News & Notes

It's the end of an era at the East Bay Express as founder and editor John Raeside moves on

End of an era: When John Raeside and his colleagues started the East Bay Express in 1978, Berkeley and Albany, Emeryville and Oakland seemed no more united than the editorial voices of the Berkeley Barb and the Oakland Tribune. But where many saw contrasts, Raeside saw commonalities, and with his young staff he set out to create a voice for the community he envisioned. “We wanted to make people see the East Bay not as a collection of cities, but as one city,” he recalls. “I think we’ve gone a long way toward creating a sense of the East Bay as an integral whole community.” Over the course of the next twenty-four years, Raeside’s Express celebrated the East Bay’s neglected musical heritage, cultivated an already strong local literary scene, and unleashed the concept of “Yuppies” on an unwary world. But perhaps his most remarkable accomplishment was the creation of a local tradition of narrative journalism through his delicate stewardship.

Now the former seminary student and freelance writer who co-founded the Express has retired. He has a wife and four-year-old daughter, and, as he begins his new career of breakfasting with them every morning, they promise to give him what no mere writer can. “Twenty-four years is a long time to do one thing, and it’s a long time to be on a schedule that’s driven by a weekly deadline,” he says. “One thing I really want to do is to take some extensive time off. As clichéd as it is, I want to get to know my family better.”

His departure is the culmination of a process set in motion about a year ago when he and his majority partners sold the paper to new owners and Raeside eagerly surrendered the title of publisher to longtime Express advertising director Lesley Jones. John welcomed the commitment of New Times Inc. to help the Express expand its staff and coverage area to reach new readers. Nonetheless, the subsequent year was a demanding one for Raeside and his staff, as the paper moved to a new office, installed new computer systems, launched a new publication design, and enlarged its staff even in the face of extremely tough times in the Bay Area newspaper advertising market.One thing that made his decision easier was his confidence in the staff he has left behind. “I think the paper is in great hands,” he says. “That’s what made it possible for me to leave.” Current Managing Editor Stephen Buel, a UC Berkeley graduate whose career includes stints at the Berkeley Gazette, Albany Times Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News, is the paper’s new editor.Aside from promising to remain the paper’s most-devoted reader, Raeside hasn’t yet figured out what else is next for him, although he says he will be happy to trade his weekly deadlines for longer-term projects. “I’m definitely congenitally an editor, so probably whatever I end up doing will involve those skills.” Perhaps some form of book editing, he imagines. “They’ll offer the chance to do what I most enjoyed about the Express, which is to work with great writers on great projects.” Raeside also hopes to finally return to his own writing, a desire that led to the creation of the Express and immediately took a back seat to virtually everything else. “I really haven’t had time to write for most of the paper’s history,” he wistfully notes.

His sacrifice was our personal and professional gain. For more than two decades, the nuanced sensibility and received wisdom of John Raeside has enriched the lives of countless unsuspecting readers. Now, we hope his byline will finally emerge in the next phase of his career. And this September, when the A’s open up a can of payback on the Yankees, John will be the guy with the beard, the Bronx cheer, and the little girl on his knee.

Educating Charles: Insiders universally expected underdog 14th District Assembly candidate Charles Ramsey to go negative against front-runner Loni Hancock to make up ground at the polls. But in the final week of the campaign it was the former Berkeley mayor, not Ramsey, who went on the attack with a hit piece mailed to voters. “Will the real education candidate please stand up?” the faux report card began. It went on to objectively give Hancock an “A+” for standing and delivering for education. On the other hand, the report card failed Ramsey, a member of the West Contra Costa school board, for allegedly having “threatened to fight a parent during a heated debate at a school board meeting” and engaging in “confrontational behavior.” Ramsey says the charge, based on stories in the West County Times, was taken out of context and that he never threatened to fight a parent. (The piece also awarded Dave Brown an “incomplete,” suggesting he had inflated his classroom cred.)

But what really bugged Ramsey was that Hancock’s closest confidant, hubby Tom Bates, had previously told him (as well as 7 Days) that Loni wouldn’t attack her opponent unless attacked first. From what we’ve seen of the campaign material, neither Ramsey nor Brown even bared their fangs, let alone drew blood. The real question is: Why would Hancock, obviously the best-known and most qualified candidate, go on the offensive? Molly OShaughnessy, Hancock’s campaign coordinator, argues that the campaign piece in question was not an attack. “We did not go negative,” she sniffed. “We did a comparison of the candidates based on their public records.”

Unfortunately, 7 Days went to press before the elections results came in. But should Hancock win, we wonder how new Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, the former head of the Legislative Black Caucus, would view her victory. It would be a victory accomplished in part by, as one Bay Area political wag put it, “having stuck a shiv in an African-American leader to get there.” As speaker, Wesson decides who sits on what committee. And if the speaker is ticked off enough, the self-proclaimed A+ candidate might have a hard time finding a seat on any of the more glamorous committees — such as education.

Globalization and the mosh-pit: When Khaled and Hakim, probably the two best known Middle Eastern Rai singers in the world, showed up at the Berkeley Community Theater no one expected pointed geopolitical commentary.

Berkeley Community Theater, known for its authoritarian seating policies, was packed with probably every Egyptian and Algerian pop music fan in the greater Bay Area. They were understandably eager to groove, boogie, and do that weird Grateful Dead-like sinuous arm-waving dance that for once was actually appropriate. They also crowded the aisles and enthusiastically packed the front of the auditorium to see Hakim croon and belt. Therein lay the problem.

Up went the lights and out came pleas to audience members to go back to their seats. Audience members were warned that the Berkeley Fire Department might shut down the whole show if people didn’t do what teacher told them to do. But all to little avail. You could almost hear the worry and despair of the announcer, evidently part of the Khaled and Hakim team, as he begged the audience to be seated. Finally, in a voice dripping with ironic venom, he declared. “We are not in Algeria now. We are in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. And you all have to go sit down in your seats.”

There was a moment of startled silence. Then a lusty chorus of boos and catcalls exploded as the audience rapidly reinterpreted the request, in a geopolitical context, as “Stay in your place, you poor, undeserving [insert appropriate pejorative here]!” Let’s just say the audience response indicated that Shrub’s foreign policy was not the most popular policy initiative in the room.

Hilltop will have to suffice: Speakeasy Theaters, owners and operators of Oakland’s Parkway Picture-Pizza-Pub, has apparently backed out of a proposal to restore and operate the now-dark Cerrito Theatre on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito. Speakeasy had hoped the city would come up with a way to help revive the dilapidated theater building. According to a source close to Speakeasy, the sticking point was “the same old thing — money.” Speakeasy was reportedly ready to put in some but not all of the money, said the source, citing the excessive financial risk for such a small theater chain. So now the prospect of Parkway-style second-run movies, accompanied by beer and pizza, is on the back burner in El Cerrito. Stay tuned.

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