Newsom’s commission games

Pub date March 18, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom didn’t want Debra Walker, an artist and activist, running the Building Inspection Commission. He doesn’t want Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman and community leader, running the Police Commission. And now, we’ve learned, he doesn’t want Robert Haaland, a labor activist and one of the city’s most visible transgender leaders, to serve as vice president of the Board of Appeals.

But of course, the mayor thinks it’s perfectly fine to put two employees of Pacific Gas and Electric Company — an outfit that is suing the city, breaking the law, trying to subvert public power and cheating the public out of hundreds of millions of dollars a year — on city commissions.

This is what the second term of Mayor Newsom, who is now openly running for governor, looks like. It’s not pretty.

We knew the mayor had his sights on higher office, but now that it’s out in the open, almost everything he does at City Hall seems to be aimed not at improving San Francisco but at increasing his odds of moving up in the political world. Why, for example, would Newsom appoint Mary Jung, a PG&E customer services manager, to the Civil Service Commission, and Darlene Chiu, a PG&E City Hall flak, to the Small Business Commission? What possible qualifications could someone whose job involves promoting the interests of a giant corporation that routinely screws small business people have as an advocate for the city’s local merchants? Why would the Civil Service Commission, which deals with city employee issues, need the expertise of someone whose employer wants to prevent the city from creating more public jobs?

Why would Newsom be doing this — if he didn’t need the support of PG&E and its allies for his next political step?

Why would he be directing his appointees to keep out of leadership posts anyone with strong progressive credentials if he weren’t trying to build new bridges to the developers, the big employers, the police unions, and the more conservative interest groups he’ll need for a statewide campaign?

The bottom line is, Newsom needs to stop thinking about running his next campaign and start running the city — because this sort of commission funny business, this practice of treating important agencies that manage key city departments as nothing more than political patronage posts for rewarding allies and punishing enemies, is terrible for San Francisco.

It’s too late to do anything about Mary Jung, but the supervisors can, and should, overturn the Chiu appointment — and let the mayor know that putting PG&E executives on city commissions is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Board of Appeals votes for new officers March 19. By tradition, the top posts on the five-member panel rotate based on seniority, with an appointee of the mayor holding one job, and a board appointee the other. But Newsom’s three members have indicated that they won’t allow Haaland — a conscientious commissioner with an excellent record — to serve as vice president. That’s a slap in the face to labor, the queer community, and the supervisors. Newsom ought to show some political integrity and tell his appointees not to suddenly change the rules.