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Safeway exec’s joke falls flat for House members

Much of the Bay Area’s House delegation has asked top officials at Pleasanton-based supermarket giant Safeway for an apology after one of those officials told what the lawmakers say was a sexist joke about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The letters the lawmakers sent today to Safeway CEO Steve Burd and General Counsel Robert Gordon takes issue with something Gordon, 60, of Orinda, said at the company’s shareholder meeting Tuesday in Pleasanton:

“You know, this is the season when companies and other institutions are interested in enhancing their reputation and their image for the general public, and one of the institutions that’s doing this is the Secret Service, particularly after the calamity in Colombia. And among the instructions given to the Secret Service agents was to try to agree with the president more and support his decisions. And that led to this exchange that took place last week, when the president flew into the White House lawn and an agent greeted him at the helicopter. The president was carrying two pigs under his arms and the Secret Service agents said, ‘Nice pigs, sir.’ And the president said, “These are not ordinary pigs, these are genuine Arkansas razorback hogs. I got one for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” And the Secret Service agent said, ‘Excellent trade, sir.’”

(Thanks very much, he’ll be here all week, try the veal and don’t forget to tip your waiters.)

SO not funny, say the lawmakers.

“Poking fun at politicians is part of our culture, and TV comedians carry this out nightly. But sexist jokes told by a top executive of a Fortune 500 company to an international audience are completely inappropriate and demonstrate a shocking lack of respect, not only for two of the most important and respected people in our country but for all women,” they wrote to Burd. “Safeway owes an apology to Secretary Clinton, Leader Pelosi, and the country. It is up to the Safeway board to decide what action to take against its general counsel for his comments but let there be no doubt as to our strong disapproval and deep disappointment in your company for what he said.”

The letters were signed by George Miller, D-Martinez; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

I’m awaiting a response from Safeway, and will update this when it’s received.

UPDATE @ 4:30 P.M.: “Both letters will be responded to shortly,” Brian Dowling, Safeway’s Vice President of Public Affairs, e-mailed me about an hour ago; he did not clarify whether this will be the extent of the company’s comment today, so I must assume that it will be.

UPDATE @ 4:48 P.M.: Dowling clarifies that the company will respond directly to the lawmakers, and Gordon also will write directly to Pelosi and Clinton.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Common Tater

    This old chestnut has been around the cracker barrel, then around the water cooler, then around the Internet for years and years.

    It just goes to show you that the lib/dems have no sense of humor.

  • JohnW

    Yes, old joke with new names inserted. Doesn’t have to be sexist. He deserves the flak for being stupid enough to make it sexist. Business execs don’t do well when they try to do political humor in public. They seem to assume that their shareholders, employees and customers see the world the way they do. I’m willing to bet that most of Safeway’s checkers and at least half of the females who make up most of their shoppers wouldn’t laugh at this joke.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    How did the shareholders react to the joke?