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Media Coverage
Rogers Has Chance For Serious Work
January 7, 1998


Wednesday, January 7, 1998
Section: News
Page: A03
Joe Garofoli

Supervisor Jim Rogers sat in his traditional spot on the dais of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, bottle-feeding his 6-month-old son, Eli Rapty. Rapty as in raptors. "My wife and I like raptors."

After handing Eli off to his wife sitting in the audience, Rogers was sworn in as the new chairman of the board of supes. Already, I can guarantee that the reign of TV's People's Lawyer won't be dull.

"Some people give Jim a hard time because he's wacky," says his friend, Richmond Councilman Tom Butt. "But he's not crazy. He knows when he's going to go too far and (tick) somebody off."

"Wacky" isn't a word you'd use to describe many politicians. "Slimy," yes. "Honorable," "partisan," "on the take," sure. But "wacky" doesn't quite fit.

Neither does Jim Rogers. He's a benevolent wacky for the most part. Or as he describes his political style, "a guy wearing a turtleneck at a formal dinner."

The challenge Rogers faces in his next year at the helm is simple: Make people forget they think you're wacky. For the good of the board. For the good of the taxpayers. For the good of your political career.

Getting named chairman isn't a political earth shaker. It's largely a ceremonial, automatic move everybody gets a turn if they stick around long enough and their colleagues don't loathe them. There were whispers recently that Rogers wouldn't get to take his "automatic" turn. That resentment over him not carrying an equal number of committee assignments would surface. That he wasn't interested in the nitty-gritty drudgery that is the board's domain.

If you're a Contra Costa taxpayer, you don't want the board preoccupied by insider political stuff. If Rogers were to get snubbed, the board's political dynamic would have been thrown off, scorching all the good feelings created in the last year. That would have meant more time sniping and less time governing. Anybody familiar with county boards before the current one has seen that happen too often. Fortunately, the "skip Jim" talk never progressed beyond whispers, and Tuesday, an all-star cast of Contra Costa politicos celebrated Rogers' coronation at the Richmond Masonic Hall.

First move
Overlooked was Rogers' first, and not-so-shrewd, political move as chairman. He assigned himself to a half-dozen committees as an alternate. Being an alternate is like being runner-up in the Miss America pageant: You don't wear the tiara unless Vanessa Williams gets caught posing nude. So to a cynic, it looks like Rogers is padding his resum as his re-election campaign starts just so he can say that he served on a bunch of committees, and rebuff complaints about his workload.

"I'm very disappointed that my political opponents would cast that in such a way," he said Tuesday.

Rogers should take a cue from outgoing chairman Mark DeSaulnier. DeSaulnier massaged agendas to ensure that his then-inexperienced board wouldn't tackle more than one hot issue per meeting. That, coupled with his good humor, led to a relatively calm year. This year will be tougher, as the board faces decisions on libraries, refineries and development in East County and the San Ramon Valley. And Rogers' humor is quirkier, less genial than DeSaulnier's.

After Tuesday's lunch, Rogers and I sat on the stage of the Masonic Hall. As we recalled the notables there, he looked at his son and jumped to the microphone. "I forgot to announce that today is Eli's 6-month birthday." The one guy left in the room put down the dishes he was busing and applauded. The man appreciated the endearing side of wacky.

Reach Joe Garofoli at 943-8061; joeg@cctimes.com