Public Comment

Commentary: KPFA Elections: The Real Issues

By Brian Edwards-Tiekert
Friday November 02, 2007

Carol Spooner’s Oct. 30 commentary in the Berkeley Daily Planet states that the “People’s Radio” candidate statements in the KPFA election “. . . are not attacks on anyone’s character. They are factual assertions and strong arguments concerning the positions and actions of other candidates. . .” 

Perhaps Spooner should re-read the statements in question. In lieu of any substantive discussion of how KPFA can better fulfill its mission, they engage in name-calling (repeatedly referring to myself and their opponents as “the dismantlers"), launch petty attacks on the character of KPFA staff and boardmembers (“They only want your money, not your thoughts and input on how to improve the station”), and propose a paranoid conspiracy theory that puts me at the center of a plot to destroy KPFA’s elected board. (This last, Spooner writes, “should be of concern to the voters.”) 

To be clear: In 2005, when I thought KPFA’s board was charting a course that jeopardized the future of the station, I wrote an email to a group of people who care about KPFA that suggested topics we might discuss at a meeting—a meeting that, in fact, never happened. One of those topics was “recalling LSB members / dismantling the LSB”—asking KPFA’s members, via recall petition, to clean house on KPFA’s board. (I had just read a paper on nonprofit governance entitled “Boards Behaving Badly"—which suggested the only remedy for some boards made dysfunctional through infighting was "dismantling” them by stripping them down to the legal minimum number of members, then building them back up with fresh faces). 

I did not pursue that idea—instead, I’ve worked diligently as the KPFA Board’s elected Treasurer to build unity on the station’s budget (approved unanimously this year) and press for financial accountability from the Pacifica National Office. That has not, however, prevented some members of KPFA’s Board from alleging every action I, and anyone copied on that email, have taken since then has been part of an elaborate plot to destroy democracy at KPFA (how they consider a recall vote anti-democratic is still beyond me). 

The treatment of that email, which was dug out of the trash at KPFA, published on the internet, and has been used as election propaganda for two years running, demonstrates a central problem in KPFA’s internal politics: the tactic of demonizing one’s opponents based on their alleged motives rather than debating their positions based on their merits. There is simply no room for dialogue, compromise, and consensus-building when one party holds that the other’s positions are part of a secret conspiracy. 

What troubles me about Carol Spooner’s commentary is that the slates she endorses include some of those principally responsible for the KPFA Board’s culture of attack. 

Richard Phelps, running on the “People’s Radio” slate, has left me voicemail comparing KPFA’s staff to Nazis, flipped me off during a committee meeting (and then, when confronted, told me I deserved it), and dogged me with abusive and sometimes profanity-laced phone calls at my home and workplace. 

Joe Wanzala, running on the “independent” slate, has widely circulated an email insinuating that Larry Bensky is a CIA asset, published another statement calling former KPFA manager Nicole Sawaya “an integral, albeit passive, part of the long-term effort to subvert Pacifica” and, during the last KPFA board election, ghost-wrote and distributed an endorsement email that purported to be from Dennis Bernstein—which Bernstein promptly and vociferously denied. Beyond their conduct, members of those two slates have openly taken positions that would destroy KPFA as we know it: attacking KPFA’s award-winning news department; proposing to eviscerate KPFA’s music offerings; advocating for drastic cuts to KPFA’s staffing; attacking the very notion of professionalism while promoting a fringe political agenda sure to marginalize our radio station—“People’s Radio” candidate Bob English has publicly defended Pacifica station WBAI for selling copies of a conspiracy theory documentary directed by holocaust denier Eric Hufschmid. 

KPFA needs to do better. That’s why I’m endorsing the “Concerned Listeners” slate, a group of candidates who represent the diversity of experience that one hopes for in an organization like KPFA—combined with a commitment to bring civility to KPFA’s fractious board. They are people who will roll up their sleeves and work to improve KPFA—rather than sniping from the sidelines. The candidates are Sherry Gendelman, Warren Mar, Susan McDonough, John Van Eyck, Diane Enriquez, Antonio Medrano, Matthew Hallinan, and Paul Robins. You can read more about them, and their other endorsers, at If you’re a KPFA member, remember to get your ballot in by Nov. 15. 


Brian Edwards-Tiekert is a staff representative on KPFA’s Local Station Board.