When government agencies get sued, everyone goes into no-comment mode, citing “pending litigation.” All too often, lawsuits serve as a great excuse for politicians to remain silent on a touchy subject. Not Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt.
Last month Baykeeper, an environmental group, filed a lawsuit against the city for violating the Clean Water Act by spilling thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the bay. Baykeeper contends that Richmond hasn’t done enough to fix its crumbling waste-treatment system. One week after the suit was filed, Butt wrote about the legal action on his e-mail forum: “Unfortunately, Baykeeper is mostly right, and despite significant surges of progress, the city has more typically followed ‘The Richmond Way,’ consisting of foot-dragging delays, excuses, and failure to keep the city council informed.”
This sparked a strong reaction from the city’s outside counsel, Melissa Thorme, of the Downey Brand law firm. Thorme apparently wrote a memo warning the city council about the dangers of making admissions that could be used against not only the city, but individual councilmembers. Butt fired off a response to his colleagues, which Feeder obtained, ranting about lawyer Thorme: “Ms. Thorne [sic] works for the rest of you (I’d fire her in a heartbeat), and if you like to be scared out of your pants by her intimidating counsel about imprisonment, fines, jail terms … and criminal prosecution, then so be it. … I just can’t believe you all put up with this stuff.”
Reached at his office, Butt said he doesn’t want to stay silent on the sewage issue “because this whole thing pisses me off. … They use this litigation as an excuse for not doing anything.” Asked why he wanted to fire Thorme, he said, well, because she pisses him off. The lawyer counters that Butt shouldn’t be discussing a confidential attorney-client communication.
Nope, he probably shouldn’t, but bless him for doing it anyway.
Wikipedia’s Pombo Bomb
Feeling sorry for politicians is not part of Feeder’s job description, but some — not all — elected officials have gotten a bit of a raw deal in the whole flap over polishing their Wikipedia bios (see Take Out).
Wikipedia.com is an online encyclopedia where the average joe can edit and add information. This sounds delightfully egalitarian, but sometimes leads to the posting of mistaken and even potentially libelous material — especially when the topic is a polarizing political figure such as the Bay Area’s own, and only, GOP Congressman, Richard Pombo.
For those not familiar with the Tracy Republican, here’s a quick unauthorized bio: Conservative chair of the House Resources Committee who has ticked off environmentalists by floating the idea of selling off national parks and gutting the Endangered Species Act. His district is now being targeted by Democrats who think he’s vulnerable, and his Wikipedia profile has been targeted by anonymous opponents who loathe him.
Wikipedia “editors” have added disputable entries over the past few months calling Pombo an “anti-environmental extremist” and stating that “Richard Pombo is especially known for his proposals to destroy the environment for private gain.” Feeder’s personal fave truly crosses the line: “Richard William Pombo born January 8, 1961 … is a douche.”
There’s no proof Pombo or his staffers edited these entries, but it’d be hard to blame ’em if they did. Now, it should be known that his staffers are suspected of having removed completely accurate but unflattering details about, for example, Pombo’s ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, another douche. Pombo staffers have denied making such edits to the Sacramento Bee, although records show that the deletions originated from a House of Representatives computer. One Wikipedian clearly felt that was enough confirmation to add this unconfirmed tidbit to Pombo’s bio: “Pombo’s staff has attempted to excise critical information regarding his ties to Abramoff from Wikipedia.”
Wikipedia’s discussion page for Pombo — which is separate from the bio pages — contains a disclaimer that because he is controversial and up for re-election “this article on the politician is at risk of biased editing” (“PR dumping”) both by supporters and opponents. Someone rightly questioned why the disclaimer wasn’t posted on the main page, which most readers see. Wikipedia spokesdude Danny Wool did not have a great answer for that: “We’re trusting our editors” — the anonymous users who make the changes — “to make sure our articles are neutral.”
Let the Sleazefest Begin
In this country’s long history of dirty campaign tricks, Oakland mayoral wannabe Ignacio De La Fuente‘s recent debate ploy doesn’t even register as a footnote. Two weekends ago, Nacho’s campaign delivered fliers in the Temescal neighborhood announcing an upcoming mayoral debate on March 4 at the local library. The sneaky part was that neither of the other two candidates, Ron Dellums and Nancy Nadel, had agreed to participate. Dellums campaign spokesman Mike Healy told the Chron that the flier was a “sleazy” campaign stunt. A campaign stunt, yes. Sleazy: not quite.
Right after the Chron story broke, a truly sleazy e-mail flier started making the rounds. An anonymous sender attached a faux wanted poster picturing Ignacio De La Fuente Jr. , Nacho’s son, who is currently facing multiple rape charges. The flier said Junior was wanted “for the rape of children in our community. How can you vote for his father when he can’t even run his own household? Vote Dellums.”
The subject line warned: “Expect to see these fliers this weekend.”
Nadel and a Dellums political consultant, Parke Skelton, denied having anything to do with the poster. Larry Tramutola, De La Fuente’s campaign consultant, says he believes them. And, well, so does Feeder. This one has the fingerprints of a crude mercenary acting solo — someone, perhaps, like the mysterious blogger who hates De La Fuente (see “Who’s Spamming Ignacio’s Blogger,” 5/25/05). Feeder e-mailed the mystery blogger to ask if he was the person behind it. Here’s the reply: “I’ve seen it. Its [sic] been making the rounds. There’s more. I know who it is but I won’t reveal.”