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Contract Candidate: Assembly hopeful Joe Coto has been garnering long green from contractors.

Public Eye

Juice for Joe

In 14 years as superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, Joe Coto made a lot of friends who are now shoveling cash into his state Assembly bid. And driving those bulldozers of greenbacks are more than a half-dozen contractors who walked away with fat construction contracts during Coto's sunset days as schools supe. For example, Bruce Flyn and Associates walked away with five ESUHSD contracts worth $147,630 in April and returned the favor by depositing $6,400 in Coto's campaign bank accounts through individual and corporate contributions by the construction inspection firm and its principal ... Dynalectric, a subsidiary of the Connecticut-based Emcor construction and facilities services group, showed its appreciation for at least a half-dozen contracts totaling almost a quarter mil by plunking 3 grand into Coto's kitty in May, while the superintendent was still the district's chief executive. ... Local architects The Steinberg Group banked $300,000 for their assistance in designing Coto's baby, the new Evergreen Valley High School. Steinberg thanked him for the job by contributing the legal maximum, $3,200. Robert Bothman Inc. of San Jose, which won a $677,950 contract to improve track and field facilities at Mt. Pleasant High School, also maxed out at $3,200. Amoroso Construction, which performed more than $300 grand in services for the district, arranged for two $3,200 tokens of appreciation. The Seville Group, recipient of at least one $200K contract, did even better. It ponied up around 10 grand between the company, its president and someone with the same last name who lives at the same address. ... Other construction-related companies--ATI, Thomas Graber Electrical, Olson & Co. Steel, Noah Concrete and Aedis Architecture--coughed up big contributions as well. ... The raft of donations from beneficiaries of the school district's largesse, as well as smaller contributions from district employees, attracted the attention of the local district attorney's political watchdog. "We looked into it and found that there's was nothing illegal," Special Assistant DA Bill Larson assures Eye. About getting money from his underlings: "It's against the law for a person in a government position to solicit money. But it's not against the law for employees to give money to candidates." ... Even if it's within the letter of the law, the financial backscratching isn't going to make Coto a poster boy for clean politics. "The question really is around the appearance," says Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. "The most important thing that any public official has is the public's trust, and candidates want to do anything they can to avoid a conflict or the appearance of an impropriety. I think the question in this case would be around how does it look? Also what influence would these campaign donations have in the position he seeks?" ... Coto insists he's simply popular and swears his campaign is absolutely clean. "This is the first I've heard of such a thing," he says, referring to the news that the DA's office "looked into" his campaign financing. Coto says people who gave to his cause did so without prompting. "I didn't myself go out and solicit anyone."

Acts to Grind

Samina Faheem is not your normal American Muslim. That is, instead of keeping low-pro with zipped lips, the 18-year resident of Palo Alto helps stir up chatter with local law enforcers regarding the country's 2-year-old, tightly wound anti-terrorism obsession that has focused, to a large degree, on people who share Faheem's faith. She started an organization called American Muslim Voice and rallies everyone she can to challenge the rollback of civil liberties for Arabs and Arab look-alikes. Faheem helped achieve a victory in Santa Clara County last week. She spoke at the Supes' Legislative Committee against the federal government's Patriot Act and proposed expansions of surveillance and detainment powers. Faheem related at the meeting about how her Caucasian activist colleagues casually told Palo Alto police officers in June that they blame the U.S. government for the 9/11 attacks. "Bush was coming, and they were asking if Bush could be arrested for violating the civil rights of Iraqis," Faheem recalls. "I was totally stunned." Faheem notes that she disagrees with those anti-American views. "Even if it was my opinion," she continues, "I wouldn't be able to say a single word about that because that would be deemed a threat to homeland security. and I could be put away under secret evidence for as long as the administration wants." With the clear exception of the Sheriff's Department for one, the county seems to have Faheem's back. After hearing Faheem's comments, and despite an objection from Sheriff's Capt. Edward Perry, Legislative Committee captains Jim Beall and Liz Kniss passed a staff-recommended resolution against abetting the federal government's USA-Patriot Act, more wordily known in hopelessly bureaucratic circles as "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." ... The resolution answers Supe Pete McHugh's request that the county consider taking a position on the phantom Patriot Act II, which doesn't actually exist yet in proposed bill form but which frightens civil libertarians nonetheless. The original Patriot Act drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft passed the U.S. House 357-66 in October 2001 with little debate and the consent of local Beltway Reps Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo. Rep. Mike Honda cast a losing "no" vote. ... Activists like Faheem, however, have convinced local governments to speak out against the new bill. As of last week, according to the ACLU, more than 140 cities, counties and states have adopted resolutions against the Patriot Act. Municipalities include Palo Alto and Los Gatos. Mountain View is thinking about it. Arcata took the bold step of actually outlawing local cooperation with the federales on anti-terrorism hunts. Kniss and Beall's move to oppose the Patriot Act goes to the full board on Aug. 19. The county isn't taking any action against Patriot Act II at this point because it doesn't yet exist.

Family Ties

One of Eye's tipsters, who goes by the creative moniker "a concerned employee," advises us that the county jail's Capt. Lindley Zink has been using his law enforcement clout to ensure that his daughter gets kid-glove treatment when the red light shines in her rearview mirror. ... The letter details a routine traffic stop for Capt. Zink's daughter last May. "Zink's daughter quickly identified herself and handed over Daddy's business card to the deputy. ... While he was writing the citation, Precious called Daddy ... He in turn called the west side duty sergeant, who went immediately to the daughter's location and told the deputy not to write the ticket." The anonymous tattletale also divulged that the incident spurred an investigation by the sheriff's internal affairs department. It's hard to fault the young Zinkster. (If Eye had a relative working in law enforcement, the stack of parking tickets in Eye's glove compartment would no doubt magically evaporate.) When informed about the contents of the letter, Zink disputed the facts but took a pass on setting the record straight. "The information you have is inaccurate. I have no further comment." Not to be deterred, Eye rang up the sheriff's office and asked a representative to run the anonymous narrative by the internal affairs department. There was indeed an internal affairs investigation about the Zink family matter, the source reported; however, the investigation was resolved and the sheriff's office wouldn't comment further or confirm any details because it was considered a "personnel issue." Our source noted, though, that the traffic ticket was dropped. Eye dutifully rang up the good Capt. Zink again, who clarified, "I didn't tell you that there wasn't [an internal investigation]."

Unsung Weirdo

Single people are obviously the silent victims of a society fascinated by marriage. Americans wig out over gay marriage, the pope's opinions on marriage and which movie star plans to wed whom. And, of course, some actually watch the worst TV show ever, Race to the Altar. But who speaks for the technically unloved? Well, Mr. Rich Gosse does. In fact, he's been "America's foremost spokesman for singles" for "the past quarter century!" At least that's what he says. ... Gosse, one of the hundreds of folks who's posturing for a shot at the governor's mansion, has some fresh ideas. Not the least of which is a plan for yanking California out of the red. He wants to "decriminalize" illegal drugs, prostitution and gambling. (Woohoo! A promised land built on beautiful, sexy vice.) But the star of his platform is his singles rhetoric. "Everybody thinks it's unfair to discriminate on the basis of race, gender or creed. Why is it OK to discriminate against people based on their marital status," he asks. "I'm the first candidate for governor who's campaigning on a fairness for singles platform." So what's the problem with this self-proclaimed breath of fresh air? Well, the wedding photos of Gosse and his wife prominently displayed on his richgosse.com website eclipse his equality-for-loners agenda.

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From the August 14-20, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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