Inside progressive KPFK Radio 90.7 FM, where Local Station Board members are elected by listener-members every year or two, electoral chaos has broken out again, and there's not yet a single declared candidate. The filing period opened June 1 and doesn't end until June 30.
In one corner of the ring is last year's local election supervisor, Michael “The Joker” Sanchez, championed by Local Station Board members Summer Reese and Shawn Casey O'Brien. Reese and O’Brien are both incumbents and presumed candidates in the upcoming election. The Joker is hoping to be the Local Election Supervisor again, for the 2010 election.
In the other corner is the National Election Supervisor Renee “Deadpan” Asteria, who oversees the elections at all five of the Pacifica Radio Network station. Her champions are the 2009 NES, Les Radke, and most of the Pacifica National Board, who hired her. Reese and O'Brien are also members of the PNB.
The Joker began the match-up in a mid-May opening round with footwork that dazzled the ringside crowd. Since the 2009 election, the Joker has volunteered as a producer for KPFK program “The Pocho Hour of Power.” The Pacifica Bylaws prevent a staff member from being an election supervisor. The Bylaws declare that “A local elections supervisor may not be … a radio station staff member, paid or unpaid” and define an unpaid staff member as “any volunteer or unpaid staff member of a Foundation radio station who has worked for said radio station at least 30 hours in the preceding 3 months.” the Joker quickly stepped away from the Bylaws power punch and countered with an uppercut, claiming that top Pacifica management assured him this wasn't a problem. Pacifica's attorney formally concurred.
Deadpan's crew, led by 2009 National Election Supervisor and the Joker's former boss Les Radke, landed what turned out to be a glancing blow with a letter from Radke that the Bylaws prohibited the Joker from being the LES, that other applicants had been rejected for that reason, and asking, instead of re-inventing the Bylaws, that the requirement be waived for the Joker. The Joker's supporters were quick to reject the proposal, instead pounding home their claim that staff membership could be revoked at any time to allow a staff person to serve as an election supervisor (or, incidentally, as a candidate).
Then the Joker's team landed a stunning roundhouse when he arranged for a vote of support from the KPFK Local Station Board at their May 24 meeting, with an endorsement motion supported by eleven members, including Reese, O'Brien, and other presumed candidates, asserting, “that [the Joker] not be knocked out of consideration for, on the advice of Counsel, what amounts to a non-existent technicality.” It looked like Deadpan was out of the fight in the first round.
It turned out Deadpan was stronger than the bookies had predicted. In round two on May 29, the name of the LES appeared on the Pacifica election website, and it wasn't the Joker. Deadpan had been rope-a-doping the Joker, but she misstepped: she had named only women to the five network LES positions. The name of the KPFK LES on the website disappeared.
Two days later, on June 1, another name showed up: Marc Herbst, artist, co-editor of The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest and a co-founder of the Indymedia movement, including L.A. Indymedia and KILL Radio. Deadpan followed up with an official announcement. Her body blow turned the match into a barnburner, with Herbst now holding the crown. It would be up to the Joker to take it away. The Joker's supporters rebounded: two days after the hire, heavyweight KPFK General Manager Bob Conger weighed in on behalf of station staff with another endorsement for the Joker, starting with “I want to let you know how disappointed I am, we are, that Michael Sanchez is not going to be the LES this election cycle.” In spite of her moves, Deadpan was behind in any point count. She ws going to need her PNB teammates to step up.
The third round was streamed from the Pacifica National Board “special meeting” teleconference on June 4 (pertinent section here). In a quick-moving round, Reese opened with a right hook-left jab combination at Deadpan for using Craigslist as one of the job posting sites and questions about adequate qualifications for applicants. Deadpan countered with the qualifications in the job description.
O'Brien uppercut with a challenge to the thoroughness of the interview process, citing the replacement of the original LES. Deadpan feinted and deflected that one by asserting that only one person was hired and officially announced. O'Brien staggered back with a claim that another Board member had announced the first appointment, but Deadpan deftly said again that no official announcement had come from her. The Chair separated the clinch.
Then O'Brien accused Deadpan of inappropriately telling an applicant that she “doubted the veracity of the general counsel's opinions.” They danced until Deadpan denied O'Brien's claim outright and rebuffed with a statement that her decision was independent of any outside influence. The Chair intervened once more, but O'Brien managed to mumble “this is endangering the foundation.” Reese chimed in “it's going to require action” that would be taken in closed session.
The two stepped back and other directors asked questions, but Deadpan managed a surprise blow when she told one of the directors that the Joker wasn't disqualified because of the Bylaws, that “he was considered but didn't make the grade.”
A PNB director from her ringside seat shouted to the ref that it's not the place of the PNB to interfere in the running of an election. The Chair ruled that questions were acceptable, but badgering and attempting to influence the NES were out of order.
Before they left the ring, O'Brien managed a wild swing that missed with a comment that an unidentified PNB member has already “screwed up this process” with “undue influence.” Reese got away with a kidney punch, challenging “how we got this NES” and a telling jab that “there are competency issues here” before the contenders separated.
To those in the upper bleachers, it appeared that in the streamed match-up neither contender had struck a definitive punch. Deadpan’s strategy left her opposition looking strained and winded, but with her PNB not being the predicted powerhouse, Deadpan was bloodied.
Presumably the round was concluded in the backroom of the unstreamed, closed session, and somebody is on the ropes.
There’s been no further fight from Deadpan, but the Joker's team is still in the ring. The Joker himself emerged from his corner two days ago with an adamant statement that he was wrongly denied the job. Included in the extensive cc: list, along with the PNB, the LSB, and station staff and management, is Grace Aaron, the former Pacifica Executive Director, former chair of the Board, and the lead candidate for the Committee to Strengthen KPFK, a slate in the 2007 and 2009 elections. The introduction of this former Pacifica title holder promises more rounds to come.
In the letter, the Joker accuses Deadpan of “disregard[ing] Common Sense, Experience, Wisdom and Logic in order to make her choice for the Job.” He closes with:
KPFK and Pacifica's Elections are now threatened with a return to the "Dark Ages", an era of incompetence, lawsuits and unscrupulous behavior...Along with the accompanying public reputation of such behavior. A reputation I fought and worked HARD to successfully change. It was MY WAY of PAYING BACK to the BUILDING and INSTITUTION that is KPFK RADIO.
I wish to express my appreciation to everyone who spent those countless hours striving to "Make Things Right" (With this situation) despite the disappointing and unfortunate results.
With the PNB silent since the teleconference, it looks like the Joker might just get that payback for Deadpan’s snub.
His letter was quickly followed with sucker punch statements of support from “The Lawyers' Guild” host Jim Lafferty and perennial LSB candidate Chris Condon.
Neither side will walk away from this one with less than a knock-out. With the appointment of Marc Herbst, Deadpan is clearly in it to win. But local champion the Joker has done some damage, tarnishing the upcoming KPFK election, with neither LES able to do their job without the appearance, at least, of partisanship. Deadpan has one weakness, and it's a big one: will Herbst throw in the towel and force Deadpan to replace him with the Joker? A rookie, can Herbst fend off the resentful glares of station management and staff? Is he strong enough to answer the inevitable questions from candidates about his impartiality? The Joker is counting that Herbst can’t, and if he can’t, the champ will grab the crown and walk into the job as the hero of KPFK's elections.
If the Joker succeeds in KO'ing Deadpan, he will win the job, but the elections across the Pacifica radio stations will be in jeopardy with a discredited National Election Supervisor or maybe a new one, with inevitable election delays and whispers of fixes. Ultimately, there are no winners here, and the real losers are the voters at KPFK. With incumbent candidates weighing in, no election supervisor can avoid the taint of prejudice, and all the candidates will wonder whether others are getting preferential treatment from Sanchez or undue penalties from Asteria and Herbst. Once the fighters weighed in, fair KPFK elections were over -- before they’d begun.