Much weirdness at the City College Board

John Rizzo re-elected prez; how the hell did that happen?

And you thought the election of the new old Board of Supervisors president was odd. Check out what happened with the Community College Board: After weeks of telling everyone in sight how horrible it would be if any of the three old-timers who helped screw up the school (Natalie Berg, Lawrence Wong and Anita Grier) got elected board prez, current board president John Rizzo won another term -- with the support of Berg, Wong, and Grier. And left some of his progressive allies either scratching their heads or fuming.

The backstory: A couple of weeks ago, Rizzo got word that prog colleague Chris Jackson was considering supporting Grier for the top post. That would have given Grier the four votes she needed, since Berg, Wong and her all vote together most of the time. And it would have screwed the progressives, who managed with considerable effort to hold onto a one-vote majority at a critical time in the board's history, while the college is trying to win reaccreditation. Why bother to win at the polls if you're just going to turn control over to the other side? I mean, the GOP doesn't vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.

So Rizzo asked former sup. Aaron Peskin, who remains one of the town's most savvy political operators, to help out. Peskin put an immense amount of time into working out the details and cutting through the various interest-group problems. (Example: By tradition, the top vote-getter becomes board president. That would be Steve Ngo. But the teacher's union is mad at Ngo because he wants to put more money into the school's reserves even if it means laying off teachers. So Jackson, a longtime labor guy, couldn't vote for him. Jackson had already told Grier he'd vote for her, so he'd have to be convinced to withdraw that promise. And on and on.) In the end, after a lot of wrangling (while trying to avoid the fact that the Brown Act prohibits the four progressives from talking to each other outside of a public meeting) Peskin managed to find a solution: Four people were willing to vote for newcomer Rafael Mandelman. Okay, that works.

The vote was Jan. 10. The night before, Berg called Rizzo to say that she didn't want Mandelman, but would agreed to support ... Rizzo. Presumably (she won't take my phone calls so I don't know for sure) she had already talked to, or was about to talk to, Grier and Wong to seal the deal. That, of course, would be a direct Brown Act problem, but nobody seems to care about the state's landmark open-government law anyway (witness the BOS leadership fight, where everyone was talking to everyone else behind the scenes).

So Rizzo agrees that would be dandy, never tells his colleagues on the left -- and when the vote goes down, he gets nominated by and re-elected with the support of the people he's been bad-mouthing all over town for the past couple of weeks. In the end, the progs saw the handwriting on the wall and went along and made it unanimous.

I called Rizzo after the vote and he told me that he hadn't expected Berg's offer, but that "it avoided a fight at the meeting, and that's a good thing for the state accreditors. It shows the board isn't divided." Actually, the board IS divided, and Rizzo has been part of that divide, and if the special trustee hasn't figured that out yet, he's not terribly observant.

He told me he should have given his allies a heads-up, but "that would have violated the Brown Act." (Clue phone: The whole deal that re-elected him was a blatant violation of the Brown Act.)

Mandelman just joined the board, and wasn't pushing for the top job, although he'd agreed to do it. So he's not that upset. But he was a bit bemused when I talked to him. "To have the two-week shitstorm stirred up by John, who then forms a partnership with the people he’s despising, and not to tell any of us, is wierd," Mandelman said.

Peskin's more direct. "Politics is all about keeping your word," he told me. "This is exactly not how you do politics."



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