Jerry, curb your guru

Posted: Jan 08, 2001 12:00 AM
OAKLAND MAYOR Jerry Brown bristles when people describe his aide Jacques Barzaghi as his guru. The 62-year-old head-shaving Frenchman has been Brown's alter ego for many years and through many political jobs. Presently, he enjoys a $114,000 salary heading Oakland's arts department. Barzaghi, his sixth wife and seventh child even live with Brown in Dao Mayor's live-work commune. The Chronicle reported yesterday that City Manager Robert Bobb suspended Barzaghi after a city employee accused Barzaghi of sexually harassing her verbally during a trade trip to Mexico City. An attorney hired by the city to investigate the claim discovered that other female city employees complained that Barzaghi frequently made inappropriate comments to them. As in asking them if they were wearing underwear. So once again, people who know the Oakland mayor are whispering in his ear: Jerry, curb your guru. This is not the first time people have warned Brown about Ze Bald Guy. Some have called him Brown's Svengali. There have been rumors about the way Barzaghi treats women, the kind of rumors one would expect about a guy who has married six wives. Figure Barzaghi is one of those men who sees himself as being far more charming than most women find him. To put it charitably, Jacques embodies an old world/new world clash. Asked about the harassment charges, he told reporter Janine DeFao, "I'm a Mediterranean. I hug people. I touch people. It's my culture." The guru's guru no doubt thinks he likes women too much. (So much that his first wife divorced him when he started having sex with a woman who lived with them.) In this new world, however, chronic skirt-chasing smacks of liking women too little. One former City Hall employee told an investigator that Barzaghi said "inappropriate" things to her, "like a come-on." She did not feel his actions toward her merited a complaint. She was able to dismiss his smarmy comments with a grain of salt and a roll of the eyes, whereas younger women often were uncomfortable. As The Chronicle reported, there were enough women with tawdry tales to warrant official action. Reportedly Barzaghi was suspended without pay for an unknown period of time and he agreed to undergo counseling. Some observers think Barzaghi should be fired even though there is no allegation that he pressured women for sex. I say this punishment is appropriate ... especially if it stipulates that his next "Mediterranean" hug comes with a pink slip. Brown governs a city with a "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual harassment. He meditates. He ministered to the sick of Calcutta under Mother Teresa. He's supposed to be sensitive. So why didn't Dao Mayor do something about Barzaghi's behavior a long time ago? On Wednesday, I asked Brown, who headed the Mexico City entourage, if he had ever seen Barzaghi behave inappropriately with female employees. Quoth Brown, "No, I haven't." "Jerry doesn't see a problem," the anonymous City Hall worker noted. "Jerry thinks it's the women's problem." A Brown friend tells me Dao Mayor said not much happened in Mexico. Sorry, Mayor, but when it comes to charges about the Oakland arts don, there is a there there.