The Things People Say and Do
Compliments and scorn come in all colors
By Greg Payne
When it comes to doling out compliments to city bureaucrats, I'll be the first to admit that I tend to be more Simon Cowell than Paula Abdul. But after watching him speak at a recent meeting of the Economic Forum, I have to say that Jay Czar was one of our best public servants and will be greatly missed.
Czar stepped down this June as the city's chief administrative officer, having worked his way through the ranks of City Hall over 27 years. In that time, Czar held positions in departments as varied as Parks and Aviation before Mayor Martin Chavez appointed him CAO in December 2001.
An old phrase says, "He who takes the King's shilling must do the King's bidding." For many City Hall political appointees that means being, essentially, the mayor's toady. Czar, however, was able to balance his responsibilities to the citizens of Albuquerque while serving a number of different political leaders. If it was the right thing and could be done, Czar did his best to make it happen.
There are a number of us who believe city government can work more effectively. For the two and a half years that Jay Czar served as CAO, he offered a glimpse of what government can do with the right combination of energy, dedication and straightforwardness. If only we had a few more just like him.
"Fool me once, shame on ... um. Um ... We don't get fooled again!" Last week, for five, count'em, five days the Albuquerque Journal ran one of its most extensive, front page "investigative" exposés in recent memory about "A 9-11 Phony" named Doug Copp.
A self-described rescue professional, Copp finagled a plane ride to New York City shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the Journal's corporate jet with Journal owner Tom Lang serving as pilot, according to the investigation. Problem is, Copp's rescue efforts on behalf of 9-11 victims were apparently limited to liberating miniatures from his mini-bar and having himself filmed around Ground Zero.
While the story of Copp's huckster hijinks certainly merited the first front-page write-up in the Journal's Sunday edition, what surprised many was a rehash of the Copp exposé on the front-page of Monday's paper, followed by another front-page about Copp in Tuesday's edition and yet another front-page on Wednesday with a headline referencing Copp as a "knucklehead." All told, the Journal ran more than a dozen Copp-related stories in four consecutive editions replete with photos of just about everybody involved except Lang, the paper's owner. Sunday closed out the week with the fifth front page rehash.
Clearly, Copp appears to be a charlatan. But it's also clear from the Journal's reportorial overkill that you don't dupe Tom Lang without being taught a lesson by the newspaper he owns.
The icing on this latest bit of We'll Show You Journal-ism was a Copp series sidebar detailing all the humanitarian missions the Journal jet has undertaken. Earth to Journal Center Biosphere! If you call that kind of attention to your own good deeds it's not called "humanitarianism"—some readers might call it "self-promotion."
And Richard is long for "Dick" in English and Egyptian. California Education Secretary (and former mayor of Los Angeles) Richard Riordan found himself mired in controversy for some remarks made while promoting a summer book club at the Santa Barbara Public Library. Asked by a young girl if he knew that her name "Isis" meant "Egyptian goddess," Riordan replied, "It also means stupid, dirty girl."
After some nervous laughter in the room, Isis again told Riordan her name meant "Egyptian goddess." This time Riordan (who, as Republican L.A. mayor, once met hunger strikers outside his office while eating a hamburger) responded, "Hey, that's nifty."
In 40 years, hopefully, meet the nation's second or third female president. Isis, a precocious six-year-old who reads at a fifth-grade level, was apparently unaffected by the exchange and remains a fan of the summer book club. Isis' mother, Trinity Lila (this is a California story ... ), was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News saying that Isis didn't mention her run-in with Riordan until the library director brought it up.
"She [Isis] was really OK," Trinity Lila said. "I asked her why she kept repeating what her name meant and why she didn't tell him that what he said wasn't very nice. She said she didn't want to hurt his feelings and that she thought he wasn't very bright."
And finally, love sees no color ... unless you're a hypocritical racial demagogue. When told of Riordan's remarks, California assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (a Compton Democrat) immediately called for Riordan's resignation, stating, "[Riordan] needs to do more than just apologize. And I have to inject: This was an African-American girl. Would he have done that to a white girl?"
After learning that Isis is, in fact, "a white girl," Dymally canceled a press conference planned to further denounce Riordan saying, "We need to move on." Dymally explained his change of heart by citing Riordan's apology—even though he'd earlier stated Riordan "needs to do more than apologize." Apparently in Assemblyman Dymally's world, stupid, dirty remarks about children's names are not OK when the parties are different races but can be rationalized when they hail from the same tribe.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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