Political spectators were a bit mystified as word leaked that Jeff Smith, the top exec for the County of Santa Clara, tabbed Steve Preminger to be his “special assistant,” a.k.a. “right-hand dude,” a.k.a. “wait, what?” Preminger has been a longtime strategist for the South Bay Labor Council’s nonprofit arm, Working Partnerships USA, and he also chairs the local Democratic Party, which is more or less the free-hanging appendage of organized labor. So why would Smith make such a politically loaded appointment? At first blush it might seem county supervisor Cindy Chavez, former head of the SBLC and WPUSA, put the screws to Smith—who reports only to the Board of Supervisors—and that she’s slowly introducing her prior team into bureaucratic folds. Former SBLC spokesflack Stacey Hendler Ross, who once put hands on a San Jose Inside reporter in attempt to physically throw her out of a labor election party, just got hired by VTA, whose board Chavez sits on as vice chair. But that’s probably giving Chavez too much credit, as Smith may have a different goal: phasing out the mostly superfluous Office of Public Affairs. Led by communications director Gwen Mitchell, who received an absurd $223,000 in total compensation last year, the public affairs gang has a staff of six that does little more than take messages for Mitchell and send out press releases, many of which marked URGENT only to note that the county is celebrating the 23rd annual World Refugee Day, or that food can go bad if left out in the summer heat. Seriously, those are two missives from just the last couple months. Preminger’s decision to join the county is not void of irony, as word is he left an organization that fights for better worker pay and benefits because WPUSA and the SBLC don’t offer good pay and benefits. Preminger said he is proud of his past work and any concerns about his political affiliations affecting his new job are specious. “Watch out how I carry myself,” he said.