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Protesters confront Poizner at San Jose book signing

April 1, 2010 |  8:44 pm

Steve Poizner, a Republican candidate for governor, was confronted by hundreds of protesters at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in East San Jose on Thursday evening for a signing of "Mount Pleasant," about a year he spent guest teaching at a public high school.

Current and former students and teachers are upset about Poizner's depiction of Mount Pleasant High School as, in the words of one student, a "ghetto school," and those who study there as unmotivated and, generally speaking, better equipped for vocational school, if anything, than for college.

In the book, officially published Thursday, Poizner talked about his initial fears of having his Lexus stolen from the parking lot, and the fact that he didn't expect (Page 90) "Silicon Valley-caliber ambition and smarts from East San Jose schoolkids."

Before he arrived for the 7 p.m. book signing, the protesters began gathering in front of the store,  carrying signs such as, "It's not political. It's personal," and "Newsflash Poizner: MPHS is not inner city."

The bookstore was swarming with security, and plastic barriers and tape markings on the floor to keep people in certain areas. Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, attempted to go in a side door, giving a brief news conference before entering, but he was confronted as he walked in the store by East Side Union High School District board President Eddie Garcia, despite the efforts of aides to usher him through.

"I guess the president of the school board can't see the commissioner, huh?" Garcia said. When Poizner stopped, Garcia questioned him about a quote on Page 90.

"Mr. Commissioner, I'm an East San Jose schoolkid, president of our school board, I think I'm a little ambitious. I think I'm a little smart, so what did you mean by that?"

"First of all, I worked my tail off for Mount Pleasant High and I was the one who refused to give up on any of my students and I gave it my heart and my soul," Poizner responded.

After some discussion, he was hurried inside with Garcia still yelling behind him. He almost reached the spot where he would be signing books when the school principal, Teresa Marquez, grabbed him, saying he owed her an explanation.

"How are we expected to move forward, when you, the whole tone of the voice is about not giving hope, or having very low expectations of our kids? …. I go in there knowing that I expect great things from each of those kids," she said.

"I can tell you're upset," he said. "I mean, most people who criticize the public schools don't even bother coming to the school, right? By the way I think you're just wrong if you conclude at the end of my book that I wanted anything but just a positive experience for anybody."

"For the first 100 pages of your book all you do is talk about all the negativity … when actually some of your students that are in there were some of the brightest and you made it seem like they were nothing."

Poizner said he wished she wouldn't have uninvited him from a meeting at the school last week, whereupon she retorted that politicking is not allowed by law: "You very strategically put out the book during you candidacy for governorship."

Thank you ma'am," his aides said. "Thank you ma'am."

And so began the book signing, and so the explanation continued as Poizner was greeted by book purchasers with pages full of sticky notes. And eventually, the bookstore attempted to lure some of them away with a promotion in the cafe for dark cherry mocha Frappuccinos.

--Michael Rothfeld in East San Jose

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