You just knew I’d write about hookers this week. This is Bottom Feeder, after all, and it seemed only fitting to have something in honor of Berkeley’s Measure Q, which would all but decriminalize prostitution (see box next page). I even had a great joke-quote from Berkeley dweller Peter Tannenbaum ready: “I oppose Measure Q because there’s no guarantee that the cost savings will be passed onto the consumer.” But, alas, the story has been played out: Even The New York Times has run a piece on the measure, which then caught the attention of The Daily Show.
There seemed to be no new angles. That is, until a high-level City Hall source told me about persistent rumors that some residents at Harriet Tubman Terrace, a 91-unit senior housing complex across the street from Berkeley Bowl, were bringing hookers up to their apartments. “Hooker” is perhaps not the right word — there’s another, more enlightened term preferred these days for the oldest profession. What was it again? Oh, yes: ho. The old dudes were supposedly bringing ho’s up to their cribs.
Anyway, Harriet Tubman residents have complained for years about lax security in the building. But the idea of a senior housing complex becoming a sex cauldron seemed a little far-fetched. B-town Councilman Kriss Worthington, however, told Feeder he’d also heard anecdotal reports of illicit sexual activity in the building, though he believed the offenders were younger relatives of the senior residents. A police officer kindly scanned all the reported activity from the building this year and found nothing involving solicitation.
So Feeder tracked down one longtime Tubman resident to see what she knew. The resident, who asked that her name not be published, said she hadn’t heard about hos in her midst. The real problem, she said, was drugs — the use and sale of them. The tenant says some apartments have a steady stream of strangers coming in and out. “We just stay in our rooms and lock our doors,” she says. “That’s all you can do.” Police did arrest a 66-year-old man living in the building earlier this year for possession of narcotics, says Officer Steve Rego of the Berkeley PD. Rego says he doesn’t know what drugs were involved, but the code cited suggested it was probably cocaine or heroin — not Viagra.
Tough Old Birds
Meanwhile, two “little old ladies” in a heated Contra Costa campaign are proving to be a couple of tough broads you don’t want to mess with. In their effort to be reelected to the obscure Mt. Diablo Healthcare District board, retirees Grace Ellis and Isabelle Chenoweth launched a fierce attack on their opponents in a campaign newsletter. The piece, paid for by Ellis’ campaign committee, accuses 49-year-old challengerScott Wilson of using threats to urge them not to run. According to the broadside, which was sent to 29,000 households, Wilson sent Ellis an e-mail warning her and Chenoweth not to run “because he didn’t want to beat up two ladies. He also referred to a bloody campaign.” Ellis then called the Concord police to report the threat.
Wilson, a Libertarian antitax crusader, laughs at the idea that he would ever threaten to harm Ellis or Chenoweth. “I haven’t got a violent bone in my body,” he says, adding, “Welcome to the world of politics; Grace plays hardball.”
As Wilson recalls it, Ellis had tried to dissuade him and his two allies from running so that the central county district could save the money of having to finance a contested race. Wilson suggested in turn that the three incumbents — Ellis, Chenoweth, and Al Prince — could opt not to run and save the district the money that way. He later sent Ellis the offending e-mail in which he made his case.
Wilson says he wrote something to the effect of not wanting to “beat up on a couple of sweet little old ladies” during the campaign. He insists he was simply speaking metaphorically, implying that the incumbents were going to face a tough reelection battle. But that’s not how the ladies took it. “I’m sorry,” 79-year-old Chenoweth says, “we took it literally.” Ellis adds: “It was a poor choice of words.”
If anything, the mailer shows that the incumbents are feeling politically threatened: The slate of Wilson, Frank Manske, and Ted Rowe, if elected, is promising to shut down the health district, which they say is a waste of taxpayer money.
Kerry Comes First
When software engineer David Barbour filed to run for the West Contra Costa school board, people wondered, “Who’s this guy?” He wasn’t a usual suspect — i.e. angry teacher, angry parent, or political ladder-climber. By his own admission, he was a newcomer more interested in national politics. He even told the Greens they’d be wiser to endorse other, more-experienced candidates.
After making a few joint public appearances with the other candidates early on in the school board campaign, Barbour has been a no-show at a slew of recent forums. Turns out he ditched his own campaign and went to Florida to go help elect John Kerry. Barbour says he’s lending his computer skills to the effort. He explains that getting Kerry elected is more important than getting himself elected. “I’m so nervous about what Bush might do if he gets reelected,” he says.
Of course, it ain’t like Barbour had any chance of winning his little school board campaign. He didn’t even write a ballot statement because, he says, it costs $1,800 to publish a statement in the county voter guide. Feeder asked if he knew that the school district actually pays for that — not the candidates. “Oh,” he said. “They do?”
Too late, Mr. B., too late. Anyway, we need you more in Broward than we need you out here.
A True Civic Watchdog
A crucial part of being an elected official, a responsible one at least, is having the ability to say no. This is especially true in a broke city like Richmond that can’t afford to make every special-interest group happy. That’s why Feeder was initially so impressed with Bill Idzerda, an outsider candidate for Richmond City Council. During a candidate forum early in the campaign season, one lefty community group asked the candidates if they supported the measure reducing the size of the city council. Nearly everyone did. The catch was that nearly everyone said they were also for adding an advisory youth seat to the council. Idzerda rightly pointed out to the organizers that it would be counterproductive to add a seat when you’re also trying to reduce the size of the council. An energy wonk for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Idzerda also refused to support a policy encouraging cops to live in Richmond. “It’s nonsense … to tell people where to live,” he lectured.
But there’s a dark cloud in every silver lining. A couple of weeks ago, Feeder bumped into Idzerda outside another candidate event and noticed his plastic green children’s watch: a Shrek 2 watch, actually. Idzerda confessed that he and his kids had gone out and bought more than ten boxes of Trix and another cereal just for the promotional timekeepers. And, well, Trix watches apparently aren’t just for kids. Idzerda said he ended up keeping most of them for himself. “They work great,” he insisted. Well, at least we know he’d be a frugal public servant.
Berkeley voters will weigh in next week on Measure Q, which would make prostitution the lowest enforcement priority for police. Proponents say it would help clean up neighborhoods and curb violence against hookers by moving them indoors, and would also encourage the women to report violent incidents to police. Opponents counter that the measure will merely encourage prostitution. Here are a few stats to help voters make sense of the issue. — Laila Weir
Berkeley police calls related to prostitution (2003): 294
Monthly average (2003): 24.5
% along San Pablo corridor: 98.3
Monthly average (Jan.-Feb. 2004): 36
% along San Pablo corridor: 98.6
Source: Berkeley Police Department
Alameda County: 590
Source: United States Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,2001
Violence against prostitutes
Murder accounted for 50 percent of surveyed prostitutes’ deaths.
From a 2004 US survey by various government and university researchers
Fifty-three percent of prostitutes surveyed said they’d suffered violence at the hands of customers (32%), pimps (20%), and/or police (15%). Only 3% reported the incidents to police.
From a 2001 survey by researchers from UCSF, San Francisco Department of Public Health, and St. James Infirmary
Prostitutes surveyed who suffered physical assaults: 60%
From a 1994 book by Ine Van Wesenbeeck based on research in the Netherlands, where prostitution was then tolerated