George Bernard Shaw once was asked if he liked the bagpipes. Shaw, hesitated for a moment and then responded that the bagpipes were a horribly difficult instrument to play – it’s a pity that it’s not totally impossible! You might think that discussing the ethics of San Jose City Hall is not just difficult to discuss – but, well, it’s nearly impossible. Let’s look at recent history.
Last Wednesday night the Commonwealth Club sponsored just such a conversation at the Martin L. King Jr. Library. The panel was moderated by Gloria Duffy and consisted of myself, Bob Kieve of Empire Broadcasting, David Yarnold, editor of the Mercury News, and former Mayor of Santa Clara, Judy Nadler, now of the Markulla Ethics Institute. It was the first such event after scores of headlines and dozens of editorials concerning the ethical free zone known as City Hall. After years, finally a reputable group said, “let’s talk about it.” Hallelujah.
It was highlighted by Kieve’s witty banter, Nadler’s analysis of ethical guidelines, but most of all by the incisive candor and thrice repeated phrase of Yarnold, that the administration of Ron Gonzales is “morally bankrupt.” This would be strong talk in any city. In San Jose, it is positively a “10” on the Richter Scale.
It was all the more laudable because it was in stark contrast to the meeting that day of the Downtown Rotary Club and their main speaker, Ron Gonzales. He gave a brief and according to many, sleepy talk, and after, during the ample time allotted for questions, there was only silence. Finally two, I repeat, two brief questions, one by Kieve himself, were asked. Startling. Amazing. Sad.
All of this in the city of San Jose, known for her competent and dedicated business community and courageous citizen leadership. I raised many of the same issues in a speech there in June of 2001. What mystifies and disturbs me still to this day, is how the leadship cadre of the city’s finest, could seat on their hands in the face of such municipal corrosion and still believe that they deserve the title of “leaders.” Is it any wonder that the Labor movement has been predominant in the last decade? Focus and work and a bit of backbone are the reason. It is a sad and alarming end to a story that begs for an epilogue.