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Editors Notes

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

San Francisco district attorneys have never been known for fighting political corruption. You don’t see politicians or corporate CEOs doing the perp walk around here — and trust me, it’s not because there’s a lack of criminal activity. Over the past 20 years, I’ve personally written or edited at least two dozen stories that involved clear evidence of lawbreaking by prominent San Francisco citizens, and not one of them has ever been held to account in a court of law.

(OK, I’ll give Terence Hallinan credit for Fajitagate; at least he tried. But it turned out to be an embarrassment when the highest-ranking cops walked away free and clear. And even Hallinan couldn’t — or wouldn’t — lay a glove on Willie Brown.)

Kamala Harris, who will be up for reelection next year, clearly has higher political ambitions. When I saw her take the stage with Sen. Barack Obama at the state Democratic convention in San Diego and he introduced her as one of his most prominent supporters, I could almost see the wheels turning: Federal Judge Kamala Harris. White House counsel Kamala Harris. Even Attorney General Kamala Harris. If Obama doesn’t win, she’s still on a lot of short lists for higher office.

But if she wants to be another Eliot Spitzer, she’s got to, well, be Eliot Spitzer. She’s got to be willing to take a firm hand on political crimes, pursuing and investigating violations of public trust as if that were the most important part of her job.

And she can start right now with the San Francisco Community College District.

It’s been more than a month since the news broke that an associate vice chancellor at City College diverted $10,000 in public money to a private campaign fund set up to pass a college bond act. Nobody’s been charged with any crime, but it seems to me there are some real questions not just about propriety but about legality here. And it seems to me, as someone who has watched that snake pit over there for a long time now, that it’s highly — highly — unlikely that a junior-level college official acting entirely on his own would have shifted 10 grand into a campaign committee that had close ties to elected members of the community college board.

Nobody in the DA’s Office will confirm or deny any investigation, which is standard practice. But I bet an aggressive district attorney who started digging out there on Phelan Avenue might shovel up some serious dirt. Just a thought, Kamala.

I’m beginning to think that our candidate for mayor ought to be Sup. Ross Mirkarimi.

Part of that is, frankly, political reality: Matt Gonzalez shows no sign of wanting to run at this point, and it’s getting late. Sup. Aaron Peskin doesn’t want to do it. There’s talk about former mayor Art Agnos, but I don’t buy it: Agnos would have a lot of fences to mend from his administration, and he’s not the type to apologize.

I hate to say that "leaves" Mirkarimi, because he’s actually a good candidate. He’s smart and full of energy and can take on the mayor on street crime: Newsom is going after panhandlers while Mirkarimi is trying to do something about the appalling murder rate. He’s only been in elected office a couple years, but then, Obama (who is Mirkarimi’s age, to the day) has been in the US Senate a couple years, and he could be the next president. Worth thinking about.

Editor’s Notes


> tredmond@sfbg.com

The delegates to the annual California Democratic Party convention began trickling into the San Diego Convention Center on April 27, and one of the first people they saw was Barbara Cummings. She had stationed herself about a block away from the entrance and was holding a big "Impeach Bush and Cheney" sign.

"It’s wonderful," the San Diego activist told me. "The delegates all want their pictures taken with us. The tourists want pictures too."

Inside the convention hall, the grassroots sentiment was pretty similar. The black "impeach" lapel stickers were everywhere, hundreds of delegates wore black "impeach" T-shirts, and impeachment banners and signs flew everywhere.

Within official party circles, though, the mood was slightly different. Art Torres, the chair of the state party, told the press early on that he expected the war and impeachment to dominate the convention, but when I asked him if there was any disconnect between the party faithful calling for impeachment and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that wasn’t an option, he simply said, "No. That’s the Democratic Party." He added, "We see a distance between the grass roots and the leadership. That’s not uncommon."

In many ways, that was the theme of this convention. The California Democratic Party is changing, in part driven by a new wave of young, Internet-savvy activists and bloggers who are practically screaming for respect. And the old guard is having a very hard time giving up control.

At the Resolutions Committee meeting April 27, Torres, a smooth operator with more than 30 years’ experience in party politics, gave a textbook demonstration of how the powers that be keep the grass roots in line.

On one level, the resolutions that get passed at these conventions don’t matter that much; they don’t have any binding authority. But they do express the official position of the state party, can put pressure on Democratic elected officials – and sometimes highlight the schisms in the famously fractious organization.

In this case, activists had put forward a half-dozen reform proposals that all had the same issue at heart: control of state party money.

Howard Dean took on the old guard nationally when he decided to put money into party-building efforts and candidates in all 50 states; his fans in California want to see the state party follow that model in all 58 counties. They also want more transparency in how the money is handled.

The state party chair, of course, keeps a lot of his power and authority by controlling that cash, and the legislative leaders keep their powerful posts and ensure the loyalty of their troops in part by determining which Democrats get the resources in election years.

The resolutions called for an outside audit of party money and a formal 58-county strategy. Before a single supporter of those measures had a chance to speak, the chair of the Resolutions Committee turned the floor over to Torres – who suggested the whole thing be referred to a new task force, which he would appoint, for consideration at some time in the future. The committee chair quickly called for a motion and a vote, and the panel – also all appointed by Torres – swept every party-reform resolution right off the table.

The same pattern played out with impeachment; a strong grassroots effort became a weak final resolution. As one committee member told me, "Speaker Pelosi is against impeachment, so we can’t really vote for it."

With the early California primary, the state convention was a big-time event. Seven presidential candidates showed up, more than had ever come to a state party event in history. There was a palpable feeling of energy at the convention, a sense that this time around, the Democrats might actually be ready to win the White House.

On the convention floor the mood was festive as Hillary Clinton strode through a side entrance and walked past a mob of supporters to the stage. Her speech was about what I expected – standard stump lines, but well delivered and full of energy. She had the crowd with her for about 10 minutes, until she mentioned Iraq – at which point the boos and catcalls began, the people in the seats got restive, and the mood was shattered. "She still won’t apologize," one young delegate told me, shaking her head.

Barack Obama looked like the rock star he is, jogging through the entrance with a huge smile. In person he looks like he’s barely out of his 20s – and his army, while smaller then Clinton’s, was more diverse and a lot younger. He’s a dynamic speaker and got a huge ovation when he announced that "I stood up in 2002, when it wasn’t popular to stand up, and said [the war] was a bad idea."

Obama split without talking to the press. Clinton arrived 20 minutes late to a packed press conference and said very little of note.

John Edwards, who spoke Sunday morning, April 29, got his own star treatment and demonstrated a key difference with Clinton when he announced that "I voted for this war, and I was wrong to vote for this war." He was also the only candidate who actually talked about poverty in America. He showed up on time for his press availability; I managed to get the first question.

"Senator," I said, "the 25 top hedge fund managers in this country made enough money between them last year to pay the salaries of all 88,000 New York City public school teachers for three years. I know you want to repeal the Bush tax cuts, but beyond that, shouldn’t we actually raise taxes on the very rich so we can pay the teachers a little better?"

"It’s a good question," he said, "and it’s worthy of consideration." But for now, Edwards won’t go beyond restoring the tax code to its Bill Clinton-era levels, which are still far, far too rewarding to the tiny segment of the country that earns and controls the vast majority of the income and wealth.

I got to ask Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut the same question; he kindly agreed to a private interview and gave me 10 minutes or so. He, like Edwards, was kinda sorta maybe willing to consider raising taxes on people who make upward of $250 million a year.

I suppose this is progress.

All the liberal bloggers came to the April 27 evening fundraiser for Jerry McNerney, who defeated Ricahrd Pombo, and Charlie Brown, a Democrat who wants to unseat John Doolittle in congressional District 4 (north of Sacramento). Brown is a favorite of the blogosphere; he’s also a candidate who was barely on the official party radar when he ran in 2006.

All that has changed dramatically – with Doolittle circling the drain and Brown showing surprising strength. Even Pelosi plugged him from the convention stage.

But the only elected official I saw at the fundraiser was Assemblymember Mark Leno.

The people in the room represented a very different approach to state politics. It’s not even an entirely ideological division; it’s more about a form of activism. The bloggers (who aren’t just writing about the party but trying to change it) are still the party outsiders now – but they’ve already raised more money for Brown than any other single source, mostly in small contributions. And I suspect that if he gets elected, he’ll remember the people who were there for him first.

The outsiders still don’t understand how all the hardball politics work at conventions, but they’re learning. They’re also emerging as a tremendous force in American politics, and in California they’re knocking, loudly, on the state party doors. And Art Torres is a fool if he thinks he’s not going to have to let them in. *

For much, much more on the state convention, go to the Guardian politics blog at www.sfbg.com/blogs/politics.

Editor’s Notes


> tredmond@sfbg.com

I knew a lot of sick puppies in high school and college – loners, misfits, and social nightmares who wrote short stories and poems about death and destruction and suicide and drew grisly cartoons of people with brains spattered and organs hanging out and strangely mangled genitalia. These days, I fear, a lot of them would have been sent to the campus counseling service. Back then it was all just art.

None of these people (to my knowledge) have ever done any physical harm to anyone. I’m almost certain that none of them have turned into mass murderers. Most are now successful and respected members of society.

And I think anyone who is attracted to the weirder elements and attended a liberal arts college probably has similar acquaintances.

So I’m not going to get all agitated about the fact that Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, was never properly tracked and identified as a sociopath. That’s a tough nut – and if college campuses became places where everyone who bought and sold books about horror movies and wrote alarmingly dark stories in English class was forcibly psychoanalyzed, higher education would be a very different experience.

On the other hand, it’s hard to accept just how easy it was for this guy to get a pair of handguns – weapons of mass destruction that allowed him to kill more than 30 people. The thing is, he apparently did it all legally.

The fact that he was once sent for psychiatric observation didn’t make it into the Virginia database that tracks people unfit to buy weapons. But overall he was just another guy looking for a weapon that has no real purpose except to kill another human being – or in this case, large numbers of other human beings – and in his state, as in much of this country, that wasn’t a problem at all.

The thing that struck me the hardest, and most immediately, after the incident was the statement from President George W. Bush, who (of course) bemoaned the carnage and offered his prayers – but in the same few sentences made a point of saying that he supports the right to bear arms. It was kind of sick: Bush didn’t even have the tact to wait a single day before sucking up to the National Rifle Association.

Let’s be real: if Cho hadn’t been able to buy those guns, the odds are very good that 33 people in Virginia would still be alive today, teaching, studying, and thinking about their future. It’s about time we start dealing with that.

I have good friends who are hunters and own rifles. I’ve happily gorged on the roast pig that came from one hunter’s forays, and I’m not complaining. But hunting rifles aren’t terribly effective for the sort of killing we saw at Virginia Tech; for one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you carry one into class. No, the big problems are handguns and assault rifles – weapons that were not on anyone’s mind when the people who wrote the Constitution talked about a "well-regulated militia."

Don’t talk to me about self-defense, either. I’ve been studying and occasionally teaching self-defense for 15 years, and I can tell you that guns are, by and large, a rotten self-defense strategy, much more likely to be used against you or to be useless than to function properly at a time when you need them.

And yet there are handguns everywhere. God bless America. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I get just as crabby and cynical as any other political reporter, but the truth is, on the index of basic competence and lack of corruption, San Francisco city government is doing way better than it was a decade ago.

We’re far from perfect: the Raker Act scandal still sours everything at City Hall, and the mayor hasn’t done much of anything in the past three years. I could go on.

But the reformers have made some tremendous inroads. I don’t know of anyone running a critical department at City Hall who is too drunk to make it back from lunch on a regular basis. Most of the senior staff actually shows up to work instead of spending the day at Nordstrom. The school district has gotten back to educating students, and the public schools improve each year. The supervisors are overall a remarkably smart, progressive bunch. I haven’t seen the FBI raid a local government office in a couple years.

And then there’s the community college district.

The board and the administration that run City College are, I think, one of the last bastions of the kind of inbred, secretive, corrupt rotten boroughs that used to dominate our dear city. Take Lance Williams’s fascinating City College story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on April 6.

Williams showed how a college official, assistant vice chancellor James Blomquist, allegedly steered $10,000 in rent money owed to the school into a campaign fund for a 2005 community college bond act. If that’s true — and nobody’s denying it — the deal was not only inappropriate but blatantly illegal. There should have been outrage all around — but so far only the three dissident members of the community college board have said a word. "Nobody else has said anything," said board member John Rizzo, who with Julio Ramos and Milton Marks III has called for a special meeting on this.

Perhaps that’s because what Blomquist allegedly did isn’t all that unusual at City College, where bond money is moved around and treated like personal scrip by the administration and some of the board members. Remember, these are the folks who promised the voters that they’d build a performing arts center, then turned around and spent the money on a gym — and later agreed to rent out the new pool to a private school across the street (see "Field of Schemes," 9/22/04).

This is the crew that has resisted sunshine, that has run roughshod over neighborhoods and pissed off thousands of people — for absolutely no good reason.

The district attorney needs to investigate this latest scam and ask, among other things, which board members knew about it — because I suspect this wasn’t just a junior official operating unilaterally.

This shit has got to end, folks. The chancellor, Philip Day, needs to go. The board members who have been involved in these past shenanigans (Natalie Berg, Rodel Rodis, and Lawrence Wong) all need to go. The progressives have to make this a priority; City College is a civic gem and a crucial part of the city’s future. It’s infuriating to see it run by political hacks.

And as long as this crew is still in charge, I hope they know better than to come around with their hands out, asking for more of the taxpayers’ money. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The latest count of homeless people in San Francisco is in, and already the bureaucrats and the news media are misquoting it to make their political points.

"Most of San Francisco’s Homeless from Other Areas," the headline on KCBS.com read. "City Attracts Homeless for More Than One Reason," the San Francisco Chronicle concluded. "Homeless folks tend to migrate to San Francisco," Trent Rhorer, the head of the city’s Human Services Agency, told the Chron. "In a sense, we’re swimming upstream here."

Well, what the survey actually showed is that the number of homeless people increased slightly this year, to 6,377. That’s a pretty bogus number, since it’s hard to count the city’s entire homeless population in one night with a bunch of volunteers who don’t even interview most of the people they count. They also don’t count people who are living in cars (it’s often hard to find them), and they don’t count people who are crashing on somebody’s floor or couch, or multiple families crammed into single rooms, or a lot of others who technically don’t have a home in San Francisco.

But it’s a number that scares the mayor a bit, because it suggests that his much-vaunted program to deal with homeless people, Care Not Cash, isn’t making huge inroads. So it’s easy (even though the city hardly gives out any cash anymore, and services are stretched thin, and compassion is harder and harder to find) for Gavin Newsom’s staff to say that it’s impossible to really solve the problem because so many new homeless people keep flocking to this city.

In fact, that’s what a follow-up survey of some of the homeless people suggested: about 31 percent of them said they had come here from somewhere else.

A bit of reality here: more than 31 percent of the people who work at the Guardian came here from somewhere else. This is a city of immigrants. It’s a place where people come to reinvent themselves, where people who are down on their luck and can’t handle the stress of being different in a white-bread community arrive in search of a better life. It’s hardly surprising that a lot of the homeless people are also relatively new arrivals.

But what’s far more staggering to me is that 69 percent of the people who are homeless aren’t recent arrivals. These are folks who have either lived on the streets of San Francisco for quite some time — or lived here in some sort of tolerable condition and recently become homeless.

Rhorer’s got it backward: the trouble isn’t that some people who lost their homes in another part of the country decided they’d have a better shot in San Francisco. It’s that so many San Franciscans have become homeless.

And I think I can hazard a guess as to why.

Let’s face it: housing costs in this city drive people onto the streets. The tenant activists like to say that eviction is the number one preventable cause of homelessness, and I agree. We can complain about San Francisco being a homeless magnet (which will probably never change), or we can recognize that public policy (too easy evictions, too little affordable housing) is the root cause of a lot of the homelessness that begins right here at home. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

David Lazarus, who is a pretty good consumer reporter over at the San Francisco Chronicle, got himself badly singed in a blogosphere flame war a couple weeks ago when he wrote a column arguing that newspapers should start charging for their content online. No more free newspaper Web sites; if you gotta pay half a buck to the buy the print product, you shouldn’t get it electronically for free.

It’s kind of an insider industry debate, and frankly, this stuff is starting to bore me, and nobody else should care much — except that in his fights with bloggers and in a follow-up column March 23, Lazarus got into an issue that is crucial for all of us to think about and understand in the new media world.

Lazarus argues that if the Web content is free, there won’t be any money to pay professional reporters (like him). Some of the folks who went after him said, in effect, so what? With tens of thousands of bloggers out there working for free, who needs David Lazarus? Who needs to pay for any news on the Web? Who even needs newspapers; why can’t the blogosphere just make its own news?

What that argument amounts to is a failure to understand that there will always be — and must, for the sake of democracy, always be — people who work in the news business. By that I mean people who are paid full-time to follow politicians, monitor city hall, and investigate wrongdoing.

They may not work in what are now traditional newsrooms or at traditional news outlets. But the typical blogger, who comments on other news reports and does some citizen journalism while holding down a day job or going to school, isn’t going to fill the role of full-time reporters. It’s not that the bloggers aren’t smart or good writers or, frankly, better reporters than a lot of the pros out there. It’s just that this job can’t be a part-time gig.

Lazarus misses the fact that giving away newspaper stories isn’t anything new. The alternative press figured out years ago that newspapers can operate like radio stations — put the content out free and sell ads around it — and make enough money to hire staff.

But the bloggers don’t seem to understand that hiring staff is key. Look at Daily Kos. It’s a huge success in part because Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who runs the site, is a great writer and very talented, but it’s also because he does it as a full-time gig. He doesn’t charge for anything; he takes ads. But that pays for at least one full-time staffer and soon, I think, will pay for more.

The time will come (and I bet it’s sooner than later) when Daily Kos or another similar site will have enough money to decide to hire a full-time political blogger to, say, cover the presidential race. That person may not be someone who went to journalism school, and he or she may not write with the style or sensibility of the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times or the Washington Post. But that reporter-blogger will be able to do what most citizen journalists can’t — that is, devote full time to the job — and thus will get original stories, real news. That’s never going to change. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Four years ago we shut down the city. None of us who were there will ever forget it: so many peaceful protesters showed up that the police had to close down Market Street. Mission Street was pretty much the same way. You couldn’t get anywhere downtown; nobody seemed to be at work. The police were, in more than a few instances, out of control — but there were no water cannons or rubber bullets, just a lot of arrests. Overall, it was a day of joy: the United States was going to war, and San Francisco would have no part of it.

The anniversary protests, while exuberant, weren’t quite that dramatic. I understand: it’s been a long, long war, and we’ve all be fighting for a long, long time, and things just seem to be getting worse. The antiwar movement, and the frustration of the nation at a conflict that has dragged on longer than US involvement in World War II, tossed the Republican majority out of both houses of Congress, but the Democrats are still talking about nonbinding resolutions and incremental plans that can’t be backed up. The war seems to be without end. Even the New York Times, that voice of mainstream moderation, is starting to sound pissed off: the March 18 lead editorial referred to "the unnecessary, horribly botched and now unwinnable war."

I know this doesn’t help the families of the more than 3,000 already dead soldiers or the tens of thousands more who are still stuck in a desert quagmire, but the good news is we’ve won the debate. Almost nobody running for president wants to say the war was a good idea, has been handled well, or ought to continue much longer. The only question on the table now is how best to get the hell out. And in the long term, this really has become the new Vietnam — just as the very name of that southeast Asian country struck fear in the hearts of American imperialists and military adventurists for a quarter century, the legacy of Iraq will almost certainly be stricter controls on the ability of rogue presidents to invade countries for their own geopolitical agendas.

So let’s keep the pressure on the likes of Nancy Pelosi (it’s so heartwarming to see protesters camped outside the house of the new House speaker — and it’s stunning that Pelosi has been such a jerk and refused to be civil to them). And take heart: we can still end this war — and go a long way toward preventing the next one.

And on a totally different note: I was somewhat amazed to see that the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group — the companies that own all the major newspapers in the central Bay Area — have come up with a new tactic to get rid of that pesky antitrust suit filed by Clint Reilly.

The suit charges that the deal giving two giant corporations control of so much of the region’s media will deprive readers of diverse viewpoints and advertisers of competitive alternatives. The evidence in favor of Reilly’s claim is pretty strong.

So now the newspaper barons are taking a new tack, arguing that Reilly has no standing to sue. He’s just one person; what’s the harm to him?

Well, gee, if one person who cares about the community has no standing to sue, who does? Hearst and MediaNews, I suspect, would like to leave that to the state and federal attorneys general. And look how that’s worked out. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I am not taking sides yet in the Carole Migden–Mark Leno race; the election is still a blessed 14 months away. But I think that at this point I can stake out a clear position against calling one of the candidates a "kiddie porn king."

I wish this were a joke, but it’s not. A former aide to Migden, Michael Colbruno, who (like most of the rest of the known world) has a blog, posted an item earlier this month headlined "Kiddie Porn King in Senate Race."

Colbruno clearly supports his former boss, who is defending her State Senate seat against Assemblymember Leno. That’s fine. But attacking Leno as a kiddie porn king is the exact sort of nasty, sleazy, Karl Rove–style stuff that ought to have no place in a San Francisco campaign.

Let me lay out the background here, since it’s a case study in how political smears are created.

About a year ago Republicans in the state legislature started work on a bill that was aimed at cracking down on child molesters. It wound up on the ballot as Proposition 83, a draconian law that, among other things, would have barred any registered sex offender from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and required them to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet for life.

Leno and Migden both opposed it.

But in the meantime, while the bill was being debated, Leno, chair of the Public Safety Committee, tried to offer a less heinous alternative. His measure was called AB 50, and while it tightened laws on sex crimes, it didn’t include the bracelets or the 2,000-foot residency requirement (which many law-enforcement types said were ineffective and unworkable).

During discussions on the bill, Leno tells me, Assemblymember Todd Spitzer, an Orange County Republican, approached Leno with an offer. "He told me that if I would accept several amendments, he’d support my bill," Leno says.

One Spitzer amendment would have tightened the laws on child pornography. At the time, possession of kiddie porn was a misdemeanor on the first offense; Spitzer’s proposal would have made it a felony if the offender possessed more than 100 pieces.

Sure, said Leno. No problem. (Spitzer, by the way, confirmed this account to me.)

That, in retrospect, was a mistake; in fact, I could argue that Leno was set up by the GOP. Because shortly afterward, the right-wing media blew up. Leno was accused of supporting the child-porn lobby; according to the likes of Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Leno was arguing that 99 pieces of kiddie porn were just fine. (The federal felony standard, by the way, is 75. Leno’s bill was amended — with his support — to 25, then one.)

Let’s remember: Leno’s bill actually tightened the existing law. I have two kids, and I’m not about to defend the peddlers of underage smut, but I really don’t think AB 50 made Leno a kiddie porn king.

I shudder to think about this becoming a campaign issue; I can already see the hit pieces (or whisper campaigns) circuutf8g in Marin and Sonoma counties, the more conservative parts of the district. Mark Leno, kiddie porn. Hard to turn that around.

Paul Hefner, a spokesperson for Migden’s campaign, told me she doesn’t approve of the post and wants to see a positive race. Good for her. But I suspect that if she were as offended as I am, she would call Colbruno and tell him to take that shit down. Now.

UPDATE: After ppress time for the print edition, Migden’s office informed me that the senator had asked Colbruno to take the post down. Colbruno told me he would do so. That was the right outcome; now let’s hope we don’t ever have to go through all of this again*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I don’t think anyone has seriously challenged an incumbent San Francisco Democrat for a seat in the state legislature while I’ve lived here, and that’s going on 25 years. So we all know that the race between Mark Leno, the challenger, and Carole Migden, the state senator, marks a change in local politics.

For one thing, it’s a major race, for a key political position — and there’s no official establishment candidate. Both Leno and Migden have ties to some very powerful interests in town; both of them will be able to raise a lot of money and line up an impressive list of endorsements. But as we saw from Leno’s campaign kickoff March 2, the political split is going to be highly unusual in a town where grassroots progressives versus the downtown machine has been pretty much the political mantra for a generation.

Five years ago, when then-supervisor Leno and former supervisor Harry Britt fought for the open District 13 assembly seat, it wasn’t hard to take sides. The progressives were behind Britt (and so was Migden); the moderates, the business types, and kingmaker Willie Brown were behind Leno. But Leno has moved considerably to the left over the past few years and has been a good legislator. A lot of the former Britt supporters may well wind up in his camp this time around.

At his kickoff, though, that wasn’t what you saw: District Attorney Kamala Harris was by his side, along with Treasurer Phil Ting, Assemblymember Fiona Ma, and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission boss Susan Leal. Harris and Leal are decent people who have taken some good progressive stands, but they aren’t exactly a definitive lineup of San Francisco’s left leadership. Ma was a horrible supervisor. Community college board member Natalie Berg is nothing if not an old machine hack.

Migden isn’t exactly pals with everyone on the left in this town either: she pissed off a lot of party activists by supporting Steve Westly over Phil Angelides for governor (although she could certainly argue now, given Angelides’s rather poor showing, that the centrist Westly was a more practical choice). And she’s been far less visible in town than Leno, who really works the San Francisco constituency.

Neither Leno nor Migden has done anything remotely close to what Brown and Phil and John Burton did in their days in the state legislature (and later Congress). The level of fear and intimidation from the top dogs in the Democratic Party is well on the wane.

It’s going to be hard for local politicians to make a choice in this race — but not because they fear the consequences of defying one side or the other. Frankly, if you’re a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors or the school board or community college board, or a prominent fundraiser in the Democratic Party, neither Migden nor Leno is terribly scary.

This is a good thing. We’re making progress.

For the grassroots activists who will be propelling the campaigns on the ground, the challenge will be not just to promote their own candidates but to avoid a queer-left schism that will last beyond the election. Queer-labor activist Robert Haaland has a proposal, which is posted on the politics blog at www.sfbg.com: he suggests that everyone — not just the candidates but also their supporters — promise not to resort to sleazy attacks and to remember that we will all have to work together another day. Migden and Leno have both signed on. Now let’s see if they can force their campaign consultants and political allies to get with the program.

That would be progress indeed. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s funny: the transcontinental railroad was born in San Francisco, and it transformed California. But the West Coast has pretty much lost the train thing. You want to go from here to Los Angeles, there are pretty much two choices: you can fly or you can drive. In theory, you can ride Amtrak, and I’ve done it, but it doesn’t run very often and takes about 12 hours. Fun, if you like that sort of thing, but not at all practical.

But on an early Sunday morning last week, I was traveling from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, and between 8 a.m. and noon there were about half a dozen trains running on that route. The high-speed Acela got me to Philly in 90 minutes, downtown to downtown, way faster than I could drive. Another hour or so, and I could have been in Manhattan.

There are flights from Washington, DC, to New York, but these days it seems kind of silly to fly: by the time you arrive at the airport, get through security, go up, go down, deplane, and get from the airport to the city, you’re well beyond three hours. The train’s way cheaper too.

Yeah, I love trains (actual legroom, no seat belt signs, scenery, bar cars), so I’m biased, but it seems silly that California is spending billions of dollars on highway projects (including a new bore for the Caldecott Tunnel, a colossal waste if there ever were one), and we still aren’t talking seriously about high-speed rail to Los Angeles, which would probably bring more environmental and economic benefits than all of the other transportation projects in the state put together.

There are plenty of reasons to wring your hands over Assemblymember Mark Leno’s decision to challenge incumbent state senator Carole Migden in 2008. The race will almost certainly be bitter and ugly; both sides have an incentive to go negative. It could split the queer community, leave progressives wondering whom to support, and turn political allies into enemies.

Or maybe it won’t: I wonder if San Francisco’s progressive community is mature enough today to handle this without any bad long-term impacts. Some of the city’s left leaders will back Leno, and some will back Migden, but in the end, neither one of these candidates is the enemy, and if everyone keeps a sense of perspective (the way we were able to do in the District 5 race in 2004), it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath.

I realize that Leno is running in part because of term limits, which might not be the most noble of motivations. And I’m against term limits. But there’s actually a reason to be happy about this race: it’s a demonstration that old-style machine politics is dead in San Francisco.

Ten years ago this race would never have happened. Willie Brown was in charge — really in charge — and no local Democrat would have dared to defy his will. Brown didn’t like contested races between Democrats, and he would have told one of the two candidates to back off, and that would have been that.

We live in a different political world now. Mayor Gavin Newsom will probably support Leno, but he has way too much on his mind right now to be involved in any kind of backroom deal. Neither Migden nor Leno has the kind of clout to scare the other away, and nobody else in this town does either.

Democracy isn’t always pretty, but after living under the machine for a couple of decades, I find this almost refreshing. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I made it through the week without anyone calling to complain about my analysis of the mayor’s race, so maybe for once I got it right: unless Gavin Newsom drops out or a third strike drops and it’s pretty bad, we already know what things are going to look like in the fall.

So we might as well get on with it: Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi should get together and talk it out, then one of them should just go ahead and announce.

For a long list of reasons, there has to be a real mayor’s race this fall — and Tony Hall plus a few nutcases against Mayor Newsom doesn’t count. The progressives need someone to rally around, to get the old troops out and in the streets and some new ones trained and energized. We need to keep Newsom on the defensive, to keep our issues out there, to hold him accountable not just to his donors but to the rest of the city.

Never discount what a good challenge can do: there are a lot of reasons why Sup. Bevan Dufty has moved a few steps to the left over the past few months, but one of them is absolutely the fact that he had a progressive candidate running against him in the fall.

Besides, I actually think Newsom can be defeated.

Just look at his record. Since he hasn’t accomplished much of anything, he’s vulnerable on almost everything. Other than same-sex marriage, his major legacy at this point seems to be trying to hand out the city’s information technology infrastructure to Google and EarthLink. Go team.

And the city’s two leading Greens both have a distinct advantage at this point — nobody is going to accuse them of jumping into the race to take advantage of Newsom’s personal problems. Long before city hall got all steamed up, Mirkarimi and Gonzalez were talking about running — on the issues.

Gonzalez can raise a lot of money. Mirkarimi has done something few progressives ever pull off: turning public safety into one of our top issues. Like almost all candidates, they both have strengths and weaknesses, but in the end, it looks like one of them is going to be our contender this fall, and that’s not at all a bad thing.

We went after District Attorney Kamala Harris a couple weeks ago when she tried to make some changes in the pretrial diversion program that would have cut back on its effectiveness. Harris did the right thing; she and Public Defender Jeff Adachi reached an agreement that preserved the best of the program, which tries to steer first-time misdemeanor offenders into counseling and out of the criminal justice system.

Harris didn’t have to do that; the program is entirely under her control, and she could have told Adachi (and us) to take a hike and done it her way. But she showed that she’s a reasonable DA who is willing to listen.

Now, however, the thugs at the Police Officers Association are attacking her for her willingness to include misdemeanor noninjury assaults on cops as crimes that are eligible for diversion. (This is typically stuff like someone spitting at an officer or brushing against him or her during an arrest. We’re not talking about serious assaults here.)

Harris is standing up to the POA, but the rest of the city, including the mayor, needs to get behind her. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

If the Matier and Ross report in the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 11 is to believed, then Mayor Gavin Newsom is actually taking his alcohol problem seriously. Mimi Silbert, who runs Delancey Street, told the dynamic duo that Newsom has been showing up every night for three or four hours of intense counseling and therapy. Good for him. If his problem is bad enough that he needs that much help, he’d probably be better off taking some time away from work, but I’m not him, and at least he’s trying.

Or so they say.

Of course, if the whole "treatment" thing is just an attempt to gain sympathy from the public and take the story away from his sordid affair, I suspect Newsom’s visits to Delancey Street will start to taper off fast — in which case a lot of people who have friends and family who truly have struggled with alcoholism will be properly pissed at his honor the mayor.

It’s going to sound like a cliché at this point, but I kinda think it’s true enough to make it our mantra for the fall: Newsom has been doing a rotten job of late, and if his personal problems are to blame for that, then he needs to get the hell out of politics until he’s a lot stabler, and if his personal problems aren’t to blame, then he’s just a weak and lame mayor. Either way, four more years doesn’t work.

Which brings us to the real question that was on everyone’s mind at the Guardian‘s 40th anniversary party last week: who?

Let me throw out some thoughts.

I’ll start with the wild card. There isn’t one. I see nobody hiding in the bushes who can run as a progressive and mount a serious campaign. We’ve got what we see. (Don’t talk to me about Art Agnos; the guy would have to enter a political 12-step, make a lot of amends, and admit all the things he did wrong as mayor last time around, and it ain’t happening.)

So here’s Scenario One: Newsom toughs it out, nothing else awful drops, and he stays in the race. Honestly, very few people are going to challenge him. Not Mark Leno, not Carole Migden, not Dennis Herrera, not Aaron Peskin. They don’t want to look like they’re exploiting Newsom’s personal problems, so they all wait four years.

So the left candidate is Ross Mirkarimi or Matt Gonzalez. If Gonzalez wants it, Mirkarimi steps out of the way. That could set up Matt vs. Gavin, round two, with Gonzalez as the candidate of the left and the Residential Builders Association, leaving people like me (who think land use is supremely important) tearing our hair out. And let’s remember that Jack Davis, the political mastermind, is going to be a player this time, and it won’t be with a loser like Tony Hall.

Scenario Two: Newsom decides, for whatever reason, to withdraw — and it’s a free-for-all. Gonzalez is suddenly not the leading candidate; that’s probably Leno, Herrera, or, on the outside, Kamala Harris. Which leaves the progressives with a sticky choice: stay with Gonzalez or accept someone who on paper (and on the record) is more centrist but will promise a whole lot to get our support and could be the odds-on favorite.

Throw in public financing and ranked-choice voting, and the election’s going to be like nothing there ever was in this town. I can’t wait. *

Editor’s Notes


It’s been almost a week. The Guardian has moved on — to our annual sex issue.

And now Gavin Newsom is seeking "treatment" (which sounds like a lot more than it apparently is) for alcohol abuse, and he wants everything to go back to normal. But as we report in "More Than the Affair," this page, normal at Newsom’s City Hall isn’t much to be proud of. And in the meantime, a lot of damage is done — and not just (or even primarily) to the mayor’s career.

When it comes to the sex scandal, Newsom made his own bed. And I wish him well in his battle with alcohol — I know how tough that can be. But there’s another point here. Newsom is more than just a politician. He’s more than the mayor of San Francisco. He’s become a national symbol, particularly for same-sex marriage, and his reputation as an honest, ethical guy, a young rising star in the Democratic Party — and yeah, an Irish Catholic — has helped that cause.

The Ruby Tourk affair may well have been consensual, and if so, we can let it lie. But it undermines the one really good thing Newsom has done. Predictably, the right wing is having a field day: the mayor of San Francisco loves gay marriage, but he doesn’t respect traditional marriage. It’s a stupid line, but it hurts. And Newsom’s weak, simpering apology doesn’t help San Francisco or any of our shared causes either. He just looks like a loser.

I have to say: drinking or no drinking, the guy just isn’t mature enough to be in room 200.

Yeah, Willie Brown went out with younger women and impregnated a campaign fundraiser, and nobody cared. That was in part because he didn’t screw city employees who reported to him and in part because he knew how to handle the press, but it was also in part because, by the time he was mayor, Brown didn’t stand for anything. He was a political wheeler and dealer; there weren’t many people who had invested hopes and dreams in him.

Newsom took on that role a few years ago, and when you do that, the disappointments are that much bitterer. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I complain a lot too. I understand: The buses don’t run on time. Everything costs too much, particularly a place to live, if you can even find one. Traffic is terrible, and there’s no place to park. Developers keep destroying good stuff and putting up ugly stuff.

And then there are moments like last Sunday afternoon, when my kids and I spent a couple hours communing with the pair of great horned owls that decided to take up residence in a tree on Bernal Hill.

The owls showed up a couple weeks ago. They sleep during the day, on branches maybe 25 feet off the ground, opening their yellow eyes every once in a while to cast a nonchalant glance at the humans and their dogs gawking up from below. They don’t seem to mind the fact that they’re constantly the center of attention, that it sometimes feels like a zoo exhibit up on the hill — except these aren’t captive creatures. They actually live here.

Great horned owls don’t tend to hang out in urban areas; I’ve never seen one before in San Francisco. But our new neighbors seem well at home on the hill, where there are plenty of mice, rats, and other small mammals to hunt. They’ve become quite the attraction; even Vivian, who isn’t exactly a nature girl, was excited to walk up and see them.

Michael, of course, was way into owls long before these guys showed up. He knew that they eat their prey whole but can’t digest fur, feathers, bones, teeth, or claws, and that once a day they burp that stuff up in a tight wad called a pellet. Naturally, we had to go looking.

So we climbed around the base of the tree for about half an hour, searching for owl pellets. They don’t look a whole lot different from dog turds, which are also common to this particular habitat, but I’d brought a couple sharp wooden barbecue spears to poke around with. After a few unpleasant errors, I snagged one; we took it home, picked it apart with tweezers, and managed to extract what appeared to be almost an entire mouse skeleton, which is now in a carefully labeled specimen jar on a shelf in the kids’ room.

After a quarter of a century in San Francisco, the city continues to amaze me.

I mention this in part because I happened to be looking for something else on the SF Weekly Web site the other day and came upon a peculiar and typically nasty piece columnist Matt Smith had written in the guise of advice to out-of-town reporters descending on the city to find out about the place whence comes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

I’m sure he was trying to be funny, but in the end all I got was bile and vitriol. One typical comment:

"People move here, meet a group of fighting-mad friends, then join one of the city’s myriad wars: dog-owners vs. parents, renters vs. owners, bus-riders vs. drivers, bohemians vs. geeks, everybody against newcomers.

"A few years ago, I denounced the city as a petty battle zone."

That’s one way to look at it. Me, I love the fact that people in the city care enough to fight for its future.

Not to go after our corporate-chain rivals (who? me?), but I have to wonder sometimes: do the folks at the SF Weekly even like San Francisco? *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s getting a bit creepy how easily and casually we are all starting to joke about global climate change.

It’s not coming, it’s here. My brother is framing houses in a T-shirt in upstate New York. And it’s so cold in California that the citrus crop is ruined. The other day one of my colleagues mentioned that global warming might not make every place warmer; "it’s just going to kill us all."

Maybe it will.

One of the most chilling (sorry) depictions of what’s about to happen comes not from Al Gore’s movie (which was powerful) but from a book called A Friend of the Earth, which is a pretty bad novel by a very good writer, T.C. Boyle. The story line is weak, but the scene — Santa Inez in 2025 — has a strange air of realism. It’s almost impossible to live there in Boyle’s future; the storms are so regular and fierce that only specially constructed homes can survive them, and almost nobody spends much time outdoors.

I have a friend who’s a very, very successful investment adviser, a self-made millionaire several times over, who has been living a dream of a life in Boca Raton, Fla., diving and spearfishing and cruising around on his yacht … and he just sold his place and bought a dirt farm in Kentucky. Florida is going to be wiped out by the hurricanes, he says. He’s also shut down a lot of his business, since he thinks the US economy is going to completely tank soon. He wants to be someplace where he can grow his own food.

I think this is crazy. I’ve never been into doomsday. I have two kids, which by itself is an act of optimism and hope. As we say in my family (which has elevated the art of denial to world-class levels), everything is going to be just fine.

So I laugh about the weather like everyone else. I live way up on a hill; if the ice melts and the sea rises all the way to my doorstep, it will be time to buy an ark. I’ve always been into boats anyway.

But right now it really feels like this is coming at us a lot faster than anyone expected. And the much-heralded moves by the governor of California to reduce greenhouse gases a little bit by a few years from now seem so incredibly puny.

In politics I’ve always felt that intent matters. There are some wonderful programs that don’t work as well as they should, not because of corruption but because the money is inadequate or the staff isn’t properly trained or somebody made some mistakes. That’s different from somebody deliberately lying, cheating, and stealing to game the system.

Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. is a corrupt institution with sleazy lawyers and consultants who abuse the local political system. Carolyn Knee, who was the treasurer for a group fighting on behalf of a ballot campaign for public power in 2002, is a good person who apparently made some mistakes in the complex process of filing all the campaign finance documents on a volunteer basis for a grassroots initiative. And she just told me the SF Ethics Commission wants to fine her $26,700.

There’s something very wrong here. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I remember watching Jimmy Carter make a speech on TV back in early 1980, when he was trying to deal with a wrecked economy, a national "malaise" that was only partially a figment of his imagination, and the Iran hostage crisis, and all I remember telling my college roommates was this:

The guy looks like a goddamn ghost.

Carter had aged at least 20 years since his upbeat 1977 inauguration. His face was creased and haggard. His eyes were empty hollows. He appeared to be having trouble focusing on what he was saying. It was pretty clear that Carter was burned toast.

I never got that feeling about Bill Clinton. Through the health care mess, the Newt Gingrich era, Monica Lewinsky, and impeachment, he always seemed to have a grip.

But like Jimmy Carter 27 years ago, George W. Bush is falling apart.

W. was never terribly bright to begin with, but he always had that confident swagger, that tone in his voice that suggested he believed in what he was saying. On the night of Jan. 10 it was all gone.

Even on TV, with all the makeup and careful background and lighting, the president was a wreck. He looked like hell. If the guy weren’t a sober, reformed alcoholic, I’d have sworn he’d been shit-faced for the past three days. He’s just falling apart. If he weren’t such an evil prick, I’d actually feel sorry for him.

The military escalation in Iraq is such a brainless notion that I can’t figure out how Karl Rove and co. ever let it get out of the Oval Office. This is a no-win deal: even the mainstream news media, including the papers and commentators who supported the invasion and stuck with the war for years, are now pointing out that Iraq has no functioning government, that the place is run by sectarian militias and is in a state of civil war. Twenty thousand new American soldiers won’t help a bit — they’ll just be another group of targets for extremists and opportunists. Too many of them will soon be filling body bags, and too many more will be in military hospitals trying to rebuild their lives with missing limbs, near-fatal injuries, and the kind of scarred psyches that can only come from realizing you might very well be John Kerry’s famous last man to die for a mistake.

As we note in an editorial, this is probably the greatest political gift an incumbent Republican president has given the Democratic Party since Richard Nixon had his pals engage in a third-rate burglary in the Watergate office complex. The worst president in modern history is finally on the defensive, way on the defensive, and unless Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid truly bungle things, there’s no way he’s going to recover.

I’m still for impeachment (and the case looks better every day). But right now what I’m for the most is some congressional pluck. The Constitution is pretty clear on the fact that the legislative branch handles the purse strings and has the right to declare war. There’s an easy way to get the troops out of Iraq: stop writing the checks.

The war isn’t even in the Bush budget. He keeps coming back and asking for more off-line money for it. Pelosi can simply say no — not another damn dime. I wish I thought she had the courage and principles to do it. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The biggest challenge facing Democrats in Congress this year is probably also the most boring. They’re going to have to deal with taxes.

I’m not the only one obsessed with this. Really, I’m not. Edmund L. Andrews got into it in the New York Times on Jan. 4, noting that the new Democratic leadership is utterly ducking the question of how to handle some of the major fiscal headaches that are going to rear their ugly heads.

Bear with me while we run some numbers.

The Iraq War is going to cost $100 billion in 2007, maybe more if Bush gets his troop "surge." Fixing the problem that causes more and more middle-class people to shoulder an extra tax burden under the alternative minimum tax will cost $50 billion. The Bush tax cuts — which the president wants to make permanent — are another huge-ticket item, maybe $170 billion a year (based on estimates from the Brookings Institution).

So that’s $320 billion to deal with — even before the Democrats spend a penny on any new initiatives or so much as talk about making Social Security solvent.

And, of course, there’s a $340 billion budget deficit, which keeps adding to the federal debt, which is a number so big that nobody can really comprehend it, so I won’t bother here except to say that the interest payments alone are $400 billion a year.

The Democrats have already announced they want to see any new spending come with a revenue source and any new tax cut proposals identify reductions in existing spending that would pay for them. All well and good — except that the Iraq War isn’t part of the federal budget. Bush just keeps coming back for money every few months, and Democrats who don’t want to be accused of refusing to support the troops in the field wind up voting to give him all of it.

Now let’s go to the political calculus, which is even uglier.

The only major politician I know of in the last electoral cycle who talked honestly about taxes and government spending was Phil Angelides, who (as some of you may remember) ran for governor of California. He was slaughtered.

That’s why the Times reports the following:

"Even as Democratic leaders continue to accuse Mr. Bush of having a reckless fiscal policy, they have refused to discuss dismantling his tax cuts or even to engage in a debate with him about the best way to stimulate economic growth.

" ‘It’s always the same old tired line with them — "Tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend," ‘ said Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. ‘We’re not going there.’ "

No, so far they’re not. They’re just moving ahead, making promises and proposing policy, without saying either that spending on Iraq has to be cut dramatically or that somebody has to pay more taxes to fund it.

Even by Bush’s most optimistic projections, the national budget will be in the red until 2012. By then he and his crew will all be safe on the golf course, their retirements secure.

And apparently, the Democratic leaders are willing to continue to duck, continue to go into debt, continue to screw up the economy, and continue to burden our kids with the results of our greed, fear, and stupidity.

Nancy? *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Every time I have a problem with my cable TV service, I’m reminded how much I hate Comcast and why the city ought to be running its own municipal cable system.

The latest saga: a couple days ago, late in the afternoon, I was hanging out with my kids, and I noticed that we’d lost the signal on the TV. Yes, I am a terrible parent — the kids don’t need to watch TV at all, certainly not in the afternoon on a weekday. But I wanted to watch a football game (which doesn’t count against the ban on weekday TV), and Vivian, who is 4, wanted to watch the cheerleaders, which is my own personal nightmare, but what can I do? The damn tube didn’t work. I called Comcast.

A service tech told me that someone needed to come out to the house and look at the connection and set up an appointment for the next day, between 4 and 8 p.m. I hate these four-hour service windows, and the repair people are badly overworked and always late, but whatever: I rearranged my entire afternoon and evening schedule and sat at home waiting for the knock on the door. It never came.

Around 7 p.m. it occurred to me to call and see what was up. A computerized voice told me there was no scheduled service appointment at my address. Three times I tried to connect to a human being; three times I heard "please wait" over and over before the line disconnected.

I finally got through to someone by choosing sales instead of service (they always come to the phone to sell you stuff), and a nice sales staffer promised to route me to a service rep. Ten minutes later the line went dead again.

Hanging up on customers is not good, and blowing off a repair call without so much as a phone call when someone is sitting at home for four hours waiting is pretty lame. I don’t give up easy, so I went to Comcast.com and found a way to get a live chat with a tech (it’s not easy to find, but it’s there). Someone named Jennifer came on, accessed my cable box remotely, and — after 30 minutes of back-and-forth — told me it was broken and that I should go get a new one. No shit. Thanks, Jen.

Even in this world of high-end broadband, live chat on the Internet is slow and clunky. Jennifer and I spent half an hour accomplishing what would have taken about 45 seconds on the phone. Why couldn’t I speak to a live human being? Why won’t anyone at Comcast answer the phone?

Comcast spokesperson Andrew Johnson told me that the storm and power outages had messed up Comcast’s call centers, which is understandable. But this isn’t the first time this has happened to me (or, judging from the sorts of calls I get, to many of you).

Meanwhile, I really look forward to dealing with EarthLink and Google over wi-fi problems (see "Free Wi-Fi — for Everyone," this page).

We don’t have to put up with this shit. Cable and broadband are rapidly merging, and they’re part of the city’s basic infrastructure. San Francisco can run its own system, make enough money to pay for the operations many times over, cut rates — and be a whole lot more accountable when things go wrong.

What are we waiting for? *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s been quite a political year in San Francisco. And 2007 is going to be better.

I was talking to my friend and colleague Steve Jones just before Christmas about the folks in the Mayor’s Office (and elsewhere) who still think a progressive vision for San Francisco — a city where the rich pay their fair share, where the public sector provides a wealth of services to the public, where money doesn’t rule politics and elected officials are accountable, a place where tenants are protected and land use is determined by community needs and not developer demands, a city that serves as a model for the rest of the country — is just some sort of wild and pointless fantasy. And Steve and I agreed: in 2006 the progressives won a lot of the key battles, and the so-called moderates who have no vision at all were on the defensive most of the time.

We’ve had setbacks. Things aren’t perfect. But I’ve been living in this city and watching politics for a long time now, and I can honestly say that we’re making progress.

San Francisco has a program that’s aimed at providing health insurance to everyone. San Francisco has a living-wage law. San Francisco has laws that require sizable payments to tenants who are being evicted and that require employers to offer sick days. San Francisco is going to elect its next mayor under a public-financing system that might actually allow genuine candidates who lack downtown money to compete.

San Francisco is demanding that cops actually walk beats in high-crime areas and seriously talking about demanding that almost two-thirds of all new housing be available at below-market rates. San Francisco is moving to provide public power in Hunters Point and at Treasure Island.

And none of that came out of the Mayor’s Office.

The policy debates in this city are happening at the Board of Supervisors, where district-elected representatives are pushing progressive ideas that would never have gone beyond the wild-dream stage 10 years ago.

We’re not all the way there. We still fight with each other and let our egos get in the way. We’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that state and federal laws limit how far we can go to raise money and protect the vulnerable. We still aren’t quite willing as a city or a progressive movement to commit to income and wealth redistribution (at home here, not in Washington or Sacramento), a cause that defines all that we think about and do — and we need to, or in the end nothing else matters.

We haven’t kicked out Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and created a full-on public power system yet. Black kids are still dying from gunfire in record numbers. We don’t have a candidate for mayor.

And all of the people who read this will think of other things we haven’t done, because we in the progressive movement love to complain and argue and we’re never satisfied — which is, in the end, a good thing.

And the big-money greedheads who have had their greasy paws on the levers of power in this town since the Gold Rush aren’t about to surrender. Every step forward is still a struggle.

But we kicked their asses in District Six — and that was one where both sides were in full-court press and everyone knew it mattered. They have come to realize we are not just crazy dreamers.

I love this town. Happy new year. *

Editor’s Notes


San Francisco is spending $250,000 to create an economic development plan, and that’s probably a good thing. The city’s economy is changing; development pressure is threatening small businesses and light industry; local people can’t find jobs; and more and more residents are working out of town — it’s exactly the sort of situation that calls for some intelligent planning.
The current project, sponsored by the Mayor’s Office, is the result of a ballot measure approved two years ago that requires the city to measure the economic impact of policy decisions. For the most part, the legislation, by Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, is aimed at stopping progressive initiatives, but if it gets San Francisco headed in the right economic direction, that will be well worth a quarter million dollars.
See, I’ve talked to the economist who is heading up the study and to the person in the Mayor’s Office who is coordinating it, and I’m afraid that they’re coming very close to missing the point.
The final study won’t be completed until the end of January, but the Board of Supervisors got a sneak preview a couple weeks ago, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and lots of the kind of talk that seems coherent only to academic economists. (Under “Conclusions,” the summary recommends that we “invest in and diversify the engines of innovation in the knowledge sector.” Whatever that means.)
The actual research in the preliminary documents seems fairly solid, and the evidence, while not surprising, is still alarming: San Francisco has lost thousands of families, jobs that don’t require a college degree are vanishing, and the income gap between the increasingly wealthy high end of the population and the increasingly squeezed middle and working classes is growing.
But missing from the study so far are what I consider the two most important factors in economic development in this city: housing and land use.
I work for a small business, and I have to hire people, and I can tell you that every small businessperson in this town (except the ones who have vast stores of venture capital to spend) is facing the same problem I am: it costs too much to live here. And if their businesses are operating in the eastern neighborhoods, they’re also facing the very real prospect that they may lose their leases and their places of business to make room for more million-dollar condos that their employees can’t afford, which will fill up with more people who work in Silicon Valley.
Last week I spoke with Ted Egan, the Berkeley economist who is heading up the project for ICF Consulting. He understands that locally owned businesses are the key to the local economy and that replacing imports and expanding exports is a crucial goal. But he also said that “housing outcome isn’t on our plate.”
That, I guess, is because the city defined the study that way. Jennifer Matz, who is deputy director at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, told me that her office would be coordinating with city planners but that housing and land use were beyond the scope of this report.
If that’s the case, it won’t be a terribly useful document. SFBG



› tredmond@sfbg.com
Gavin Newsom loves to talk about the will of the voters. He put his Care Not Cash plan on the ballot when he was running for mayor — not, he insisted, as a campaign ploy but to get the voters to speak on a plan his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors rejected. Even when it was clear the plan wasn’t working, he stuck to it — because, after all, that was the will of the voters. When advocates for Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park pushed for a six-month trial program, Newsom vetoed it, saying that while he loves the park and loves bicycles and loves the idea of road closures, the voters had already rejected a closure plan. Never mind that the plan the voters turned down was confusing and big money was spent on one side and not the other … the mayor insisted he had to abide by the will of the voters.
Fine: it’s the will of the voters, expressed in November by a 56.3 percent margin, that Newsom show up once a month at a Board of Supervisors meeting and answer questions.
That’s not such a horrible burden. In fact, it’s an excellent idea: “question time,” as Sup. Chris Daly called Proposition I, would force the mayor out of the cocoon in which he operates — where every appearance is scripted, every event carefully tailored — and give the public a chance to see Newsom and his critics actually discuss policy issues. It would be the end of a lot of Mayor’s Office secrecy: if the supervisors can demand information and documents while everyone is watching, it will be harder for the mayor to keep things under wraps.
This city has a long history of imperial mayors, who hide from critics, make backroom deals, and act as if they’re accountable to nobody. Question time could be a pretty significant check on that. And if Newsom is as confident of his agenda and programs as he claims to be, he has nothing to worry about.
But this time Newsom is openly defying the will of the voters. He announced last week that he won’t appear at the board meetings and instead will hold “town hall meetings” in various neighborhoods over the next few months.
Of course he will: he’s running for reelection. And those meetings will be tightly controlled by the mayor’s PR machine. A few members of the public will get a few questions in, but Newsom will be able to duck, dodge, and avoid the problems very easily. The meetings he’s preparing are going to be campaign events — and he would have held them anyway, whether Prop. I had passed or not.
The problem here is larger than the mayor’s noncompliance with a policy statement that he can argue has no legal mandate. Newsom needs to be more accountable and respond to some legitimate, tough questions about his programs, policies, and administration. Right now there’s no clear challenger to force those issues, and if, as many expect, he’s easily reelected in 2007, he’ll be even more isolated.
The ducking has to stop. If Newsom won’t appear for question time, I think Daly ought to come back and put it on the next ballot — this time as a charter amendment, enforceable with charges of misconduct and removal from office. SFBG

Editor’s Notes


The death of David Ayoob didn’t get a lot of headlines. He wasn’t famous in that way; he never ran for office or made speeches. But everyone on Cortland Avenue knew him, and when he died suddenly of a heart attack at 53, Bernal Heights — and the city — lost a great citizen.
Ayoob ran 4-Star Video, and he was the essence of a good small businessperson. He was active in the community and friendly to everyone and treated his employees well. (When he opened a second shop on Potrero Hill, he made two former employees partners in the business and let them run the new outlet.) His shop felt like the neighborhood — full of a diverse collection of people, with plenty of kids and dogs running around. Everyone was welcome.
As one post on a Bernal listserv put it, “With David it was never just about running a business. Bernal was his family. He was a larger-than-life character. The fabric of the neighborhood is weaker, a bit less comforting, and a lot less colorful without him.” Sup. Tom Ammiano added, “He had such a wonderful heart, so generous.” We’ll all miss him.
The memorial for Ayoob is Dec. 9, 2 p.m., at St. Kevin’s Catholic Church, 704 Cortland, SF.
I’m liking Frank Rich’s most recent analysis in the New York Times, which has President George W. Bush in effect talking to the walls, like Richard Nixon in the final days, and utterly losing touch with reality. It’s not clear that he even remembers why we got into this war in the first place: if he wanted control of Iraqi oil, he’s pretty clearly bungled any hope of that, and nothing in the current course is going to make the situation any better. If it was all about his ego, then that’s a lost cause.
My only problem with the Rich line (other than the fact that you can’t get it on the Times Web site without registering and subscribing, which is pretty damn stupid for the nation’s paper of record) is that it assumes Bush actually had a grip on reality in the first place.
I remember way back in the early days of the presidency of Ronald Reagan reading a piece by Carl Bernstein in the Washington Monthly that said something considered heresy in the nation’s capital: Reagan, he wrote, really wasn’t terribly intelligent and didn’t know what was going on half the time. Agree with his policies or disagree, it was a bit alarming to have someone in the White House who was really a pretty dim bulb (and thus was easily manipulated by the people around him — even before the Alzheimer’s hit).
Even today there’s this sense of respect and decorum in Washington that prevents people from just coming out and saying it: the president really doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Consider the other fascinating Bush item from the past week, his interaction with senator-elect Jim Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq. Bush (like an idiot) asked Webb, an outspoken war critic, “How’s your boy?” Webb responded appropriately: “I’d like to get them out of Iraq.” Bush’s lashback: “That’s not what I asked.”
Well, yes, it was what he asked. And the father of a kid who is risking his life for Bush’s insanity answered the same way a lot of fathers would: honestly. Somehow, in Washington, this is a big deal.
Hey: 2,900 US soldiers are dead. Time to get over the protocol.



› tredmond@sfbg.com
Like far too many liberals, I spend far too much time listing to NPR, which can lead to a special kind of brain rot: I once actually sat through an hour-long program on Mormon folk songs that included a long, upbeat, and respectful ode to Brigham Young “and his five and 40 wives.” Jesus, that’s a lot of wives.
But there are things I love, and Science Friday is one of them. While I was fighting the traffic on my way back from a friend’s house in Healdsburg last week, I heard a fascinating interview with Michael Pollan, the UC Berkeley journalism professor who’s written a series of New York Times articles and now a book on how truly weird food production is in the United States in 2006.
Of course, everyone was digesting a big Thanksgiving dinner, and Pollan wasted no time getting to his thesis: if we are what we eat, then most of us are a mixture of corn and petrochemicals.
He’s got evidence of this too: he has a friend in the biology department at Berkeley who ran a bunch of samples of fingernail and hair clippings from students and learned that much of the carbon that makes up the basic organic structure of a lot of human bodies can be traced back to one Midwestern grain and some fossil fuels.
The cow or turkey or pig you ate was fed with corn. The sugar in the salad dressing came from corn. The calories in the sodas the kids were drinking came from corn. And the corn came in part from ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which came from petroleum.
The point of all of this is that America has created a monocrop food system (well, duocrop — a lot of the animal protein that we eat comes from soybeans). That’s not healthy for a long list of ecological reasons — and it’s really bad for the economy.
The thing is, very little of what we eat comes from anywhere near where we live. Iowa, one of the most agriculturally productive parts of the world, imports almost all of its food these days. The corn grown in the state is shipped to giant centralized animal feedlots, which ship meat elsewhere.
I mention all of this, which is hardly news to a lot of people, because it plays into something that’s going on the first week in December in San Francisco. Dec. 4 through 10 is Shop Local First Week, which sounds kind of like small-town-Chamber-of-Commerce-boosterish stuff (and indeed, Mayor Gavin Newsom, who clearly isn’t paying attention, has formally endorsed it), but there’s a lot more behind this. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which sponsors the event, actually has a fairly radical economic platform emphasizing how local merchants — and not big chain stores and other out-of-town corporations — benefit local economies. In the food world, that means buying stuff grown somewhere near you (not hard around here). In the arena of holiday shopping (and consumer behavior in general), it means patronizing locally owned outfits — and not giving your dollars to the chains.
Our main news story this week (see “The Morning After,” page 18) illustrates well how big chain owners operate: the combine owned by Dean Singleton, which now controls almost all the big papers in the Bay Area, is laying off journalists and (maybe) outsourcing jobs to India. The San Francisco Chronicle is outsourcing its printing, killing the local press operators union.
And the money all leaves town. SFBG



› tredmond@sfbg.com
It sucks to be in jail. Trust me on this.
I’ve never been in a state prison, but I’ve done my time — in small stretches — in county, mostly for political protests, and while it all seemed so noble ahead of time and may sound noble in retrospect, when I was there it wasn’t anything except really shitty.
I was a white guy locked up for nonviolent crimes that even the authorities didn’t take too seriously and never had to stay for more than 10 days. I was never in a high-security unit or stuck with really hardcore criminals. In fact, the time I was in Santa Rita, as a guest of Alameda County, I’d been arrested with Cecil Williams, who was almost a minor deity to many of the inmates, so nobody even thought of treating us white protesters with anything but respect.
Still: it sucked.
You get up every morning and look out the heavily fortified windows to see a world from which you are utterly separated. You have no control over your life — you eat, sleep, work when you’re told. You walk where the guards tell you to walk. There is no privacy. You’re being watched all the time. A lot of the rules are totally random and are often enforced the same way; you can’t get any answers to anything, including what you may have done wrong.
By about my fifth day at Santa Rita, I had lost all sense of the righteousness of my cause. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. My only source of comfort was that I knew when my time would end.
Josh Wolf doesn’t even have that. He’s stuck in a federal pen because he won’t turn over to the authorities videotapes of a demonstration. It’s not like a 10-day or six-month sentence either: he has to stay until either he turns over the material or the grand jury that subpoenaed it dissolves. The jury’s term ends in July, but the US attorney can simply empanel a new one, renew the subpoena — and put Wolf back in jail again.
It’s a terrifying situation for a 24-year-old who never set out to be anyone’s hero or standard-bearer. I can’t imagine what it must be like. The temptation to just give up and turn the stuff over must be overwhelming. I give the guy immense credit for sticking it out and standing up for an important journalistic principle.
Wolf clearly isn’t going to get any help right now from the judicial branch. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just rejected his final motion and announced that it won’t accept any more filings in the case.
The Society of Professional Journalists did its part by naming Wolf one of its journalists of the year. Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly pushed a resolution supporting him. There might be another angle for the supes, though: this entire case exists because the San Francisco Police Department brought in the feds to investigate an anarchist rally at which a cop was hit in the head. Could the board direct the SFPD to officially revoke its request and inform the US Attorney’s Office that it no longer wants the video? Can the city officially close its investigation and tell the feds to close theirs too? At the very least, the supes should look into it. SFBG