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Friday, November 4, 2011

Council Member Bukowski In The New York Times

Re-printed from the New York Times Bay Citizen:

Former Friends Turn Against Troubled Politician

Ken Bukowski fights for his Emeryville Council seat and his livelihood

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By  on November 3, 2011 - 6:22 p.m. PDT

Zusha Elinson/The Bay Citizen
Ken Bukowski outside of Emeryville Town Hall on his way to campaign
Ken Bukowski helped transform Emeryville from a polluted industrial backwater into a shopping destination with stores like Ikea and a home for innovative companies like Pixar. Once a popular nightclub impresario, he first ran for city council in 1987 and has been reelected for six consecutive terms. 
But personal troubles have left Bukowski destitute, unable even to land a job at Target, and alone as he tries to win a seventh term. 
Bukowski's long-time supporters, led by the powerful Emeryville Chamber of Commerce that he founded 25 years ago, have turned against him. Following a very public downward spiral, including his admission to The Bay Citizen last year that he had used methamphetamine, the city's business and political leaders are working together to end his political career. 
“We feel he's committed a number of missteps: everything from the admitted drug use to being fined,” said Bob Canter, president of the Chamber of Commerce. “We weren't able to support him again. We felt we needed someone who can reflect well on the city and frankly not be an embarrassment to the city.”
In recent years, Bukowski has been fined by the state for using campaign funds to pay his mortgage; censured by the City Council for taking a salary from a city contractor; and investigated for taking personal loans from Emeryville developers to keep himself afloat. 
Three seats are being contested on Emeryville's City Council. The Chamber is backing two incumbents, Ruth Atkin and Nora Davis, and a popular newcomer Jacqueline Asher. Kurt Brinkman, a fellow councilmember,has formed an independent expenditure committee to support the three women and lob hit pieces at Bukowski.
“How can I be an embarrassment?” said an indignant Bukowski this week. “Tell me something I did wrong on the job. If you liked me all these years, why don’t you like me anymore?”
Bukowski, 59, has few endorsements and even fewer donors, but he still can’t be counted out in a city where less than a thousand votes can win an election. He’s a dogged campaigner, knocking on doors, making calls, and personally folding thousands of pieces of campaign literature for the Nov. 8 election.
There’s also another reason why it will be hard to pry the city council spot from Bukowski's hands: it may be the only job he can get. 
Since his troubles began to surface, Bukowski has had a hard time finding work. At one point, he tried to get a job as a bus driver for the Emery Go Round, the city’s free shuttle, even though he hit and killed a security guard in a much-publicized 2007 incident while driving home from a city meeting. He didn’t get the job.
Most recently, he was turned down for low-paying job at a new Target store, which happens to be located in a shopping center that Bukowski and his fellow councilmembers supported. He lives on the $1,100 he makes as a councilman and the charity of an old friend, who allows him to stay in an apartment free of charge.
It wasn’t always like this.
In the 1980's, Bukowski owned the most popular black nightclubs in the East Bay, Silk’s, which featured such A-list acsts as MC Hammer and Rick James, He had a second home in Las Vegas.
Even after Bukowski’s fortunes began to decline, the city’s business leaders continued to back him politically and financially. For example, John Gooding, an Emeryville consultant and power broker, spent $900 on clothes to wear during meetings with officials in Washington DC.
The Chamber of Commerce kept endorsing him in spite of some concerns four years ago, Gooding said.
“During the discussion about the endorsements, there were a significant number of people who said we just gotta stop this,” said Gooding, who is a member of the Chamber.
“Then one member of the board said ‘He may be a mess, but he’s our mess.'” 
Now Gooding is helping to raise money for the independent political group that sent out a campaign mailer that reads, “Sometimes politicians become so corrupted, they are no longer fit to serve the public. That’s the case with Ken Bukowski.”
Brinkman, the councilmember, said the mailer is meant to educate voters in a city where there is no newspaper.
“There's two Kens -- there’s a Ken that’s brilliant, and there’s a Ken that is very self-serving,” Brinkman said. “When you listen to him and you don’t know the history, then you’re probably going to vote for him.”
Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen
Ken Bukowski at City Hall in Emeryville, where he has been a City Council member for nearly a quarter of a century
Madison Marquette, Wareham Development and other businesses that used to bankroll Bukowski’s campaigns helped finance the hit piece against him and are supporting his opponents. “After twenty years of dealing with these people, I cannot get a return phone call,” said Bukowski.
There are a few who have not turned on Bukowski publicly. Michael Webber, an attorney who is also running for City Council, lent Bukowski $2,000 for his campaign.
“I want to run to win, but I also think what they are doing to Ken is unfair,” said Webber. “This is America. We believe in second chances.”
Ken Schmier, an attorney who invented the Fast Pass, has helped Bukowski over the years. Bukowski lost his house to Schmier, who had given him a $50,000 loan. Now Schmeir lets him stay rent-free in a ramshackle apartment in the back.
“I think he's been a responsible councilmember, and I recognize that he has personal problems,” said Schmier. “It’s unlikely I’m going to get much rent for it -- and I just don't have the heart to put him out.”
Since last year’s interview with The Bay Citizen, Bukowski sold his SUV and bikes and walks everywhere. He appears to be in better health. Bukowski said that interview hurt him politically.
“How do you deal with being classified a drug addict when you’re not using?” Bukowski said. “Have these people never used recreational drugs? I mean give me a break.”
Aside from his candidacy, Bukowski is pushing a measure that would outsource legal services for the city. His opponents call it a shot at the city attorney with whom Bukowski has clashed. Bukowski says it will save the city money.
In last year’s interview, Bukowski was contemplating quitting the council. No longer.
“I have my heart and soul in this,” he said. “Why am I going to walk away after 24 years?”


  1. Sad how people like Ruth Atkin and Nora Davis can turn on a colleague. Can it be money that is influencing their judgement?

  2. Embarrassment pretty much sums it up...

  3. To Michael Webber:
    We give people second chances when they have demonstrated they have changed their ways. Bukowski has not demonstrated this. At the very least, he needs a break from the Council until he can. Your blind support of such an ethically challenged individual is truly troubling; it calls into question your own ethics.

  4. It looks like the Chamber of Commerce has decided Bukowski is out. Do we get a say?

  5. We certainly do get the only say that matters. We can kick Bukowski out next Tuesday and we should! That bum needs to go.

  6. Bukowski demonstrates just how far off track he's gotten by responding to concerns about his use of drugs with this statement: “Have these people never used recreational drugs? I mean give me a break.”

    Actually, no. Many of us have not used illegal drugs and don't think someone in a position of leadership should either. Shouldn't a city leader be someone we could point our children to as a good example to be followed, not as a cautionary tale of what not to do!? Unbelievable.

  7. OK, after that last comment, now I'm going to chime in-
    The children argument is ridiculous. Who is this person? A Christian evangelical or a Mormon? President Clinton used drugs and he was good enough for me. So you're saying we shouldn't have voted for Clinton because he was a drug user? As Bukowski says...give me a break!

  8. Methamphetamine use and smoking pot are two different things entirely. Meth not only hurts you, but also the people around you. It really destroys lives and I agree with 9:53. That's not behavior our elected officials should be modeling. Plus, meth use is the least of Bukowski's problems. He was fined by the FPPC for Pete's sake! That's no small offense.

  9. Maybe you can say it's sad to see Bukowski hit such lows. But his actions and attitude are not acceptable for a city leader. He must be removed from the council. Hopefully the citizens of Emeryville will cast their ballots with open eyes, and not give him any pity votes.

  10. What about cocaine? It was good enough for George W Bush and so...wait a minute...OK, maybe you're right, perhaps past drug use should help us eliminate a candidate at the voting booth.

  11. On Tuesday voters can make a difference. There are two new candidates who deserve your consideration. I think you should shake up things by sending us both into office, using your third vote for the incumbent who will either do the most good for the City, or the least harm, depending on whether you have a hopeful or resigned outlook.

    One thing readers seem to be overlooking when they read this article, however, is the extent to which it appears that back office politics and influence are still very much alive in Emeryville.

    It's time for voters to exercise the most powerful force ever invented for democracy - their vote.

  12. Always judge a person like an equal. Vote in the manner to help those that are in need and seek improvement, not to help those that look for ways to pillage others.

  13. Ken has a lot of experience & sometimes shows real brilliance in the way he considers the items on the agenda. Without Ken, I'm afraid that the council members will all have the same viewpoint and the city will suffer because of it. Some of the council are so rude to him (and others)and they are either in a big a rush to get to the vote or too closed minded to even listen to or consider any different opinions. There are five council members for a reason - to provide diverse opinions that represent the diversity of the city. Also remember that all those endorsements have a payback. Just what we need, an inexperienced council member that will get manipulated by the businesses that supported her. We need someone that can consider everything and look out for us homeowners, too.

  14. Pathetic, the drugs are a red herring, and preety inconsequential.
    All the back room dealings and ethics violations should be of concern.
    And more than enough to justify giving him the boot from city council.

    Of course, if you go by that criteria, you should boot out most of those rats. Starting with Brinkman. Pretty low to kick a man while hes down when it is unnecessary.