire is that if it were written that way it would require a two-thirds vote to pass, while a general tax increase not specifically earmarked for any program only needs a simple majority.) Gloria said the city’s budget crisis “has already hurt people and jeopardized family safety by lengthening response time,” and criticized DeMaio for saying that city workers haven’t already made sacrifices.

“He said the employees haven’t done their part,” Gloria said. “They’ve given up 6 percent [of their pay], the DROP program and a lot of things they shouldn’t have had in the first place. But what we haven’t talked about is that nine out of 10 American cities are having the same problems we have. I was in Phoenix a little less than a year ago. Their budget deficit is the same size as ours. The Philadelphia City Council voted to close all of their libraries. The city of Colorado Springs has turned off their streetlights. Other cities are in the exact same position. And what have those other cities done? National City, El Cajon, La Mesa and the state of Arizona have raised their sales taxes in response to the environment we find ourselves in, because they’re not willing to go as low as some would like us to go.”

For the full text of Proposition D:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Destroy Talk Radio and Fox News!


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

A front-page story in the July 30 Los Angeles Times headlined “Obama, the Velcro President” gave a sense of dèja vu to the dwindling number of Americans who both still read newspapers and still have a sense of history. The “Velcro President” tag got stuck on the last Democratic President before Obama, Bill Clinton, too. The piece’s authors, Peter Nicholas and Janet Hook, made the obligatory comparison to “Teflon President” Ronald Reagan and riffed on the subject for 29 paragraphs without once mentioning a key factor in Obama’s dramatic decline in popularity: the vicious, relentless, hate-filled and endlessly repetitive campaign against him by Right-wing talk radio and Fox News.

The Right-wing media establishment, launched in its present form after the Reagan administration’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, has so dramatically grown in importance, influence and devastating power that today it holds the balance of power in American politics. It functions as a continuous propaganda outlet for the Republican party in general and the most arch-conservative tendencies within it. It serves as an ideological enforcer not only against Democrats but also more moderate Republicans who might otherwise be tempted even to consider working with Obama and Congressional Democrats instead of maintaining the monolithic “Party of No” opposition stance the people running talk radio and Fox News decided, even before Obama took office, should be the Republican response.

In one respect, talk radio and Fox News are throwbacks to the openly partisan media of the 18th and 19th century. With the possible exception of Franklin Roosevelt, no president in the first nine decades of the 20th century was subjected to the relentless, vicious attacks — not only political but personal — that Obama, and Clinton before him, have had to endure. One would have to go back to the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln to see the level of meanness with which Clinton and Obama have been savaged by the Right-wing media. But Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln had a way of fighting back denied to Clinton and Obama: an equally committed, equally relentless, equally partisan media party on their side.

The idea that the media should seek “fairness,” “balance” and “objectivity” as its standard for news coverage came in only towards the end of the 19th century, as the previous way newspapers had been funded — by doing printing work for government and political parties — was replaced by commercial advertising. Though the U.S. developed a corporate media that propagandized in a broad way for capitalism and the “free market,” most media outlets hung back from being too ardently political for fear of alienating readers, viewers and listeners with different points of view — and thereby potentially costing their advertisers business.

All bets are off in the highly politicized Right-wing media of today. Just as the U.S. has two corporate political parties — an ardently pro-market Republican Party and an internally less consistent Democratic Party that preaches the “public interest” but deregulates almost as enthusiastically as the Republicans — so it has developed two corporate media parties. One, led by the old-line TV networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) and big-city newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, still pays at least lip service to old-line “professional” journalistic standards of objectivity and accuracy.

The other — led by Fox News, talk radio and Right-wing print outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and American Spectator — is relentlessly and unabashedly partisan. When a Republican is in the White House, they coddle him and make excuses for his failings. When a Democrat is President, they go after him endlessly and repetitively. What’s more, they coordinate their efforts. Every Wednesday, a meeting in Washington, D.C. funded by financier Richard Mellon Scaife and chaired by Grover Norquist, head of the Americans for Tax Reform, essentially writes up the agenda for the Right-wing media for the following week and serves notice on Right-wing media personalities what they’re supposed to talk about and what position they’re to take on the major issues.

This coordination has given the Right-wing media the ability to achieve the two most important goals of any propaganda campaign: consistency and repetition. The message of talk radio and Fox News is the same day-in, day-out: “markets” good, government bad; war spending good, tax cuts for the rich good, welfare spending bad; fossil fuels and nuclear power good, renewable energy bad; “global warming” a hoax by people who hate civilization and want us all to live like cavemen; capitalists good, unions bad; Christians and Jews good, Muslims bad; “traditional” families good, any other domestic arrangements bad; 19th century European immigrants good, today’s immigrants bad; Right-wing Republicans good, moderate Republicans bad and Democrats not only bad but evil, hopelessly corrupt and doomed anyway.

Though they may not share the ideologies of their mid-20th century predecessors, the Nazis and the Communists, today’s Right-wing propagandists on talk radio and Fox News have learned from them that the secret of keeping people riled up is to throw scapegoats at them. Talk radio and Fox News throw up so many scapegoats — Democrats, environmentalists, labor leaders, “illegal” immigrants, welfare recipients, people of color and Queers — it’s not always easy to keep track of them all. But the basic message is the same as any propagandists for the rich and powerful must adopt: to keep people mad at — and keep them blaming their problems on — those below them, not those above.

Another basic Propaganda 101 principle talk radio and Fox News follow is avoid any attempt to appeal to people through reason and legitimate debate. Instead, they are relentlessly conspiratorial. No talk-radio host or Fox News personality will ever concede that someone they disagree with may have good intentions but be wrong. They don’t just say Obama’s economic policies risk bankrupting America and destroying its private sector; they say he’s doing that deliberately as part of a sinister plot to wreck this nation on behalf of ill-defined “elites” who alternately want to turn America over to Islamic radicals, force us all to live in caves again, or impose whatever horrifying apocalypse the people at talk radio’s and Fox News’s microphones — and the people paying them — think would be the most effective threat at the moment.

Talk radio and Fox News don’t engage their political or ideological opponents; instead, they ceaselessly ridicule them. The message of talk radio and Fox News — as it was of the Nazi and Communist propagandists that preceded them — is that the truth of what they have to say is so self-evident that anyone who disagrees is either an idiot or an enemy: in their case, a sinister Left-wing conspirator out to destroy America and freedom. Virtually every talk-radio host has developed a mocking laugh he or she uses in any discussion of any political point of view different from theirs — a powerful symbol of their self-righteousness and utter indifference to any form of civilized debate. Talk radio and Fox News are not intelligent forums for conservative points of view. They are the products of bullies, aimed not at answering their political and ideological opponents but at destroying them utterly.

And they are devastatingly effective. Recent opinion polls show that 70 percent of Americans are against building the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in New York City (which isn’t a mosque and isn’t going to be at Ground Zero, but talk radio and Fox News are so powerful that most Americans have bought that Big Lie); 70 percent of Americans support Arizona’s racist immigration law; 55 percent think Obama is a socialist; 24 percent think he’s a Muslim; and 20 percent believe he was born outside the U.S. and is therefore constitutionally ineligible to be President.

In 1958, when John Birch Society founder Robert Welch wrote that then-President Dwight Eisenhower was “a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist conspiracy,” the overwhelming majority of Americans who heard that statement at all — including responsible conservatives like William F. Buckley, Jr. — condemned it as the nonsense it was. Today, similarly ridiculous and scurrilous charges against Obama can be heard day in, day out, 24/7 on cable outlets and the people’s airwaves. Talk radio and Fox News have permanently unbalanced American politics, putting a firm thumb on the right-hand side of the scale and giving the Right a weapon to prevent Democrats from winning the presidency and a congressional majority — or, failing that, to make it impossible for Democrats to govern.

Talk radio and Fox News may have failed to keep Barack Obama out of office, but they have succeeded brilliantly in making his presidency a ruin. Aided by disunity within the Democrats in Congress, they have been able to frame the agenda so most Americans see public spending — the only force that has generated what little “recovery” there has been from the 2008-2009 recession — as an economic threat instead of a promise. The tea-party movement is almost totally a creation of talk radio and Fox News; their on-air personalities have relentlessly promoted the tea-party rallies, given them extensive live coverage and inflated their reporting on the size of their crowds.

They have created a scenario in which most American voters, appalled by the persistence of high unemployment and either unemployed themselves or terrified that their heads will be the next on which the ax will fall, are about to embrace a party whose “solutions” — eviscerating the public sector and following the failed Hoover and Reagan strategy of throwing more money at the rich — will only worsen the economy and turn the coming “double-dip” recession into a full-blown depression.

Just as a democracy cannot survive when the mainstream media are monopolized by the government, so it cannot survive when the mainstream media are monopolized by the government’s political opponents. There is utterly no possibility of a liberal or progressive revival in American politics unless the power of talk radio and Fox News is dramatically diminished, and the vicious messages they pump out daily are driven out of mainstream communications and relegated to the nutcase fringes where they belong.

The task of what’s left of America’s progressive community therefore must be to organize to put talk radio and Fox News out of business by any legitimate means available. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll ever be able to compete with them by creating our own media outlets. Not only do they have a quarter-century head start on us but they also have billions of corporate dollars available in an era in which media infrastructures are so costly the rich can basically freeze out media access to any group that does not support their agenda.

What we need to do is to scare the corporate media back to their position through most of the 20th century, when they curbed out-front politicking out of fear that it would cost them readers — and cost their advertisers customers. We must organize a total boycott campaign against the sponsors of talk radio and Fox News. We must vote with our dollars and tell companies who keep these scurrilous propaganda outlets on the air that there will be an economic price to pay. And we must do it now, while the Internet is still a relatively free means of communication, before the corporate ruling class and the Right-wing politicians elected by talk radio and Fox News destroy “Net neutrality” and remake the Internet the way they have radio and TV: as an ongoing transmission belt for Right-wing propaganda that acknowledges the existence of progressive ideas only to ridicule and demonize them.

What’s more, the campaign must not only be nationwide but worldwide. America’s pathetic excuse for a Left needs to seek help from other countries to organize similar boycotts and create a worldwide movement against U.S. talk radio and Fox News on a level with the international sanctions and divestment campaigns that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. We need to make it clear to the rest of the world that they have skin in this game, too. Either they help us bring down talk radio and Fox News, or they will have to deal with the world’s biggest military power being run by ignorant crazies like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.

Taking on talk radio and Fox News is an enormous challenge, but there’s evidence that it’s doable. The campaign against Fox News personality Glenn Beck didn’t get him off the air, but was spectacularly successful in getting most mainstream advertisers off his show and reducing him basically to being a shill for dubious gold investments. More recently, the Queer community’s exposé of Target for donating $150,000 to a Minnesota corporate political group that passed it on to an anti-Queer candidate for governor raised concerns from Target shareholders that such contributions risk driving business away from Target and treducing the value of its stock.

In 1967, at the height of the U.S.’s debacle in Viet Nam, Che Guevara called on the world’s revolutionaries to “create two, three, many Viet Nams.” Today we need to create two, three, many Targets and scare the corporate elites away from financing talk radio and Fox News.

For information on boycotting Fox News visit
“Free Bradley Manning!”

We the undersigned call for the immediate release of US Army private first class Bradley Manning, incarcerated as of 18 June 2010.

Media accounts state that Mr. Manning was arrested in late May for allegedly leaking the video of US Apache helicopter pilots killing innocent people and seriously wounding two children in Baghdad, including those who arrived to help the wounded. The video was released by WikiLeaks under the name “Collateral Murder” ( Pfc. Manning is also identified by the Defense Department as a “person of interest” in the investigation into WikiLeaks’ obtaining 90,000 battlefield reports describing thousands of civilian deaths inflicted by occupation forces in Afghanistan, collusion with warlords, corruption and an unvarnished view of our decade-long war.

If these allegations are untrue, we call upon the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately.

If these allegations ARE true, we ALSO call upon the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately.

The leaked video, released by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder,” clearly shows that official statements from the multinational force in Baghdad that “there is no question that Coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force” were blatantly false. The leaker of this video blew the whistle on two crimes: the murder of civilians and an official coverup. Exposing these crimes was a moral and legal obligation and a service to the international community. The leaker deserves our respect and thanks — not prosecution.

We express our support for Mr. Manning in any case, and our admiration for his courage if he is, in fact, the person who disclosed the information. As in the cases of Daniel Ellsberg, W. Mark Felt, Frank Serpico and countless other whistleblowers before, government demands for secrecy must yield to public knowledge and justice when government crime and corruption are being kept hidden. If the United States government demands to use our tax dollars and our own children to fight this war, then we must demand full disclosure of the facts, no matter how unsettling. We demand that the government stop the misinformation and we honor heroes who fight for transparency.

Free Bradley Manning!

San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice (SDCPJ)
San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME)
Activist San Diego
San Diego Branch of The International Socialist Organization (ISO)
Green Party of San Diego County
San Diego Pride at Work
Progressive Democrats of America Metro San Diego Chapter (PDA)
Democracy for America San Diego Meetup
San Diego Chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP)
Vietnam Veterans Against the War San Diego (VVAW)
The San Diego Puppet Insurgency
Zenger’s Newsmagazine

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Sunday, September 19, from noon to 4 p.m. outside Horton Plaza at Fourth and Broadway downtown, there will be a solidarity rally in support of Bradley Manning. Speakers will include Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor and former National Lawyers’ Guild president Marjorie Cohn. There will also be a presentation of the “Collateral Murder” video and discussion at the Activist San Diego general meeting Monday, September 20, 7 p.m., at the Joyce Beers Community Center, 4065 Vermont Street in Hillcrest (in the Uptown District mall between Terra and Aladdin restaurants). For more information, visit

“Equality Nine” to be Arraigned in Court September 30

Protesters Wanted People to Get Married — Not Arrested


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom:

“Equality Nine” members Zakiya Khabir, Kelsey Hoffman, Cecile Veillard and Sean Bohac are confronted by sheriff’s deputies in front of the San Diego County Clerk’s office during the August 19 marriage equality demonstration. (Anonymous photo: courtesy Sean Bohac.)

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department called in at least 50 deputies in full riot gear to deal with 20 peaceful demonstrators and make nine arrests. (Photo: Eric Isaacson.)

Protesters, security, passers-by and media during the marriage equality demonstration at the San Diego County Clerk’s office August 19. (Photo: Eric Isaacson.)

L to R: Mike Kennedy, Cecile Veillard, José Medina. (Photo: Mark Gabrish Conlan.)

When the members of San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) planned their August 19 action at the San Diego County Administrative Center, 1600 Pacific Highway downtown, they had no way of knowing what the legal status of marriage equality in California would be when the day arrived. “We had planned for 1 1/2 weeks to go to the county clerk’s office and either celebrate or protest,” said Sean Bohac, one of the “Equality Nine” who were arrested during the action and have a court arraignment date September 30 at 220 West Broadway downtown.

During the first two weeks of August, marriage equality supporters in California rode a roller-coaster ride alternating hope and despair. The hope began on August 4, when Judge Vaughn R. Walker released his decision in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the case brought by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies challenging Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages, as unconstitutional. Judge Walker not only threw out the measure as a violation of Gay and Lesbian Californians’ right to equal protection, he wrote a series of 80 “Findings of Fact” that eviscerated the arguments against marriage equality and documented how the supporters of Proposition 8 had based virtually their whole campaign for the measure on bigoted, prejudicial arguments against Queer people.

Judge Walker agreed to “stay” — legal-speak for “delay” — his ruling for eight days, then issued an order that California stop enforcing Proposition 8 and allow same-sex couples to marry after August 18. SAME members Michael Anderson and Brian Baumgardner, a couple who’ve been together nearly 10 years and who had led a similar protest at the County Administrative Center on May 27, 2009 after the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 8 was constitutional, laid plans to go to the county clerk and ask for a marriage license. SAME, of which Anderson and Baumgardner are members, planned a demonstration outside the county building at noon August 19 that would end with their accompanying Anderson and Baumgardner to the clerk’s office — either to celebrate if they got their license or to sit in if they didn’t.

However, on August 16 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals extended the stay until they have a chance to hear the case. Their ruling wasn’t entirely a defeat for marriage equality; they set up an unusually quick schedule — demanding an opening brief from Proposition 8’s defenders on September 17, an answering brief from its opponents on October 8, a reply brief from the pro-8 side on November 1 and court hearings December 6-10. What’s more, they asked the defenders of Proposition 8 to address the issue of “standing” Judge Walker had raised in his order — the possibility that, since California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown had refused to appeal the decision invalidating Proposition 8, the people who put it on the ballot and defended it before Judge Walker may not be able to appeal because they haven’t shown that they would be harmed personally by its invalidation.

Nonetheless, to same-sex couples wanting to get married and expecting to be able to as soon as August 19, the Appeals Court decision came as a blow. David Butler, San Diego County’s assessor/recorder/county clerk, immediately sent out a press release saying “this office is prohibited from issuing marriage licenses and performing civil marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples until further action by the court.” He also put a similar notice at the top of the home page of his office’s Web site, announcing that all existing appointments for marriage licenses and ceremonies by same-sex couples were canceled and no new ones would be booked.

One couple who didn’t take that lying down were Tony and Tyler Dylan-Hyde, who had actually signed up for a marriage license appointment at 8 a.m. August 19. They had one advantage over other couples who wanted to challenge Butler’s decision: Tyler is an attorney by profession. He wrote up an extensive legal document explaining why he thought Butler should give them their license “We believe that your office is compelled to issue … marriage licenses and to perform civil marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples under California law, and in accordance with your oath and obligations as set forth in the California Constitution,” Tyler Dylan-Hyde wrote.

Tyler wasn’t available to Zenger’s for an interview, but his fiancé Tony was. “We had our appointment with the County to get our marriage license and had every intention of getting our license,” Tony said. “We did expect to get rejected. We had some hope the county clerk would see it our way. … We don’t believe that their hands are as tied as they say they are. … One of the main reasons we kept the appointment was to make the point that we still deserve a license.”

The Dylan-Hydes learned about SAME’s scheduled protest from Facebook, Tony told Zenger’s. Though there were at least two couples in SAME’s circle interested in applying for licenses that day — Anderson and Baumgardner, and Claire Manley and her fiancée Ditchi — the fact that the Dylan-Hydes already had an appointment for 8 a.m. and were going to be inviting the media led SAME to move up their scheduled protest from noon to 8 a.m. “I was excited to be fighting for someone specific,” Bohac said. “We had a couple [Anderson and Baumgardner] in our group, but [the Dylan-Hydes] had a really great angle. They were feeling like the county clerk should pay attention to the chief executive of the state” — Governor Schwarzenegger, whose office had filed a motion at the Court of Appeals asking them not to stay Judge Walker’s decision.

About 30 members and supporters of SAME arrived at 8 a.m. August 19 to support the Dylan-Hydes and stage a protest in case they weren’t given a license. At first the plan was to do two simultaneous actions, a sit-in inside the building and an open-mike rally outside, as SAME had done in May 2009. However, as SAME member José Medina told Zenger’s, “Events kept overtaking us. A lot of people went up to see the action inside. We had at most six to 10 people outside.”

Equal Rights Denied

“Throughout the morning, there was a reasonable chance of success,” Bohac told Zenger’s. “At 8 a.m. we got together and had a discussion with some of the staff in the office. It seemed less likely after we talked with David Butler. There was a point at about 9:30 a.m. or so when the clerk had dismissed Tony’s and Tyler’s request. At that point, it felt like the trigger for invoking the sit-in, and since we weren’t even allowed into the marriage license office we did the sit-in in the hallway.”

“I talked to Tony and Tyler for 15 minutes and gave them the number of the county counsel,” assessor/recorder/county clerk Butler told Zenger’s. “I don’t know if they pursued [a contact with the county’s official attorneys], but I certainly didn’t shut them off. I listened to them and read everything they presented to me.” But, Butler said, his position remained firm. “We couldn’t marry them,” he said, adding that because the appeals court stayed Judge Walker’s decision “it isn’t registered and it has no effect until the stay is lifted.”

One of the frustrations moving the SAME members was that the state and county took a very different tack when Proposition 8 passed on November 4, 2008. San Diego and California’s other 57 counties stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on November 5 — not even waiting for the usual week or so it takes for election results to be officially certified. “Now that it’s been declared unconstitutional, they should start [issuing same-sex marriage licenses] again,” said SAME member Drew Searing, who wasn’t at the August 19 action — he had to work that day — but was involved in planning it. “Our point was there’s no reason for them not to issue marriage licenses now.”

The SAME members who spoke to Zenger’s all insisted that, contrary to some other media reports, the August 19 protest was not intended as a civil disobedience action. The participants were not deliberately setting out to be arrested, though they realized that might happen. “My primary hope was to see Tony and Tyler, and Michael and Brian, get their licenses,” said Laura Woodward, who like Medina was supposed to be running the outside rally and who attended the action but was never inside the county building. “The ruling [by Judge Walker] was in our favor, and we were just asking for justice.”

“We hoped the event would attract the attention of the county clerk, and the Governor’s and Tony’s and Tyler’s legal arguments would persuade the county clerk, and by the end of that we would have marriage licenses,” said Kelsey Hoffman, one of the Equality Nine who did get arrested. “We didn’t want to get arrested, but we knew it might be a consequence of demanding marriage equality. I personally really hoped Michael and Brian would leave with a marriage license. Our research indicated there was a very good chance the county clerk would issue marriage licenses.”

“We spent the first 45 minutes talking to David Butler and trying to persuade him to do the right thing, but he ended up telling us he’d get back to us the next day,” said SAME member Cecile Veillard, another one of the Equality Nine. “They wouldn’t let any of us in the door to present Tyler’s letter, and they pulled through the opposite-sex couples [who were there to be married]. There was one sheriff’s deputy standing behind us, and they diverted opposite-sex couples to another wing of the building. Other opposite-sex couples walked over us. David Butler said we had to leave and we had no business there.”

Mike Kennedy, another arrestee, arrived at the demonstration 10 minutes late — missing the Dylan-Hydes’ approach to Butler but catching their impromptu press conference in the hallway after they were turned down. “There was a blonde woman county official standing in the doorway and a second person behind her,” Kennedy recalled. “I asked what her authority was to bar me entry, and they slammed the door in my face.” Like Searing, Kennedy was upset that both Proposition 8 and the California Supreme Court decision upholding it were enforced immediately, but Judge Walker’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional is being held up in the legal system for months or even years.

David Butler told Zenger’s he checked with the clerk of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors (his immediate superior) before he ordered the SAME protesters arrested. “I made a decision, and the clerk of the board made a decision, not to let them stay in the office,” he said. “They were allowed to stay in the hallway and chant, as long as they didn’t block the door. I told them that if the ruling had gone the other way and a group from the other side had blocked my office to block us [from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples], they would have been upset. It was when the sheriff’s office was told they were refusing to move that it went the way it did. I was fine with them being out in the hall.”

50 Deputies in Riot Gear

The first intimation SAME’s protesters got that law enforcement was about to arrest them came from outside the building. With just six to eight people at the outside vigil, José Medina recalled, “we decided to close up shop after a while when we saw the police cars show up. Part of our job was to send texts to the people inside. When we saw the sheriff’s deputies pull up in the buses and our colleagues get arrested, we started chanting, ‘Civil rights heroes! Let them go!’ When they were arrested we stood in front of the buses and chanted some more for about 10 to 15 minutes until one of the deputies said the sooner we got out of the way, the sooner they could process our colleagues and they could be released.”

Mike Kennedy was upstairs participating in the sit-in when word came from Medina and the other outside demonstrators that 50 sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear were coming up to arrest them — and they had two buses waiting outside to take the horde of protesters they apparently expected to jail. “Within an hour, by 10 a.m., we were all being arrested,” Kennedy said. “They warned us people would be coming in riot gear, which I guess was supposed to scare us, and they took us out one by one.”

“The sheriff’s deputies were a bit threatening, but respectful,” said Bohac. “There were people at the county clerk’s office whose politics didn’t seem to line up with ours.” Bohac said he was one of the first people arrested when he wouldn’t move out of the way of a straight couple entering the office to get married, and he and the other arrestees were initially held in the basement of the County Administrative Center until they were taken to county jails.

“There were 50 to 60 sheriff’s deputies, an overwhelming number of them, and one of them had a bullhorn and made a statement declaring this an unlawful assembly and demanding that we leave, or we would be arrested in two mniutes,” said Veillard. “We said we had no reason to leave until Tony and Tyler, and Michael and Brian, were married. We were told we were under arrest, and we complied. They led us downstairs in plastic-tie handcuffs and took us to the basement, where we were processed.”

“On the whole, we were treated nicely,” said Kennedy. “They didn’t treat us like convicts or anything. I’m sure they could have held us much longer.”

May 2009 vs. August 2010

The difference between the way the county authorities handled the SAME demonstrators in May 2009 and the way they acted on August 19 was so striking Zenger’s asked both the SAME protesters and Butler why the two actions were handled in virtually opposite ways. In May 2009, SAME members and other participants in the sit-in at the county clerk’s office were allowed to occupy a room inside the office all day, where they read aloud various articles about Queer history (including one about the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City in June 1969, commonly but erroneously believed to be the start of the Queer rights movement in the U.S.) and chatted about why they were there. At least two SAME members recalled being escorted outside the building in plastic cuffs after closing time and told they were technically under arrest, but all of them were released immediately and no one was criminally charged.

What was different this year? Veillard, who actually entered the building before the Dylan-Hydes got there to present their letter to Butler, said what seemed different was “the clerk seemed determined to carry on their business, which was marrying opposite-sex couples and not same-sex couples. I had got a call from Carlos Marquez [director of political action for the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, who did not respond to a phone message from Zenger’s] who said we were there specifically to be arrested. We weren’t, but the Sheriff’s Department may have got the wrong idea. We knew we were risking arrest, but that wasn’t our intention.”

“I think what was fundamentally different was that in May 2009 we were allowed inside the office as business continued,” said Kennedy. “This time there was a more confrontational tone. That’s what made it seem like we were obstructing their business. We were arrested in 2009, but we were just walked outside the building and then we were released.”

Bohac said he thought the county came down harder on them this time than in May 2009 “because we told them we were coming. I think there’s a little bit of personal politics with at least one employee of the county clerk’s office. They had set up at 8 a.m. and were not allowing [same-sex] couples who had appointments to enter. Tony and Tyler showed up for their appointment and the woman stood at the door and said they wouldn’t be issuing licenses to Gays and Lesbians. … Last year, they moved the marriages to another room and allowed us to gather all day while they did business elsewhere. This year I guess they didn’t want to get as creative as that.”

“First of all, they were warned this time by people from different agencies, including Carlos Marquez of the Center, that put us in an unfavorable light,” said Searing. “In May 2009 we notified the police ourselves. My personal opinion is the country administration might have expected more people than last time, and thought we’d be super-angry and do more than a nonviolent sit-in. Maybe they didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Butler said that in 2009 “we’d actually worked with the Center and had made the decision to let it go. Since then we’ve changed the setup of our office and we’re now appointment-only” — suggesting that even if there hadn’t been a stay and San Diego County had started marrying same-sex couples again August 19, the Dylan-Hydes would have got their license but Anderson and Baumgardner wouldn’t have. “We have two marriage rooms now,” Butler added, “and that’s why we ask everybody, other than the couples scheduled to get married, to wait outside.”

According to Butler, the last time the county performed same-sex marriages — during the four and one-half month “window” between June 15, 2008, when the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry came through and November 4, when Proposition 8 passed — “I was getting complaints from couples that they had to wait two hours. There were couples who’d show up at 4:30 p.m. and I’d feel duty-bound to marry them, and that was running into overtime. The other reason was budget. My budget was cut by 12 percent and we have to alleviate overtime.”

The Legal Consequences

The Equality Nine — Michael Anderson, Brian Baumgardner, Sean Bohac, Felicity Bradley, Kelsey Hoffman, Mike Kennedy, Zakiya Khabir, Chuck Stemke, and Cecile Veillard — were first called that by SAME members and supporters who gathered outside the county jail downtown at 5 p.m. August 19 for an impromptu support rally. They were released on their own recognizance and given legal papers saying they were being charged with trespassing and obstructing the operation of a government service or private business — a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $400 fine.

The nine were meeting with attorneys around the same time four of them were being interviewed for this article, and they were getting a view of the potential legal consequences that sounded like Franz Kafka was alive, well and writing the California penal codes. Though the misdemeanor charge is the one specified on their legal papers — which order them to appear in court September 20 at 12:30 p.m. for arraignment (which puzzled some of their attorneys because the courts are closed for lunch from noon to 1) — the nine were told that the San Diego city attorney, who’ll be responsible for prosecuting them, has a wide range of options, from dropping the charges altogether to making them more severe.

“We won’t know for at least a year whether they’ll file other charges,” Bohac said. “I was arrested 18 years ago in a similar circumstance for an environmental cause. If we end up getting 24 hours of community service and a $100 fine, I will feel like it was a good price to pay for raising consciousness. If it’s overly harsh, that won’t do us good. I hope it will end up something that will be a reasonable price to pay for our success.”

“They have six months to decide what the charges are, which was news to me,” said Kennedy. “Our charges could be dropped, or they could be worse. I haven’t thought that much about the consequences. I’m not pleading guilty at this point.”

“There shouldn’t be any legal consequences,” said Veillard. “We were just there to speak with a clerk and ask for our legal right to marry. We intend to plead not guilty on September 30 and hope all the charges will be dropped. If the city attorney continues charges against us, it’s just a continuing offense against our community’s civil rights.”

Hopes and Accomplishments

Zenger’s asked participants in the August 19 action, including four of the Equality Nine who were arrested, what they hoped to accomplish by being there and whether or not they thought it had been a success. “I believe that historically it was a necessary action,” said Searing. “Someone needed to say we were angry and should have got our marriage licenses that day. We researched it and found that no actions were planned in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Our group tries to be the leaders in such actions. If no other groups in other cities were going to show their anger, we wanted to do it ourselves and be part of that.”

Bohac recalled the optimism with which he and the other SAME members went into the county building at the start of business August 19. “I had read Tony’s and Tyler’s letter, and there was at least a reasonable chance that, following the statement of the Governor, Attorney General and Judge Walker [they would have got their license]. Barring that, the second purpose was to make noise and let people know that Gays and Lesbians are still being discriminated against even though a federal judge has said there was no cause to stay his ruling based on any of the four points” — the legal criteria under which stays are usually issued.

“It’s extra-painful that Proposition 8 gets to stand when there’s little potential they will win and some potential they won’t even be allowed to appeal,” Bohac added. “A lot of us were concerned that marriage licenses were stopped immediately when Proposition 8 passed, and now it’s being allowed to stand for months or even years while the case is being appealed. The judge found Proposition 8 is discriminatory, and we didn’t want the stay to go into effect silently. A third goal was the responsibility of citizens to stand up when they don’t like what’s happening. It’s upholding the duty to stand up and say what we think.”

“Our biggest hope — and it isn’t that we expected the clerk to do so — was to get Tony and Tyler married, along with Michael and Brian, and Claire and Ditchi,” said Veillard. “Our secondary objective was to force the issue into the news and make the case that there’s no real reason not to marry same-sex couples. It did generate a lot of media attention,and we hope that will help lead to a good decision by the 9th Circuit to stand behind Judge Walker’s decision. Ditchi and Claire were in tears when they watched Tony and Tyler make their case. They went back and forth with [Butler] for several minutes. They’d had a wedding ceremony the weekend before.”


Zenger’s asked the interviewees both where they think the marriage equality movement is going and what they personally intend to do for it in the future. “We’re in a letter-writing campaign with San Diego County,” said Tony Dylan-Hyde. “Tyler shot a letter off to them on August 25. We’re becoming more active in the community and more involved in electoral politics, supporting candidates who support marriage equality. I will be volunteering for candidates. Tyler has a legal background, so that’s where our energies will be spent. We’re trying to show we’re no different from heterosexual couples. We go to work, pay taxes, spend time together and cook. We’re not doing any harm, physically or mentally, to [heterosexual people’s] marriages.”

“I think the movement is growing, in terms of the number of people aware and paying attention to the lack of equality,” said Bohac. “The federal court case probably makes some people feel powerless in terms of what to do about it. I was involved in the Restore Equality 2010 campaign [to put a repeal of Proposition 8 on this year’s California ballot], but while the court case is going on I don’t think anyone is going to be interested in funding people to gather signatures. People into door-to-door canvassing aren’t going to be as motivated. People are unsure what to do right now and that’s one reason we wanted to do a visibility event, because the courts aren’t averse to following public opinion. I can’t think of many other ways people can make sure the federal courts know they care.”

“I think it’s a tidal wave at this point,” said Veillard. “The Massachusetts court decision declaring DoMA [the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman] unconstitutional in that state is a huge landmark, and I want to see it go all the way and beat the challenges. I fully expect same-sex couples in California to be able to marry soon. I think public opinion has changed [since Proposition 8 passed], and only a small minority still sees an interest in preventing same-sex couples from marrying. I don’t know whether President Obama will keep standing in the way of progress on this issue or get out of the way. I think he’s behind public opinion and progress.”

As for David Butler, he got the job of San Diego County assessor/recorder/county clerk by appointment after his Republican predecessor, Gregory Smith — who held the job during the 2008 “window” when same-sex marriages were allowed in California — retired. This year he’s running for the office as a Democrat against Republican Ernest Dronenburg, and he asked for — and got — the endorsement of the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club after telling them he supported marriage equality.

Asked if his aggressive response to the August 19 sit-in might jeopardize Queer community support for his campaign, Butler said he was confident it wouldn’t. “I’ve talked to several people who approved of the way I handled it,” he explained. “When we were able to do [same-sex] marriages, I was glad to do it and performed several marriages myself. I disagreed with my predecessor’s decision to allow employees who had moral objections to opt out [of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or performing same-sex weddings]. In 2008 we went out to the LGBT [Queer] community and met with several groups to ensure they would be treated with dignity, and they were. I think people realize I’m in a tight situation. I took an oath to uphold the law of the land, and I don’t agree [with Tyler Dylan-Hyde] that I have a right to perform those marriages before the Appeals Court decides the issue.”

Drew Searing noted the irony of his situation because he actually is married. He and his husband Puma were legally wedded during the 2008 “window,” and one way he’s personally fighting for marriage equality is to “constantly refer to my husband as my husband,” and not his “partner” or any of the other common euphemisms for same-sex couples. “It’s still shocking to do that, but the more we do that, the more people will get used to it. I just like to flaunt the fact that I’m married.”

Openly Gay Whitburn Takes On Roberts for Supervisor

Democrat May Buck Trend of What’s Being Called a “Republican Year”


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • Used by permission

In what’s being ballyhooed as a Republican-leaning election year — with Time magazine reporting that the Democrats are “on the brink of a broad setback in November, including the possible loss of both houses of Congress,” — openly Gay Democrat Stephen Whitburn is bucking the trend in his candidacy for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. He’s already forced Republican incumbent Ron Roberts into a runoff and has a good chance to end the 16-year Republican monopoly on the board.

Whitburn, 46, knows how to use the mainstream media. He was once a radio news director with ag-gressive management skills.

Unlike underfunded, underdog Democratic Congressional candidate Ray Lutz, who may have little chance of unseating the much richer incumbent Republican Duncan D. Hunter, Whitburn’s campaign looks promising.

He’s putting more energy into his professorial, Obama-ish, speaking style, but it still lacks the angry fire of the Tea Party, loosely connected with the Republican Party.

By aggressively proposing a radical improvement in fire protection, he surprised political analysts by winning the endorsement of the powerful Firefighters’ union. This was particularly surprising because the Firefighters had supported Roberts in virtually all his campaigns — until this year.

“People are very angry that the solidly Republican CountyBoard of Supervisors turned down millions of dollars in federal stimulus money simply because politically they didn’t like Obama,” Whitburn said in an exclusive interview for Zenger’s.

He favors the current $2.7 million in county funding of community non-profits, but wants to create a county commission to review applications independently and make recommendations to the full Board. Right now each Supervisor gets to designate the recipients for his or her district, a system Whitburn denounced as a “slush fund” during his primary campaign.

“It should be a different method with more transparency and more people involved,” Whitburn ex-plained. That way there wouldn’t be scandals like the recent one over illegal funding to church groups for religious purposes, pushed by Republican Supervisor Bill Horn and subsequently voided by the San Diego County Counsel.

“All five incumbents are Republicans, and that doesn’t reflect the demographics of the county,” Whit-burn explained.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” William Kelley, 63, of Hillcrest believes — though grass-roots anger at all incumbents, not just Democrats, may help Whitburn’s campaign. Already the voters of San Diego County have imposed term limits on the Board of Supervisors in last June’s primary, in an ini-tiative sponsored by labor unions tired not only of having to deal with Republicans but the same Re-publicans year after year. The Board hadn’t changed personnel since the mid-1990’s.

Though Whitburn lost a San Diego City Council race in 2008 to fellow Gay Democrat Todd Gloria, “Over the years, he has matured as a political campaigner,” Kelley observed.

The Firefighters’ endorsement is a major coup for him, providing money and campaign workers throughout the county.

Whitburn is a thinker. During this one-on-one interview for Zenger’s, he often paused and thought carefully before answering questions — unlike Gloria, who sometimes starts to answer before a journalist can finish a question, and then talks fast like a New Yorker. Whitburn, in contrast, answers slowly and seems to choose his words carefully and deliberately.

Where’s the Fire?

Whitburn’s campaign faces enormous difficulties as a Democrat amidst a national political envi-ronment with Republicans coming on strong. But his chances are good if he can capture the widespread grass-roots anger at any incumbent, especially an old-timer like sitting Supervisor Roberts.

“If it’s a referendum on the president, it’s a tougher race,” said a Virginia Congressmember running for re-election.

“To be honest, Obama has been a big disappointment to a lot of Democrats. He talked about a lot of change in politics. While I believe he’s a good man, I don’t believe he’s done the changes that he promised to make,” said city commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez in a candid, Zenger’s interview.

“It’s politics as usual, be it Democrat or Republican,” Murray-Ramirez added.

“America went from an essentially optimistic nation to being an essentially pessimistic one that seems to be angry all the time,” writes editor Braydon Carter in the current Vanity Fair magazine.

“We hate Obama, Bush and Cheney. (We’ve all but given up on Congress.) We hate big media, big oil and big China. We even have a cable network devoted solely to anger and hatred. It’s called Fox News,” he stressed in an unusually strong statement for a high-end fashion magazine.

Anger is a “strong passion excited by real or supposed injuries,” but it is “not synonymous with ‘heat of passion,’ resentment or rage,” says the venerable Black’s Law Dictionary.

Self-proclaimed “Mama Grizzly” Sarah Palen and her Tea Party fanatics use hate daily, with political fire in their events. Some local Democratic campaign events, by contrast, have been quiet and polite, but boring.

An elegant Mission Hills residence was the scene of a Democratic fundraiser on September 1. The event was reserved and almost devoid of angry campaign energy. The candidate said he didn’t jack it up because he “didn’t want to offend Republicans attending.”

A tasteful, poorly attended event for GLBT politicians was held August 30 downtown. The only smiles were when Republican D.A. Bonnie Dumanis, an open Lesbian running for re-election without opposition, was mugging the cameras, as usual. There was no fire!

Even Whitburn’s “Kick-Off Rally” in front of the county administration building September 8 drew only about 30 people, most of whom were gathered behind him and seemed unsmilingly bored during his speech to five journalists in the “audience.” It had to be embarrassing.

“I’d fire the campaign manager,” said one county worker walking by.

“The fire the Tea Party movement has is not necessarily going to benefit the Republican Party,” said San Diego County Democratic Party chair Jess Durfee — who, like Whitburn, is a former president of the predominantly GLBT San Diego Democratic Club.

“They are really a rogue element and are not working in conjunction with the Republican Party, and sometimes they are running candidates in opposition to [mainstream] Republican candidates,” Durfee said. “They create the impression that the Republican Party is even more crazy than that party actually is.”

Some political analysts believe Whitburn is now adding fresh spark to his campaign style, and may be the exception to the common belief that Republicans will sweep the elections on November 2.

Durfee said his party is launching a “ground campaign” with an army of hundreds going door-to-door to help Whitburn break the 16-year Republican monopoly on the County Board of Supervisors and unseat old-line incumbent Ron Roberts.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence, J.D. at (619) 757-4909 or
Marijuana Initiative Could Generate $1.4 Billion

So Why are Some Politicians, Law Enforcement Against It?


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. • Used by permission

San Diego’s budget crisis might be solved when money floods into the city treasury with passage of Proposition 19, the initiative on the November ballot to regulate, tax and control cannabis.

San Diego’s massive debt could be substantially reduced, as the Proposition 19 initiative specifically gives big money to local governments, not just to the state.

With a huge state deficit, and Republicans in Sacramento dogmatically refusing to support any new taxes; taxes, assessments and fees from regulating and taxing cannabis (marijuana) as provided by Proposition 19 could dramatically help San Diego fill potholes in the streets and open branch libraries longer.

Almost two billion (with a “B”) dollars could come to local and state governments under provisions of the carefully drafted initiative.

Even the conservative state Board of Equalization, which collects state taxes, officially estimates that Proposition 19 will bring in at least $1.4 billion in new revenue.

“I absolutely support it,” says city commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez. “I think we should legalize marijuana! It would be a great thing for this city’s budget and I hope it happens. The taxes on it would be outstanding.”

“There is a strong case to be made for it,” said Democratic State Assembly candidate Toni Atkins, a former San Diego City Councilmember. “As a voter, I’m going to support it,” she stressed in an interview.

Some local politicians disagree. Republican San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio declined even to discuss it during a recorded interview, saying only that he “was just focusing on local races, so not taking positions on statewide issues.”

City Councilmember Todd Gloria also refused to support it, saying that he questioned the official estimate by the State Board of Equalization, which oversees California’s tax system, that Proposition 19 will bring at least $1.4 billion in new revenue to local and state governments. He then walked away from the interview.

A candidate for countywide office declined five times to discuss Proposition 19, preferring only to discuss medical marijuana issues facing San Diego’s City Council.

50-50 Chance of Passing

An average of five independent statewide polls of likely voters show Proposition 19 still has a roughly 50-50 chance of passing.

“CNN reported that studies show that marijuana will help more people, not just the seriously ill with painful cancer or AIDS,” added City Commissioner Murray-Ramirez in a taped interview.

“It will help people with headaches and backaches, also. This was a very serious, credible report on CNN. Let’s be honest, we have everyone from Obama to George W. Bush, [who] have admitted that they have smoked it.

“It’s not a dangerous drug. I would hope that Todd [Gloria] changes his mind.”

Opposition to Proposition 19 is growing slightly, according to a KABC News poll in Sacramento, though the measure to regulate, tax and control marijuana remains in the lead.

That poll showed 47 percent of likely voters say they will “definitely” vote ‘yes’ on the initiative. That’s down a statistically insignificant 3 percent from August. Forty-three percent said they would vote ‘no,’ while ten percent remain ‘uncertain.’

The KABC poll shows solid support among men and young voters (who are showing up at election precincts in larger numbers over the past five years, according to the county’s Registrar of Voters).

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [L.E.A.P.] is a nationwide organization of current and former law enforcement officers, prosecutors and even Republican governors. L.E.A.P. is based in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

“Half of what the U.S. spends on law enforcement is drug related,” reports Gary Johnson, former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico. “Based on solid evidence from Holland, Portugal and elsewhere, legalization will greatly reduce marijuana use among both adults and youths.”

An estimated 64 percent of the revenue of the Mexican drug cartels comes from marijuana. Cannabis cultivation in Mexico soared by 36 percent last year, according to the U.S. state department.

“It tends to be the cash cow of the cartels,” says David T. Johnson, an assistant secretary of state in Washington.

In addition to bringing in nearly $2 billion in new revenue to local and state governments, passage of Proposition 19 could save about $200 million in costs of law enforcement, prosecutions and prisons. The U.S. has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but 26 percent of its prisoners.

“No matter how you look at it, our current policy against marijuana use has failed,” says former Republican governor Johnson.

DUI Penalties Won’t Change

The penalties for driving under the influence will not change with Proposition 19. However, several studies have shown that a person who has smoked a joint is not affected dangerously, as when a person drinks alcohol. Cannabis does not result in aggressive and violent behavior, as does alcohol consumption.

Unlike cigarettes, marijuana is not physically addictive and its use does not lead to heavier drugs.

Unlike smoking cigarettes, cannabis smoking does not have long-term toxic effects on the body. As an alternative to smoking cannabis, edibles (brownies, etc.) are already being commercially produced for medical marijuana dispensaries. Other countries, notably Britain, are experimenting with systems in which cannabis is heated but not burned.

Local speakers from L.E.A.P. are available to San Diego organizations by contacting the L.E.A.P. Speaker’s Bureau Director, Shaleen Title, at (617) 955-9638, or by e-mail:

More information on Proposition 19 is also available at, or, or

Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence wrote this article as a speakers’ bureau representative of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (L.E.A.P.). Contact him at (619) 757-4909 or e-mail

Talk About Your Non-Traditional Art Spaces!

Artist Larry Caveney Runs Monthly Shows in His Garage


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission

At least one afternoon and early evening a month — usually the third Saturday, though it varies — an ordinary garage door at 4141 Alabama Street in North Park opens up and becomes an art gallery. The proprietor, Larry Caveney, even calls the space “The Garage,” which may lead some art lovers who see the posters advertising his shows to think it’s just a cool name for a normal gallery instead of … a garage, albeit a clean one with paint specks instead of grease stains on the floor (Caveney also uses it as a studio to create his own works) and whitewashed walls to showcase the works Caveney hangs in it.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina — charming traces of a Southern accent still linger in his voice — Caveney has been making art since 1985. He lived in Nashville for a while and then settled in San Diego in 2000. “I showed at the Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park and got to know folks from the area,” Caveney told Zenger’s. “In 2002 I got my Masters in Fine Arts degree from Vermont College. It’s a distance program where you do a 10-day residency in Vermont. You also have to work locally with an artist who’s part of the school, someone who’s doing site visits and critiquing your work.”

In his early years in San Diego, Caveney also developed an interest in performance art — the hybrid of art and theatre for which San Diego has been a hotbed since the Sushi Gallery opened downtown in the late 1970’s and helped launch the career of Whoopi Goldberg — which in turn piqued his interest in showing visual art in non-traditional spaces. “I wanted to open a space that would represent a conduit to the community, and that’s how the idea of The Garage started developing.”

Caveney’s work ranges from relatively traditional paintings and collages — many of the latter using elements from art-show catalogues (he likes to incorporate other artists’ works into his own) — to “interventionist” or “situational” work. According to Caveney, situationalism is a movement launched in the 1960’s by French artist, theorist and Marxist activist Guy Debord, who wrote an influential book in 1967 called Society of the Spectacle. Caveney read Society of the Spectacle and “it started making me think about public space.” Specifically, it provoked him to challenge the distinction between public and private spaces, and the ongoing tension in spaces like shopping malls that are “public” in the sense that people are welcome to them but “private” in their ownership and the desire of their owners to see that people don’t do anything there but shop.

Drawing on the examples and ideas of Debord and German performance artist Joseph Beuys, Caveney said, “I go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and build a little stage where I can dance into a painting, and people coming out of the DMV can make marks on the painting. The idea is to make that a collective space that’s an outlet for people” — not merely somewhere people go to get their drivers’ licenses renewed. He also said he works on “paintings on clothing” — not the sort of “wearable art” people usually think of when they hear the words “painting” and “clothing” in the same sentence, but works in which old clothes are shredded, rearranged and used as raw material for the artist.

Another influence on Caveney’s idea for The Garage, he said, was Doug Ashford, a former student at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City who became a professor there and also a prominent member of a group called Grown Material. “They’d move into an area and set up a gallery space,” Caveney recalled. “One of their projects was to go to their neighbors, find out what they collected and cherished, and show it. I decided to do something like that — but on an ongoing basis, once a month.”

Caveney has been organizing shows at The Garage for two years now. He holds them every month but December and January — December because he’d be competing with the holidays and January because people are still recovering from them. “We had a show in December one year that was a big flop,” he recalled ruefully. Indeed it was such a big flop that he almost stopped altogether. Instead, he said, “I rethought it to include more local artists instead of out-of-town artists. We combine both to support the local artists and also bring new work in.”

Unlike some non-traditional art exhibits which merely open a space and let artists throw things on the wall willy-nilly, Caveney carefully curates his shows at The Garage, selecting both the artists and the works to reflect a particular theme. For his August 2010 show, “Becoming the Animal,” he put out a call to local artists working on pieces that explored the connection between humans and animals, including works that metaphorically dealt with evolution. Not all the Garage shows are themed, Caveney said, and not all of them are multi-artist; he’s done one-person shows too. “We might have a local artist who wants to experiment with the space, and they can jump in with an installation,” he explained.

One form of outreach Caveney has experimented with is a live Skype computer link so even an out-of-town artist — or, as in his August show, a local artist who was on vacation at the time — can communicate directly in real time with the people viewing her work. “That’s another way an artist can get involved in the process and get direct feedback,” he said. “I’ve sent stuff to a lot of shows where I didn’t have any communication or any idea how it went over. On the computer, the artist can talk to people and get their undivided attention, which isn’t always possible in a live show.”

The shows he has scheduled for September and October illustrate both types. The September 18 show is called “Songs of Flesh and Blood,” which Caveney said is “all about the body as cultural identity, internal and external.” In October — he hasn’t set the exact date yet — he’ll be presenting a one-woman show with artist Barbara Goldsand of the Art Meets Fashion group (,who has an interesting pair of professions: artist and registered nurse.

Asked if anyone else has done similar shows, Caveney said, “Not with this consistency. There’ve been shows utilizing alternative spaces temporarily, but because I live upstairs and have the garage as part of the mortgage, I can do this consistently. Eric Wong in Los Angeles [] would set up shows on the top floor of a hotel and take a room. He’s also done shows at Sushi. He’s a great model for me in terms of looking for alternative space. The drawback is the responsibility. I have to deal with the artist at some level. We’ve had great turnouts and we’ve had poor turnouts. When the artist shows at The Garage, they’re buying into the model, and it’s not the typical model.”

One thing The Garage isn’t is a moneymaker, Caveney readily admitted. Though some of the artists who exhibit at The Garage have actually sold works from it, “that’s not an objective, and it doesn’t make that big a difference,” Caveney said. “This is not a commercial model; it’s an extension of my own creative work. We want to experiment with the space and explore some ideas.” He’s already got The Garage booked until the end of 2011 — though he concedes that his mortgage is “upside down” and he might lose the space along with the condo he and his wife Karen live in above it — and though he usually runs his shows in the early evening (6 to 9 p.m. or 7 to 10 p.m.), he might experiment with earlier hours, like 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see if that creates “a more leisurely experience” than a formal art opening.

According to Caveney, The Garage “has its own life” because it meets a need artists, like other creative people, have to reach an audience. Though most of the people who visit are either his friends or people who’ve been attracted by the posters he puts up throughout North Park and Hillcrest, he’ll also call out to neighbors and others just walking by and ask them to come over and look at the work. “It’s innate for all of us to want to show what we’re doing,” Caveney said — and for him The Garage is an elegantly simple way for him and other artists to do just that.

El Estudiante: Going Back to School … at 70


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • Used by permission

When he first entered a university classroom as a student, other students at first mistakenly thought the old, gray-haired grandfather was their professor … until he sat down with them.

In the very funny comedy El Estudiante, 70-year-old Chano decides to enroll at a university in the picturesque state of Guanajuato in Mexico to study literature.

Initially, he has trouble relating to his much younger classmates. He doesn't understand the lingo they use while chatting among themselves. He's even unfamiliar with the earphones by which they listen to music from their cell phones.

When a socially inept classmate, Eduardo, comes to class without a pen and is intentionally embarrassed by the stern professor, Chano quietly slips him a ballpoint. That simple gesture helps to break the ice between him and his much-younger classmates.

But when Chano casually discovers over coffee that they are having difficulty with roles in a university play, Chano begins teaching them lessons not learned in the classroom.

“Great plays are filled with the wisdom of life,” Chano tells three Hollywood-cute guys struggling with their lines in Romeo & Juliet. “We can't get it right,” they tell him, frustrated.

Taking inspiration from Don Quixote, Chano gets intense and angrily tells them, “You've got to find it. You must make it your own. You must share it,” he tells classmates Marcelano, Santiago and Lalo.

The comedy will be screened in Spanish, with English subtitles. at the Ultra Star Cinemas in the Hazard Shopping Center in Mission Valley October 8-14 by the Media Arts Center, which produces the annual Latino Film Festival in the spring.

Chano suggests that his classmates read their lines to strangers on campus and on the street. And somehow it works.

Surprised, little street kids applaud the impromptu mini-rehearsals. The guys unexpectedly win over their reluctant girlfriends. Street mimes even get involved.

Chano, however, has to adapt creatively when he attends a university party where dancing is dramatically different from the slow cheek-to-cheek style of his youth decades before. Yet, in funny ways, he adjusts.

There are so many things about life's challenges that are not found in the books or in classrooms, and which grandfather Chano teaches his younger classmates … and they warmly accept him socially.

When a literature professor has her class divide into small discussion groups, he is left out initially. Classmate Santiago unexpectedly breaks the ice and invites him to join his group, and Chano begins to fit in.

Being back on campus “brought back feelings long forgotten,” he says later. Some of his professors — much younger than he — have difficulty with Chano in their classes. They uncomfortably realize that he is much older, and sometimes wiser, than they.

“I never thought being a student again would teach me so much about life,” Chano confesses to his wife at home. When she unexpectedly dies, his classmates make special efforts to support him quietly in his sudden grief.

El Estudiante relies on pure drama, rather than Hollywood-style guns, explosions and violence.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or

Monday, September 06, 2010

MOXIE’s Eleemosynary: Charity Rewarded


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“A celebration of bad girls,” MOXIE Theatre is proclaiming as the theme of its sixth season. Now comfortably ensconced in the former Cygnet Theatre space at 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite N — east of College Avenue and near the San Diego/La Mesa border — they’ve opened said season with Lee Blessing’s 1985 play Eleemosynary. It’s a play about three women — grandmother Dorothea Woodruff (Rhona Gold), mother Artemis a.k.a. “Artie” (Julie Anderson Sachs) and daughter Echo, a.k.a. Barbara (Rachel Van Wormer) — mom wanted to give her the normal name but grandma insisted on an unusual one. It takes place, at Blessing’s insistence, on a stylized set, a series of platforms at various levels with ramps that alternately serve as pathways, chairs and beds, and for the first few minutes it seems as if the characterizations are going to be as stylized as the set. Then the emotions kick in, and you begin to love, hate, identify with and feel as frustrated by these characters as they do with each other.

Eleemosynary is a play that gets so perfectly into a female-centered view of the world — Dorothea, Artemis and Echo are the only on-stage characters and the plot is constructed so that men are involved, even as off-screen presences, as little as possible — it’s startling to do a Web search on Lee Blessing and find out that he’s a man. What’s more, his most famous play, A Walk in the Woods, is about an encounter between two men, arms control negotiators for the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, a plot and theme as different from Eleemosynary as one could imagine coming from the same author. The plot of Eleemosynary is centered around the almost preternatural intelligences of the three characters and the different ways in which they come out.

Trapped in an arranged marriage in which she gave birth to three sons before finally having the daughter she craved all along, Dorothea has deliberately cultivated eccentricity, claiming to converse with the dead and at one point hiring a professional filmmaker to document her experiment in getting her daughter to fly without any more motive power than strapping artificial wings to her arms and flapping them. (Julie Anderson Sachs’ expressions in the scenes in which her mom is trying to get her to do something she knows all too well is impossible and dangerous are priceless.) Artie pursues a career as a medical researcher and marries her boss, only to lose him in a car crash a month after her daughter is born; she’s also haunted by the ghost of a previous baby, fathered by a gardener at Dorothea’s home, whom — under pressure from her mom — she had aborted. Echo inherits the family’s brains and expresses them by going through the dictionary and cherishing the most obscure words therein; eventually she uses that skill to enter spelling bees and ultimately rises to contention for the national championship.

Premiered in 1985 and first produced locally in 1990 by the San Diego Actors’ Theatre, Eleemosynary — a word meaning “charitable” that figures prominently in the climactic spelling bee — is a tour de force for an ensemble cast that gets what it needs from MOXIE. Director Chelsea Whitmore keeps her actors in almost constant motion, flitting them about the platform set in a way that adds energy and urgency to Blessing’s script. She also gets flawless performances from all three actors. Rhona Gold is properly overbearing as the domineering maternal figure who manages to suck everyone around her, particularly her descendants, into her weirdness — until she’s struck down by a stroke and becomes uncomfortably dependent and helpless. Julie Anderson Sachs creates Artie as a figure of pathos, clearly caught in the middle and able to relate to her daughter only long-distance, as a voice at the end of a phone prompting her with obscure words to prep her for her spelling bees. (One of the gimmicks of Blessing’s script is that when Echo was just a few months old, Artie abandoned her for her career and let Dorothea raise her. Blessing never really tells us why, which depending on your point of view is either powerful ambiguity or maddening vagueness.)

In some ways Rachel Van Wormer has the toughest acting challenge of any of the three principals. While MOXIE doesn’t include biographies of any of the actors (or anyone else) in their program, a Web search reveals that Van Wormer is a young adult woman who graduated from high school almost a decade ago and has already acted professionally (on the very same stage!) in Cygnet Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. She’s utterly convincing as a pre-pubescent girl in a script that requires her to enact her character at various stages of her childhood. Even the scenes in which she’s playing Echo as a baby, snuggling up to her forbidding grandmother as Dorothea tries to push her to learn language well before she’s ready, are astonishingly credible.

MOXIE’s technical crew are well up to the standards set by the actors and director. Special kudos go to sound director Matt Lescault-Wood, who manages by simple sound effects — the beeping sound of a piece of medical equipment, a few bits of canned applause as Echo competes for the national spelling-bee championship — to suggest worlds beyond the simple platform set Angelina Ynfante has provided as per Blessing’s instructions. The costumes by Jannifer Mah are also appropriate — especially Dorothea’s bizarre knit outfit — and though it’s unclear whether the wings both Sachs and Van Wormer wear in different parts of the play are costume or prop (Ynfante is credited with properties and scenic design as well as the set), they’re a powerful motif that sums up Dorothea’s impractical but uplifting expectations for both her descendants. Lighting designer Karin Filijan bathes the action in a warm, autumnal glow that works, though a bit more variety in the lighting might have helped make an already dramatic production even more powerful.

Ultimately, Eleemosynary is a play about family; the payoff is that both Artemis and Echo realize that, however crazy and unreasonable Dorothea may have seemed, she raised them well and gave them a gift of charity. (That famous part of the Bible that names the three gifts, including faith and hope, says that the greatest gift of all is one variously translated as charity and love.) MOXIE, whom I suspect couldn’t put on a bad production if they tried, has given San Diego’s theatergoing audience yet another gift of charity: a first-rate production of an eerily compelling play. Don’t miss it.

MOXIE Theatre’s production of Eleemosynary runs through Sunday, September 26 at 6663 El Cajon Boulevard in the Rolando area. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit the MOXIE Web site at