Before East Bay Regional Parks District director Jean Siri died of a heart attack last week at 85, she’d joke with her friend Susan Prather about who would come to her funeral and dance on her grave. “Jean always used to talk about Norman and others who would not be sorry to see her go and would start campaigning at her funeral,” recalls Prather, a longtime advocate for the homeless.
The “Norman” in question is former El Cerrito mayor and Sierra Club activist Norman La Force. Shortly before her last election to the parks board in 2004, Siri accused Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates of being “ageist” for suggesting the octogenarian step aside and make way for the more youthful La Force. “I said only if I have a dead body would I stop running,” she told the Chronicle at the time, “and it’s not quite dead yet.”
Now that it is, the names of several would-be grave-dancers are already being floated as possible candidates to fill Siri’s vacant seat. One is La Force, who, according to Prather, has expressed a desire to speak at Siri’s memorial service on February 10 at Miller Knox Regional Shoreline Park in Point Richmond. Prather doesn’t want La Force to eulogize Siri, and imagines her old friend wouldn’t want it either. “I always said Norman would deliver an eloquent, flowery tribute … and she would always say, ‘Stop him, girl, stop him!'”
Still, considering that Siri died in office, Feeder asked Prather if she thought Bates and La Force may have had a point when they suggested the old lady step aside. Prather doesn’t think so: “She was effective until she died — and is probably more effective dead than Norman La Force is alive.”
La Force seems puzzled why Prather holds him in such contempt, saying he’s never done anything to offend her. He doesn’t believe Siri held a grudge against him. “If she did, on all the occasions we talked and met she never said it to me,” he says, adding that he always told her he’d never run against her, which he never did. He says that the last time he saw Siri he shook her hand at a parks board meeting one month ago. The upshot: Despite Prather’s objections, La Force plans to attend the memorial and say a few words (without doing a jig) about Siri, who backed his council campaigns in the ’80s.
Leave My Mother Out of This!
As a member of Berkeley’s über-lefty Peace and Justice Commission — famous for its self-important pronouncements on American foreign policy — Elliot Cohen is a troublemaker. Usually he’s a troublemaker in a good way. During last week’s Police Review Commission hearing, though, Berkeley cops tried to make it sound like Cohen was another kind of troublemaker — the crazy kind.
As Cohen tells it, he was strolling along Shattuck Avenue last April on his way to the farmers’ market when he saw several cops citing a homeless woman sprawled in front of Pegasus Books. Curious, Cohen stopped and watched from about fifteen to twenty feet away. The homeless woman eyed Cohen and started yelling at him, thinking he was the guy who called the cops on her. Cohen yelled back pleading his innocence when Officer Marianne Jamison approached and told him to shut up and move along. Cohen protested that he had a right to be there.
“Didn’t your mother teach you any respect, dude?” Cohen says Jamison asked him. Cohen thought it rude and unprofessional for the officer to bring his mother into the situation and call him “dude.” Then the cop made what Cohen considered a veiled threat by saying, “You look like you might need help. Do you need a paramedic?” Puzzled, Cohen didn’t answer. To get her point across, Cohen says Jamison gave him a slight shove and repeated, “Do you need a paramedic?”
Cohen figured the cop was trying to provoke him so he’d get into real trouble, but he didn’t take the bait. Eventually, he left without being arrested, but nonetheless filed a complaint with the PRC, accusing Jamison and a fellow officer of discourtesy, improper use of force, and abuse of discretion for not letting Cohen watch.
At the PRC hearing, Jamison insisted she never put a hand on Cohen. Jamison said she was providing cover for Officer Melissa Kelly when Cohen kept creeping closer and shouting to the homeless woman about her civil rights. Jamison also explained that it was common for police to request a paramedic when someone was exhibiting unstable behavior. Cohen, she said, was acting so agitated that Jamison suspected, as her union rep Henry Wellington put it, “there was an emotional issue at play here.”
Cohen, who is usually a nice and self-effacing guy, didn’t help his cause during the hearing by acting, well, agitated and discourteous. Wearing a tie-dyed Janis Joplin T-shirt, a combative Cohen repeatedly interrupted the police union rep, made faces, accused Jamison of “lying through her teeth,” and at one point got up and threatened to blow off the whole thing because he thought the fix was in. “I see where this is going,” he told the three-member panel, “so why should we waste any more time here? You’ve made your decision.” It all begged the question: Hadn’t this dude’s mama taught him any respect?
Good thing for Cohen he didn’t give up. The PRC panel, whose disciplinary rulings are only advisory, unanimously sustained his allegations of discourtesy by both officers and abuse of discretion by Jamison. It threw out the improper force charge. After the meeting, PRC member Sharon Kidd said the cops made it sound like everyone who walks on Shattuck is “5150,” police code for a mentally ill subject. Kidd thought it understandable that Cohen would rubberneck at the scene. The panel also thought it rude to go and bring Cohen’s mama into the whole thing. “The commission felt that was unprofessional,” Kidd said.
Hungry to Govern
Oakland Assembly candidate Sandré Swanson hasn’t raised the most cash in his race — that crown belongs to City Attorney John Russo, who boasts a $411,000 war chest compared to Swanson’s $273,000 — but he has compiled the biggest restaurant tab, just-released campaign finance records show.
In 2005 Swanson spent more than $1,500 eating out on 38 occasions for “meetings and appearances.” That doesn’t include money spent on food for fund-raising events. Russo and the other Democratic contender, Piedmont school board member Ronnie Caplane, spent nothing on restaurant meals apart from big fund-raisers, according to their campaign filings. Swanson’s stomach took him to an array of local places, including Kincaid’s, Nellie’s Soul Food, Pho 84, Angelfish, Max’s, Le Cheval, Scott’s Seafood Grill, and Everett & Jones BBQ.
Swanson assures Feeder he was clogging his arteries for legit campaign reasons. “You can’t just call people on the phone and say, ‘Cut me a check.’ They actually want to sit down and talk about the issues,” he says, adding, “I’ve raised more money at those meetings than I have at campaign events.”
Judging by how far he’s trailing Russo in the money-grubbing category, Swanson may have to gain quite a few pounds before he catches up.