By now you’ve probably heard the sordid tale of local literary impostor JT LeRoy: The person appearing in public as LeRoy, always wearing a wig and sunglasses, is actually a woman pretending to be a man who wants to be a woman. Meanwhile, the real author of the faux memoirs about life as a teenage truck-stop he-whore is a San Francisco gal named Laura Albert, the woman credited with rescuing LeRoy from the streets along with her husband, Geoffrey Knoop. Somehow, this person who never existed managed to befriend celebs like rock star Billy Corgan. The LeRoy hoax is arguably the Bay Area literary scene’s biggest scandal ever, which begs the question: Why the hell was such a juicy local story broken by New York-based publications? As it turns out, a Bay Area publication passed on its chance to scoop the competition and make national headlines.
Writer Stephen Beachy‘s October exposé in New York magazine was originally supposed to run in the Bay Guardian. Beachy’s 7,250-word piece was the most authoritative account to date questioning LeRoy’s true identity, although it took a follow-up in The New York Times earlier this month to totally nail down the story and awaken the Chronicle from its slumber. The Chron followed the next day with front-page, above-the-fold treatment.
Beachy tells Feeder that he first turned in a draft last May, but executive editor Tim Redmond felt it needed more work and sent him back for more reporting. “My next deadline was in late August, at which point I had almost all of the information that ran in the New York piece,” Beachy said in an e-mail. “Tim killed it again, saying it needed a few things.”
According to Beachy, Redmond insisted he meet with LeRoy in person, and not just over the phone. Since Redmond was a good friend of LeRoy’s publisher, he offered to set up a meeting, Beachy recalls. But anyone who has followed the story knows that getting the already elusive and reclusive LeRoy — who would have celebrities stand in for him at book readings — to agree to a confrontational interview was no small order. Beachy says he told Redmond to give it a shot, but then decided to start shopping his piece elsewhere. “I had come to believe … that the Guardian would never run the story, and so began looking for another venue,” Beachy says.
Redmond confirmed that he had asked Beachy to meet with LeRoy. “I think that’s a reasonable thing to ask a reporter doing a story on someone who supposedly doesn’t exist,” he says. He adds that if Beachy had what The New York Times ran a couple of weeks ago, he would have run the story. The Times found photos of the woman who played LeRoy, Knoop’s half-sister Savannah, without the wig and sunglasses disguise.
The Guardian‘s editor says he still thinks he made the right call, but jokingly concedes he’ll probably go down in history as the guy who turned down the JT LeRoy story.
What’s Your Alias, Counsel?
Former deputy city attorney Adriana Quintero recently filed a lawsuit against the city of Richmond alleging that her old boss, Everett Jenkins, spread lies about her to the city council suggesting that she was … a terrorist? Actually, Quintero’s complaint doesn’t use the T-word, but, well, it’s hard to figure what else Jenkins might have been implying when he purportedly accused her of hiding her true identity and having a Middle Eastern “alias.”
According to Quintero’s lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa Superior Court earlier this month, Jenkins began retaliating against her after being named a witness in an employment lawsuit filed by another city employee in July 2004. The complaint says Jenkins accused Quintero before the city council of “trying to cover up her true identity.” He also allegedly demanded to know all the aliases she had ever used, and the ethnic background of all of her husbands. At eighteen, Quintero was briefly married to a man of Middle Eastern descent, whose surname (the “alias”) appears on her DMV record.
“I don’t know what Jenkins was thinking,” says Quintero’s attorney, Monique Morales of Oakland law firm Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer. “He may have been playing on the prejudices and fears people have towards Middle Easterners in the wake of 9/11 by planting a seed in the minds of others so that they would not trust Adriana. I’m sure he didn’t honestly believe she was a terrorist or a threat.”
Quintero filed a separate complaint last year with the state Bar, which grants lawyers their credentials to practice in California, accusing Jenkins of disparaging her. The Contra Costa Times reported last October that the Bar’s investigation had “cleared” Jenkins of wrongdoing. But Morales contends that the Bar never exonerated Jenkins because it never actually investigated Quintero’s complaint.
At the time all of this office drama allegedly went down, Jenkins was Richmond’s acting city attorney, a job since taken over by John Eastman. Before resigning last year, Quintero, who’d earned kudos from Councilman Tom Butt for her work closing drug houses, was essentially demoted by Jenkins, the complaint says. He actually made her train her replacement, Quintero says: “I was in tears a lot because every day he was bombarding me with something new.” Reached by phone, Jenkins said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but did say, “Not everything you read in pleading is accurate, true, or whatever.”
Mayor vs. Gadfly
All too often we in the press, Feeder included, dismiss folks like Oakland City Hall gadfly Sanjiv Handa as, well, gadflies. But these people serve an important civic purpose: to annoy the hell out of those in power. There is something remarkable in the fact that a small fry like Handa can get under the skin of one of California’s most famous politicians, Jerry Brown.
Last week Brown gave his last State of the City speech, in which he bragged about all kinds of things — such as Oakland being named by Forbes magazine as one of the top places in the country to start a business. Before Brown could even get out of the council chamber, though, Handa was at the podium accusing the mayor of lying with statistics, arguing that Forbes‘ data is based on the Oakland metropolitan statistical area, which includes many surrounding cities.
Feeder approached the mayor afterward as he huddled away from the TV cameras. Brown took the opportunity to assure Feeder that Handa had it wrong. It quickly became clear that the gadfly had irked the mayor when Brown growled, “He just makes shit up.” So who’s right? Damned if I know. But I couldn’t resist the chance to quote Jerry using the S-word.