In Mexico, the Dinosaurs return


By John Ross


MEXICO CITY (July 16th) — Nine years ago, on a sultry July morning, Mexicans woke up and discovered to their great amazement that the Dinosaur that had hunkered down at the foot of their beds for 71 years was gone. This July 6th, when Mexicans rose in the morning, the Dinosaur was back.

In the famous short poem by Augusto Monterroso, the Dinosaur is the PRI — the Institutional Revolutionary Party — once the longest-ruling political dynasty in the known universe that controlled the destiny of Mexicans from the cradle to the grave for seven interminable decades until it was dislodged from power by the right-wing PAN party in the July 2000 presidential elections. In its unslakable thirst for power, the PRI committed unspeakable crimes against the Mexican peoples, stealing elections from the most humble city hall to the presidential palace, jailing and torturing and executing those who stood in its way, and emptying out public treasuries in an unmatched kleptocracy that was a legend throughout Latin America, “the perfect dictatorship” Latin American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once dubbed it (for which the PRI had him tossed out of the country).

“Have we Mexicans lost our memories and our minds?” asks Sylvia Insulza from behind the counter of her newspaper dispensary in the old quarter of the capital. Tears of frustration crystallize in the corners of her eyes.

The depth and breadth of the PRI victory July 5th is nothing short of stunning. From a distant third-place finish in the 2006 presidential fiasco in which the rightist PAN stole the election from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his left-wing PRD party by .57% of the popular vote, the PRI (“proven experience and a new attitude” is its current campaign slogan) took 37% of the total ballots cast, nearly doubling its votes three years back, and taking control of congress for the first time since 1997. The once-upon-a-time ruling party’s alliance with the so-called Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM – see sidebar below “The Green PRI”) will give it 259 seats out of 500 in the lower house, an absolute majority. In nine out of 31 states, the PRI won every office up for grabs — federal congressional representatives, local congresses, and municipal officials, a “carro completo” or “full car” in the Institutionals’ curious lexicon.

The Dinosaurs also proved triumphant in five out of six governors’ races, winning two statehouses in which the PAN had resided for 12 years. Only in the northern border state of Sonora, where the PRI governor was seen as complicit in the tragic incineration of 48 babies in a Hermosillo day care center a month before the election, was the PAN able to squeeze out a victory in an election in which the PAN and PRI candidates were cousins.

Moreover, the PRI won cities like Naucalpan, an upper middle class Mexico City suburb the right-wingers have controlled since the 1980s, and the nation’s second city, Guadalajara, which the PAN has owned since 1995. In alliance with the Mexican Green Environmental Party, the PRI won its first elected office in Mexico City since 1994. Although the left PRD maintains control of the nation’s capital, the Party of the Aztec Sun does so by a greatly reduced margin. Whereas the PRD registered 51% of the vote in Mexico City in 2006, three years later it weighs in with just 29%.

But Sylvia’s tears of frustration may soon dry. Whether the Dinosaurs are really back or just staying overnight (in Jurassic time) is not yet clear. Mid-term elections are referendums on the sitting president and his administration’s management of the country and July 5th represented a crushing vote of no confidence in Felipe Calderon on whose watch the economy has tumbled into freefall — “growth” in 2009 will measure a negative 8%, the worst slide since the Great Depression of 1929-32. Calderon, who campaigned as the “President of Employment,” has presided over the loss of 2,000,000 jobs. The president’s ill-advised war on the drug cartels has soaked the country in blood — more than 12,000 lives have been lost — and fueled corruption and human rights abuses on the part of the military and the police. Calderon’s panic-driven handling of this spring’s Swine Flu “PAN-demic” kicked the bricks out from under the tourist industry, the nation’s third-largest source of dollars, and his arrogant imposition of candidates in the July 5th vote-taking angered and turned many in his own party against him.

No ethics in Ethics Commission


By Steven T. Jones

The San Francisco Ethics Commission has long been accused of corruption, selective enforcement, and gross incompetence – charges supported by knowledgeable activists, whistleblowing employees, and Guardian investigations – but a pair of recent developments shows just what a public liability this agency has become.

When the District Attorney’s Office this week brought felony charges against three City College officials for laundering public funds into a slush fund and campaign account, the very thing that Ethics is supposed to regulate, it highlighted just how incompetent the agency is. After all, as the Guardian reported two years ago, Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix admitted that he knew about the violations way back in 2005 – even before the Chronicle broke the story — and he did nothing.

Yet St. Croix (who has not returned our call for comment) and Deputy Director Mabel Ng – who should have been fired back in 2004 for illegally ordering the destruction of public documents that revealed another money laundering scheme, this one involving Gavin Newsom’s first mayoral campaign – have been actively trying to get rid of the agency’s most public spirited employee, Oliver Luby (the guy who first discovered the City College shenanigans), in the process opening the city up to legal liability by retaliating against a whistleblower.

The massage parlor mistake


OPINION Taking advantage of the recent turmoil over the huge city budget cuts, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Carmen Chu, have pushed though malicious legislation imposing criminal charges and restrictions on massage parlors. Many are outraged that this costly legislation was prioritized — we want to know why it was, and how much it will cost to implement. Lawyers are questioning its legality.

Under the guise of concern for women’s safety, Chu and Newsom falsely claimed that the law would stop sex trafficking. We’ve heard these lies before. Politicians who want to increase the criminalization of sex workers confuse prostitution, which is consensual sex for money, with trafficking, which is forced and coerced labor, sexual or otherwise. The reality is that most parlor employees work consensually and often collectively, without force or coercion. In Rhode Island, where indoor prostitution is legal, similar legislative maneuvers are in the works, also using the pretext of trafficking to make criminals of women working indoors.

Chu and Newsom claim they are targeting parlor owners, but by pushing the industry further underground, their legislation makes workers, many of whom are immigrant women, more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Workers will suffer most from the increased raids, arrests, and criminalization. Fearing arrest and/or deportation will mean fewer women will report rape or other violence and exploitation when they occur.

What is the real political agenda here? Chu and Newsom have said that the proposals "could make it easier to close the 50 or so city-licensed parlors suspected of selling sex." If and where sex is being sold, parlor closures would force women onto the streets — where it is 10 times more dangerous to work. Those who are arrested are likely to end up in prison — to the devastation of their children — or deported. What good reason is there to endanger women’s safety and break up families this way, especially during hard economic times?

San Franciscans question why, when most trafficking cases occur in the agricultural, construction, clothing, and domestic industries, anti-trafficking measures target immigrant sex workers working of their own free will. We suspect racist gentrification policies are behind this legislation. Developers will be allowed to seize land in the Tenderloin and downtown areas if massage parlors are forced to close. This deceitful, profiteering law imposes huge fines, criminal charges, and has a punitive clause making the parlors pay for unspecified enforcement charges against them.

Considering that not long ago, police were exposed for taking thousands of dollars from massage parlor workers, involving them in the licensing process creates fertile ground for increased corruption.

What is wrong with selling or buying sex if both parties consent? After all, 42 percent of San Franciscans voted last November for Proposition K, which would have decriminalized sex work, despite a campaign of fear mongering and misinformation by the mayor and district attorney. New Zealand successfully decriminalized prostitution six years ago to "promote occupational health and safety" and "protect from exploitation." There has been no increase in prostitution, pimps, or traffickers, and women are more able to report violence and insist on their rights. It’s time for San Francisco to do the right thing and stop criminalizing sex workers.

Rachel West works with the U.S. PROStitutes Collective.

Dystopian enterprise


Best-selling author Richard North Patterson stays out of the local limelight, but he’s a San Francisco resident — and we caught up with him May 21st to talk about his new book, Eclipse, and the role that U.S. oil companies play in Nigeria.

Before Nigerian environmental activist (and Goldman Environmental Prize winner) Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995, PEN, the international writers’ group, wrote letters and organized protests against the execution. "I was very impressed by Saro-Wiwa," says Patterson, who was on the board of PEN at the time. He notes that Saro-Wiwa was a nonviolence advocate who succeeded in building a grassroots movement among the Ogoni in the Nigerian delta — all in the face of a ruthless dictator, and at great risk to his wife.

As Patterson recalls, despite the protests, several Western governments voicing their concerns, and then-President Bill Clinton’s hour-long conversation with Nigeria’s military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, "They unceremoniously hung Saro-Wiwa. It was a lesson in a number of things, beginning with the degree to which oil makes autocrats feel impervious."

Post- 9/11, oil "security" became a bigger concern. Patterson began to realize that amid the U.S. failures in the Middle East, the disaster in Iraq, and the growing fear of al Qaeda, everyone was looking at Nigeria as an even more important source of oil.

"Meanwhile Nigeria’s environment was that much more ruined, its political leadership hopelessly corrupt, a semi-official militia that claimed to be acting in Saro-Wiwa’s name was killing each other and stealing oil, and everyone had a fee," says Patterson. "It was a classic example of how a natural resource makes its extractors and the rulers rich, but only serves as a source of misery for people standing on the ground. I already felt that Saro-Wiwa was a remarkable man who should be remembered. But now he was becoming even more relevant."

Patterson began researching Saro-Wiwa’s life, a quest that involved one trip to Nigeria and many conversations with lots of related experts. "Nigeria is not a place to go back and forth to — you’d think I was trying to break into Las Vegas," he says, noting that he hired security during his trip. "I’m not unknown, so there was a concern I’d be a high-value target. But I loved the Nigerians I met. They were a bright enterprising bunch in a dystopian setting, and to the extent I couldn’t go places, I did all I could by talking to people, reading articles, and watching films."

The name of Eclipse‘s protagonist is Bobby Okari. Was Patterson making reference to President Barack Obama? "If I was, it was subliminal," he says.

So what can Americans do to improve the plight of everyday Nigerians? "Increasing our independence from oil and increasing our foreign aid to Nigeria would be helpful," Patterson says. "The real problem is the extent to which human rights are trumped by self-interest. When we fill up our tanks, half of us don’t know that there’s oil in Nigeria. So first we need to become aware of the impact of the commodities we need. But I’m not sanguine about how easy this is. Saro-Wiwa was hung and 14 years later, where are we? The same place, and that’s a disgrace."

While Patterson does not excuse what he calls "the callousness of the U.S. oil companies," he believes that first we must address the Nigerian government.

"The history of the oil industry in Nigeria is pretty ignoble, but [without the industry] they can’t maintain the schools, roads, hospitals, and clinics," he says. "If the government doesn’t give a damn, it’s hard to make a quasi-government out of an oil company. When we get angry at the oil companies, it begs the question, What is the government doing? If it isn’t encouraging economic development and environmental protection, how can the oil companies? Shell and Chevron didn’t invent corruption. This is in no way to defend them. [But] there is a disconnect between Nigeria’s miserable government and its citizens. One of my central aspirations is to tell an entertaining story — and also to convey an awareness of a real problem."

What’s in the Republicans’ tea?


By Steven T. Jones
As overhyped and ridiculous as tomorrow’s Republican Tea Party events are, I find them a fascinating manifestation of the perplexing posture of victimhood that the US ruling class and its right-wing shills seem to revel in. So I might just have to pop down to Civic Center Plaza from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow to see San Francisco’s festivities.

The US has one of the lowest rates of taxation in the industrialized world. Fiscal conservatives have been calling the political shots in this country since 1980, resulting in an extraordinary consolidation of wealth, a threadbare social safety net, and an economic system collapsing because we refused to regulate greed and corruption.

“Yet on this Tax Day, all taxpaying Americans should be concerned that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ runaway tax hikes will be the death of America’s economy as they extend the ‘Pelosi Recession,’” warned National Republican Congressional Committee director Guy Harrison in an alarming mass e-mail. “This week, thousands of patriotic Americans will gather to protest oppressive government taxation, and stand as one for fiscal sanity at tea parties across the nation.”

Really? We should all be alarmed that Congress and President Barack Obama are considering increasing the upper income tax bracket by a couple of percentage points? Frankly, I’m pissed that they’re being too timid in getting our money back from the rich motherfuckers who stole it. And I certainly feel that our corporate-sponsored political system is essentially taxation without representation from those of us who can’t afford a campaign contribution.

So maybe we’re all a little indignant.

Reject the Fisher Museum


OPINION The Presidio Trust Board and the National Park Service in December rejected Gap Inc. founder Don Fisher’s proposed art museum in the Presidio. They complete their review of his second offer next month. They should reject the second offer as well, and the game will be over.

Fisher and his family should stop trying to convince the Park Service to bend its rules. They should set aside their pride and their own preferences in deference to those of the Park Service and the city of San Francisco. They should announce their decision to move forward with the city to find a location in the city proper.

Most of us in the Presidio’s neighborhood communities do not agree with the seven trust board members that developing a cultural theme park in the Presidio is a good idea. It was introduced by the board only in response to the unsolicited proposal by the Fishers in April 2007. These board members, Fisher’s former colleagues — who are mostly real estate developers — were appointed by former President Bush. President Obama will have his own appointees on the board by June, in time to make the final decision on the Fisher museum.

We don’t want an extravagant $50 million new gathering place in front of the Fisher museum — something the Fishers have offered to help pay for in exchange for permission to build where they want.

We cannot bear the thought of the series of traffic signals inside the park, near the Spanish El Presidio and the 160-year-old U.S. Army Post. The trust says those traffic signals, along with garages in the Presidio, would be needed to manage the daily visitors added by the Fishers’ museum. No national park in America has traffic signals.

Nor do we want the lineup of traffic and signal lights required outside the park, at entrances and on nearby residential streets, that the trust says would be required. The city would, I expect, refuse the federal trust’s request to change city traffic controls to support a museum — one that city officials want to see downtown.

The public will pay another million to respond to the Fishers continued effort. It will end in defeat, if the federal government follows its own review processes — or in a glaring corruption of those processes if it succeeds.

I urge the individual appointed members of the Federal Presidio Trust Corporation and National Park Service officials to reject the Fisher offer next month. Two years and $2 million is enough of our treasure to spend in responding to the unsolicited proposal.

I urge the public to attend the trust hearing April 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Presidio Golden Gate Club. Support the Fisher museum outside the park, and oppose it in the park. *
Donald S. Green is former executive director of the Yosemite Restoration Trust and vice chair of the Presidio Neighborhood Work Group of the SF Board of Supervisors.

Does “bureaucracy” equal “corruption?”



Players: Michael “Kennedy” Cassidy, Gus Murad and Jean-Paul Samaha (the three men on the right) party together at Murad’s wedding in Morocco. Photo by Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal.

By Tim Redmind

The Chron’s Seth Rosenfeld continues to cover the controversy over the demolition of the Little House on Russian Hill, and he’d advanced the story a few notches. But the headline — “cracks in bureaucracy doomed historic house” — makes it sound as if this whole episode were just a matter of screw-ups and incompetance. As opposed to, for example, systemic corruption in the Department of City Planning and Department of Building Inspection.

Read through Rosenfeld’s article, and our piece, by Rebecca Bowe, and the notion that all of this happened by accident — that somehow, simple bureaucratic messups allowed two very influential players in the local political scene to pull off what should have been an illegal demolition — strains credibility. To say the least.

So far, nobody has come up with a smoking gun that links anyone at City Planning or DBI, or either of the developers, to any violation of law. And that’s probably the way it will stay. Shady stuff happens all the time in the world of San Francisco real-estate development, and some of it’s perfectly legal, and even when it isn’t, nobody ever seems to go to jail.

No — it’s just business as usual at CIty Planning and DBI. As Charles Marsteller, former head of Common Cause, told us:

“It was just a put-on by some insiders in City Hall working the network that they normally work,” Marsteller says. “And it shouldn’t have happened.”

Union showdown



The Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers is bracing for an imminent takeover by its parent, Service Employees International Union, after defying an SEIU ultimatum to support the transfer of 65,000 UHW nursing home and homecare workers to a new local — without a member vote and with leadership appointed by SEIU.

The power struggle between SEIU President Andy Stern and UHW head Sal Rosselli and their respective boards, which has been escautf8g for the last year (see "A less perfect union," 4/9/08), came to a head Jan. 22 when SEIU’s International Executive Board approved findings of fiscal shenanigans and insubordination by UHW leaders and threatened to oust them and institute a trusteeship if six conditions were not met within five days.

To determine its response over the weekend, UHW organized meetings with about 5,000 of its members in San Francisco and four other cities, announcing the response during a raucous press conference at the Oakland headquarters the morning of Jan. 26, a day before the SEIU deadline.

"You ready everybody?" began Rosselli, flanked by a rainbow of 30 members and signs like "Hands off our UHW" and "Don’t Silence our Voices." The energized crowd of about 100 supporters answered with an enthusiastic, "Yeah!"

At that 11 a.m. rally, and in a teleconference an hour later with reporters from across the country, including from the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, Rosselli began by describing the UHW (which began with San Francisco General Hospital workers about 75 years ago) as perhaps the most effective, democratic, politicized, and oldest health care union in the country.

"We have an ideology that there’s no limit to empowering workers," Rosselli told reporters, announcing that UHW has unanimously approved a response letter to Stern that he characterized as "a compromise to avoid a civil war and get to the path of reconciliation."

But SEIU spokesperson Michelle Ringuette, while noting that her union’s leadership had not yet decided how to respond by Guardian press time, said the findings and conditions by special hearing officer Ray Marshall (who was the labor secretary under President Jimmy Carter) "was not a negotiation."

Marshall’s 105-page report concluded that "Leaders of the UHW did engage in financial malpractice and undermined democratic procedures when they transferred UHW funds to a nonprofit organization to be used in contests with the International Union." It set out conditions to avoid trusteeship that included supporting the transfer of long-term care workers, greater fiscal oversight by SEIU, purging the UHW database of names pilfered from SEIU, and publicizing the Marshall report to its members.

"Given that Sal Rosselli and his leadership team were just found guilty by Secretary Marshall of financial wrongdoing and trying to subvert the democratic processes of this union, there’s nothing surprising about this letter," Ringuette told the Guardian.

Yet an insistence on democratic processes was at the heart of the UHW stance against SEIU, which UHW leaders accuse of sacrificing the autonomy of locals in its drive for more national power, appointing leadership based on loyalty to Stern, colluding with large corporate employers, and turning a blind eye to corruption by Stern loyalists that was far more serious than any accusations against UHW.

UHW agreed to some of SEIU’s conditions, but insisted that its members be allowed to vote on the merger and elect their own leaders, and that SEIU work with UHW to craft a union that best represents member interests. In addition, it called for a mediated reconciliation process with SEIU that could culminate in a vote to create a single union representing all health care workers in California.

UHW members are fiercely loyal to that organization. To illustrate UHW’s effectiveness, Rosselli noted that SEIU locals representing nursing home workers recently negotiated contracts with wages $4 per hour less than UHW contracts and without UHW’s strong patient advocacy provisions. He also said that while UHW represents about 20 percent of statewide SEIU workers, the union filled 55 percent of the volunteer shifts in state and local elections.

"We’re a very democratic organization, and that’s what we believe is the key to our success," Rosselli said. "Workers want a strong voice in dealing with their employers, not just another boss in Washington, D.C."

All sides of the conflict express a desire to move forward. As Marshall wrote, "The UHW-SEIU conflict is hurting both organizations at a critical time in the development of the labor movement and progressive policies in the country." But it could be that the two sides have staked out intractable positions.

Rosselli was realistic about whether SEIU will accept the UHW counteroffer, telling reporters, "I don’t think it’s likely, but we hope that they will."

And what if they don’t?

Rosselli was careful to avoid threatening to lead an effort to disaffiliate UHW from SEIU if the trusteeship happens, noting that such advocacy is against SEIU rules and refusing to answer questions from reporters pushing the issue. But he made that possibility clear with statements such as "Our members have instructed us to resist this undemocratic transfer."

As to how UHW leaders will respond if and when SEIU takes over UHW and ousts them, Rosselli read from a prepared statement that said, "We would convene a meeting of our currently elected leaders and decide what to do next."

During the Oakland rally, Rosselli went a little further, reminding UHW members that they always retain the right to form a new union. The crowd applauded for 40 seconds and chanted, "Can we? Yes we can! Will we? Yes we will!"

As the conference concluded and attendees trickled away, homecare worker Tena Robinson grabbed a Guardian reporter and said she had a message to convey: "Andy Stern, we will never surrender!"

As she said it, Rosselli came over to hug her, as if embracing a family member. And then she told Rosselli that if he goes, "I’m going with you!"

Joe Sciarrillo contributed to this report.

The Year in Film 2008


Starring: the bromance. With: the political biopic, economic-crisis cinema, guilty-pleasure musicals, superheroes, Swedish vampires, and more! Plus: local critics’ and filmmakers’ top flicks picks.

2008: the year of living dude-tastically
By Cheryl Eddy

>>Don’t look back
Movies that saw hard times coming
By Max Goldberg

>>Top tendencies
Signs of life (and a death) in American cinema
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Pop hope
Politics as entertainment –shot by shot, shoe, or screen
By Kimberly Chun

>>Tuneless, yet tempting
Assessing the year’s mu-suck-als
By Louis Peitzman

>>Play it again
Notable releases kept our Blu-Rays less than blue
By Matt Sussman

>>Is that your final answer?
Slumdog Millionaire explores class and corruption
By Kevin Langson

>>Horrible! Overlooked! Best!
A Guardian cinemaniac counts down his 2008 hours in the dark
By Dennis Harvey

>>Reel leaders
Top flick picks from critics and filmmakers
Lists, lists, lists

Will Durst: Giving governors a bad name


By Will Durst

(Durst is a comedian who writes a little. He is the author of “The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing, the Common Sense Rantings from a Raging Moderate.”)

Hats off to the Illinois Governor for shooting so high above and beyond the normal arc of political malfeasance that he’s probably annoyed NASA by interfering with satellite traffic. After years of highlighting nuances and scrutinizing minute distinctions, it’s downright thrilling to finally find someone acting crookeder than a dump truck full of dissembled wire hangers. Excuse me. I mean, finally finding someone GETTING CAUGHT acting crookeder than a dump truck full of dissembled wire hangers. Not everyday the FBI arrests a sitting Governor at his house at 6 in the morning: We’re talking movie of the week here. I see Casey Affleck in a bad wig. With Aaron Eckhart as Patrick Fitzgerald.

Rod Blagojevich has lined himself up to be the fourth Chief Executive of the Land of Lincoln since 1974 to be offered a long- term residency at the Gray Bar Hotel. That Springfield Capitol building must be quite a feat of social engineering. It seems to work like a halfway house in reverse. He has single handedly smashed all doubts that Chicago is to corruption what Santaland is to elves. What Los Angeles is to plastic surgery stitching. Upper Michigan and deer ticks. The list goes on. Seattle and mildew. See.

Ammiano: Bailing out the governor


Today’s Ammianoliner:

Governor of Illinois gives a whole new meaning to bailout.

(From the home telephone answering machine of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on the day after the announcement of the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod R.Blagojevich for trying, among other things, to sell the U.S. Senate seat of President=elect Barack Obama.)

Great, Tom. You are back in stride. Keep it up. Sacramento may give you a whole line on political corruption. B3

Dick in a box


› a&

If the assassination of JFK was a defining, traumatic blow to American hopefulness, the Watergate scandal a decade later arguably created something worse: a deep collective cynicism that our politics could never escape corruption, or that the guilty would be truly punished even when caught red-handed. How much worse have we shrugged off since?

As the most secretive White House in modern memory pulls up stakes, there’s a fear that particular history may repeat itself. What if Bush blanket-pardons his cabinet, as Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon, of any and all crimes not yet formally accused? In 1974, that move informed our great nation that at certain high levels, the concept of justice need not apply. In fact, it meant Dick. Nixon left the country in far better (shaky, but better) shape than W., but arguably suffered a greater popular backlash than Bush will. He never admitted any criminal wrongdoing, copping to vague "mistakes made" instead. He resigned to avoid impeachment, and the full airing of dirty laundry that would have required. Thus, the sweatiest president ever avoided total humiliation. But didn’t he owe us repentance?

The pardon and Nixon’s subsequent shrinking from public life left a majority feeling cheated. He owed us that pound of flesh — withholding it was intolerable arrogance. Adapted by Peter Morgan from his widely produced play, with the originating lead actors reprising their roles, Frost/Nixon dramatizes the moment when Tricky Dick did get called onto the public carpet to confess his sins. Which he did — well, sorta kinda. The disgraced prez (Frank Langella) is offered tempting scads of money to be interviewed on TV by an odd candidate for interrogator, the rather garish Brit chat show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) — a showbiz personality more akin to contemporaries the Galloping Gourmet and early Geraldo Rivera than, say, Walter Cronkite (or even Dick Cavett).

Nixon’s people (including Kevin Bacon as security chief) figure this presumably softball platform will provide opportunity to burnish his tarnished legacy as statesman. The team that womanizing, cheerfully shallow Frost assembles to prep for this American broadcast "comeback" worry that he lacks the depth of knowledge, experience, or backbone to pin subject to mat. All suspense here hinges on whether Frost can give his armchair opponent "the trial he never had." He’s seemingly outmatched: fallen yet not feebled, the ex-president proves a master of spin, evasion, and subterfuge.

George Clooney was reportedly eager to direct Frost/Nixon; he might’ve made something slyer and subtler than Ron Howard, who sometimes underlines performance nuances as if wielding a bullhorn and flashing neon sign. But it’s still the best movie he’s done, a nimble opening-up of a talky stage entity that only slightly exaggerates the import of real-life events. Langella makes one realize how seldom the most widely caricatured president in history has been portrayed as more than a collection of grotesque tics; Sheen is as expert here as he was playing Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen. While its contemporary echoes aren’t overt, Frost/Nixon prods an important question: why do we demand even less accountability of our Commander-in-Chief now? What should have been lessons learned from Nixon instead begat heightened apathy, gullibility, and stupidity. As an electorate, we got the Commanders-in-Chief we deserved.

FROST/NIXON opens Fri/12 in San Francisco.

Immortal Technique


PREVIEW Peruvian-born, Harlem-raised rapper Immortal Technique, né Felipe Coronel, long ago broke with the TRL mold of spitting about bitches and ho’s, instead looking to the roots of hip-hop with his politically minded tracks.

On his third full-length, The 3rd World (Viper), he covers such topics as the gentrification of his Harlem hood and corruption in the music industry. The opener establishes him as a renegade in the rap world where it’s common to have an intro — be it the sound of bullets blasting or a slutty skit. Instead, the "Death March" is a forceful, beat-driven anthem that introduces its characters (Immortal Technique and DJ Green Lantern), dedicates the album (to the people of Latin American nations that have been tampered with by this country), and sets the stage for what is to come next (urban/guerrilla warfare and an album about it).

"Open Your Eyes" looks at the life of immigrants who are promised a better life in the states but come to realize that "privatization and electricity" do not equate to happiness, and explores the abuse of natural resources and indigenous peoples overseas. "Lick Shots," while not the strongest track on 3rd World with its annoying repeated refrain, goes for laughs with couplets like, "Marry a Muslim girl and fuck her five times a day / Every time right before we shower and pray." "Crimes of the Heart" gets slightly personal with an honest love story of a lonely two-timer "breaking hearts on the way to enlightenment," which Immortal Technique uses as a simile for an isolated republic. A little less narrative-bound but still hard-hitting and with a more polished production than Immortal Technique’s previous recordings, 3rd World offers hope for listeners who yearn for a return to music with a message. As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words, and Immortal Technique remains true to his tunes with this concert for Afghanistan’s Children of War in partnership with Omeid International.

IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE with Hasan Salaam, Da Circle, Ras Ceylon, and DJ GiJoe. Thurs/20, 9:30 p.m., $19–$22. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. (415) 626-1409,

The people’s election



By midnight Nov. 4, the drama was long over: John McCain had conceded, Barack Obama had delivered his moving victory speech — declaring that “change has come to America” — and the long national nightmare of the Bush years was officially headed for the history books.

But in San Francisco, the party was just getting started.

Outside of Kilowatt, on 16th Street near Guerrero, the crowd of celebrants was dancing to the sounds of a street drummer. In the Castro District, a huge crowd was cheering and chanting Obama’s name. And on Valencia and 19th streets, a spontaneous outpouring of energy filled the intersection. Two police officers stood by watching, and when a reporter asked one if he was planning to try to shut down the celebration and clear the streets, he smiled. “Not now,” he said. “Not now.”

Then, out of nowhere, the crowd began to sing: O say can you see /By the dawn’s early light …

It was a stunning moment, as dramatic as anything we’ve seen in this city in years. In perhaps the most liberal, counterculture section of the nation’s most liberal, counterculture city, young people by the hundreds were proudly singing The Star Spangled Banner. “For the first time in my life,” one crooner announced, “I feel proud to be an American.”

Take that, Fox News. Take that Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and the rest of the right-wing bigots who have tried to claim this country for themselves. On Nov. 4, 2008, progressives showed the world that we’re real Americans, too, proud of a country that has learned from its mistakes and corrected its course.

President Obama will let us down soon enough; he almost has to. The task at hand is so daunting, and our collective hopes are so high, that it’s hard to see how anyone could succeed without a few mistakes. In fact, Obama already admitted he won’t be “a perfect president.” And when you get past the rhetoric and the rock star excitement, he’s taken some pretty conservative positions on many of the big issues, from promoting “clean coal” and nuclear power to escautf8g the war in Afghanistan.

But make no mistake about it: electing Barack Obama was a progressive victory. Although he never followed the entire progressive line in his policy positions, he was, and is, the creature of a strong progressive movement that can rightly claim him as its standard-bearer. He was the candidate backed from the beginning by progressives like Supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi (a Green). And only after his improbable nomination did moderates like Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein jump on the bandwagon.

From the start, the young, activist, left wing of the Democratic Party was the driving force behind the Obama revolution. And while he has always talked to the Washington bigwigs — and will populate his administration with many of them — he would never have won without the rest of us. And that’s a fact of political life it will be hard for him to ignore, particularly if we don’t let him forget it.

For a few generations of Americans — everyone who turned 18 after 1964 — this was the first presidential election we’ve been able to get truly excited about. It was also the first presidential election that was won, to a significant extent, on the Internet, where progressive sites like raised millions of dollars, generated a small army of ground troops, and drove turnout in both the primaries and the general election. The movement that was built behind Obama can become a profound and powerful force in American politics.

So this was, by any reasonable measure, the People’s Election. And now it’s the job of the people to keep that hope — and that movement — alive, even when its standard-bearer doesn’t always live up to our dreams.

The evidence that this was the People’s Election wasn’t just at the national level. It showed up in the results of the San Francisco elections as well.

This was the election that would demonstrate, for the first time since the return of district elections, whether a concerted, well-funded downtown campaign could trump a progressive grassroots organizing effort. Sure, in 2000, downtown and then-Mayor Willie Brown had their candidates, and the progressives beat them in nearly every race. But that was a time when the mayor’s popularity was in the tank, and San Franciscans of all political stripes were furious at the corruption in City Hall.

“In 2000, I think a third of the votes that the left got came from Republicans,” GOP consultant Chris Bowman, who was only partially joking, told us on election night.

This time around, with the class of 2000 termed out, a popular mayor in office and poll numbers and conventional wisdom both arguing that San Franciscans weren’t happy with the current Board of Supervisors (particularly with some of its members, most notably Chris Daly), many observers believed that a powerful big-money campaign backing some likable supervisorial candidates (with little political baggage) could dislodge the progressive majority.

As late as the week before the election, polls showed that the three swings districts — 1, 3, and 11 — were too close to call, and that in District 1, Chamber of Commerce executive Sue Lee could be heading for a victory over progressive school board member Eric Mar.

And boy, did downtown try. The big business leaders, through groups including the Committee on Jobs, the Chamber, the Association of Realtors, Plan C, the newly-formed Coalition for Responsible Growth, and the Building Owners and Managers Association, poured more than $630,000 into independent expenditures smearing progressive candidates and promoting the downtown choices. Newsom campaigned with Joe Alioto, Jr. in District 3 and Ahsha Safai in District 11. Television ads sought to link Mar, John Avalos, and David Chiu with Daly.

Although the supervisors have no role in running the schools, the Republicans and downtown pushed hard to use a measure aimed at restoring JROTC to the city’s high schools as a wedge against the progressives in the three swing districts. They also went to great lengths — even misstating the candidates’ positions — to tar Mar, Chiu, and Avalos with supporting the legalization of prostitution.

And it didn’t work.

When the votes were counted election night, it became clear that two of the three progressives — Avalos and Chiu — were headed for decisive victories. And Mar was far enough ahead that it appeared he would emerge on top.

How did that happen? Old-fashioned shoe leather. The three campaigns worked the streets hard, knocking on doors, distributing literature, and phone banking.

“I’ve been feeling pretty confident for a week,” Avalos told us election night, noting his campaign’s strong field operation. As he knocked on doors, Avalos came to understand that downtown’s attacks were ineffective: “No one bought their horseshit.”

A few weeks earlier, he hadn’t been so confident. Avalos said that Safai ran a strong, well-funded campaign and personally knocked on lots of doors in the district. But ultimately, Avalos was the candidate with the deepest roots in the district and the longest history of progressive political activism.

“This is really about our neighborhood,” Avalos told us at his election night party at Club Bottom’s Up in the Excelsior District. “It was the people in this room that really turned it around.”

The San Francisco Labor Council and the tenants’ movement also put dozens of organizers on the ground, stepping up particularly strongly as the seemingly coordinated downtown attacks persisted. “It was, quite literally, money against people, and the people won,” Labor Council director Tim Paulson told us.

Robert Haaland, a staffer with the Service Employees International Union and one of the architects of the campaign, put it more colorfully: “We ran the fucking table,” he told us election night. “It’s amazing — we were up against the biggest downtown blitz since district elections.”

The evidence suggests that this election was no anomaly: the progressive movement has taken firm hold in San Francisco, despite the tendency of the old power-brokers — from Newsom to downtown to both of the city’s corporate-owned daily newspapers — to try to marginalize it.

Political analyst David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics began the Nov. 5 presentation at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association election wrap-up by displaying an ideologically-coded map of San Francisco, drawing off of data from the Progressive Voter Index that he developed with San Francisco State University political science professor Rich de Leon. The PVI is based on how San Francisco residents in different parts of the city vote on bellwether candidates and ballot measures.

“Several of the districts in San Francisco discernibly moved to the left over the last four to eight years,” Latterman told the large crowd, which was made up of many of San Francisco’s top political professionals.

The two supervisorial districts that have moved most strongly toward the progressive column in recent years were Districts 1 (the Richmond) and 11 (the Excelsior), which just happened to be two of the three swing districts (the other being District 3–North Beach and Chinatown) that were to decide the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors this election.

Latterman said Districts “1, 3, and 11 went straight progressive, and that’s just the way it is.”

In fact, in many ways, he said this was a status-quo election, with San Francisco validating the progressive-leaning board. “A lot of people in the city didn’t see it as a chance for a drastic change citywide.”

In other words, keeping progressives in City Hall has become a mainstream choice. Whatever downtown’s propaganda tried to say, most San Franciscans are happy with a district-elected board that has brought the city a living-wage law and moved it a step toward universal health insurance.

The fate of the local ballot measures was another indication that Newsom, popular as he might be, has little ability to convince the voters to accept his policy agenda.

Voters rejected efforts by Newsom to consolidate his power, rejecting his supervisorial candidates, his Community Justice Center (as presented in Measure L), and his proposed takeover of the Transportation Authority (soundly defeating Proposition P) while approving measures he opposed, including Propositions M (protecting tenants from harassment) and T (Daly’s guarantee of substance abuse treatment on demand).

Asked about it at a post-election press conference, Newsom tried to put a positive spin on the night. “Prop. A won, and I spent three years of my life on it,” he said. “Prop B. was defeated. Prop. O, I put on the ballot. I think it’s pretty small when you look at the totality of the ballot.” He pointed out that his two appointees — Carmen Chu in District 4 and Sean Elsbernd in District 7 — won handily but made no mention of his support for losing candidates Lee, Alicia Wang, Alioto, Claudine Cheng, and Safai.

“You’ve chosen two as opposed to the totality,” Newsom said of Props. L and P. “Prop. K needed to be defeated. Prop. B needed to be defeated.”

Yet Newsom personally did as little to defeat those measures as he did to support the measures he tried to claim credit for: Measures A (the General Hospital rebuild bond, which everyone supported) and revenue-producing Measures N, O, and Q. In fact, many labor and progressives leaders privately grumbled about Newsom’s absence during the campaign.

Prop. K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, was placed on the ballot by a libertarian-led signature gathering effort, not by the progressive movement. And Prop. B, the affordable housing set-aside measure sponsored by Daly, was only narrowly defeated — after a last-minute attack funded by the landlords.

All three revenue-producing measures won by wide margins. Prop. Q, the payroll tax measure, passed by one of the widest margins — 67-33.

Latterman and Alex Clemens, owner of Barbary Coast Consulting and the SF Usual Suspects Web site, were asked whether downtown might seek to repeal district elections, and both said it didn’t really matter because people seem to support the system. “I can’t imagine, short of a tragedy, district elections going anywhere,” Latterman said.

Clemens said that while downtown’s polling showed that people largely disapprove of the Board of Supervisors — just as they do most legislative bodies — people generally like their district supervisor (a reality supported by the fact that all the incumbents were reelected by sizable margins).

“It ain’t a Board of Supervisors, it is 11 supervisors,” Clemens said, noting how informed and sophisticated the San Francisco electorate is compared to many other cities. “When you try to do a broad-based attack, you frequently end up on the wrong end (of the election outcome).”

We had a bittersweet feeling watching the scene in the Castro on election night. While thousands swarmed into the streets to celebrate Obama’s election, there was no avoiding the fact that the civil-rights movement that has such deep roots in that neighborhood was facing a serious setback.

The Castro was where the late Sup. Harvey Milk started his ground-breaking campaign to stop the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978. Defying the advice of the leaders of the Democratic Party, Milk took on Briggs directly, debating him all over the state and arguing against the measure that would have barred gay and lesbian people from teaching in California’s public schools.

The defeat of the Briggs Initiative was a turning point for the queer movement — and the defeat of Prop. 8, which seeks to outlaw same-sex marriage, should have been another. Just as California was the most epic battle in a nationwide campaign by right-wing bigots 30 years ago, anti-gay marriage measures have been on the ballot all over America. And if California could have rejected that tide, it might have taken the wind out of the effort.

But that wasn’t to be. Although pre-election polls showed Prop. 8 narrowly losing, it was clear by the end of election night that it was headed for victory.

Part of the reason: two religious groups, the Catholics and the Mormons, raised and spent some $25 million to pass the measure. Church-based groups mobilized a reported 100,000 grassroots volunteers to knock on doors throughout California. Yes on 8 volunteers were as visible in cities throughout California as the No on 8 volunteers were on the streets of San Francisco, presenting a popular front that the No on 8 campaign’s $35 million in spending just couldn’t counter — particularly with so many progressive activists, who otherwise would have been walking precincts to defeat Prop. 8, fanned out across the country campaigning for Obama.

“While we knew the odds for success were not with us, we believed Californians could be the first in the nation to defeat the injustice of discriminatory measures like Proposition 8,” a statement on the No on Prop. 8 Web site said. “And while victory is not ours this day, we know that because of the work done here, freedom, fairness, and equality will be ours someday. Just look at how far we have come in a few decades.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, joined by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Santa Clara County Counsel Ann C. Raven, filed a legal challenge to Prop. 8, arguing that a ballot initiative can’t be used to take away fundamental constitutional rights.

“Such a sweeping redefinition of equal protection would require a constitutional revision rather than a mere amendment,” the petition argued.

“The issue before the court today is of far greater consequence than marriage equality alone,” Herrera said. “Equal protection of the laws is not merely the cornerstone of the California Constitution, it is what separates constitutional democracy from mob rule tyranny. If allowed to stand, Prop. 8 so devastates the principle of equal protection that it endangers the fundamental rights of any potential electoral minority — even for protected classes based on race, religion, national origin, and gender.”

That may succeed. In fact, the state Supreme Court made quite clear in its analysis legalizing same-sex marriage that this was a matter of fundamental rights: “Although defendants maintain that this court has an obligation to defer to the statutory definition of marriage contained in [state law] because that statute — having been adopted through the initiative process — represents the expression of the ‘people’s will,’ this argument fails to take into account the very basic point that the provisions of the California Constitution itself constitute the ultimate expression of the people’s will, and that the fundamental rights embodied within that Constitution for the protection of all persons represent restraints that the people themselves have imposed upon the statutory enactments that may be adopted either by their elected representatives or by the voters through the initiative process.

As the United States Supreme Court explained in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943) 319 U.S. 624, 638: ‘The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.'”

As Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the Guardian later that week: “Luckily, we have an independent judiciary, because the voters of California have mistakenly taken away a class of civil rights.”

But if that legal case fails, this will probably wind up on the state ballot again. And the next campaign will have to be different.

There already have been many discussions about what the No on 8 campaign did wrong and right, but it’s clear that the queer movement needs to reach out to African Americans, particularly black churches. African Americans voted heavily in favor of Prop. 8, and ministers in many congregations preached in favor of the measure.

But there are plenty of black religious leaders who took the other side. In San Francisco the Rev. Amos Brown, who leads the Third Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest African American congregations, spoke powerfully from the pulpit about the connections between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the fight for same-sex marriage.

The next time this is on the ballot, progressive and queer leaders will need to build a more broad-based movement. That is not only possible, but almost inevitable.

The good news — and it’s very good news — is that (as Newsom famously proclaimed) same-sex marriage is coming, whether opponents like it or not. That’s because the demographics can’t be denied: the vast majority of voters under 30 support same-sex marriage. This train is going in only one direction, and the last remaining issue is how, and when, to make the next political move.

The progressives didn’t win everything in San Francisco. Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, was taken down by one of the most high-priced and misleading campaigns in the city’s history. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent more than $10 million telling lies about Prop. H, and with the daily newspapers virtually ignoring the measure and never challenging the utility’s claims, the measure went down.

“This was a big, big, big money race,” Latterman said. “In San Francisco, you spend $10 million and you’re going to beat just about anything.”

But activists aren’t giving up on pushing the city in the direction of more renewable energy (see Editorial).

Latterman said the narrow passage of Prop. V, which asked the school board to consider reinstating JROTC, wasn’t really a victory. “I would not call this a mandate. I worked with the campaign, and they weren’t looking for 53 percent. They were looking for 60-plus percent,” Latterman said. “I think you’ll see this issue just go away.”

Neither Latterman nor Clemens would speculate on who the next president of the Board of Supervisors will be, noting that there are just too many variables and options, including the possibility that a newly elected supervisor could seek that position.

At this point the obvious front-runner is Ross Mirkarimi, who not only won re-election but received more votes than any other candidate in any district. Based on results at press time, more than 23,000 people voted for Mirkarimi; Sean Elsbernd, who also had two opponents, received only about 19,000.

Mirkarimi worked hard to get Avalos, Chiu, and Mar elected, sending his own volunteers off to those districts. And with four new progressives elected to the board, joining Mirkarimi and veteran progressive Chris Daly, the progressives ought to retain the top job.

Daly tells us he won’t be a candidate — but he and Mirkarimi are not exactly close, and Daly will probably back someone else — possibly one of the newly elected supervisors.

“It’s going to be the most fascinating election that none of us will participate in,” Clemens said.

The danger, of course, is that the progressives will be unable to agree on a candidate — and a more moderate supervisor will wind up controlling committee appointments and the board agenda.

One of the most important elements of this election — and one that isn’t being discussed much — is the passage of three revenue-generating measures. Voters easily approved a higher real-estate transfer tax and a measure that closed a loophole allowing law firms and other partnerships to avoid the payroll tax. Progressives have tried to raise the transfer tax several times in the past, and have lost hard-fought campaigns.

That may mean that the anti-tax sentiment in the city has been eclipsed by the reality of the city’s devastating budget problems. And while Newsom didn’t do much to push the new tax measures, they will make his life much easier: the cuts the city will face won’t be as deep thanks to the additional $50 million or so in revenue.

It will still be a tough year for the new board. The mayor will push for cuts that the unions who supported the newly elected progressives will resist. A pivotal battle over the city’s future — the eastern neighborhoods rezoning plan — will come before the new board in the spring, when the recent arrivals will barely have had time to move into their offices.

Obama, of course, will face an even tougher spring. But progressives can at least face the future knowing that not only could it have been a lot worse; for once things might be about to get much better.

Amanda Witherell and Sarah Phelan contributed to this report.

The trouble with hairy


HALLOWEEN SCREENING What’s most shocking about Oliver Stone’s W. — beyond anything in the too-mild movie itself — is that it’s simply dramatizing a still-seated US president. That still feels like a breach in our near-extinct public decorum, however much Shrub has degraded the office’s dignity.

Yet there’s precedent: one prior era brought a slew of movies about its Disaster-in-Chief. Once Watergate broke, filmmakers from late radical-left documentarian Emile de Antonio to future Roller Boogie (1979) director Mark L. Lester weighed in with parodies.

Little-noticed then, these films have only grown more obscure since. But one gets revived as the Pacific Film Archive’s Halloween choice this year. Despite all its flaws, it remains one of the more hilarious metaphors ever for political corruption. We’re talking The Werewolf of Washington.

Werewolf was the second and last feature by writer-director Milton Moses Ginsberg, whose Coming Apart (Rip Torn as a psychiatrist having sex with his female patients) created a minor splash in 1969. That film was an early exercise in faux-found footage narrative à la The Blair Witch Project (1999). By contrast, his hairy 1973 follow-up looks as stylistically square as the Nixon White House, last bastion of political Lawrence Welk-dom.

This is one of those movies hinged entirely on a crazed lead performance. Dean Stockwell, old-Hollywood child actor turned counterculture collage artist turned weirdo cult actor (1986’s Blue Velvet, 1984’s Dune) plays Jack Whittier, youngest member of the White House press corps. Sweetheart to the president’s daughter, Whittier jilts her by taking an assignment in Hungary — where something not-quite-human bites his ass. Returning stateside, he’s recruited as press secretary to a president (Biff McGuire) unlike Tricky Dick in look or manner.

But Werewolf‘s satire is indirect, if not exactly subtle. Despite pleas to be fired — even arrested — Whittier keeps getting kicked upstairs. He’s too much an asset to a paranoid administration under scandalized fire. That value is not unrelated to mysterious man-beast slayings of various loudmouths exposing the administration’s ethical canyon-gaps. Victims include critical journalists, inconvenient political wives, and ill-fated DC residents who stumble across supernatural murder scenes.

The Werewolf of Washington is crude, sloppy, aesthetically ugly, and deliberately ridiculous. But Stockwell is hilarious, particularly during those twitchy lycanthropic transformations where he turns shock-white haired and fanged. This genius turn floats an otherwise flimsy film.


Fri/31, 8 p.m., $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249,

The stealth candidate



Ahsha Safai is hoping to be elected to the Board of Supervisors without answering questions about his padded political resume of short-lived patronage jobs, greatly exaggerated claims of his accomplishments, history as a predatory real estate speculator, connections to and coordination with downtown power brokers, shifting and contradictory policy positions, or the many other distortions this political neophyte is offering up to voters in District 11, a crucial swing district that could decide the balance of power in city government.

Safai has refused numerous requests for interviews with the Guardian over the last two months. We’ve even left messages with specific concerns about his record and positions. But our investigation reveals his close political ties to the downtown interest groups that have spent close to $100,000 on his behalf and shows him to be a shameless opportunist who is apparently willing to say anything to achieve power.

There’s much we don’t know about Ahsha Safai, but there’s enough we do know for a consistent yet troubling portrait to emerge.

Safai moved to San Francisco from Washington, DC with his lawyer wife in 2000, and immediately began to ingratiate himself into the mainstream Democratic Party power structure, starting as a legislative liaison with the corruption-plagued San Francisco Housing Authority and joining Gavin Newsom’s mayoral campaign in 2003.

Safai became a protégé of Newsom’s field director Alex Tourk, who was a top Newsom strategist for several years until he abruptly resigned after learning that Newsom had an affair with his wife. With support from Tourk (who didn’t respond to our calls about Safai) and Newsom, Safai held a string of city jobs over the next three years, moving from the Mayor’s Office of Community Development to the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services to the Department of Public Works, all of which he touts on his Web ite, greatly exaggerating (and in some cases, outright misrepresenting) his accomplishments in each, according to those who worked with him. (Few sources who worked with Safai would speak on the record, fearing repercussions from Newsom).


One project Safai doesn’t mention on his Web site is his work spearheading Community Connect, the most disastrous of Newsom’s SF Connect programs. "It’s the one Connect that the mayor will never talk about," said Quentin Mecke, who participated in the effort, on behalf of nonprofit groups, to create a community policing system. "The whole thing just devolved into chaos and there weren’t any more meetings."

In 2005, Safai and Tourk convened meetings in each of the city’s police precincts to take testimony on rising violence and the failure of the San Francisco Police Department to deal with it. Ultimately Newsom decided to reject a community-policing plan developed through the process by the African-American Police Community Relations Board. That set up the Board of Supervisors to successfully override a mayoral veto of police foot patrols.

"Ahsha’s approach was consistent with the Newsom administration, with folks that talk a good game but there’s no substance behind it," said Mecke, who ran for mayor last year, placing second.

Another realm in which Safai has claimed undeserved credit is on his efforts to save St. Luke’s Hospital from attempts by the California Pacific Medical Center (and CPMC’s parent company, Sutter Health) to close it or scale back its role as an acute care provider for low income San Franciscans.

"When I looked at his campaign material and he says he was a leader who saved St. Luke’s, I thought, ‘Am I missing something here?," Roma Guy, a 12-year member of the city’s Health Commission and leader in the effort to save St. Luke’s, told the Guardian. "Nobody thinks Ahsha has taken a leadership role on this. This is a significant exaggeration from where I sit."

Nato Green, who represents nurses at St. Luke’s within the California Nurses Association, went even further than Guy, saying he was worried about Safai’s late arrival to the issue (Safai wasn’t part of the group that protested, organized, and urged CPMC to agree to rebuild the hospital) and the fact that CPMC appointed Safai to its Community Outreach Task Force as the representative from Distrist 11.

"From our point of view, he is the CPMC’s AstroTurf program, simuutf8g community participation," Green told us. "It’s critical to us that we end up with a supervisor who is independent of CPMC and will go to the mat for what the community needs."

CNA has endorsed Avalos in the District 11 race.

"John was the only candidate in District 11 who came out and spoke at the hearings, attended the vigils, and walked the picket line during the strikes," Green said.


Beyond his association with downtown power brokers and endorsement by Newsom, there are other indicators that Safai is hostile to progressive values. He said in a recent televised forum that he would work most closely with supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, and Michela Alioto-Pier, the three most conservative members of the Board of Supervisors.

During an Oct. 14 Avalos fundraiser hosted by sustainable transportation advocates Dave Snyder, Tom Radulovich, and Leah Shahum, attendees expressed frustration at Safai’s tendency to pander to groups like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, taking whatever position he thinks they want to hear without considering their implications or consistency with his other stands.

"It was a no-brainer for the Bike Coalition to endorse John," Shahum, SFBC’s executive director, said at the event, noting Avalos’ long history of support for alternatives to the automobile.

Avalos, who had been hammered all week by mailers and robocalls from downtown groups supporting Safai, said he was frustrated by the barrage but that "we can fight the money with people.

"Ahsha has done everything he can to blur the lines about what he stands for," Avalos said. "Whoever he’s talking to, that’s who he’s going to be. But we need principled leadership in San Francisco."

One area where Safai doesn’t appear to be proud of his work is in real estate, opting to be identified on voting materials as a "nonprofit education advisor." One of his opponents, Julio Ramos, formally challenged the designation, writing to the Election Department that the label "would mislead voters and is not factually accurate, the term ‘businessman’ or ‘investor’ denotes the true livelihood of candidate Safai."

Safai responded by defending the title and writing, "My dates of employment at Mission Language Vocational School were from August 2007 through February 2008." So, because of his seven-month stint at this nonprofit, voters will see Safai as someone who works in education, even though his financial disclosure forms show that most of his six-figure income comes from Blankshore LLC, a Los Altos-based developer currently building a large condo project at 2189 Bayshore Blvd. that is worth more than $1 million. (That’s the top value bracket listed on the form, so we don’t know how many millions the project is actually worth or how much more than $100,000 Safai earned this year).

But we do know from city records that Safai has personally bought at least three properties during his short stint in San Francisco, including one at 78 Latona Street that he flipped for a huge profit after buying it from a woman facing foreclosure, who then sued Safai for fraud.

The woman, Mary McDowell, alleged in court documents that real estate broker Harold Smith, "unsolicited, came to plaintiff’s residence and offered assistance to her because her homes were in foreclosure … [and said] she would receive sufficient money after sales commissions to reinstate the loans on the four other properties."

The legal complaint said Smith then modified those terms to pay McDowell less than promised and arranged to sell the home to Safai and his brother, Reza. "Plaintiff is informed and believes and thereon alleges that defendants did not promptly list her residence on the multiple listing service to avoid larger offers on the home and conspired with the other defendants to purchase the home at a far less than market price," reads the complaint.

The case was originally set for jury trial, indicating it had some merit. But after numerous pleadings and procedural actions that resulted in the plaintiff’s attorney being sanctioned for failing to meet certain court deadlines and demands, the case was dismissed.
But whatever the merit to the case, records on file with the county assessor and recorder show that Safai and his brother flipped the property for a tidy profit. They paid $365,500 for the place in December 2003 — and sold it two year later, in December 2005, for $800,000.
Labor activist Robert Haaland told us that Safai can’t be trusted to support rent control or the rights of workers or tenants: "At the end of the day, he’s a real estate speculator."

Endorsements 2008: San Francisco races



Board of Supervisors

District 1


The incumbent District 1 supervisor, Jake McGoldrick, likes to joke that he holds his seat only because Eric Mar’s house burned down eight years ago. Back then Mar, who has had a stellar career on the school board, decided to wait before seeking higher office.

But now McGoldrick — overall a good supervisor who was wrong on a few key votes — is termed out, and progressive San Francisco is pretty much unanimous in supporting Mar as his successor.

Mar, a soft-spoken San Francisco State University teacher, was a strong critic of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman and a leader in the battle to get the somewhat dictatorial and autocratic administrator out of the district. He’s been a key part of the progressive majority that’s made substantial progress in improving the San Francisco public schools.

He’s a perfect candidate for District 1. He has strong ties to the district and its heavily Asian population. He’s a sensible progressive with solid stands on the key issues and a proven ability to get things done. He supports the affordable housing measure, Proposition B; the Clean Energy Act, Proposition H; and the major new revenue measures. He’s sensitive to tenant issues, understands the need for a profound new approach to affordable housing, and wants to solve the city’s structural budget problems with new revenue, not just cuts.

His chief opponent, Sue Lee, who works for the Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t support Prop. H and won’t even commit to supporting district elections. She ducked a lot of our questions and was either intentionally vague or really has no idea what she would do as a supervisor. She’s no choice for the district, and we found no other credible candidates worthy of our endorsement. Vote for Eric Mar.

District 3




The danger in this district is Joe Alioto. He’s smooth, he’s slick, he’s well funded — and he would be a disaster for San Francisco. Make no mistake about it, Alioto is the candidate of downtown — and thanks to his famous name and wads of big-business cash, he’s a serious contender.

Two progressive candidates have a chance at winning this seat and keeping Alioto off the board. David Chiu is a member of the Small Business Commission (SBC) and the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) and is a former civil rights lawyer who now manages a company that sells campaign software. Denise McCarthy ran the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center for 25 years and spent 7 years on the Port Commission.

Tony Gantner, a retired lawyer, is also in the race, although he is running well behind the others in the polls.

We have concerns about all the candidates. Chiu has a solid progressive record as a commissioner and committee member: He was one of only two SBC members who supported the living-wage ordinance and Sup. Tom Ammiano’s city health care plan. He backed Sup. Aaron Peskin, his political mentor, for chair of the DCCC. He backs Prop. H, supports the two revenue measures and the affordable-housing fund, and wants to give local small businesses a leg up in winning city contracts. He has some creative ideas about housing, including a community stabilization fee on new development.

He’s also a partner in a company that received $143,000 last year from PG&E and that has worked with Republicans and some nasty business interests.

Chiu says he doesn’t get to call all the shots at Grassroots Enterprises, which he cofounded. He describes the firm as a software-licensing operation, which isn’t exactly true — the company’s own Web site brags about its ability to offer broad-based political consulting and communication services.

But Chiu vowed to resign from the company if elected, and given his strong record on progressive issues, we’re willing to take a chance on him.

McCarthy has a long history in the neighborhood, and we like her community perspective. She supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing measure. She’s a little weak on key issues like the city budget — she told us she "hadn’t been fully briefed," although the budget is a public document and the debate over closing a massive structural deficit ought to be a central part of any supervisorial campaign. And while she said there "have to be some new taxes," she was very vague on where new revenue would come from and what specifically she would be willing to cut. She supported Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003 and told us she doesn’t think that was a bad decision. It was. But she has by far the strongest community ties of any candidate in District 3. She’s accessible (even listing her home phone number in her campaign material), and after her years on the Port Commission, she understands land-use issues.

Gantner has been a supporter of the Clean Energy Act from the start and showed up for the early organizing meetings. He has the support of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow and talks a lot about neighborhood beatification. But we’re a little nervous about his law-and-order positions, particularly his desire to crack down on fairs and festivals and his strong insistence that club promoters are responsible for all the problems on the streets.

But in the end, Chiu, McCarthy, and Gantner are all acceptable candidates, and Joe Alioto is not. Fill your slate with these three.

District 4


What a mess.

We acknowledge that this is one of the more conservative districts in the city. But the incumbent, Carmen Chu, and her main opponent, Ron Dudum, are terrible disappointments.

It’s possible to be a principled conservative in San Francisco and still win progressive respect. We often disagreed over the years with Quentin Kopp, the former supervisor, state senator, and judge, but we never doubted his independence, sincerity, or political skills. Sean Elsbernd, who represents District 7, is wrong on most of the key issues, but he presents intelligent arguments, is willing to listen, and isn’t simply a blind loyalist of the mayor.

Chu has none of those redeeming qualities. She ducks questions, waffles on issues, and shows that she’s willing to do whatever the powerful interests want. When PG&E needed a front person to carry the torch against the Clean Energy Act, Chu was all too willing: she gave the corrupt utility permission to use her name and face on campaign flyers, signed on to a statement written by PG&E’s political flak, and permanently disgraced herself. She says that most of the problems in the city budget should be addressed with cuts, particularly cuts in public health and public works, but she was unable to offer any specifics. She refused to support the measure increasing the transfer tax on property sales of more than $5 million, saying that she didn’t want to create "a disincentive to those sales taking place." We asked her if she had ever disagreed with Newsom, who appointed her, and she could point to only two examples: she opposed his efforts to limit cigarette sales in pharmacies, and she opposed Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park. In other words, the only times she doesn’t march in lockstep with the mayor is when Newsom actually does something somewhat progressive. We can’t possibly endorse her.

Dudum, who ran a small business and tried for this office two years ago, continues to baffle us. He won’t take a position on anything. Actually, that’s not true — he’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act. Other than that, it’s impossible to figure out where he stands on anything or what he would do to address any of the city’s problems. (An example: When we asked him what to do about the illegal second units that have proliferated in the district, he said he’d solve the problem in two years. How? He couldn’t say.) We like Dudum’s small-business sentiments and his independence, but until he’s willing to take some stands and offer some solutions, we can’t support him.

Which leaves Dave Ferguson.

Ferguson is a public school teacher with little political experience. He’s a landlord, and not terribly good on tenant issues (he said he supported rent control when he was a renter, but now that he owns a four-unit building, he’s changed his mind). But he supports Prop. H, supports Prop. B, supports the revenue measures, and has a neighborhood sensibility. Ferguson is a long shot, but he’s the only candidate who made anything approaching a case for our endorsement.

District 5


Mirkarimi won this seat four years ago after a heated race in a crowded field, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the city’s most promising progressive leaders. He understands that a district supervisor needs to take on tough citywide issues (he’s the lead author of the Clean Energy Act and won a surprisingly tough battle to ban plastic bags in big supermarkets) as well as dealing with neighborhood concerns. Mirkarimi helped soften a terrible plan for developing the old UC Extension site and fought hard to save John Swett School from closure.

But the area in which he’s most distinguished himself is preventing violent crime — something progressives have traditionally had trouble with. Four years ago, District 5 was plagued with terrible violence: murders took place with impunity, the police seemed unable to respond, and the African American community was both furious and terrified. Mirkarimi took the problem on with energy and creativity, demanding (and winning, despite mayoral vetoes) police foot patrols and community policing. Thanks to his leadership, violent crime is down significantly in the district — and the left in San Francisco has started to develop a progressive agenda for the crime problem.

He has no serious opposition, and richly deserves reelection.

District 7


We rarely see eye to eye with the District 7 incumbent. He’s on the wrong side of most of the key votes on the board. He’s opposing the affordable housing measure, Prop. B. He’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act, Prop. H. It’s annoying to see someone who presents himself as a neighborhood supervisor siding with PG&E and downtown over and over again.

But Elsbernd is smart and consistent. He’s a fiscal conservative with enough integrity that he isn’t always a call-up vote for the mayor. He’s accessible to his constituents and willing to engage with people who disagree with him. The progressives on the board don’t like the way he votes — but they respect his intelligence and credibility.

Unlike many of the candidates this year, Elsbernd seems to understand the basic structural problem with the city budget, and he realizes that the deficit can’t be reduced just with spending cuts. He’s never going to be a progressive vote, but this conservative district could do worse.

District 9




The race to succeed Tom Ammiano, who served this district with distinction and is now headed for the State Legislature, is a case study in the advantages of district elections and ranked-choice voting. Three strong progressive candidates are running, and the Mission–Bernal Heights area would be well served by any of them. So far, the candidates have behaved well, mostly talking about their own strengths and not trashing their opponents.

The choice was tough for us — we like David Campos, Eric Quezada, and Mark Sanchez, and we’d be pleased to see any of them in City Hall. It’s the kind of problem we wish other districts faced: District 9 will almost certainly wind up with one of these three stellar candidates. All three are Latinos with a strong commitment to immigrant rights. All three have strong ties to the neighborhoods. Two are openly gay, and one is a parent. All three have endorsements from strong progressive political leaders and groups. All three have significant political and policy experience and have proven themselves accessible and accountable.

And since it’s almost inconceivable that any of the three will collect more than half of the first-place votes, the second-place and third-place tallies will be critical.

Campos, a member of the Police Commission and former school district general counsel, arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant at 14. He made it to Stanford University and Harvard Law School and has worked as a deputy city attorney (who helped the city sue PG&E) and as a school district lawyer. He’s been a progressive on the Police Commission, pushing for better citizen oversight and professional police practices. To his credit, he’s stood up to (and often infuriated) the Police Officers’ Association, which is often a foe of reform.

Campos doesn’t have extensive background in land-use issues, but he has good instincts. He told us he’s convinced that developers can be forced to provide as much as 50 percent affordable housing, and he thinks the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan lacks adequate low-cost units. He supports the revenue measures on the ballot and wants to see big business paying a fair share of the tax burden. He argues persuasively that crime has to become a progressive issue, and focuses on root causes rather than punitive programs. Campos has shown political courage in key votes — he supported Theresa Sparks for Police Commission president, a move that caused Louise Renne, the other contender, to storm out of the room in a fit of cursing. He backed Aaron Peskin for Democratic Party chair despite immense pressure to go with his personal friend Scott Weiner. Ammiano argues that Campos has the right qualities to serve on the board — particularly the ability to get six votes for legislation — and we agree.

Eric Quezada has spent his entire adult life fighting gentrification and displacement in the Mission. He’s worked at nonprofit affordable-housing providers, currently runs a homeless program, and was a cofounder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Although he’s never held public office, he has far more experience with the pivotal issues of housing and land use than the other two progressive candidates.

Quezada has the support of Sup. Chris Daly (although he doesn’t have Daly’s temper; he’s a soft-spoken person more prone to civil discussion than fiery rhetoric). If elected, he would carry on Daly’s tradition of using his office not just for legislation but also as an organizing center for progressive movements. He’s not as experienced in budget issues and was a little vague about how to solve the city’s structural deficit, but he would also make an excellent supervisor.

Mark Sanchez, the only Green Party member of the three, is a grade-school teacher who has done a tremendous job as president of the San Francisco school board. He’s helped turn that panel from a fractious and often paralyzed political mess into a strong, functioning operation that just hired a top-notch new superintendent. He vows to continue as an education advocate on the Board of Supervisors.

He told us he thinks he can be effective by building coalitions; he already has a good working relationship with Newsom. He’s managed a $500 million budget and has good ideas on both the revenue and the spending side — he thinks too much money goes to programs like golf courses, the symphony, and the opera, whose clients can afford to cover more of the cost themselves. He wants a downtown congestion fee and would turn Market Street into a pedestrian mall. Like Campos, he would need some education on land-use issues (and we’re distressed that he supports Newsom’s Community Justice Center), but he has all the right political instincts. He has the strong support of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. We would be pleased to see him on the Board of Supervisors.

We’ve ranked our choices in the order we think best reflects the needs of the district and the city. But we also recognize that the progressive community is split here (SEIU Local 1021 endorsed all three, with no ranking), and we have nothing bad to say about any of these three contenders. The important thing is that one of them win; vote for Campos, Quezada, and Sanchez — in that order, or in whatever order makes sense for you. Just vote for all three.

District 11




This is one of those swing districts where either a progressive or a moderate could win. The incumbent, Gerardo Sandoval, who had good moments and not-so-good moments but was generally in the progressive camp, is termed out and running for judge.

The strongest and best candidate to succeed him is John Avalos. There are two other credible contenders, Randy Knox and Julio Ramos — and one serious disaster, Ahsha Safai.

Avalos has a long history of public-interest work. He’s worked for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, for the Justice for Janitors campaign, and as an aide to Sup. Chris Daly. Since Daly has served on the Budget Committee, and at one point chaired it, Avalos has far more familiarity with the city budget than any of the other candidates. He understands that the city needs major structural reforms in how revenue is collected, and he’s full of new revenue ideas. Among other things, he suggests that the city work with San Mateo County to create a regional park district that could get state funds (and could turn McLaren Park into a destination spot).

He has a good perspective on crime (he supports community policing along with more police accountability) and wants to put resources into outreach for kids who are at risk for gang activity. He was the staff person who wrote Daly’s 2006 violence prevention plan. He wants to see more affordable housing and fewer luxury condos in the eastern neighborhoods and supports a congestion fee for downtown. With his experience both at City Hall and in community-based organizations, Avalos is the clear choice for this seat.

Randy Knox, a criminal defense lawyer and former member of the Board of Appeals, describes himself as "the other progressive candidate." He supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing fund. He links the crime problem to the fact that the police don’t have strong ties to the community, and wants to look for financial incentives to encourage cops to live in the city. He wants to roll back parking meter rates and reduce the cost of parking tickets in the neighborhoods, which is a populist stand — but that money goes to Muni, and he’s not sure how to replace it. He does support a downtown congestion fee.

Knox wasn’t exactly an anti-developer stalwart on the Board of Appeals, but we’ll endorse him in the second slot.

Julio Ramos has been one of the better members of a terrible community college board. He’s occasionally spoken up against corruption and has been mostly allied with the board’s progressive minority. He wants to build teacher and student housing on the reservoir adjacent to City College. He suggests that the city create mortgage assistance programs and help people who are facing foreclosure. He suggests raising the hotel tax to bring in more money. He supports public power and worked at the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, where he tangled with PG&E.

We’re backing three candidates in this district in part because it’s critical that Safai, the candidate of Mayor Newsom, downtown, and the landlords, doesn’t get elected. Safai (who refused to meet with our editorial board) is cynically using JROTC as a wedge against the progressives, even though the Board of Supervisors does not have, and will never have, a role in deciding the future of that program. He needs to be defeated, and the best way to do that is to vote for Avalos, Knox, and Ramos.

Board of Education





Two of the stalwart progressive leaders on the San Francisco School Board — Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar — are stepping down to run for supervisor. That’s a huge loss, since Mar and Sanchez were instrumental in getting rid of the autocratic Arlene Ackerman, replacing her with a strong new leader and ending years of acrimony on the board. The schools are improving dramatically — this year, for the first time in ages, enrollment in kindergarten actually went up. It’s important that the progressive policies Mar and Sanchez promoted continue.

Sandra Fewer is almost everyone’s first choice for the board. A parent who sent three kids to the San Francisco public schools, she’s done an almost unbelievable amount of volunteer work, serving as a PTA president for 12 terms. She currently works as education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. She knows the district, she knows the community, she’s full of energy and ideas, and she has the support of seven members of the Board of Supervisors and five of the seven current school board members.

Fewer supports the new superintendent and agrees that the public schools are getting better, but she’s not afraid to point out the problems and failures: She notes that other districts with less money are doing better. She wants to make the enrollment process more accessible to working parents and told us that race ought to be used as a factor in enrollment if that will help desegregate the schools and address the achievement gap. She’s against JROTC in the schools.

We’re a little concerned that Fewer talks about using district real estate as a revenue source — selling public property is always a bad idea. But she’s a great candidate and we’re happy to endorse her.

Norman Yee, the only incumbent we’re endorsing, has been something of a mediator and a calming influence on an often-contentious board. He helped push for the 2006 facilities bond and the parcel tax to improve teacher pay. He’s helped raise $1 million from foundations for prekindergarten programs. He suggests that the district take the radical (and probably necessary) step of suing the state to demand adequate funding for education. Although he was under considerable pressure to support JROTC, he stood with the progressives to end the military program. He deserves another term.

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez got into the race late and has been playing catch-up. She’s missed some key endorsements and has problems with accessibility. But she impressed us with her energy and her work with low-income parents. A former legal support worker at La Raza Centro Legal, she’s now an organizer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, working with immigrant parents. She’s fought to get subsidized Muni fares for SFUSD students. Her focus is on parent involvement — and while everyone talks about bringing parents, particularly low-income and immigrant parents, more directly into the education process, Lopez has direct experience in the area.

Kimberly Wicoff has a Stanford MBA, and you can tell — she talks in a sort of business-speak with lots of reference to "outcomes." She has no kids. But she’s currently working with a nonprofit that helps low-income families in Visitacion Valley and Hunters Point, and we liked her clearheaded approach to the achievement gap. Wicoff is a fan of what she calls community schools; she thinks a "great school in every neighborhood" can go a long way to solving the lingering issues around the enrollment process. That’s a bit of an ambitious goal, and we’re concerned about any move toward neighborhood schools that leads to resegregation. But Wicoff, who has the support of both Mark Sanchez and Mayor Newsom, brings a fresh problem-solving approach that we found appealing. And unlike Newsom, she’s against JROTC.

Jill Wynns, who has been on the board since 1992, has had a distinguished career, and we will never forget her leadership in the battle against privatizing public schools. But she was a supporter of former superintendent Ackerman even when Ackerman was trampling on open-government laws and intimidating students, parents, and staff critics, and she supports JROTC. It’s time for some new blood.

Rachel Norton, a parent and an advocate for special-education kids, has run an appealing campaign, but her support for the save-JROTC ballot measure disqualified her for our endorsement.

As a footnote: H. Brown, a blogger who can be a bit politically unhinged, has no business on the school board and we’re not really sure why he’s running. But he offered an interesting idea that has some merit: he suggests that the city offer free Muni passes and free parking to anyone who will volunteer to mentor an at-risk SFUSD student. Why not?

Community College Board




There are four seats up for the seven-member panel that oversees the San Francisco Community College District, and we could only find three who merit endorsement. That’s a sad statement: City College is a local treasure, and it’s been badly run for years. The last chancellor, Phil Day, left under a cloud of corruption; under his administration, money was diverted from public coffers into a political campaign. The current board took bond money that the voters had earmarked for a performing arts center and shifted it to a gym — then found out that there wasn’t enough money in the operating budget to maintain the lavish facility. It’s a mess out there, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Fortunately, there are three strong candidates, and if they all win, the reformers will have a majority on the board.

Milton Marks is the only incumbent we’re supporting. He’s been one of the few board members willing to criticize the administration. He supports a sunshine policy for the district and believes the board needs to hold the chancellor accountable (that ought to be a basic principle of district governance, but at City College, it isn’t). He wants to push closer relations with the school board. He actually pays attention to the college budget and tries to make sure the money is spent the right way. He is pushing to reform the budget process to allow more openness and accountability.

Chris Jackson, a policy analyst at the San Francisco Labor Council, is full of energy and ideas. He wants to create an outreach center for City College at the public high schools. He also understands that the college district has done a terrible job working with neighborhoods and is calling for a comprehensive planning process. He understands the problems with the gym and the way the board shuffles money around, and he is committed to a more transparent budget process.

Jackson is also pushing to better use City College for workforce development, particularly in the biotech field, where a lot of the city’s new jobs will be created.

Jackson was president of the Associated Students at San Francisco State University, has been a member of the Youth Commission, and worked with Young Workers United on the city’s minimum-wage law. His experience, energy, and ideas make him an ideal candidate.

Bruce Wolfe attended City College after a workplace injury and served on the Associate Students Council. He knows both the good (City College has one of the best disability service programs in the state) and the bad (the school keeps issuing bonds to build facilities but doesn’t have the staff to keep them running). As a former member of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Wolfe is a strong advocate for open government, something desperately needed at the college district. He told us he thinks the college should agree to abide by the San Francisco Planning Code and is calling for a permanent inspector general to monitor administration practices and spending. He wants City College to start building housing for students. He has direct experience with the district and great ideas for improving it, and we’re happy to endorse him.

Incumbents Rodel Rodis and Natalie Berg are running for reelection; both have been a key part of the problem at City College, and we can’t endorse either of them. Steve Ngo, a civil rights lawyer, has the support of the Democratic Party, but we weren’t impressed by his candidacy. And he told us he opposes the Clean Energy Act.

Vote for Marks, Jackson, and Wolfe.

BART Board of Directors

With rising gasoline prices, congested roadways, and global warming, it’s now more important than ever to have an engaged and knowledgeable BART board that is willing to reform a system that effectively has San Francisco users subsidizing everyone else. That means developing a fare structure in which short trips within San Francisco or the East Bay urban centers are cheaper and longer trips are a bit more expensive. BART should also do away with free parking, which favors suburban drivers (who tend to be wealthier) over urban cyclists and pedestrians. San Francisco’s aging stations should then get the accessibility and amenity improvements they need—and at some point the board can even fund the late-night service that is long overdue. There are two candidates most capable of meeting these challenges:

District 7


This district straddles San Francisco and the East Bay, and it’s crucial that San Francisco—which controls just three of the nine seats—retain its representative here. We would like to see Lynette Sweet more forcefully represent the interests of riders from San Francisco and support needed reforms such as civilian oversight of BART police. But she has a strong history of public service in San Francisco (having served on San Francisco’s taxi and redevelopment commissions before joining the BART board in 2003), and we’ll endorse her.

District 9


Tom Radulovich is someone we’d love to clone and have run for every seat on the BART board, and perhaps every other transportation agency in the Bay Area. He’s smart and progressive, and he works hard to understand the complex problems facing our regional transportation system and then to develop and advocate for creative solutions. As executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich is a leader of San Francisco’s alternative transportation brain trust, widely respected for walking the walk (and biking the bike—he doesn’t own a car) and setting an example for how to live and grow in the sustainable way this city and country needs.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

The other October 2


By Stephen Torres

For most, this year’s Oct. 2 will be remembered as the day of the highly-anticipated debate between Veep candidates (if it’s remembered at all). But for our neighbors to the south, it marked the 40th anniversary of one the bloodiest, and what many view as one of the most pivotal, days in Mexico’s history.

It was 1968, the year Mexico City was to play host to the XIX Summer Olympiad. Not unlike the games that just closed in Beijing, the choice had become a contentious one for the International Olympic Committee; as the games neared, it became increasingly evident that the country was under a constant state of unrest and protest. Stories began to circulate of disappearances and rampant political corruption as President Diaz Ordaz frantically tried to silence the dissidence (especially by the student population) against one party-rule, corruption, and the games themselves.


Back to Oakland?



Big money is flowing into an Oakland City Council campaign, fueling rumors that state Senate President Don Perata might be preparing for a Willie Brown–style move from Sacramento kingpin to Bay Area mayor.

Perata’s former chief of staff Kerry Hamill is vying for the city’s at-large council seat, running against AC Transit board member Rebecca Kaplan. Two independent expenditure committees with possible links to Perata are laying out tens of thousands of dollars on Hamill’s behalf. Sources say Perata has been fundraising for his ex-staffer, as has Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, a longtime Perata loyalist. And it appears one of De La Fuente’s efforts to raise cash may have skirted the boundaries of state law.

The stakes for De La Fuente are definitely high. Hamill’s election would help him retain his role as president of the closely divided council. But the scuttlebutt around Oakland is that a successful Hamill candidacy could have bigger implications. It might just pave the way for something many local observers see as inevitable: a Perata run for mayor.

Current Mayor Ron Dellums is reeling from a spike in violent crime, huge budget deficits, and a detached leadership style, all of which is fueling a nascent recall movement. Perata will be termed out of state office this year and has made no secret of his interest in Oakland’s top job, despite allegedly being the target of an ongoing political corruption investigation by the FBI. Having a powerful colleague like Hamill on the council, while keeping De La Fuente in control of the body, could make a run for mayor attractive to Perata (who didn’t return our calls for comment).

"He’s going to run. Everybody knows he’s going to run," Oakland City Attorney John Russo told the Guardian, adding that the flurry of campaigning for Hamill is "absolutely a signal" of Perata’s mayoral ambitions. "That group of people [Perata and his allies] clearly see their interests lying with Kerry."

Reached for comment, Hamill said, "Don’s supporting me because I’m the best candidate…. Whether it is for selfish reasons like making sure the right people for him are on the council or not, I believe he is supporting me because he likes my work."


If you live in Oakland or have spent any time there recently, chances are you’ve seen the pro-Hamill campaign signs promising "Safe Neighborhoods Now" affixed to fences and lampposts all over town. Oakland mailboxes have been stuffed with flyers backing Hamill’s candidacy. The signs and some of the other materials position Hamill in opposition to Dellums more than Kaplan, with one mail piece hammering the current mayor for his handling of the city’s recent crime wave.

Hamill’s campaign did not produce the signs or much of the literature championing her. Instead, two newly formed independent expenditure committees doled out more than $87,000 on her behalf in the first half of this year alone. The groups are not required to disclose their recent spending until Oct. 6, but given the volume of material being generated, there is little doubt their combined outlays will top $100,000 for the year. Hamill told us that outside groups are also aiding her opponent Kaplan, though she did not name them. Our examination of campaign records found that the California Nurses Association paid $24,535 for a pro-Kaplan mailer in May.

"That’s definitely a lot of money," Alameda County supervisor Keith Carson told us, referring to the spending in support of Hamill. "It certainly raises your antenna. In any campaign when you have two separate entrants putting resources in, you pause and ask, ‘What’s behind it?’<0x2009>"

On the surface the two groups backing Hamill appear unconnected. But recent media reports and a Guardian examination of campaign finance records reveal several ties between both organizations and Hamill’s old boss, Perata.

The first group, which calls itself Californians for Good Jobs, Clean Streets, and Outstanding Schools, displays clear Perata associations. The group’s treasurer is Mark Capitolo, who used to be Perata’s director of communications. Many of its donors consistently give to Perata’s numerous political action committees. And its campaign documents list a Sacramento phone number that, as the East Bay Express reported in May, belongs to Perata’s chief political strategist, Sandra Polka.

Polka and employees of her consulting business appear to be deeply involved in the senator’s affairs. When we called Perata’s Sacramento office seeking comment for this story, we were told to contact Paul Hefner, who works for Polka’s firm. Polka, Hefner, De La Fuente, Capitolo, and Californians for Good Jobs president, Hilda Martinez, did not return our calls for comment.

Perata’s links to the second group, known as Oakland Jobs PAC, are not as immediately apparent, and one person involved with the group denied that the legislator is aiding their cause. But an inspection of disclosure forms did yield evidence of the legislator’s potential influence. In mid-May, Oakland Jobs received its first $10,000 from another political action committee known as Vote Matters. As the Contra Costa Times reported, Vote Matters spent more than $175,000 earlier this year trying to pass Proposition 93, which would have allowed Perata and other termed-out state politicians to remain in office. Perata strongly supported the measure, which did not pass.

Robert Apodaca, who called himself a "personal friend" of Perata’s, informed the Guardian that he recommended that Vote Matters provide the money to Oakland Jobs. Apodaca is director of marketing for the architecture and planning firm MVE and Associates, which designed the huge Oak to Ninth Project along the Oakland waterfront. Perata passed key legislation that allowed the project to move forward, though it has yet to be built. Oakland Jobs donor Signature Properties is one of the project’s lead developers and, according to the East Bay Express, Oakland Jobs’ treasurer Sean Welch has worked for Signature Properties in the past. Signature Properties has also been a donor to Perata’s political committees, as have several other Oakland Jobs contributors.

In addition to his work for MVE and what he deemed his "unpaid advisor" relationship with Vote Matters, Apodaca is listed as a paid campaign consultant for a now-defunct committee called the "California Latino Leadership Fund" (CLLF). CLLF employed Polka as well as Apodaca in 2006 and 2007. Polka is now working on behalf of the other committee backing Hamill this year, Californians for Good Jobs, Safe Streets, and Outstanding Jobs.


Apodaca told us he could not remember why he pushed for Vote Matters, which normally supports state candidates and initiatives, to give money to a local committee like Oakland Jobs. But he was certain that Perata played no part in it. "He’s not involved in [the committee’s decisions]. He’s not even in the room."

But a well-placed East Bay source told us Perata was in the room with Oakland Jobs–affiliated figures while money was being sought to support Hamill. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Perata was part of a breakfast meeting several months ago at the downtown offices of the Oakland law firm of Wendel, Rosen, Black and Dean, at which De La Fuente asked a group of prominent developers to give large sums of money to an independent expenditure committee that would back Hamill.

The source could not recall if the committee was named by De La Fuente or anyone else at the meeting. But according to the source, pro-development activist Greg McConnell was there. McConnell told us he is involved in running Oakland Jobs. His business, the McConnell Group, has received funding from the group. The source also said representatives from Signature Properties and developer Forest Hill, another Oakland Jobs donor, were in attendance and that De La Fuente expressed an interest in raising "over a hundred grand" for the race.

A second source confirmed that Perata was at the meeting in question but did not recall De La Fuente asking for the funds, though the second source did say De La Fuente has subsequently called seeking money for Hamill’s campaign.

Reached for comment, McConnell asserted that Perata is not involved with Oakland Jobs. He said a morning meeting did take place at the Wendel, Rosen firm "a couple of weeks ago," during which Perata asked the developers in attendance to contribute directly to Hamill’s campaign. But according to McConnell, Perata left the room before De La Fuente made a pitch to fund independent expenditures. Direct contributions to candidates are limited to $600 per donor in Oakland. Independent groups like Oakland Jobs are not subject to those restrictions.


In addition to learning of De La Fuente’s alleged fundraising pitch at a recent developers’ meeting, the Guardian has obtained a letter from De La Fuente to potential Hamill donors asking them to attend a $600-a-head event Oct. 2. Nothing in the letter itself, dated Sept. 16, appears to violate any campaign finance rules. But it is printed on what appears to be official City of Oakland letterhead, complete with the official seal. That could mean trouble for De La Fuente.

"That’s not kosher," Mark Morodomi, the supervising deputy in the Oakland city attorney’s office, told us. State law prohibits the use of government resources for political campaigning. Before coming to Oakland, Morodomi spent 10 years at the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s campaign-finance watchdog.

A line in small type on the bottom of the letter reads, "Not printed or mailed at public expense." Morodomi said the phrase "comes close" to making the use of city letterhead permissible, but he added, "It doesn’t inoculate him. Magic language doesn’t automatically make it okay … those words have to be true."

According to Morodomi, if any part of generating and disseminating the missive involved taxpayer-funded resources — from printing costs to paper, envelopes, or stamps — De La Fuente would be in violation of the law. Using Oakland’s official seal could also be problematic.

Hamill dismissed concerns that the invitation tested the limits of the law: "I’ve been around for 20 years, and I’ve seen council members use that kind of stationary for fundraisers all the time."

But City Attorney Russo, Morodomi’s boss, that even if the letter turns out to be technically legal because no public resources were used, he is uncomfortable with De La Fuente’s decision to mix fundraising with official city documentation: "It’s not great form. You have to be really mindful as to how it would appear."

Guardian interns Katie Baker and Anna Rendall contributed to this report.

Julie Lee headed to prison


By Steven T. Jones

Julie Lee, the one-time San Francisco housing commissioner and political power broker, was sentenced to a year in federal prison today on fraud and corruption charges. U. S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ordered her to begin serving her sentence Nov. 4 and she faces even more prison time on state charges. The case, which involved laundering public funds into political contributions, also helped force the resignation of former SF-based legislator and then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who received some of those contributions.
The fact that Lee is actually headed to the slammer should serve as a warning to other ambitious politicians and their benefactors, particularly in a city where the wealthy and powerful are always seeking creative ways to skirt strict campaign finance limits.

A house divided



Just as the US presidential election hits the home stretch, internal strife at one of the country’s largest labor unions appears to be diverting its focus from electing Barack Obama.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its 2 million members helped Obama defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Its ground operation and bulging political war chest are crucial to Democratic Party hopes in November, both in the presidential election and congressional races. But a recent corruption scandal and an ongoing internal dispute that threatens to blow up in the coming weeks could undermine the union’s political influence at the worst possible time.

"If SEIU didn’t have to deal with this distraction, it would be able to do more to influence the election," Dan Clawson, a labor scholar and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the Guardian. "California [where nearly all of SEIU’s recent turmoil has taken place] is not where they should be."

But according to several sources within SEIU, the union will be devoting resources to the Golden State this fall, even though the state is widely expected to remain a Democratic stronghold. The sources contend that the organization is preparing to deploy hundreds of its staffers to the region to take control of a local union affiliate and to deal with any potential fallout. At least some of those staffers, the sources say, would have been devoting their time and energy to the election campaign if not for SEIU’s internal troubles.

Last month the union’s international office was forced to "trustee," or take over, its largest California affiliate after the Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles exposing alleged corruption by its leader, Tyrone Freeman. Then, in late August, SEIU announced it was initiating a process to assume control of its second-largest California local, the Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers–West (UHW). For months, SEIU president Andy Stern has feuded with UHW head Sal Rosselli over Stern’s push to consolidate local union chapters into larger and more centralized units [see "A less perfect union," 4/9/08, and "The SEIU strikes back," 4/16/08].

Stern and the international have charged Rosselli and other UHW officials with misappropriating millions of dollars. In late July, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by SEIU covering these same charges. Now SEIU has scheduled its own hearings on the matter to decide whether to clean out UHW’s leadership. The hearings are set for Sept. 26-27 at the San Mateo County Event Center. A separate lawsuit challenging UHW leadership brought by individual UHW members is also moving forward. Rosselli and his supporters strongly deny the allegations of financial misconduct. They claim the upcoming trusteeship hearings are simply Stern’s latest attempt to stifle dissent within the union.

"It’s a kangaroo court," Rosselli told us. "It’s a purely political move to silence our members. And it’s a huge distraction."

SEIU’s turmoil is not welcome news to progressives. Federal election records show that the union’s political arm has dropped more than $10 million into Obama’s candidacy, as well as millions more for other left-wing candidates and causes. Beyond monetary support, Democrats are counting on SEIU organizers to hit the ground across the country, especially in hotly contested states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Missouri. But because of the feud, a good number of those foot soldiers could be spending this autumn in safely blue California instead.

If the hearing officer hired by SEIU allows the union to take over UHW, another labor scholar, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said, "It’s hard to see how [SEIU] would do it without bringing in a significant number of people." He explained that in the event of a trusteeship, some or all of the staff may need to be replaced. The union also might have to contend with a large number of extremely disgruntled people in its 150,000-member affiliate.

Officials at UHW told us that members are planning "massive" demonstrations at the two-day hearings in late September. And the upheaval could easily drag on through the rest of the campaign season if the trusteeship moves forward. Rosselli predicts there will be "major resistance" from his rank and file. He would not elaborate on what that resistance would consist of, but a resolution passed at a recent UHW leadership conference struck a decidedly militant tone: "UHW will fight to keep our members united in one statewide healthcare workers union and will use all available means."

Rosselli told us that resisting SEIU’s trusteeship would "dramatically" curtail his local’s political activities. During the primary season, he added, UHW dispatched teams of organizers to Iowa, New Hampshire, and other critical states. But for the general election, they will be staying home. "We’re in a civil war," Rosselli said. "We need everyone here to defend against Stern’s dictatorship."

The Guardian has learned that Obama and other progressive candidates may not just be losing valuable campaigners from UHW. Several UHW sources said they expect SEIU to send large numbers of union organizers to the Bay Area in the wake of the hearings — and two management-level sources from the international’s staff confirmed those suspicions to us.

The first source, who asked not to be identified, told the Guardian that numerous colleagues at the organization have been approached by "senior international staff, attempting to recruit them and other organizers to come to California … to implement the [possible] trusteeship." The source added that people within the organization believe the union is planning to send "hundreds" of people.

A second management-level source at the international, who also requested anonymity, told us that they have personally assigned several organizers to campaign work only to see those staffers reassigned to the UHW matter by international higher-ups. The second source reiterated the first source’s contention that the union is looking to send "hundreds" of what the source termed "troops" to Northern California to replace any UHW staff who quit or are expelled, and to quell any uprising by disgruntled UHW members.

"This has been deemed an imperative at the top levels of the union," the second source continued. "People have been told [the] numbers of people they need to assign [to the UHW feud] and been told to look over their staff lists to see who they can assign."

Michelle Ringuette, a spokesperson for the international in Washington DC, told us that "no one is being pulled off of political work" to deal with the UHW situation. While she wouldn’t deny that some organizers who might otherwise be involved in lower-level political activities "like get out the vote operations" might be sent to California if needed, she denied that staffers who specialize in politics would be diverted or that hundreds of staffers would be involved. Get out the vote efforts such as phone banks and door-knocking are often performed by union workers on behalf of Democratic candidates — and they can be decisive in a close election.

"Of course this [the trusteeship hearing] is unfortunate timing," Ringuette said. "But … we don’t believe this is going to affect out advocacy for Barack Obama. That is our top national priority."

But a third employee of the international we spoke with rejected Ringuette’s description of a division of labor within the union’s organizers. The longtime employee, who also asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, told the Guardian that a small number of international staffers may specialize exclusively in political activism, but virtually all organizers would be working on the fall campaign in a normal election year.

"If they’re sending organizers to California [to deal with UHW], they’re definitely moving them away from battleground states. California is not considered a battleground state."

Our other two sources at the international echoed the third source’s characterizations.

In a strongly worded letter to Stern dated Sept. 9, UHW’s secretary treasurer Joan Emslie stated that the trusteeship hearings "can only distract" SEIU from political activism and "hinder our ability to put the greatest possible efforts into this critical national election." The letter ended by requesting that the trusteeship hearings be postponed until "a date no earlier than Nov. 10," one week after the presidential election. As of press time, the international has not rescheduled the hearings.

Obama campaign officials we contacted declined to comment on what one called "an internal union matter." But some labor observers were willing to voice their displeasure with the timing of the dispute. Professor Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara called the trusteeship hearings "a huge mistake." With the upcoming election, Lichtenstein went on, "the consequences could be enormous. What’s the rush?"

One elephant case bumps another


By Steven T. Jones
The big Ringling Bros. elephant abuse trial that I wrote about in the current issue of the Guardian has been delayed by two weeks — for a politically interesting reason.
Federal District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is hearing the Ringling Bros. case, is also presiding over the political corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who has asked for a speedy trial to try to clear his name before the fall election, when he will try to continue as the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. To accommodate the Stevens trial, Sullivan moved the Ringling trial start from Oct. 7 to Oct. 20. Apparently he wants to dispose of one elephant case before dealing with the next.
Meanwhile, also in a Washington D.C. court, another big Ringling-related lawsuit is moving forward. Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge yesterday ruled on motions for summary judgment in the strange case of journalist Jan Pottker vs. Ringling owner Ken Feld, which involves allegations of using former CIA operatives to sabotage Pottker’s efforts to write about Feld. Judge Hedge granted motions removing National Press Books and other ancillary defendants from the case, but denied Feld’s motion and will apparently allow the nine-year-old case to move toward trial.
“The filings are voluminous, but the core facts relevant to the claims are set forth above and revolve around the admitted plan to divert plaintiff from authoring any more works on the circus,” the judge wrote in a 45-page opinion.
For more details, read my story.

The best story in Guardian history


Joe Neilands and Harold Ickes describe how PG&E has Hetch Hetchyed San Francisco for decades

By Bruce B. Brugmann

Le me add my own Best of selection to our splendid Best of issue this year. It;s a Guardian story with all the elements of great story: It has drama, intrigue, corruption, a cast of characters from John Muir to Hiram Johnson to Harold Ickes to Mayor Newsom, a classic battle between progressives and conservationists, a breathtaking theft of a major public asset by a private corporation, and a long sordid history that continues to this day in San Francisco.

Three years after my wife and I founded the Guardian in 1966, a UC-Berkeley professor by the name of J. B. Neilands came to our tiny Guardian office and offered me a big story. I quickly looked it over and said, Joe (he was known as Joe) this is an incredible story.

Why can’t you get it published in the Chronicle or the Examiner or another major news outlet? Why me? Why the Guardian?

“Nobody will touch it,” said, shaking his head sadly. “It’s too big a scandal. It’s up to you to publish it. If you don’t publish it, nobody else will.”

And so started the saga of what we came to call the PG@E/Raker Act Scandal, the biggest urban scandal in American history. Joe had buried the lead and put some professorese but he had done the research, he had nailed the story and the culprits, and all it needed was some editing, which I was happy to do. Joe and the Guardian had an astounding scoop which no other local paper would publish then and few publish to this day.

The story appeared in our March 27, l969 edition under the fold on the front page. And we have followed it up through the years with literally hundreds of stories, editorials, cartoons, graphics, and charts. . Virtually everyone who worked in Guardian editorial has covered or researched a piece of this story.

The head: “How PG@E robs S.Fl of cheap power”

The lead: “A few months before he died last year, Frank Havenner sat up in his bed in a nursing home in San Francisco and told me of how the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. swindled San Francisco out of hundreds of millions of dollars of cheap hydroelectric power.

“The story was incredible: PG&E and its political allies had defeated eight successive bond issues to establish a municipal electric system in San Francisco and grant city residents and businesses the benefit of low cost power produced by the city’s Hetch Hetchy water system in the Sierra.

“The result: San Francisco has paid through the nose to PG&E for its power and the city loses about $30 million a year in profits it would get from a public system.”

The key quote: Joe research turned up a magnificent phrase used by then U.S. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in 1944 in support of a city bond issue to buy out PG@E. Said Ickes: “The disgraceful history of the handling of Hetch Hetchy power should place a new verb in the lexicon of political chicanery: ‘To Hetch Hetchy’ means to confuse and confound the public by adroit acts and deceptive words in order to turn to private corporate profit a trust set up for the people.”

“I need not repeat the scandalous story thas has given birth to this new verb, but I would remind you that the last chapter of it has not been written. The pledge that the people of San Francisco, with full knowledge, made to their government has not yet been redeemed.” Ickes was making the point that San Francisco was in violation of the public power mandates in the federal Raker Act that and he had sued the city in federal court to force the city to bring its Hetch Hetchy public power to establish a public power system in San Francisco. .

A key Examiner editorial quote: Joe even found the Examiner, then a strong supporter of the dam and public power, stating that “It is a wrongful and shameful policy for a grant of water and power privilege in the Yosemite National Park Area to be developed at the expenditure of $50 million by the taxpayers of San Francisco, only to have its greatest financial and economic asset, the hydroelectric power, diverted to private corporation hands at the instant of completion; to the great benefit of said corporation, and at an annual deficit to the city of San Francisco.” (The Examiner of William Randolph Hearst was of course referring to PG&E. Hearst later switched sides, as a result of getting a chunk of money from a PG@E-controlled bank, but that is another story that a Hearst biographer and the Guardian have previously disclosed.)

Joe asked James Carr, then San Francisco’s general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission,
when the city would enforce the Raker Act. Carr replied to Joe, in a letter 5l years after the Raker Act passed as the Magna Carta of public power, that it was ‘premature to discuss municipal distribution of power in San Francisco.'” Joe concluded: “In March, 1969, it still is.”

Well, in July of 2008, according to PG&E and Mayor Newsom,
it still is.

Click here to read the original Joe Neilands Guardian story on the PG&E/ Raker Act scandal.

Wilder blooms


After Burnt Money (2000), Marcelo Pineyro’s conventionally entertaining true crime tale of gay bank robbers, queer blooms began to grow within the wilder garden of new Argentine cinema. Here’s a guide:

Smokers Only (Veronica Chen, 2001) Chen’s debut — about a hustler who sometimes tricks in ATM stalls and the goth girl who becomes obsessed with him — is probably the first chapter of the new queer Argentine cinema. Unfortunately, it’s boring and pretentious, built around an object of affection who isn’t as compelling as he is cute.

Suddenly (Diego Lerman, 2002) B. Ruby Rich (as quoted on Michael Guillen’s Web site the Evening Class): "A queer empathic … lesbian romantic escapade. If you’ve never seen or heard of [Suddenly], you’re missing your chance to see a young woman abducted at knifepoint by the lesbian street punks that desire her."

Ronda Nocturna (Edgardo Cozarinsky, 2005) A veteran director who fled Argentina in 1974 following the reelection of Juan Perón, Cozarinsky returned from exile to make this film. At least partly inspired by Chen’s Smokers Only, he borrows from that film’s night-in-the-life-of-a-hustler scenario. But Ronda Nocturna is hotter, wiser, and more far-reaching in its bottoms-up view of corruption in urban Argentina.

Agua (Veronica Chen, 2006) Chen’s follow-up to Smokers Only isn’t queer in story line, but its gaze at the male body in motion — and masculine psyche — is a beyond–Claire Denis case of female eye for the straight guy in turn for the queer guy. Handsome lead actor Rafael Ferro builds on his memorable appearance in Ronda Nocturna. A burst of pure athletic cinema with moments that match 2005’s Zidane (on a much lower budget) in their intense interiority, Agua refreshes.

Glue (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006) A triumph of intimate collaboration between a trio of young actors and a new director, Alexis Dos Santos’s first movie takes the bi-way to becoming maybe the best — or at least most honest and deep — teen movie of the 21st century so far. Lead actress Inés Efron’s brave gawky beauty reveals what’s been lacking from American cinema since the heydays of Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall.

La Leon (Santiago Otheguy, 2007) Perhaps influenced by Lisandro Alonso, this handsome black-and-white feature scopes out alienation, attraction, and phobic intolerance in the Paraná Delta.

XXY (Lucía Puenzo, 2007) Efron returns in the role of an intersex teenager, delivering another superb performance.