A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
February 14, 2001

Okay, let’s suppose you catch a neighborhood kid breaking into your house. He’s from a prominent family, well-connected in city government. You report it to the police, who pick him up and let you know that he is a suspect in several other breakins. The kid disappears from the neighborhood and there are rumors, but no official word, that he is being punished in some way…maybe even jailed. No-one knows for sure. But a few weeks later, you look out the door and there’s this kid again, walking around the neighborhood, smirking, casing everybody’s houses. You call the police department, the District Attorney’s office, the local courts to ask what’s going on. Citing the fact that this kid is a juvenile, the authorities say they can’t comment. Any information on his punishment is confidential. So what would you think?

The same thing we ought to think in the Jacques Barzaghi situation, I’d guess.

The City can’t have it both ways. It can’t withhold any details of Barzaghi’s punishment for sexual harassment of female City employees, while at the same time expect us to believe the unattributed leaks to the local press that Barzaghi was suspended and forced into counseling. Unless some official makes a public statement to the contrary, we should assume that Barzaghi spent the last month still on the job, advising Mayor Brown and overseeing the Crafts and Cultural Arts Department from the Jack London Square area home he shares with the mayor, all without missing a single paycheck. In other words, no punishment at all. Why should we believe anything else?

But I’m easy. I’m willing to accept an alternate theory, if they’d like.

Calls over to the Crafts and Cultural Arts Department during Barzaghi’s "absence" were answered with assurances that the department was running smoothly under Ben Hazzard’s direction, and that the day-to-day operations were not affected. Which leaves us with a bit of a conundrum.

Jacques Barzaghi is paid $114,000 a year to co-direct the Crafts and Cultural Arts Department. Ben Hazzard is paid $78,000 a year to do the same thing. That seems a lot of money to run the arts department, even for a city that likes to draw and dance as much as Oakland. But if Barzaghi actually was removed from directing the department for a month, and if the department ran smoothly while he was gone, that means… Well, you figure it out.

I’d thought that Barzaghi himself might come forward to ‘fess up, but the only thing we’ve heard from him during this whole affair is when he invoked the Mediterranean Defense. No, this is not a fencing strategy. It’s what Barzaghi told a Chronicle reporter in December to try to explain that the sexual harassment allegations may have only been a misunderstanding. "I’m a Mediterranean," he said. "I hug people. I touch people. It’s my culture."

Oakland is a pretty tolerant city, and I think we’d be more forgiving if this had happened to someone fresh off the plane. But Barzaghi has lived in this country for more than 30 years, managed a Presidential campaign in the Clinton era, and worked as a high-level public official in both state and municipal government during a time when the current standards of sexual harassment were being widely debated and then implemented. Saying he’s ignorant of our laws and our ways is no excuse.

On the other hand, maybe Barzaghi is providing us insight into the Mayor’s real definition of "world class city." If so, I’d suggest we take full advantage. Maybe we could change the city’s name to Gropeland, with the slogan "The Paris Of The Pacific…They Don’t Get Away With Nothing Over There That You Can’t Get Away With Over Here." Go after the Tailhook Conventions. If we’re going to have to pay close to $200,000 for two directors to run the Arts Department, we need to look into a way to get some of it back.