Will Newsom have a legacy?

Pub date March 27, 2007
WriterSasha Magee
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

Over the past four years Mayor Gavin Newsom has enjoyed high poll ratings, but he has been unable to deliver any signature piece of legislation. His most celebrated actions were symbolic: marrying same-sex couples and walking the picket line with the striking hotel workers.

With only months to go before he is up for reelection, Newsom is hoping free wi-fi will be that signature bill. But unless he quickly changes his tactics, his legislation will go up in flames.

From the moment Newsom announced his wi-fi vision, the supervisors have been asking for input into the deal. At every meeting, the mayor’s representatives have dodged or stalled. The Board of Supervisors asked Newsom’s negotiators not to present it with a take-it-or-leave-it deal; the mayor’s staffers did just that. So it’s no surprise that the board seems hesitant to give the contract the benefit of the doubt. Newsom has responded by lambasting the board as "obstructionist" rather than by working with the supervisors to address their concerns.

Although there are good points to the proposal, there are also problems.

Service will be slow.

There’s no enforceable guarantee the network will cover the parts of the city that need it the most.

The contract is effectively a monopoly, and it’s long. We’re likely to be stuck with this contract for 16 years.

Penetration into apartment buildings and above second floors will be virtually nonexistent without the purchase of expensive extra equipment.

These are all legitimate public policy reasons to question the mayor’s proposal. But instead of working with the supervisors, he trashes them to every group and editorial board that will listen.

The board is exploring another possibility that the mayor should look at instead of his current effort: municipal wi-fi. Although the mayor has rejected that avenue, there are strong public-policy reasons for pursuing such a strategy.

Unfortunately, the people who will suffer the most from the mayor’s refusal to deal with the board are those who need a city network the most: schoolkids who can’t get online to do their homework; unemployed folks looking for a job; non-English speakers seeking city information; and anyone who needs free training or support.

Wi-fi, of course, is only one of the issues on which Newsom has given the board the finger. His repeated veto of foot patrols showed more loyalty to the Police Officers Association than to the needs of residents of high-crime areas. His continued refusal to consider a Saturday road closure trial in Golden Gate Park doesn’t serve anyone other than a few wealthy donors. The voters even went so far as to pass Proposition I, which demanded that Newsom meet with the board. The mayor has responded with highly managed events at which the supervisors cannot appear as a group.

Instead of trying to ram through a flawed wi-fi deal, the real legacy Newsom could create — one that would truly benefit us all — is that of a strong working relationship with the Board of Supervisors. *

Sasha Magee

Sasha Magee is a San Francisco activist who writes at LeftinSF.com.