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Herr Cowboy: Assemblyman Pete Frusetta told a group of junior high students how Hitler struggled to become a success.

Mein Gaffe

Capital Cowboy Pete Frusetta has been known to put his boot in his mouth once in a while. During a debate over a gay-rights bill in the Legislature, the Tres Pinos assemblyman reportedly compared homosexuals to hormonally imbalanced heifers. Now comes word of the latest bizarre utterances from the horse's mouth. At a student assembly held at Gavilan View Middle School in Salinas last year, Frusetta was rambling on about surviving in single-parent households, according to one person who heard the speech. Then Frusetta started to refer to a man named Adolph Hitler, who wrote a book titled Mein Kampf. "He took something Hitler wrote as an example of overcoming obstacles in life," principal Tom Dietrich recalls. Hitler did indeed overcome obstacles before he became a role model for genocidal megalo-maniacs everywhere. He, too, came from a single-parent home and, as legend has it, had only one testicle. ...

For whatever reason, Frusetta's gaffe didn't create much of a stir in Salinas. Dietrich even wrote Frusetta a thank-you note, saying, "Your message to the students was timely and well received. ... Everybody who has spoken to me was equally impressed." Not impressed are the spinmeisters for Frusetta's opponent, Salinas Mayor Alan Styles, who offered a mandatory tsk-tsk. "Mein Kampf was written as a blueprint for mass murder," growls political consultant Eric Jaye. "It lays down Hitler's racist philosophy. For a California assemblyman to quote it and praise it is deeply shocking." ... Ol' Pete isn't saying much in public these days. The Styles camp suspects that Reep Party leadership is keeping the Capital Cowboy hog-tied for fear he'll say something kooky before election day. In general, the Reeps are indeed nervous about Frusetta's chances. Assembly Republicans have designated Frusetta's seat as one of the five most vulnerable that the party must pour money into protecting--the NBC affiliate in Monterey has been airing his ads in recent weeks. The last couple of campaigns, the folksy farmer held off liberal Democratic challenger Lily Cervantes. This time, however, he faces a more moderate Dem in Styles.

Travelin' Tony

Alum Rock Union Elementary School District may be one of poorest in the state, but you couldn't tell from the generous travel budget enjoyed by its board of trustees. Travel costs billed by the board have become a campaign issue in the low-income district. Board president and frequent flyer Tony Alexander even went over his $10,500 travel budget. And in less than a year, trustee Bill Horn managed to bill the district for nearly $1,400 more than his $7,500 budget allowed. Horn and Alexander attended numerous conferences in San Diego, New Orleans, Reno, Denver and Washington, D.C. "To spend all that money on these trips is just ludicrous," huffs Linda Edgar, a union representative on the district's budget advisory committee. That committee found that other districts, such as Campbell Union Elementary, Franklin-McKinley Elementary and Mt. Pleasant Elementary, give their trustees only $1,000 to $2,000 to fly the friendly skies. The committee later recommended reducing each board member's travel budget from $7,500 to $5,000. Alexander insisted his trips to the capital help bring home the bacon in the form of federal and state dollars. But it being an election year and all, Alexander and his board colleagues bravely went along with the committee's recommendation. Trustee Nancy Knight thinks $5,000 is still too much and points out that the district doesn't need to send Alexander to Washington, D.C. "We pay professional lobbyists to do the job of lobbying," Knight sniffs. "We don't need Mr. Alexander to do it."

Obey Your Master

Eye innocently called over to Masters Institute, the pricey high-tech trade school that sometimes prepares its graduates for jobs delivering pizzas, looking for Gary Robinson. Robinson, Eye-watchers will recall, made the surprise career move last year of quitting his job as chief of staff for Mayor Susan Hammer to spin for Masters. "Gary isn't with us anymore," the voice on the other side of the phone revealed. Trying to determine Robinson's whereabouts, Eye contacted mayoral propagandist Kevin Pursglove, who could only pass along sketchy info that his former sidekick was exploring public relations opportunities in San Francisco and the East Bay. ... As it turns out, Robinson isn't the only one to have bailed out of the institute. Professor Pundit himself, Larry Gerston, is now back at San Jose State University pushing poli sci after a brief stint as Masters' provost. A Gerston colleague at SJSU volunteers that Gerston was making more dough at Masters, but didn't find the venue up to his high academic standards.

Dizzy Diaz

Earlier this year, before the June primary, Councilman Manny Diaz assured the Chamber of Commerce that he was opposed to labor's so-called living wage idea. Now Diaz says he supports the concept of a living wage. His excuse for flip-flopping: ignorance. He claims that when he met with the Chamber PAC, he thought the living wage would apply to all city businesses, not just those with city contracts. Diaz may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but such a blatant misunderstanding of one of the year's most volatile political issues seems unlikely. What politician confesses publicly to possessing a childlike inner monologue of "duh" unless he or she must do so to conceal other motives? One Diaz-watcher suggests that Manny simply weighed who will help his career more in the near future: labor or business. Labor is the clear winner in the Eastside area Diaz represents. South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council chief Amy Dean tells Eye she thinks Diaz would make a great candidate for the Assembly seat now held by Mike Honda, who will be termed out of office in 2002--the year term limits also put Diaz in the unemployment line.

Bad Non-Reference

In a delicately worded letter to the Milpitas Post two weeks ago, retired Milpitas police chief Jim Murray announced his endorsement of Santa Clara County sheriff candidate Laurie Smith. Conspicuously missing was any mention of Smith's opponent, Ruben Diaz, who worked for Milpitas' finest when Murray served as chief in the '70s. There has been behind-the-scenes chatter for months speculating about the circumstances under which Diaz left the employ of the Milpitas P.D. Murray's refusal to give Diaz a good reference lends weight to suspicions that the two cops didn't part pistols on friendly terms. Jimbo wouldn't say anything critical about his former employee, though he didn't volunteer any praise, either. "After looking at the situation," Murray pontificates, "I decided to endorse her. ... I think she'd make a better sheriff."

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From the October 1-7, 1998 issue of Metro.

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