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Friday, December 3, 2010

Council Member Bukowski Admits Drug Use; May Not Seek Re-Election

Council Member Bukowski Admits To Meth Use
May Not Seek New Term

Reprinted from the Bay Citizen / New York Times:


A Power in Emeryville Slides Quickly, Politically and Personally

Andy Isaacson for The New York Times
The California Zephyr passes through Emeryville, but the view belies the city’s prosperity.

Four years ago, Ken Bukowski, the five-time mayor of Emeryville, refinanced his house to buy new teeth.

Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen
Within a couple of decades, Emeryville has been transformed from depressed into a retail hot spot.
The transaction hastened his downfall.
Mr. Bukowski has served on the City Council since 1987, helping to spur a development boom that turned his tiny East Bay city into a center for retail giants like Ikea and Best Buy, and the home to innovative companies like Novartis and Pixar.
But Mr. Bukowski, who admitted in an interview this week that he was once a methamphetamine user, fell behind on his mortgage after refinancing. He borrowed money from developers, some of whom did business with the city. This year, he lost the house to an Emeryville businessman who had lent him $50,000.
Broke and embittered, Mr. Bukowski, 59, now says his penury is driving him out of politics.
“What am I getting out of this?” he said this week at his former home, where he continues to live, rent-free, in a compound strewn with broken doors, tubs and other debris. “I’m not a property owner anymore. I’m not getting anything out of this.”
If, as he suggests, Mr. Bukowski decides not to run for re-election next year, it will be the end of one of the Bay Area’s more colorful political sagas. A former nightclub impresario, Mr. Bukowski entered public office more than two decades ago to reform Emeryville’s government. He is widely described as a bright and dedicated public servant brought low by personal demons that left him destitute.
Mr. Bukowski’s legacy can be seen in the Emeryville skyline, composed of the hotels, restaurants and megastores in and around the sprawling Bay Street mall. The city has just 10,000 residents, but its commercial success and the tax revenue that comes with it have made Emeryville the envy of struggling municipalities throughout the Bay Area.
But Mr. Bukowski’s anticipated departure also symbolizes a political shift. The unrestrained development that he encouraged has brought a backlash from residents who say they want to make Emeryville more livable.
Tracy Schroth, a resident who is part of that movement, has written about Mr. Bukowski’s personal struggles in her blog, The Secret News. Like many other residents, she expressed sympathy over his conduct.
“Do I wish him ill? No,” Ms. Schroth said. “But do I want him running my city? No.”
Mr. Bukowski, who grew up in Brooklyn, made a splashy entrance into Emeryville in his 20s. He opened Silk’s, a club that catered to blacks. On Saturday nights, 2,000 people would jam the club to hear acts like Rick James and MC Hammer.
Mr. Bukowski said he was making $2,000 a week. He owned a plane that ferried him to a second home in Las Vegas. In the mid-1980s, he helped found the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce. A Democrat, he ran for City Council on a reform ticket, determined to transform a polluted, declining industrial city.
“The idea was that it was time for Emeryville to graduate,” said Greg Harper, a lawyer who ran with Mr. Bukowski, “to get away from being a city that was based on dying heavy industry and legacy powers that didn’t deserve to be calling the shots.”
Mr. Bukowski helped shape Emeryville’s business-friendly attitude, marrying the city’s strategic location — 1.2 square miles tucked between Oakland and Berkeley near the Bay Bridge — to policies encouraging development. As Emeryville began to grow, however, colleagues began to notice that his physical appearance deteriorated.
“He was strange; he would go to meetings and smell like a bum,” said Francis Collins, one of the developers who lent Mr. Bukowski money. “He’s an odd character, but he’s honest and he loves Emeryville.”
In the past, Mr. Bukowski has denied using methamphetamine or said he had tried it only once. In the interview this week, he said, “I’ve used it, but I’m not strung out.” He denied that he currently used drugs. “When you don’t have the money...” he said, his voice trailing off.

Mr. Bukowski said he never conducted city business after using methamphetamine. But he said the drug had helped him come up with good ideas, including one to force insurance companies to pay for the cost of putting out fires. The idea has not been put into effect.
Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen
Councilman Ken Bukowski has been a leader in the change.

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
“It’s an amplified euphoria,” Mr. Bukowski said. “Any drug depends on the individual; it depends on the way you think. My mind gets very creative.”
Before the 2007 election, friends urged Mr. Bukowski to fix his teeth. Mr. Bukowski said he refinanced his house in part to raise approximately $10,000 to have his teeth pulled and dentures made. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission later fined him $15,500 for using campaign money to help pay down the mortgage in 2003 and 2004.
His finances worsening, Mr. Bukowski approached businesspeople, friends and residents for money. Ken Schmier, a lawyer, lent him $50,000, according to Mr. Schmier and public records. Mr. Collins, who is in negotiations to sell property to the city, lent him $35,000, according to Mr. Collins and public records.
Mr. Bukowski also took on a consulting contract with Paxio, a fiber-optic company that also had business with the city. Last year the City Council censured Mr. Bukowski for what it considered unethical conduct including not disclosing his contract with Paxio. Emeryville police also probed allegations that Mr. Bukowski took other loans and gifts that he didn’t report. The investigation found that other residents had loaned him money and bought him clothes, said police chief Ken James, but no charges were filed.
Mr. Bukowski — who properly recused himself from the property negotiations according to city officials — says he did nothing wrong and was motivated only by financial need.
But the loans and Mr. Bukowski’s precarious financial situation have made some residents uneasy.
Shirley Enomoto, who has lived in Emeryville for 14 years and is active in civic affairs, said she always liked Mr. Bukowski. “Ken is one of the few people on the Council who will respond to my e-mails and complaints and really try to do something about it,” she said.
But Ms. Enomoto added: “It’s a problem when he goes to constituents for loans and doesn’t pay them back. It’s a problem if he’s voting and panders to businesses and you wonder, ‘Is he getting paid for his votes?’ ”
Mr. Bukowski said he was surviving on his City Council salary — $1,100 a month, plus benefits. He has told people that if he can find another job, he will not run again, but he has also said that if people encourage him to run, he might.
Mr. Bukowski said he applied for a job with the Association of Bay Area Governments but was turned down. He sought work as a bus driver for the Emery Go Round, the city’s free shuttle, despite hitting and killing a security guard with his car in 2007 while driving from a meeting. The police said they did not have probable cause to test him for drugs or alcohol. The city settled a wrongful-death suit, but Mr. Bukowski was not charged.
Mr. Bukowski said he was confident that he would ultimately pay his debts.
“I will pay them. I think I will have the wherewithal,” he said. “Something’s going to happen, something positive. I just have so many good ideas.”


  1. Down goes Bukowski and I have to say it's about time! I mean how bad does it have to get? He used to routinely sleep through council meetings, even as he was mayor! His colleague, except for John Fricke used to make excuses for him and they knew. They knew. Even the Chamber of Commerce knew but as long as Bukowski was voting their way, well that was good enough for them.

  2. remarkable really; folks who are users commonly deny that their use has any impact on their functioning- but it always does... they deny responsibility in general and it is common knowledge that bukowski has denied any responsibility for any of his actions that resulted in censure, documented campaign and ethics violations;

    of course he says he is no longer using; of course he says his use had no effect on his council actions; of course he still entertains fantasies of doing great things; if you learn about addiction, you will learn about such things...

    he continues his denials and it will be interesting to see if the council, which has refused to remove him, continues to demonstrate their collective lack of guts on this matter..

    i have asked that he be removed before; the article simply reiterates the need to do that..

    walt watman

  3. Walt-
    The Council cannot remove him from office. Removing a duly elected council member from office against the will of the electorate is not a power the Council has or that we would want them to have.

    If an offence has occurred for which an official can legally be removed from office then the District Attorney can take legal action to remove that official, as was done with Ed Jew in San Francisco. The most the Emeryville City Council can do is censure Bukowski, which is exactly what they did.

  4. that was a freight train in the photo, not the california zephyr. and despite bukowski being on paxio's payroll for a time, the city still entered into a contract agreement with them.

  5. re the anonymous criticism of me above,12/3 at 8:24AM, i prefer if you have something to say to me that you be transparent enough to identify yourself; i see no reason to dialogue with someone who is not willing to be known.

    walt watman

  6. Studies have shown that crystal meth damages the brain, the liver, the immune system, even the teeth! It's highly addictive and has significant social as well as personal costs. A good source:

    To ignore all this and say it makes a given user "very creative" is frighteningly irresponsible.

  7. Walt,
    If I only state factual information and not opinion, my identity is completely irrelevant. I am only posting true information that anyone has access to. If you want to fact check me and show that I am wrong, go ahead. However, you will not be able to do so. I do not expect a responce to the facts that I have posted. If I felt I could post my name here without negative consequences, I would do so.