When Mark Wassberg walks to the public speaker's podium at Richmond City Council meetings, most of the board and the audience seem to flinch as though they are about to receive sharp blows to the head.
A whack on the temple with a baseball bat may be preferable.
Wassberg's loathsome, nauseating, ignorant, homophobic rants at council meetings in the past few months are despicable.
As gay and lesbian teens from the RYSE Youth Center sat in the chairs behind him, Wassberg spewed bile about what he called their "filthy, disgusting and immoral" lives.
Gay youth "jump off bridges because they know what they are doing is wrong," said Wassberg, with a laugh that can only be described as demonic.
He crowed about the troubles of a young transgender woman who fought to participate in a beauty contest. And if a gay child is bullied and hangs himself, "that's how it goes. If you live like that, what do you expect?" he said.
He even point-blank asked each of the seven members of the council, "Are you gay?"
It's no wonder Mayor Gayle McLaughlin wants to shut him down. No decent human being wants to wash in a bath of verbal sewage week after week.
But the mayor may be walking a razor-thin line between her job to enforce reasonable rules of decorum and a duty to protect her constituents' right to free speech.
McLaughlin opens public comment periods with a warning: If you spout hate and refuse to stop, she will declare you a disruption and ask the police to remove you.
Last month, she declared Wassberg out of order and had him escorted out -- while he yelled profanities -- after he absurdly accused RYSE staffers of teaching young boys and girls how to be gay.
Wassberg's comments were undeniably hateful and ignorant, but declaring it "hate speech" and tossing him out of a public meeting runs afoul of free speech.
"How do you define 'hate speech' and who gets to decide?" said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who characterized Wassberg's comments as some of the most detestable he has ever heard. "I've heard a lot of hate speech but it wasn't speech the makers didn't have a right to express.
"We have to be careful about putting ourselves, as elected officials, in a position of judging whether someone has a right to speak."
Rather than eject Wassberg during his next horrific rant, perhaps McLaughlin should hand out barf bags to her colleagues and the audience. Free speech goes both ways, after all.
color it PINK: Contra Costa's mayors excoriated the California Legislature, state Department of Finance and Gov. Jerry Brown at Thursday's group therapy session also known as the meeting of the Contra Costa Mayors' Conference.
They even called the governor's dog a bad name. (Just kidding.)
Seriously, the mayors are livid over a last-minute budget trailer bill that required hefty payments -- with only a couple of day's notice -- from most cities with former redevelopment agencies and threatened to withhold sales tax receipts from recalcitrants.
Most of the cities paid under protest and a few negotiated lower amounts they hope will satisfy the state.
But the room erupted into applause when El Cerrito Mayor Bill Jones announced his city had refused to pay the $1.75 million the state said it owed and filed a lawsuit.
"If we don't take a stand, we will be steamrolled," Jones said.
The ever-reasonable Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay tried to inject a bit of optimism, urging the cities to focus on new means by which to spur economic development rather than chase horses that have left the barn.
"My message to the state, is, OK, you got the money, so let's talk about our mutual interests and move on," said Lindsay, although he admitted he may be wearing rose-colored glasses.
Perhaps we all need a pair of those glasses, Mayors' Conference Chairman and Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich joked.
GOT POLITICS? Read the Political Blotter at IBABuzz.com/politics.
AND FINALLY: Who knew Lafayette City Manager Steve Falk was such a fan of island decor?
Check out excerpts of this humorous passage he wrote about how burglars hit his house last week:
"It was hot and the air conditioner was on the fritz so I arranged to meet the repairman at my house. Upon arrival, I noticed that a window screen was laying on the front lawn -- not a good sign -- so I went through the door expecting the worst.
"To my surprise, nothing in the house was disturbed except the master bedroom, where there were some clothes scattered on the floor and the bedspread was missing.
"Really? You broke into my house to steal my bedspread? I mean, yes, the Hawaiian pattern was nice but the Labrador retriever has been shedding lately so there was dog hair on it."
Actually, the thieves had made off with his wife's jewelry, too, but smart police work led to a swift arrest and the recovery of the baubles and, yes, the Hawaiian-print bedspread.
No word on the whereabouts of the dog hair.