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A rumble among elephants

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A rumble among elephants

Joe DeAngelis, left, claimed a campaign worker named Ben, right, tried to prevent him from videotaping Congressional candidate David Harmer's talk Tuesday night at Chez Shari at the Manteca Golf Co...

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED September 16, 2010 2:40 a.m.
I was taking pictures of congressional candidate David Harmer and taking down notes of his speech at the same time when I noticed something happening behind him.

This was the Republican candidates’ night event on Tuesday at the Chez Shari restaurant in the Manteca Municipal Golf Course. Harmer, who is hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Jerry McNerney as the representative of the 11th District, was the last speaker of the evening. He is a peripatetic speaker. He did not just stand on the dais while delivering his unscripted talk but stepped down from time to time to walk back and forth in front of the larger audience at the side of the room directly opposite to where I was seated up front. Other times, he turned toward the other side of the room, where I happened to be at the time, to give the sparser group in that corner equal-opportunity direct-face visibility.

It was while Harmer’s face was turned to this direction – this was the question-and-answer portion of his presentation and he was answering a query from a gentleman named Peter –  that the fracas between camcorder-toting Joe DeAngelis and a young campaign worker whose name tag identified him as Ben was being played out. I could not hear the words being exchanged, except when DeAngelis said aloud that he was being threatened – but I saw what was transpiring. I went into photographer mode and snapped some pictures, including ones which showed Harmer continuing to speak oblivious to what was taking place behind him.

But soon the verbal exchange and DeAngelis resisting came to the attention of Harmer, and as he turned to see what was going on, he stopped talking and politely waited until the situation had calmed down, and DeAngelis had retreated to the back of the audience. The disturbance lasted just a few moments, but they were uncomfortable and uneasy moments for everyone in the room, as evidenced in the faces of those who were there, some of which were caught quite vividly in the pictures that I took.

When I got an opportunity to talk to DeAngelis and find out what the incident was all about, I was quite taken aback by his first words: “You’re the most useless journalist.” He was smiling as he said that, leading me to think that he was probably saying it as a joke. But I soon found out it was only a saccharine smile. When I asked what made him say that, he accused me of not doing anything to come to the aid of a fellow journalist.

“Where were you when that was happening to me?” he adamantly asked.

 I was quite flabbergasted, to say the least. As far as I was concerned, I went to the event as a reporter, not to be the news or part of the news. What happened to him became part of the news of the evening when he resisted requests for him to move out of the speaker’s space.

At the same token, I think that he should have been left alone to do what he was doing since he was not getting in the face of the speaker.

DeAngelis explained that he was forced to move to the front after the volunteer campaign staffer told him to stop videotaping the event. “I was pushed up front. He kept blocking my camera.”

Two women campaign volunteers who joined our conversation strongly denied his claim. “No, he didn’t,” they stated separately.

I was able to get a little bit of an insight as to what led to the disturbance after talking to Frank Aquila after I got back to the office that evening and received a phone call from him as I was writing the story on Harmer. Apparently, the young campaign volunteer who asked DeAngelis to move had mistaken DeAngelis to be the man who was described to him as a Jerry McNerney supporter who goes to Republican events such as the Tuesday candidates’ night to cause disruption, or “trouble,” as Aquila put it. I found out from him that the targeted McNerney supporter was the young man seated in the second row videotaping the event with a small hand-held camera with video capability. He never stood up during Harmer’s entire talk, simply doing what he was doing where he was seated and calling no attention to himself.

Thanks to an e-mail Wednesday morning from Sara Blicharz, chairwoman of the SJGOP District 3, I am able to set straight a bit of information in my story that was inaccurate.

“This was NOT sponsored by the SJC Rep Party, which Frank Aquila is not on. This was sponsored by Frank’s group that he calls the South San Joaquin Republicans. The PARTY has elected leadership & puts on a Speaker Series monthly in Stockton. Frank does not represent the county party itself,” Blicharz wrote.

And just a bit of trivia: GOP Congressional candidate David Harmer’s wife, Elayne, is a former reporter. I got that from the candidate himself in the e-mail I received also Wednesday morning.

“My wife, Elayne, used to work as a reporter, so I never take news coverage for granted. Thank you for attending the event last night, and for writing such a thorough and fair account of it,” he wrote.

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