Just when you think you’ve heard everything about Berkeley politics, something else even more jaw-dropping happens. On the Fourth of July I got an email from a reader with the subject line “John [expletive deleted] Gertz!” (Though the expletive was not in fact deleted—I didn’t know Gmail allowed that.)
His news? Councilmember Darryl Moore has appointed John Gertz to Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission. John Gertz? What planet has Moore, who is running for re-election for heaven’s sake, been living on for the past seven or eight years?
John Gertz, in case any of our readers has forgotten, is one of the key co-conspirators in the campaign to shut down the Daily Planet, ably reported by Richard Brenneman in the paper in 2009. You can read the whole story from the archives here.
In case you weren’t around then, or you need to refresh your memory, here’s Richard’s lead:
A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions—opinions and ideas they brand “anti-Semitic.”Well, as many who read this will know, the print Planet is indeed gone, though Gertz and his associates can’t take all the credit for destroying it. But the scurrilous web site he masterminds is still very much alive, still spewing vitriol about the Planet, our family and various Planet contributors, available on the Internet for anyone (including the clueless Darryl Moore) to consume. Click on the link for the Berkeley Daily Planet Watchdog and see for yourself what kind of person Gertz is.
Some of them have been contacting the paper’s advertisers, urging them to cancel their contracts. One has created a website dedicated to attacks on the paper.
The expressed goal, in the words of an April 21 e-mail from one of them to the Planet’s executive editor, is to make the Daily Planet “reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke.”
The site is a breathtaking collection of insane rantings, for example a stinging denunciation of my late father, a tolerant man who had nothing to do with the paper, as an anti-Semite simply because he—graduated from Princeton in 1934!
And Gertz is an equal opportunity accuser, attacking Conn Hallinan, well-known journalist, Planet columnist and member of a distinguished California progressive family, on the left flank:
“Because Hallinan often deals with esoterica and conspiracy theories, it is not easy to know from what political perspective he writes. So we will tell you now and in bold print:That’s (A) not accurate and (B) even if it were, so what? That kind of red-baiting is so over in 2012.
HALLINAN IS A LIFE LONG COMMUNIST.”
Accusing critics of Israel’s politics of anti-Semitism is another tactic which has lost momentum since 2009. Three years ago it was relatively uncommon to read frank analyses of mistakes that country has made in its dealings with Palestine in the mainstream press, but now—at least in the better publications—writers have considerably more freedom to speak their minds about what some Israelis are up to. And anyhow, as the charts in the Brenneman report show, the Planet has never carried much news or opinion about Israel.
Even in 2009, a substantial number of Berkeleyans and others, some Jewish and some not, were brave enough to take out an ad supporting the Planet when it was under attack for John Gertz’s bogus construction of faux anti-Semitism. His hysterical accusations certainly don’t represent Berkeley’s thoughtful Jewish citizens in 2012.
The Planet is by no means Gertz’s only target—he has been a vindictive fanatic for many years, going ballistic when any possible criticism of Israel is discussed. When the council voted in 2005 to ask for an investigation of Rachel Corrie’s death, he took out after councilmembers who voted to support the inquiry. From an online report at the time:
“For Gertz, his vendetta over the Corrie vote goes beyond the Peace and Justice Commission. He is focusing on future mayoral elections when two councilmembers who voted for the Corrie resolution, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington, might run for the city’s top job.Well, Maio and Worthington are still in office, but they haven’t run for mayor. Maio is even Moore's usual ally in supporting the current mayor's agenda these days.
“The real political objective is that Maio is going down and so is Worthington,” Gertz said in a phone interview, but didn’t specify how he would ensure their defeat. “They refused to rescind their vote on Corrie. That’s it for them. They’re toast.”
What was Darryl Moore thinking when he placed the author of such garbage on the Peace and Justice Commission? Unfortunately, this appointment fits into a pattern of deeply flawed commissioner choices which call Moore’s judgment into serious question.
The problem became apparent way back in 2005, when Moore appointed to the commission a conservative replacement for the progressive who had been chosen by his District 2 predecessor, the late Margaret Breland. The departing progressive commissioner’s complaint about this can be found here in the Planet’s letters column.
He appointed his city-paid aide Ryan Lau to the Zoning Adjustment Board, which rules on code violations—and subsequently Lau was exposed as being himself a code violator for constructing an illegal building on his own property. Lau still works for Moore nonetheless, though he’s off the ZAB.
Yet Moore yanked his appointee Adolpho Cabral from the West Berkeley Project Area Committee because, according to Cabral, he “asked too many questions.” As a result, Cabral is now running against Moore for the District 2 council seat, asking still more questions about the highly questionable proposals for West Berkeley that Mayor Bates and his protégé Darryl Moore are in the process of placing on the November ballot. Moore’s unpopular support for drastic changes to West Berkeley zoning is sure to be a hot campaign issue, since both Cabral and Denisha DeLane, also running in District 2, oppose them.
More on questionable proposals: On Monday, in one of the first meetings Gertz participated in as a newly-minted Peace and Justice commissioner, he surprised his fellows by his enthusiasm for the Bates Anti-Sitting initiative, which is up for a vote next Tuesday. All of the others, regardless of who appointed them, expressed serious doubts about the value, effectiveness and/or legality of turning sitting on the sidewalk into a criminal offense which could eventually lead to imprisonment for offenders who couldn’t pay fines. When a vote was taken Monday to support sending comments to that effect to the City Council, Gertz abstained when everyone else voted yes.
Ironically, Gertz doesn’t even live in Moore’s flatlands West Berkeley District 2. He lives on Mariposa Street, firmly situated in the affluent Berkeley hills in District 5. So why did Moore appoint him?
Money could have something to do with it. Gertz lives handsomely on revenues from the brand trademark of Zorro, which he inherited from his father, an author’s agent who acquired it from the character’s creator in a transaction which was later the subject of a lawsuit by the writer’s heirs. He’d be in a good position to contribute to Moore campaigns, including the current council race, though the amount would theoretically be limited by Berkeley election law. Even more important, however, Zorro Productions, Inc. and John Gertz Productions Inc., the corporations he owns, could contribute to PACs supporting the two Bates/Moore initiatives on the November ballot without limit or disclosure, since the Council has just voted to postpone enforcing newly adopted disclosure requirements until after the November election.
But simple bad judgment still looks like the best explanation for Moore’s appointment, that or his cozy acolyte relationship with Mayor Tom Bates, who has his own reasons for wanting to curry favor with John Gertz. But Bates might not be in the mix—a useful journalistic maxim is never to attribute to conspiracy what incompetence would also explain.
It should be obvious to anyone by now that Gertz is both vicious and nutty, a dangerous combination. Everything Moore needed to know about him is a matter of public record—one glance at the dpwatchdog site should have been enough to tell him that Gertz is toxic. Regardless of whose bad idea it was, Moore richly deserves to lose his council seat for appointing the likes of John Gertz to a city commission.