The new issue of Forbes magazine features Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman on the cover, but the headline hearkens back to a less successful moment in her career.

"Meg Goes to War," the headline proclaims. "Can the queen of Silicon Valley save its original startup?"

Whitman's people should put a permanent kibosh on using the word "queen" anywhere near her name. It's a cringe-worthy reminder of the "Queen Meg" guerrilla campaign tactic that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United used against her during her 2010 gubernatorial run -- a costumed performer impersonating Whitman as someone who thought herself above, and couldn't be bothered by, the needs of the hoi polloi.

The Forbes story portrays Whitman as a CEO who wants to learn from her company's mistakes in order to build a leaner, more competitive outfit. "She's decisive without being abrasive, persuasive without being slick," the article says. "She's a team builder who knows that turnarounds call for repairing hundreds of small failings rather than betting everything on a miracle cure that might be a mirage."

If that's how she had run her $178.5 million campaign -- with $144 million of that coming from her own pocket -- we might be calling her Gov. Whitman right now.

Just call her Ms. Clean: Campos gets graffiti off signs on I-280, Hwy. 101

In politics, those who hold the purse strings get to pull the levers of power. In Assemblywoman Nora Campos' case, the San Jose Democrat's position on the budget and appropriations committees translated to quick work on a long-standing and vexing problem: graffiti-covered highway signs.

San Jose City Council members -- her brother, Xavier, occupies her former seat on the council -- had complained at an early April meeting that the state had been slow to move on cleaning up freeway signs, saying it was taking months to get any response.

But Campos, the Assembly speaker pro tem, got an immediate one after raising the issue of a series of defaced highway signs on Interstate 280 and Highway 101, as well as graffiti on railroad overpasses, at a budget subcommittee on transportation April 10. She sent photos of the signs to Caltrans officials the next day.

The most-defaced signs were at the Tully Street and Story Road exit on southbound 101. If you wanted to get off at the Story Road exit, you might miss the turnoff because the signs were so unreadable.

Ten days later, those and two other signs, the worst of the bunch, had been scrubbed clean.

"When you have the department's budget in your hands and the director sitting in front of you in a public hearing looking at pictures of freeway signs that can't be read," Campos said, "you are going to see quick action."

She even got a letter back from Caltrans, which said the operation required multiple lane closures and exit ramp "configuring and monitoring." They applied anti-graffiti coating and offered to order new signs, which, they warned, can take up to a year to replace. Caltrans also is reviewing whether a catwalk should be removed; if not, "we will explore installing other deterrents such as pedestrian fencing or expanded wing walls."

Talk about personal service!

At a hearing last week, Campos thanked Malcolm Dougherty, the director of Caltrans, for getting the job done so quickly, then told him she "looked forward to hearing back" from him on the heavily tagged Union Pacific and Amtrak properties.

Prosecutor calls on Metro to drop sex ads

For as long as we can remember, the alternative weekly Metro newspaper and website have been filled with ads for escorts, massages, spa treatments, adult bookstores, gentlemen's clubs and other services for the lonely guy. We couldn't offhand recall whether this bothered Santa Clara County prosecutor Chuck Gillingham before.

But it bothered him enough last week that he led a San Jose news conference with gay-rights activist Wiggsy Sivertsen calling on Metro Executive Editor Dan Pulcrano to "stop providing a means for others to sell girls and boys for sex," particularly through online outfit Backpage.com.

"It's an online brothel," argued Gillingham, who has prosecuted sex crimes and lectured about human trafficking in communities as far away as Asia. "I spent years fighting this throughout the world, and here it is in our county."

Pulcrano refused Gillingham's demands to drop the ads -- hey, a man's got to eat. Moreover, he asserted that the presser was merely a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence his paper for articles criticizing politicians tied to politically powerful unions. Metro stories exposed former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.'s criminal expense account and campaign fund misuse. Since Shirakawa's resignation, the paper has criticized Cindy Chavez, now running to replace him.

"They don't want to see investigative journalism in this county," Pulcrano said. "What better way to create a distraction than to stage an artificial news conference two weeks away from the election."

Sivertsen is co-founder of BAYMEC, which has endorsed Chavez. And Gillingham is rumored to be weighing a run next year against his embattled boss, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who has been accused of ethical breaches by the union that represents his prosecutors, which also has contributed to Chavez's campaign.

Both Gillingham and Sivertsen denied that they were trying to strike back at the newspaper. Gillingham said San Jose officers, worried about the proliferation of prostitution in San Jose amid police department cutbacks, drew his attention to the ads.

For columnist Scott Herhold's take on all this, see www.mercurynews.com/scott-herhold/ci_23324404/herhold-chuck-gillingham-sounds-like-da-candidate?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com.

French Parliament candidate turns to

Silicon Valley for ideas

The French Parliament now includes legislators who represent not only people who actually live in the country, but across the French diaspora as well. One of those seats represents the entirety of North America.

Lining up for the job is Frédéric Lefebvre, a former official in the French economic ministry and aide to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the business-friendly conservative who worked to strengthen ties to the U.S. before losing his re-election bid to socialist François Hollande two years ago.

Lefebvre's U.S. advisers at the Potomac Square Group, an East Coast public affairs firm that includes longtime Silicon Valley operative Joe Trippi, are casting the parliamentary race as something of a referendum on Hollande.

Lefebvre blames Hollande for stagnating the French economy, and he's looking to French expats such as SoftTech's Jeff Clavier for the expertise to get things back on track. "I love the dynamic here," he told us, noting that as Sarkozy's enterprise minister, he worked with startup incubators in California.

These days, Lefebvre is a lawyer who helps French companies invest in the U.S.

Dozens of Silicon Valley tech CEOs hail from France, and Lefebvre joked that if any French techies wanted to cut him checks, "It will be good news for me, but that's not the reason of my presence there."

The election was held Saturday, but it's widely expected to be decided in a runoff on June 8.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Steven Harmon, Tracey Kaplan, Josh Richman, Peter Delevett and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-975-9346.