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The local election scene is starting to take shape, and the usual lines are being drawn between competing ideologies. Oh, we say that these offices are non-partisan, but everybody knows that in most cases it’s a progressive versus a conservative. It’s all a matter of degree, and hardcore ideologues tend to be weeded out of the process in the first round of voting. Voters in Nevada County are mostly moderate, preferring to elect people who can reach consensus to keep the ship afloat rather than go down with it.
There are some who contend that our county is sharply divided along party lines, so much so that we are the laughing stock of the foothills. I doubt that. Having followed most of the races for the last twenty years I can safely say that the rhetoric has been mild compared to past contests, even when you count the contentious Pruett vs. Diaz county clerk campaign, or the candidacy of Ted Turbolizard for congress.
Now if you go back to the year 2000, that was a nasty election. At the time I was living on Bourbon Hill ( or as I liked to tell people, a few houses down from the corner of Uren and Bourbon ) in Supervisor District One. The incumbent, Peter Van Zant was facing local boy Greg Seghezzi. After decades of Republican domination on the board, Van Zant, Sam Dardick (5th District), and Izzy Martin (4th District) upset the apple cart and were busily preparing to launch the now-infamous NH2020 land use initiative. Conservatives were determined to reclaim the majority.
Greg Seghezzi was well known and well liked by most people. His family owned several independent grocery stores, and Greg was a contractor. The campaign started off in a civil manner, but Van Zant seemed to have the upper hand in debates. He was animated and knowledgeable, where Greg stuttered and hesitated. He was trying to come across as a moderate, but couldn’t seem to articulate it.
So the war of the mailers began. Like the debates, it started off with pictures of family and testimonials from the county elders, but soon sank into the mud pit, or should I say…the burn pile. The photo above appeared on a Seghezzi mailer. On the flip side, Van Zant was accused of using airport improvement funds for “something else”, jeopardizing Nevada County’s fire protection by implying that the air command would be moved to Lincoln.
Van Zant countered with this “Fool’s Gold” mailer, which tried to tie Greg to developers who might bring in “big box megastores that could harm our small businesses, and overdevelopment that could force a six-lane highway through Grass Valley.”
The rhetoric really started to ramp up when Seghezzi’s campaign mailed out this gem…
(You have to admit, the little owl sitting on his shoulder was a nice touch!)
And so the campaign slogged on through September and October. Then on the Saturday before the election, this final mailer appeared in my mailbox.
The hand-written note above the overlayed text reads “Mandatory Reinspection(sp?) of severe Norway rat infestation”. This referred to the Alta Sierra Market, which had been owned by Seghezzi years earlier. After citing numerous health violations, the mailer asked; “Is this the kind of accountability we want?”
Now it can be argued (as Van Zant did) that after the puppet master mailer Peter was justified in bringing up this piece of ancient history to even the odds. What irked me was the timing. The Union had (and still has) a policy of no political ads, letters or opinion pieces during the final weekend and Monday before the balloting begins. This meant that Seghezzi could not answer the charges publicly. (There was little social media at the time, other than mass emailings, but most people were still unconnected to the web. Facebook was still a few years down the road.)
The thing that really bothered me was knowing Peter and Greg, and knowing that neither of them were “evil”. But both had signed off on this trash campaign. The situation called out for a cartoon, despite the paper’s ban. So I took my stack of mailers and I drew the candidates as they described each other. I presented it to editor John Seelmeyer on Monday, and he ran with it.
Not a pretty picture is it? Both campaigns were upset with the paper for chucking the four-day abstinence from politicking, although Peter told me he liked the cartoon. Greg, not so much, but we were on speaking terms before his untimely passing.
So I would say that our local elections are quite civil compared to those wild and wooly days of 2000 to 2004. I’ll be watching to see how things play out this time around. You never know…There could be a cartoon in it. It’s up to the candidates to prevent a repeat performance.
Carmen Miranda would have been 104 yesterday. The Merry Widow Society of Nevada City tip their hats (no small feat) to the Brazilian Beauty and remind everyone that Mardi Gras is but three weeks away.
Every year, the Widows publish The Merry Widow Gazette, and use the money from advertising to fund scholarships for single parents. This year’s edition should hit the stands around February 21st. Watch for it!
UPDATE: Mary Ann has asked me to add that the Widows also accept private donations. You can send a check to: Merry Widow Society, PO Box 313, Nevada City, CA. 95959.
Denis Kearney, born in C0unty Cork, Ireland, in 1847, immigrated to California in 1868. His career as a rabblerouser began on the mean streets of San Francisco, where he championed the rights of “the working man” of California. His loutish brand of politics reverberated all the way to the east coast, where his Workingman’s Party was lampooned in this 1880 Thomas Nast cartoon from Harper’s Weekly.
He despised capitalism in general, mostly because of the rigged system that prevented his drayage (hauling) business from competing in the depressed era of the 1870′s. He once declared that “before I starve in this country I will cut a man’s throat and take whatever he has got!” and “When the Chinese question is settled, we can discuss whether it would be better to hang, shoot or cut the capitalists to pieces!”
The Chinese, in particular, were despised by hoards of frustrated gold seekers who were unable to mine their fortunes and felt shut out of whatever menial jobs that remained in Old San Francisco. There were gangs of unemployed (and usually drunk) caucasian thugs roaming the city, ready to thrash the Celestials in their midst.
Eventually, the economy improved and the remaining Chinese were tolerated, excelling in the laundry industry and getting their revenge by feeding us food that always leaves us hungry an hour after ingesting it. ( Kearney’s racist rants did inspire one achievement, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which halted immigration from 1888 until 1943.) Kearney’s neo-communist movement withered to the point of where he was forced to work in an employment agency, a bitter pill to swallow for an avowed, if somewhat confused,Marxist.
Now I wouldn’t be so cruel as to compare our present day California politicians to communists. It’s the capitalist right who insist on immigrant-bashing (Mexicans, mostly) these days, even though farmers depend on their cheap, mobile labor to compete with imported veggies and fruits. We still rely on Asian labor for our gadgets and garments, but now they do it from home and avoid the traffic in and out of modern day San Francisco.
And the hyper-capitalism that defines the new tech boom on the left coast has left a bitter taste in the mouths of long-time residents of neighborhoods like the Mission. While it has been a boon to small businesses, the skyrocketing rents are forcing many to leave their homes. The new robber barons are major donors to the ruling Democrats, and so far have had their way with a city government that is dazzled by excess and the promise of tax dollars and bloated campaign war chests.
I wouldn’t look for a revival of Kearneyism in the present day struggle of the oppressed. There aren’t enough of them left to mount a revolution in San Francisco. Oakland, maybe.
These are trying times. The world economy is convulsing, the state is experiencing a prolonged and potentially devastating drought, the 49ers didn’t make it to the Superbowl, and there are some curmudgeonly types who want to see the Commercial Street boardwalk take a walk. (Walk the plank?) Conversely, there is a dedicated group that would no doubt chain themselves to the redwood deck before they’d allow its removal.
Such is the state of Nevada City, following a long tradition of bickering over any kind of change. Most of the original preservationists from the sixties have since moved on to the Great Historical District In The Sky, and the second generation is on its last legs. The Millennigen-x-ials are feeling their organic oats, and plan to remake the city in their own image.
And why not? It’s their turn, although they they seem to be in a damn big hurry to push the elders out the door, or down the steps.
And that’s what it’s all about. History is being abused. There has never been a structure remotely resembling the boardwalk on that stretch of Commercial. It is… new! It is blasphemy! In a town where citizens will spend hours arguing about replacing a window frame and what color it must’ve been in 1884, something as visually shocking as a boardwalk in the middle of town has caused many sleepless nights among the historical puritans.
I know what it’s like. As I mentioned in another post, I was a shill for Wiley’s Bar (now Cooper’s) back in the roaring nineties. Dave Parker had the audacity to paint a colorful mural on the courtyard wall. The village government went bonkers, but the bar owner was a stubborn man and refused to remove the offending painting. (And I must remind you that the mural was not even facing the street and behind a wrought-iron fence.) I wrote a scathing editorial, denouncing members of the planning commission, along with ugly illustrations to drive the point home.
When the bar changed hands, the incoming business permit stipulated that Parker’s masterpiece be purged once and for all. Change was averted, and the neighborhood returned to its relative tranquility, until the arrival of the boardwalk.
I doubt that the boardwalk will be leaving anytime soon, just like there will be a new building on bridge Street with a radio tower that was never a part of our local history, and those Robinson buildings on Union Street that replaced a not-so-historic gas station. Given time, they will become history, until Generation Z.2 decides to replace them with replicas of 1970′s architecture. Everything that’s old will be new again.
The town of Washington mourns the loss of Don Edgman, proprietor of the General Store, who passed away unexpectedly on January 23. Don commissioned this map back in 2009, which he printed up for visitors to the hamlet. On the other side were descriptions and histories of the numbered sites. A sad day in the river city.