Return of the messenger


By Melinda Welsh

This one has all the ingredients of a dreamed-up Hollywood blockbuster: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist uncovers a big story involving drugs, the CIA, and a guerrilla army. Despite threats and intimidation, he writes an explosive exposé and catches national attention. But the fates shift. Our reporter’s story is torn apart by the country’s leading media; he is betrayed by his own newspaper. Though the big story turns out to be true, the writer commits suicide and becomes a cautionary tale.

Hold on, though. The above is not fiction.

Kill the Messenger, an actual film coming soon to a theater near you, is the true story of Sacramento-based investigative reporter Gary Webb, who earned both acclaim and notoriety for his 1996 San Jose Mercury News series that revealed the CIA had turned a blind eye to the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contras trafficking crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere in urban America in the 1980s. One of the first-ever newspaper investigations to be published on the Internet, Webb’s story gained a massive readership and stirred up a firestorm of controversy and repudiation.

After being deemed a pariah by media giants like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, and being disowned by his own paper, Webb eventually came to work in August 2004 at Sacramento News & Review. Four months later, he committed suicide at age 49. He left behind a grieving family — and some trenchant questions:

Why did the media giants attack him so aggressively, thereby protecting the government secrets he revealed? Why did he decide to end his own life? What, ultimately, is the legacy of Gary Webb?

Like others working at our newsweekly in the brief time he was here, I knew Webb as a colleague and was terribly saddened by his death. Those of us who attended his unhappy memorial service at the Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento a week after he died thought that day surely marked a conclusion to the tragic tale of Gary Webb.

But no.

Because here comes Kill the Messenger, a Hollywood film starring Jeremy Renner as Webb; Rosemarie DeWitt as Webb’s then wife, Sue Bell (now Stokes); Oliver Platt as Webb’s top editor, Jerry Ceppos; and a litany of other distinguished actors, including Michael K. Williams, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Robert Patrick. Directed by Michael Cuesta (executive producer of the TV series Homeland), the film opens in a “soft launch” across the country and in Bay Area theaters on Oct. 10.

Members of Webb’s immediate family—including his son Eric, who lives near Sacramento State and plans a career in journalism—expect to feel a measure of solace upon the release of Kill the Messenger.

“The movie is going to vindicate my dad,” he said.

For Renner — who grew up in Modesto and is best known for his roles in The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Avengers and The Hurt Locker — the film was a chance to explore a part unlike any he’d played before. During a break in filming Mission Impossible 5, he spoke to us about his choice to star in and co-produce Kill the Messenger.

“The story is important,” said Renner. “It resonated with me. It has a David and Goliath aspect.

“He was brave, he was flawed. … I fell in love with Gary Webb.”



There’s a scene in Kill the Messenger that will make every investigative journalist in America break into an insider’s grin. It’s the one where — after a year of tough investigative slogging that had taken him from the halls of power in Washington, D.C., to a moldering jail in Central America to the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles — Renner as Webb begins to write the big story. In an absorbing film montage, Renner is at the keyboard as it all comes together — the facts, the settings, the sources. The truth. The Clash provides the soundtrack, with Joe Strummer howling: Know your rights / these are your rights … You have the right to free speech / as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it.

It took the real Gary Webb a long time to get to this point in his career.

His father, a U.S. Marine, moved Webb around a lot in his youth, from California to Indiana to Kentucky to Ohio. He wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Sue Bell, with whom he had three children. Inspired by the reporting that uncovered Watergate and in need of income, he left college three units shy of a degree and went to work at The Kentucky Post, then The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, where he rose quickly through the ranks of grunt reporters. Dogged in his pursuit of stories, Webb landed a job at the Mercury News in 1988 and became part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for reporting on the Loma Prieta earthquake.

It was the summer of 1996 when the lone-wolf journalist handed his editors a draft of what would become the three-part, 20,000-word exposé “Dark Alliance.” The series was exhaustive and complex. But its nugget put human faces on how CIA operatives had been aware that the Contras (who had been recruited and trained by the CIA to topple the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua) had smuggled cocaine into the United States and, through drug dealers, fueled an inner-city crack-cocaine epidemic.

When “Dark Alliance” was published on Aug. 18 of that year, it was as if a bomb had exploded at the Mercury News. That’s because it was one of the first stories to go globally viral online on the paper’s then state-of-the-art website. It was 1996; the series attracted an unprecedented 1.3 million hits per day. Webb and his editors were flooded with letters and emails. Requests for appearances piled in from national TV news shows.

“Gary’s story was the first Internet-age big journalism exposé,” said Nick Schou, who wrote the book Kill the Messenger, on which the movie is partially based, along with Webb’s own book version of the series, Dark Alliance. “If the series had happened a year earlier it, ‘Dark Alliance’ just would have come and gone,” said Schou.

As word of the story spread, black communities across America — especially in South Central Los Angeles — grew outraged and demanded answers. At the time, crack cocaine was swallowing up neighborhoods whole, fueling an epidemic of addiction and crime. Rocked by the revelations, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, congresswoman for Los Angeles’s urban core to this day, used her bully pulpit to call for official investigations.

But after a six-week honeymoon for Webb and his editors, the winds shifted. The attacks began.

On Oct. 4, The Washington Post stunned the Mercury News by publishing five articles assaulting the veracity of Webb’s story, leading the package from page one. A few weeks later, The New York Times joined with similar intent.

The ultimate injury came when the L.A. Times unleashed a veritable army of 17 journalists (known internally as the “Get Gary Webb Team”) on the case, writing a three-part series demolishing “Dark Alliance.” The L.A. paper — which appeared to onlookers to have missed a giant story in its own backyard — was exhaustive in its deconstruction, claiming the series “was vague” and overreached. “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” summed Post media columnist Howard Kurtz.

Now, even some of Webb’s supporters admitted that his series could have benefited from more judicious editing. But why were the “big three” so intent on tearing down Webb’s work rather than attempting to further the story, as competing papers had done back in the day when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal?

Some say it was the long arm of former President Ronald Reagan and his team’s ability to manipulate the gatekeepers of old media to its purposes. (Reagan had, after all, publicly compared the Contras to “our Founding Fathers” and supported the CIA-led attempt to topple the Sandinista government.)

Others say that editors at the “big three” were simply affronted to have a midsize paper like the Mercury News beat them on such a big story. An article in the Columbia Journalism Review claimed some L.A. Times reporters bragged in the office about denying Webb a Pulitzer.

One of their big criticisms was that the story didn’t include a comment from the CIA. When reporters at the big three asked the agency if Webb’s story was true, they were told no. The denial was printed in the mainstream media as if it were golden truth.

Other issues fueled controversy around Webb’s story. For example: It was falsely reported in some media outlets — and proclaimed by many activists in the black community — that Webb had proven the CIA was directly involved in drug trafficking that targeted blacks. He simply did not make this claim.

In some ways, Webb became the first reporter ever to benefit from, and then become the victim of, a story that went viral online.

After triumphing in the early success of the series, Webb’s editors at the Mercury News became unnerved and eventually backed down under the pressure. Jerry Ceppos, the paper’s executive editor, published an unprecedented column on May 11, 1997, that was widely considered an apology for the series, saying it “fell short” in editing and execution.

When contacted by us, Ceppos, now dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, said he was only barely aware of the film coming out and wasn’t familiar with the acting career of Oliver Platt, who plays him in the movie. “I’m the wrong person to ask about popular culture,” he said.

Asked if he would do anything differently today regarding Gary Webb’s series, Ceppos, whose apologia did partially defend the series, responded with an unambiguous “no.”

“It seems to me, 18 years later, that everything still holds up. … Everything is not black and white. If you portrayed it that way, then you need to set the record straight. I’m very proud that we were willing to do that.”

Some find irony in the fact that Ceppos, in the wake of the controversy, was given the 1997 Ethics in Journalism Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Webb, once heralded as a groundbreaking investigative reporter, was soon banished to the paper’s Cupertino bureau, a spot he considered “the newspaper’s version of Siberia.” In 1997, after additional run-ins with his editors, including their refusal to run his follow-up reporting on the “Dark Alliance” series, he quit the paper altogether.

But a year later, he was redeemed when CIA’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz, released his 1998 report admitting that the CIA had known all along that the Contras had been trafficking cocaine. Reporter Robert Parry, who covered the Iran-Contra scandal for The Associated Press, called the report “an extraordinary admission of institutional guilt by the CIA.” But the revelation fell on deaf ears. It went basically unnoticed by the newspapers that had attacked Webb’s series. A later internal investigation by the Justice Department echoed the CIA report.

But no apology was forthcoming to Webb, despite the fact that the central finding of his series had been proven correct after all.



It was eight days after Webb’s death when a few hundred of us gathered in Sacramento Doubletree Hotel’s downstairs conference room for an afternoon memorial service. Photo collages of Webb were posted on tables as mourners filed into the room. There he was featured in an Esquire magazine article recounting his saga. Family members and friends, longtime colleagues, and SN&R staffers packed into the room.

My own distress at Webb’s passing wasn’t fully realized until my eyes lit on his Pulitzer Prize propped on a table just inside the entryway. It was the first one I’d ever seen. I wondered how many more exceptional stories he could have produced if things had gone differently.

“He wanted to write for one of the big three,” said Webb’s brother Kurt. “Unfortunately, the big three turned [on him].”

Praise for the absent journalist — his smarts, guts, and tenacity — flowed from friends, colleagues and VIPs at the event. A statement from now U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then a senator, had been emailed to SN&R: “Because of [Webb]’s work, the CIA launched an Inspector General’s investigation that found dozens of troubling connections to drug-runners. That wouldn’t have happened if Gary Webb hadn’t been willing to stand up and risk it all.”

Renner was hesitant to say if those who watch Kill the Messenger will leave with any particular take-home lesson. “I want the audience to walk away and debate and argue about it all,” he said of his David and Goliath tale. And then, “I do believe [the film] might help create some awareness and accountability in government and newspapers.” And what would the real live protagonist of Kill the Messenger have thought of it all? It’s at least certain he’d have been unrepentant. In the goodbye letter his ex-wife received on the day of his suicide, Gary Webb told her: “Tell them I never regretted anything I wrote.”

Wizard of brews


THE WEEKNIGHTER I was hanging out with Steve Jones. I’m pretty sure it was the first time just the two of us were kicking it, even though I’d known him for years and he’d been my editor at SFBG for at least six months. There was supposed to be some kind of Mixmaster Mike event at a loft in the Dogpatch, and when we arrived, there was nothing. So we did the next best thing. We got some drinks.

After chewing on some jerky and tipping back a tipple at Third Rail, one of us remembered that Magnolia Dogpatch and Smokestack (2505 Third St, SF. had recently opened nearby. And it was our job, nay, our duty to check it out.

Cruising down Third Street, me walking, Steve pushing his wild looking bike, we nearly passed Magnolia’s front door. “Is it open?” Steve asked. The windows were covered in old newspapers and the exterior looked like some rundown factory.

“I think so,” I replied. “I think I hear music.” As I pulled the door open suddenly it was that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy steps into Technicolor, except instead of badass musical munchkins, Steve and I were greeted by the smell of barbecue and the clanking and thrumming of people drinking.

Now you are looking at Steve and me. Time has stopped outside on gritty Third Street and the golden light of the wondrous inner world of Magnolia illuminates our faces as we are frozen in wide-grinned delight. And boom! Time picks back up and we step inside. Steve looks at me, “I think we made the right choice.”

“I’m gonna eat the fuck out of everything,” I respond.

There’s a trend that’s getting tired in all of San Francisco’s new bars and restaurants. You know it: reclaimed wood, exposed Edison bulbs, typewriters that, for fuck’s sake, no one will ever use. Magnolia is not like this. Yes it feels old-timey, but in a way that actually seems like it might be real. Housed in a former can factory, Magnolia looks like an indoor beer garden where the workers might have rushed to drink once the foreman blew the whistle. It harks back to the neighborhood’s dilapidated past while enticing San Francisco’s well heeled modernity. It’s magnificent.

And it has beer. Lots of it. Magnolia — an offshoot of Magnolia Pub in the Haight — brews it in mega vats (this is not a technical term) on the premises, and it’s really lovely. The beers have musical names like Cole Porter, or contain Grateful Dead references like New Speedway Bitter and Delilah Jones Rye. Oh yes, proprietor Dave McLean — I, too, am a fan of the Dead. And the food, good lord the food! Dennis Lee from Namu Gaji really did the thing this time calling it “non-denominational” BBQ, or so it says on Eater, because I’m reading that right now since I didn’t take notes. I was eating BBQ and drinking beer, man, I couldn’t take notes… I just wanna know what’s behind the door that says “Dictating.”

Steve and I stepped out of magical Magnolia-land and back onto dreary Third Street. He peddled off on his bike and I wandered over to catch the bus. I popped around the corner to take a piss before my long bus ride, and a girl rounded the corner and almost ran into me. She stopped, looked at my face, looked at my dick, then turned around and continued smoking a cigarette, with her back to me, while texting on her phone. The scene was made weirder by the fact that I was wearing a captain’s hat and probably had BBQ sauce all over my face.

And that, my friends, is how you write a story about a bar.

Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at

The last Republican


BART Director James Fang is San Francisco’s only elected official who is a registered Republican, yet over the last 24 years, he has somehow managed to easily win election after election in a city dominated by the Democratic Party, often with the endorsements of top Democrats.

But this year, Fang is facing a strong and well-funded challenge from investor and former solar company entrepreneur Nicholas Josefowitz, a Harvard graduate in his early 30s. Thanks in part to support from the tech community — Lyft cofounder Logan Green is one of several prominent figures in tech to host fundraisers for him, according to Re/Code — Josefowitz has managed to amass a campaign war chest of about $150,000.

Josefowitz has also secured some key political endorsements, including from Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Scott Wiener, BART Director Tom Radulovich, former SF Mayor Art Agnos, and the Sierra Club.

After Josefowitz sold his solar company, RenGen, almost two years ago, “I got more and more involved in sustainable community advocacy,” he told us. “Then the BART strike happened and I was like, wow, this shouldn’t be happening.”

Josefowitz cited BART’s history of worker safety violations, last year’s unnecessarily divisive labor contract negotiations, the district’s massive deferred maintenance budget, property devoted to parking lots that could be put to better uses (he sees potential there for real-estate development), corrupt cronyism in its contracting, and lack of cooperation with other transit agencies as problems that urgently need correcting.

Fang is being challenged by well-funded Democratic newcomer Nicholas Josefowitz.

“BART does a terrible job at coordinating with other transit agencies,” Josefowitz told us, arguing the transit connections should be timed and seamless. “James has been there for 24 years, and if he was going to be the right guy to fix it, then he would have done it by now.”

But perhaps Josefowitz’s strongest argument is that as a Republican in liberal San Francisco, Fang’s values are out-of-step with those of voters. “Why is someone still a Republican today? … He’s a Republican and he’s a Republican in 2014, with everything that means,” Josefowitz told us. “He hasn’t been looking out for San Francisco and he’s out of touch with San Francisco values.”

We asked Fang why he’s a Republican. After saying it shouldn’t matter as far as the nonpartisan BART board race is concerned, he told us that when he was in college, he and his friends registered Republican so they could vote for John Anderson in the primary election.

“Some people feel the expedient thing for me to is switch parties,” Fang said, but “I think it’s a loyalty thing. If you keep changing … what kind of message does that send to people?”

Fang said he thought the focus ought to be on his track record, not his political affiliation. It shouldn’t matter “if it’s a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice,” he said. He pointed to programs such as seismic upgrades, completing the BART to the airport project, and instituting a small-business preference for BART contractors as evidence of his strong track record. “I’m a native San Franciscan — I’ve gone through all the public schools,” Fang added. “It’s very important to get people from a San Francisco perspective and San Francisco values.”

Josefowitz supporters say he has perhaps the best shot ever at defeating Fang, largely because of his prodigious fundraising and aggressive outreach efforts on the campaign trail. “He is doing all the things that someone should do to win the race,” Radulovich, San Francisco’s other longtime elected representative on the BART board, told us. “There’s a lot of unhappiness with BART these days.”

But in an interesting political twist, Fang has the endorsement of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, a champion of many progressive causes in San Francisco, after he walked the picket line with striking BART employees last year and opposed the district’s decision to hire a high-priced, union-busting labor consultant.

“It’s a priority for us to elect Fang,” SEIU 1021 organizer Gabriel Haaland told us. “When we needed him on the strike, he walked our picket line.”

SEIU Political Chair Alysabeth Alexander sounded a similar note. “In the middle of one of the most important and highest-profile labor fights in the nation, when two workers had to die to prove that safety issues were the heart of the struggle, Fang was the only board member who took a position for safety,” she said. “Every other member shut out the workers and refused to acknowledge that serious safety issues put workers lives at risk every day. If more BART Board members has the courage of Fang, two workers would be alive today.”

BART got a series of public black eyes last year when its contract standoff with its employees resulted in two labor strikes that snarled traffic and angered the public. Then two BART employees were killed by a train operated by an unqualified manager being trained to deliver limited service to break the strike, a tragedy that highlighted longstanding safety deficiencies that the district had long fought with state regulators to avoid correcting. Finally, after that fatal accident helped force an end to the labor standoff, BART officials admitted making an administrative error in the contract that reopened the whole ugly incident.

“One of the things that really opened my eyes in this labor negotiation is that often we get told things by management, and we just assume them to be true,” Fang said, noting that he’d questioned the agency’s plan to run train service during last year’s strike.

Yet Josefowitz said the BART board should be held accountable for the agency’s shortcomings in dealing with its workers. “It starts with having a genuine concern over worker safety issues, and not just at bargaining time,” he said. “If the board had acted early enough, that strike was totally avoidable.”

Indeed, BART’s decisions that led to the tragedy have been heavily criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Fang also has the support of many top Democrats, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and former state legislator and current Board of Equalization candidate Fiona Ma, who told us: “I have endorsed one Republican in my political history, and that is James Fang for BART Board.” Noting that Josefowitz “just moved here,” Ma said, “The BART system is one of our jewels, and I don’t think we should elect first-time newcomers in San Francisco to manage it.”

Radulovich said he was mystified by prominent San Francisco politicians’ support for Fang, saying, “In this solidly Democratic town, this elected Republican has the support of these big Democrats — it’s a mystery to me.”

One reason could be Fang’s willingness to use newspapers under his control to support politicians he favors, sometimes in less than ethical ways. Fang is the president of Asian Week and former owner of the San Francisco Examiner, where sources say he shielded from media scrutiny politicians who helped him gain control of the paper, including Willie Brown and Pelosi (see “The untouchables,” 4/30/03).

But political consultant Nicole Derse, who is working on the Josefowitz campaign, told us that she thinks support for Fang among top Democrats is softening this year, noting that US Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Mark Leno haven’t endorsed Fang after doing so in previous races.

“[Fang] has longstanding relationships with folks, but Nick is challenging people in this race to stop supporting the Republican,” Derse told us. “It’s now up to the Democratic Party and it’ll be interesting to see what they do.”

She was referring to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, which plans to vote on its endorsements on Aug. 13. While DCCC bylaws prevent the body from endorsing a Republican, Ma and other Fang allies have been lobbying for no endorsement in the race, which would deny Josefowitz a key avenue for getting his name and message out there.

“This is going to be one of the most expensive races in BART’s history. He will kill me on money,” Fang said of Josefowitz. He suggested that his opponent’s candidacy underscores tech’s growing influence in local politics, and urged voters to take a closer look. “People are saying oh, it’s all about Fang. What about this gentleman?” Fang asked. “Nobody’s questioning him at all.”

Derse, for her part, noted the importance of having a well-funded challenge in this nonpartisan race. “It allows him the resources to get his message out there,” she said of Josefowitz. “Most San Franciscans wouldn’t knowingly vote for a Republican.”


Guardian Intelligence: July 2 – 8, 2014



There were a couple of big changes for the Bay Guardian this week. We and our sister newspapers within San Francisco Media Company — San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly — moved into the Westfield Mall. Yes, the mall, but in the fifth floor business offices formerly occupied by the San Francisco State University School of Business extension program. The company, owned by Black Press in Canada and Oahu Publications in Hawaii, also named Glenn Zuehls as the new publisher and Cliff Chandler, who worked for the Examiner for years, as the senior vice president of advertising. Zuehls, who comes from Oahu Publications, replaces Todd Vogt as the head of SFMC. Zuehls and Chandler told the staff of all three papers that their primary goal is to grow the company’s revenues.


Even as an awareness of the ever-growing commercialization of SF Pride dawned on younger participants, a spirit of activism also took flight. Community grand marshal Tommi Avicolli Mecca led a fiery parade contingent (above) of housing activists in Sunday’s parade, protesting skyrocketing evictions in San Francisco. The anti-eviction brigade staged a die-in in front of the official parade observation area. Friday’s Trans March was the biggest so far, and Saturday’s Dyke March featured a huge contingent marching under the banner “Dykes Against Landlords.” Meanwhile, hundreds of protestors targeted a prison-themed party, saying it glorified a prison-industrial complex, which “destroys the lives of millions of people.” Seven of the protestors were arrested, and charges of police brutality are being investigated.


While there were some disturbing anecdotal reports of homophobic slurs and queer bashing at Pride this year (including one of a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and her husband being attacked at Pink Saturday), San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Albie Esparza said police are only investigating one incident so far as an actual hate crime. It occurred on June 28 around 5:30pm near the intersection of Mission and Ninth streets when two young lesbians were subjected to homophobic taunts and then severely beaten by five young male suspects, all of whom remain at large. They’re described at 16 to 20 years old, two black, three Hispanic. Esparza said hate crimes are defined as attacks based solely on being a protected classes, so that doesn’t include robbery or assaults in which racism or homophobic slurs are used, if that doesn’t seem to be the motivation for the attacks.


Hark! It must be summer, because all the companies dedicated to outdoor theater are opening new productions in parks across the Bay Area. Aside from the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s Ripple Effect (see feature in this issue;, Marin Shakespeare is presenting As You Like It in San Rafael (pictured), with Romeo and Juliet opening later in July (; Free Shakespeare in the Park brings The Taming of the Shrew to Pleasanton and beyond (; and Actors Ensemble of Berkeley goes stone-cold Austen with Pride and Prejudice in John Hinkel Park (www.aeofberkeley). AS YOU LIKE IT PHOTO BY STEVEN UNDERWOOD


Kids and pro skaters from One Love boards tore up “the island” — between the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero — with flips, kick tricks and plants June 29, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the much loved skate spot. Local Hunters Point pro skater Larry Redmon sat watching the new generation of skaters and offering pointers. Sure downtown has more grind blockers then it did a decade ago, but as Redmon says, “We out here.” PHOTO BY PAUL INGRAM


Muni’s workers and the SFMTA reached a final labor deal over the final weekend of June, but Mayor Ed Lee is telling news outlets the real dealmaker was former mayor Willie Brown. “He’s someone who understands the city, understands labor, the underlying interests,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told various news outlets. Reports say Brown went unpaid by the city for the deed. That’s hard to believe: Anyone who knows Slick Willie knows he seldom does anything for free.


The new Madame Tussauds wax museum attraction opened June 26 at Fisherman’s wharf — and includes SF-specific figure replicas like Mark Zuckerberg, Harvey Milk, and, of course, our real mayor, Nicolas Cage (pictured). See the Pixel Vision blog at for more creepy-ish pics and a review.


Despite her catalog full of confessional songs about nasty breakups and other dark subject matter, Sharon Van Etten was all smiles during two sold-out shows at the Independent June 29 and June 30. Leaning heavily on songs from her new album, Are We There, Van Etten and her four-piece band even led the adoring crowd in a cheerful sing-along at one point. On her next pass through town, we expect to be seeing her on a much bigger stage.


If BBQ and black-market fireworks aren’t your idea of showing civic pride, make your way over to the Mission’s Redstone Building (2940 16th St. at Capp) for a street fair Sat/5 with local musicians, poets, visual artists, and more, to mark the 100th anniversary of the SF Labor Temple and call attention to current labor issues like the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Built by the city’s Labor Council in 1914, the building formerly housed SF’s biggest labor unions and was the planning center for the famous 1934 General Strike. This celebration is part of Labor Fest, now in its 20th year, which runs throughout July around the Bay Area — for more:


Guardian on the move: Into the mall, under new management


There were a couple of big changes for the Bay Guardian this week. We and our sister newspapers within San Francisco Media Company — San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly — moved into the Westfield Mall. Yes, the mall, but in the fifth floor business offices formerly occupied by the San Francisco State University School of Business extension program.

The company, owned by Black Press in Canada and Oahu Publications in Hawaii, also named Glenn Zuehls as the new publisher and Cliff Chandler (who worked for the Examiner for years) as the senior vice president of advertising. Zuehls, who comes from Oahu Publications, replaces Todd Vogt as the head of SFMC. Zuehls and Chandler told the staff of all three papers that their primary goal is to grow the company’s revenues, a point that Black Press CEO Rick O’Connor also echoed during the annoucement this morning: “It’s all about revenues.”

Oahu Publications President and Publisher Dennis Francis will also serve as president of SFMC, which now has the same owners as the Black Press and Oahu Publications after Vogt’s ownership interest was bought out by his partners in May. The combined company owns newspapers throughout Canada and Hawaii, as well as around the continental US, including Seattle Weekly and the Akron Beacon Journal. 

Editorially, the Bay Guardian remains an independent publication under the leadership of Publisher Marke Bieschke and Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones, yours truly.  



Chiu mailer highlights Guardian praise, despite our Campos endorsement


Politics is dirty business, and I should never underestimate the willingness of politicians to turn any editorial praise they receive into an electoral advantage, distorting the context as needed, a lesson that I was reminded of this week.

Several Guardian readers have called me this week to complain about a mailer dropped on voters by the David Chiu for Assembly campaign, which includes long quotes from Chiu’s endorsements by the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area Reporter, as well as positive quotes from the Bay Guardian and San Francisco Examiner.

Although neither the Guardian nor the Examiner has endorsed Chiu — we enthusiastically endorsed David Campos in that race, while the Examiner is waiting until the fall rematch to do endorsements — our readers said the flyer left the impression that we had.

Chiu campaign spokesperson Nicole Derse disputes that view. “It definitely did not leave that impression,” she told me. “We were very clear about who has endorsed.” She said the Examiner and Guardian were included because “it’s important to highlight objective sources like newspapers.”

The Guardian quote was from a July 23, 2013 blog post in which I indeed wrote, “It is Chiu and his bustling office of top aides that have done most of the heavy legislation lifting this year, finding compromise solutions to some of the most vexing issues facing the city.”

It was certainly true at the time, although I received a lot criticism for what I wrote from the progressive community, which pointed out how Chiu had maneuvered himself into the swing vote position on key issues such as condo conversions and CEQA reform. And the compromises Chiu forged actually allowed fiscal conservatives to erode San Francisco’s standing as a progessive city while burgeoning his own political resume.

So I ran another blog post to air those concerns, and then we ran a hybrid of the two in the next week’s paper that closes with this line, “In the end, Chiu can be seen as an effective legislator, a centrist compromiser, or both. Perspective is everything in politics.” BTW, in that original post, I also noted that the Airbnb legislation Chiu was working on should challenge his political skills and reputation, and indeed it took many more months to introduce and has been met by a storm of criticism, becoming the marquee political fight of the summer at City Hall.

After that first post, I also heard from Campos and his supporters predicting that the Chiu campaign would use my well-meaning praise to convey support from the Guardian in a misleading way, a prophecy that has now proven prescient.

But I also think that Campos has done a good job at undermining Chiu’s greatest strength in this election, that of being an effective legislator, by hammering on the reality that things have gotten worse for the average San Francisco because Chiu and his allies have been most effective on behalf of the tech companies, landlords, and other rich and powerful interests that are undermining the city’s diversity, affordability, and progressive values.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Chiu’s campaign counters by overtly and in whisper campaigns saying that progressives can’t be effective in Sacramento, blatantly overlooking the fact that the incumbent he’s running to replace, Tom Ammiano, has been both a consistent, trustworthy progressive, and an effective legislator who has gotten more bills signed than most of his colleagues, even as he takes on tough issues like reforms to Prop. 13 and prison conditions.

And Ammiano hasn’t just said good things about David Campos, his chosen successor — Ammiano has actually endorsed Campos. 

Neighborhood papers tell the story of SF



By Jessica Lipsky

Before many San Francisco residents traded their newspaper subscriptions for Internet media, a dozen monthly papers covered the beat of the city’s distinct neighborhoods. Nine of these papers, whose heyday came with radical changes in the ’70s and ’80s, are being digitally archived by local historical organization Found SF.

“The papers all have their own personalities,” said Found SF organizer LisaRuth Elliott. “You get a sense of even how those change over time too, whether it’s a hard hitting article or it’s talking about the evolution of how the street businesses changed in Noe Valley. Archiving these papers opens up the gates for all the stuff we don’t know, and that you want to find out about, in San Francisco.”

Over the course of six months, Found SF volunteers will archive two decades’ worth of content from papers published throughout the city — the Noe Valley Voice, Tenderloin Times, Visitation Valley Grapevine, Richmond ReView, Potrero View, the New Fillmore, El Tecolote, North Mission News, and the Glen Park Perspective — in partnership with the Internet Archive and San Francisco Public Library. Since beginning the project in January, Found SF has scanned over 200 issues and tagged each with searchable keywords.



While several of the papers have come and gone, the publication that inspired the project is still going strong. Born from 1968 riots at San Francisco State for relevant ethnic education, the Mission’s El Tecolote was founded in 1970 as a bilingual paper dedicated to social activism. The paper made great inroads in the mid-’70s fighting for equitable health services, such as a bilingual emergency phone system, while covering Latino arts and civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“We started El Tecolote to fill the gap of the mainstream media, which wasn’t covering this neighborhood with any real consistency; if it did it was often times negative news,” founder Juan Gonzales said. “The mission was to really be a voice for the neighborhood and hopefully move the spirit of organizing ahead to make some social change.”

In addition to taking a hard line on local politics and immigrant issues, the archives document the evolution of San Francisco from various perspectives. Residents of lower-income neighborhoods were displaced, and many districts leveled, during urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 1960s, while a 1973-75 recession caused further damages. The resulting plight set the stage for journalism driven by demand for hyper-local coverage of LGBT and feminist rights, gentrification, and third-world issues.

“In the mid-’70s there was consciousness around neighborhoods as social centers and places where community organizing was happening,” Elliott said. “People are facing eviction, they’re protesting, there are these vigils happening, and people talking about gaining rights for long-term things. We’re still working with the legacy of some of the housing decisions [San Francisco] made around that time due to the activism,” she added, citing the Tenderloin Times’ advocacy for SROs in the face of hotel development west of Union Square.



The New Fillmore — established in 1986 as the city became inflicted with crack and AIDS epidemics, just as Reaganism swept in — was at the heart of socioeconomic changes that transformed parts of San Francisco from what felt like a blue-collar town to an increasingly white-collar city. Approximately 30 blocks in the Fillmore and Western Addition were leveled and left vacant until the ’80s, and the monthly paper played an important role in chronicling the return of businesses to the once thriving neighborhood.

“We ended up with the worst of both worlds in the Fillmore,” said Thomas Reynolds, who took over publishing the New Fillmore in 2006. Redevelopment efforts initially provoked no organized public protest, he said, but later “generated a lot of activism. The New Fillmore managed to capture a lot of the change that was coming to the neighborhood, and a lot of the flavor and history of the neighborhood that was being lost.” The paper encouraged civic engagement through a regular architecture column that featured local homes and helped owners register their historic buildings.

Several papers served neighborhoods with large refugee and immigrant populations, many of whom didn’t speak or read English. The Tenderloin Times promoted social services and encouraged activism through coverage of Southeast Asian and local politics, while publishing simultaneously in English, Lao, Cambodian, and Vietnamese over its two-decade run. Others chronicled changes in demographics, including an influx of Chinese residents into Visitation Valley and a population shift in the Mission from predominately Chicano to more Central Americans.

The Noe Valley Voice also took an international turn when escaped Irish prisoner Liam Carl toured the U.S. to expose harsh conditions in British jails. Carl entered the country illegally and was housed in a Noe Valley home in the fall of 1980, telling the Voice, “If [prisoners] thought that perhaps there was a chance that they could be heard through less drastic measures … and maybe bring about some change without so many people having to die, perhaps I can save lives.”

While the newspapers often differed in their coverage, each featured complementary stories chronicling the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Common features included how to check for damage, profiles on restaurants that fed the neighborhood or, as one Noe Valley Voice headline described the experience of meeting neighbors during a power outage: “We Could See the Stars.” Ahead of the 25th anniversary in October, Found SF has examples of quake coverage online.

“It makes me think that the city is comprised of all these little villages and it’s a little hard to say San Francisco has one direction, one value system,” Elliott said. “The papers show the wide variety of people who live in the city … but it’s all very much at a very personal level. They know each other. They’re telling stories about each other.”

For more information on the neighborhood newspaper archiving project, or to volunteer, visit


Guardian Small Business Awards 2014


San Francisco’s small businesses are being threatened by the forces of gentrification and displacement like never before — at the same moment that they are more important than ever. This is the troubling paradox at the center of this year’s San Francisco Small Business Week.

Economists warn the city needs to diversify an economy that has become too concentrated in the vulnerable technology, finance, and land development sectors. Small businesses epitomize diversity. They are the backbone of the local economy, circulating far more of their revenues here than any corporate chain, while distinguishing San Francisco’s commercial corridors from their sterile counterparts in other cities.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and fiscally conservative politicians love to trot out the plight of small businesses to elicit public sympathy or attack progressive regulations benefitting workers or the environment, but it is the self-interested pursuits of wealthy corporations and investors that really poison the pond in which small businesses flourish.

Just consider the headlines in San Francisco’s daily newspapers. On May 8, the San Francisco Chronicle had a story about Flax, an awesome art supply store that’s been in business for 37 years, being displaced from its iconic store at Market and Valencia streets by a 160-unit condo project. The story described the waves of new condo projects hitting the Upper Market area that are displacing small business such as Home Restaurant and the Arthur J. Sullivan Funeral Home. “They are just rolling over us — it’s unstoppable,” Judy Hoyem of the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association told the Chronicle.

The cover story of the next day’s San Francisco Examiner was about the eviction of Marcus Books, the country’s oldest African American bookstore. Inside that issue, Mayor Ed Lee wrote a guest editorial ironically entitled “Small businesses shaping our city’s future.”

It was a happy-talk celebration of the same small business community that his economic development policies — with big Wall Street corporations worth billions of dollars driving up rents on small business and getting local tax breaks in the process — have been threatening.

“San Francisco’s commitment to small businesses and local manufacturing continues to gain momentum,” Lee wrote. Yes it does, like a tidal wave of corporate cash sweeping through the city. So during this year’s annual Guardian Small Business Awards, we’re saluting the survivors, those small business people who are riding out the storm through their tenacity, creativity, and refusal to let the forces of gentrification drive them out.

The current business cycle will pass, along with its upward pressure on commercial rents and unfair competition from chain stores. But until it does, please continue to support these and other homegrown small businesses, the soul of San Francisco commerce.

Guardian Small Business Awards 2014

Asmbly Hall

GameShop Classic


Le Video

LGBT Center

Panchita’s Papuseria

Thee Parkside

Tobener Law Center

Trouble Coffee

Bimbo’s 365 Club

Getting the Kink out


The spotlights shone down, the athletes tussled, and the crowd screamed.

The toned and tattooed female wrestler tackled the topless, tanned, blond wrestler from behind, pulling her down like a tumbling tower. The mat thumped. Cheers erupted. In a sudden reversal, the tanned wrestler gained leverage with her right arm and slammed the tattooed fighter’s shoulders onto the mat, giving the blond the win.

What happened next was definitely not standard wrestling fare.

The tanned wrestler, triumphant, digitally penetrated the tattooed fighter. Her moans silenced the crowd, who listened, rapt. The fight wasn’t sport, but porn, America’s real favorite pasttime. Ultimate Surrender is just one of San Francisco-based studio’s 30 or so paid subscription porn websites, including Fucking Machines, Everything Butt, and Hogtied.

But a new series of proposed state laws threatens the state’s porn industry, and the freakiest city on the West Coast may soon say goodbye to its highest profile porn purveyor,, which for years has operated out of the historic Armory building on 14th and Mission streets.

The situation raises a question: Is breaking up with San Francisco? If legislation requiring condoms on-set in porn and stricter state safety requirements become law, CEO Peter Acworth tells the Guardian he has no choice but to leave California entirely.

“We can’t do business under those circumstances,” Acworth told us. “We can’t make a product that can compete.”

The tussle between pornographers, porn actors, and state lawmakers is a crucible where worker safety — and the right to choose how that safety is implemented — may soon be decided. Caught in the crossfire, freaky and sex-positive San Francisco stands to get a whole lot less kinky.



California Assembly Bill 1576 would legally require condom use while shooting porn, mandatory STD testing, and pornographic studios required to hold health records of their talent. The bill cleared the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment just last month, the first step on a short road to gaining the governor’s signature.

Assemblymember Isadore Hall (D-Los Angeles), sponsored the bill, and the day it cleared committee he was triumphant.

“For too long, the adult film industry has thrived on a business model that exploits its workers and puts profit over workplace safety,” Hall said in a press statement. “The fact is, adult film actors are employees, like any other employee for any other business in the state. A minimum level of safety in the workplace should not have to be negotiated.”

The concern is largely over HIV infection on the sets of porn studios, and two parallel statewide efforts are working towards safety on porn sets. The state bill is the first, and the second is the renewed vigor in enforcing longstanding California Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulations.

In the early 1990’s, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted a bloodborne pathogens regulation, and DOSH adopted a similar regulation soon after. DOSH’s standard requires employers to take measures to prevent employees’ eyes, skin, and mucous membranes from coming in contact with blood and “other potentially infectious materials,” including semen and vaginal secretions.

To some industries, the standard mandates rubber gloves and goggles. For the porn industry, the DOSH regulations are a moratorium on porn stars ejaculating on each others’ faces, deeming facials a workplace hazard. That standard porn finale can have life-changing ramifications.

“In 2004, there was a big (HIV) outbreak in the industry,” Eugene Murphy, senior safety engineer at DOSH, told the Guardian. “It was demonstrated HIV was clearly contracted on set.”

These infections mostly occurred in Los Angeles, once the center of the porn universe until Measure B arguably changed that. Los Angeles voters mandated porn studio condom use in 2012, and two years later, LA newspapers reported many pornographers have relocated to Las Vegas to escape the regulatory requirements.

The statewide pushback on porn is largely driven by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose President Michael Weinstein has smiled for the cameras alongside Hall and other lawmakers every step of the way.

DOSH began its part in the porn crackdown in Los Angeles, but Murphy was charged with looking into San Francisco’s, where Acworth is chafing against the idea of mandatory condoms.



Acworth said he used to believe condoms should be mandatory for performers. After the porn set HIV infections in 2004, buckled down.

“I attempted to run the business as condom mandatory for about a year,” Acworth told us. He even pronounced their necessity in an interview on CNN. But there were complications.

“There was pressure from the models themselves because of the chaffing issues,” he said. Porn performers have echoed those sentiments as well.

In an interview with entertainment site Nerve, popular porn star James Deen (see “Dick and smile,” 7/31/12) said he had no problem with personal condom use, but women he’s worked with often complained of chafing.

“I was talking to a girl about it and she was like, ‘Dude, I’m in pain everyday and constantly swollen,'” he told Nerve. “Condoms are intended to be used on an average-sized penis for average sex, and we have entertainment sex, for anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours.”

The condom effort tanked at Kink. Acworth said he withdrew the policy after listening to his performers’ wishes. The studio does adhere to 14-day HIV tests, and condoms are available in a “double-blind” agreement, by which actors can purportedly safely ask for condoms and not fear retaliation.

Despite those efforts, Kink was later awash in condom controversy. Earlier this year, DOSH fined Kink $78,000 in violations connected with the alleged on-stage HIV infections of two actors in 2013, one of whom alleged that a shoot continued despite one actor having a bleeding cut on his penis.

Acworth adamantly asserts the HIV transmission happened in these actors’ personal lives, and says the issue is used as a wedge by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to push a political agenda. The Guardian attempted to contact the foundation but did not hear back by press time.

Regardless, Murphy said, DOSH is pursuing regulatory requirements around bloodborne pathogens at Kink, and the enforcement of those regulations is not tied to the whether the initial HIV infection case was verified or not.

“My concern,” Murphy said, “is whether there is a healthy and safe workplace.”



Acworth came to San Francisco for the reasons many do: he wanted a place to be weird, or in his case, kinky.

He wanted a new home from which to shoot his leather porn site, New York City was big, but at the time (the ’90s), he felt San Francisco had a more established leather scene in the Folsom Street Fair and leather shops like Mr. S.

“San Francisco,” Acworth said, sitting across from us in a leather bondage chair, “appeared to be more geared up.”

Although not universally loved within the BDSM community, the studio is popular in San Francisco. Part of the credit may go to Kink’s recent revitalization of one of the largest spaces in its 200,000-square-foot historic brick fortress: the Drill Court.

The vast, arch-roofed space was outfitted with modern sound proofing for the benefits of performers and neighbors, but its life as a performance space is not new. In the 1920s, boxers traded blows under its lights, and history may repeat itself, Armor Community Center Sales Manager Quincy Krashna told us.

He’s in talks with Golden Boy Promotions (boxer Oscar De La Hoya’s company) to bring prize fighting back to this historic space. In recent months, the Drill Court played host to a massive New Year’s Eve party, a Game of Thrones-themed dance night and cancer fundraiser, and even an evangelical medical conference, where missionaries offered free dental and doctor checkups to the public.

“The Holy Spirit was truly present at this event,” a doctor from the program, Building Bridges, wrote on the program’s website.

Even bigger changes could be in store. Last month, Acworth filed an application with the city to convert most of the historic Armory into office space, what he called a “last ditch” plan in case the state condom ban passes and Kink decamps for Nevada.

“This move represents an insurance policy,” he told us.

In a public May 11 letter to Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Acworth asked the foundation for a truce: “I am reaching out to you and AHF, in the hopes of a day where we may sit across the table from one another and agree on common goals and strategy on protecting performers as opposed to continuing this battle.”

As he notes in his letter, if pornographers lose this battle, the companies may relocate. If Acworth finds himself uncomfortably bound and gagged by new regulations, his safe word may be: Nevada.

Ownership in Guardian’s parent company may shift


Greetings, Guardianistas. Almost a year ago, when we went through a management struggle here the newspaper, I promised to let readers know if we encountered any threats to our editorial independence from our San Francisco Print Media Co. owners.

Frankly, we haven’t. We’re still calling events as we see them, bringing you the best emerging artists, and making endorsements from the same independently progressive perspective that we’ve been operating from since we were founded in 1966.

Principal owner Todd Vogt has kept his word and let us handle editorial content while he helps improve our revenues and grow the paper. Both have been on the upswing in recent months, and we’re grateful for his role in keeping the Guardian alive and thriving.

But as our colleagues down the hall reported last night, Vogt may be on his way out. This week, he informed the staff of the three San Francisco Print Media newspapers — the Bay Guardian, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly — that he will be parting ways with his partners at Black Press Ltd., which also owns Oahu Press, Inc., by the end of the month.

Vogt has been talking to potential investment partners around San Francisco about exercising his option to take full ownership control of San Francisco Print Media Co. in the next couple weeks, but he said that he considers it unlikely given the high cost of buying out his partners.

Representatives from Black Press and Oahu Press were in the office yesterday and they told us they will be conducting a search for a new president of the company over the next few months, and they don’t expect to make any major changes in the operations of the Guardian or the other two papers before then.

Don Kendall with Black Press, who will be assessing the operations of all three papers during the search for a new president, called the papers “editorially solid.” A long-planned move by the three papers into new office space — into the top floor of the Westfield Mall, in a former SFSU Downtown Campus space — will also proceed as scheduled next month.

Spirits here at the Guardian are strong, we appreciate the role that Vogt has played in helping the Guardian mount a comeback after some tough financial times, and we’re hopeful that the new ownership team will appreciate the Guardian’s history and role it plays in the city — and that it will see us through our 50th anniversary and beyond.

And most of all, we appreciate the support of our readers and community, without whom we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. So thanks, and keep reading.  


P.S. We’ll be continuing the soft-launch of our new radio show, Alternative Ink, this Sunday from 6-8pm on The Guardian alternates Sundays with the SF Weekly, with both papers featuring music and talk. This week, we’ll have some great audio clips for the week’s news events, music from local bands, and we might even get into the topic of this post and let some secrets slip, so don’t miss it.   

Dick Meister: The real May Day



By Dick Meister

May Day. A day to herald the coming of Spring with song and dance, a day for
children with flowers in their hair to skip around beribboned maypoles, a
time to crown May Day queens.

But it also is a day for demonstrations heralding the causes of working
people and their unions such as are being held on Sunday that were crucial
in winning important rights for working people. The first May Day
demonstrations, in 1886,  won the  most important of the rights ever won by
working people ­ the right demanded above all others by the labor activists
of a century ago:

“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!”

Winning the eight-hour workday took years of hard struggle, beginning in the
mid-1800s. By 1867, the federal government, six states and several cities
had passed laws limiting their employees’ hours to eight per day. The laws
were not effectively enforced and in some cases were overturned by courts,
but they set an important precedent that finally led to a powerful popular

The movement was launched in 1886 by the Federation of Organized Trades and
Labor Unions, then one of the country’s major labor organizations. The
federation called for workers to negotiate with their employers for an
eight-hour workday and, if that failed, to strike on May 1 in support of the

Some negotiated, some marched and otherwise demonstrated.  More than 300,000
struck. And all won strong support, in dozens of cities ­ Chicago, New York,
Baltimore, Boston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver,
Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Washington, Newark, Brooklyn, St. Paul
and others.

More than 30,000 workers had won the eight-hour day by April. On May Day,
another 350,000 workers walked off their jobs at nearly 12,000
establishments, more than 185,000 of them eventually winning their demand.
Most of the others won at least some reduction in working hours that had
ranged up to 16 a day.

Additionally, many employers cut Saturday operations to a half-day, and the
practice of working on Sundays, also relatively common, was all but
abandoned by major industries.

“Hurray for Shorter Time,” declared a headline in the New York Sun over a
story describing a torchlight procession of 25,000 workers that highlighted
the eight-hour-day activities in New York. Never before had the city
experienced so large a demonstration.

Not all newspapers were as supportive, however. The strikes and
demonstrations, one paper complained, amounted to “communism, lurid and
rampant.” The eight-hour day, another said, would encourage “loafing and
gambling, rioting, debauchery, and drunkenness.”

The greatest opposition came in response to the demonstrations led by
anarchist and socialist groups in Chicago, the heart of the eight-hour day
movement. Four demonstrators were killed and more than 200 wounded by police
who waded into their ranks, but what the demonstrators¹ opponents seized on
were the events two days later at a protest rally in Haymarket Square. A
bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police who had surrounded the square,
killing seven and wounding 59.

The bomb thrower was never discovered, but eight labor, socialist and
anarchist leaders ­ branded as violent, dangerous radicals by press and
police alike ­ were arrested on the clearly trumped up charge that they had
conspired to commit murder.  Four of them were hanged, one committed suicide
while in jail, and three were pardoned six years later by Illinois Gov. John
Peter Altgeld.

Employers responded to the so-called Haymarket Riot by mounting a
counter-offensive that seriously eroded the eight-hour day movement’s gains.
But the movement was an extremely effective organizing tool for the
country’s unions, and in 1890 President Samuel Gompers of the American
Federation of Labor was able to call for “an International Labor Day” in
favor of the eight-hour workday. Similar proclamations were made by
socialist and union leaders in other nations where, to this day, May Day is
celebrated as Labor Day.

Workers in the United States and 13 other countries demonstrated on that May
Day of 1890 ­ including 30,000 of them in Chicago. The New York World hailed
it as “Labor’s Emancipation Day.” It was. For it marked the start of an
irreversible drive that finally established the eight-hour day as the
standard for millions of working people.

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, formerly labor editor of the SF
Chronicle and KQED-TV, has covered labor and politics for a half-century as
a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website,, which includes several hundred of his columns.

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruoe B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Guardian. He is the former editor of the Guardian and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian,1966-2012.)

Left out


It’s never been easy for progressives to mount a serious campaign for the California governor’s office. The high water mark was in 1934 when famous author/activist Upton Sinclair ran on his End Poverty In California platform and got nearly 38 percent of the vote despite being shut out by the major newspapers at the time.

That campaign was cited by both of this year’s leading leftist challengers to Gov. Jerry Brown — Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan — who say the goal of ending poverty is more important than ever, but who are also having a hard time getting media coverage for that message.

The latest Field Poll from April 9 shows Brown with a 40-point lead on his closest challenger, conservative Republican Tim Donnelly (57 to 17 percent, with 20 percent undecided). Republicans Andrew Blount and Neel Kashkari were at 3 and 2 percent, respectively, while Rodriguez and Sheehan are among the 11 also-rans who shared the support of 1 percent of the California electorate.

Perhaps that’s to be expected given that Brown is a Democrat who pulled the state back from the edge of the fiscal abyss largely by backing the Prop. 30 tax package in 2012, with most of the new revenue coming from increased income taxes on the rich. But to hear Rodriguez and Sheehan tell it, Brown is just another agent of the status quo at a time when the growing gap between rich and poor is the state’s most pressing problem.

“We have to put all our resources into ending poverty,” Rodriguez told us.

The campaigns that Rodriguez and Sheehan are running seem indicative of the state of progressive politics in California these days, with good work being done on individual issues by an array of groups, but little coordination among them or serious work on the kind of organizing and coalition-building needed to win statewide office.

There is still hope, particularly given California’s open primary system, where all Rodriguez or Sheehan need to do is beat the top Republican challenger in June in order to face Brown in a two-person race in November — an outcome that would definitely elevate their progressive message.

“One of our sayings is ‘second place wins the race,'” Sheehan told the Guardian.

But at this point, that seems unlikely, a longshot that points to the need for progressive-minded Californians to rebuild the movement and win over new generations of voters, particularly the young people disconnected from electoral politics and largely behind by the economic system.



When we asked Sheehan how her campaign was going, she replied, “It’s going.” When we pushed for a bit more, she told us, “It’s very, very grassroots and we’ve been trying to get the word out.”

And by “very, very grassroots,” Sheehan seems to mean that it’s not going very well, in terms of fundraising, volunteer support, media exposure, or any of the things a campaign needs to be successful. It’s been a disappointment for a woman who started her public political life as a media darling.

The year after Sheehan’s son Casey died fighting the Iraq War in 2004, she set up an encampment outside then-President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, instantly becoming a high-profile anti-war activist just as public opinion was turning strongly against the war.

Sheehan parlayed that fame into international activism for peace and other progressive causes, writing a pair of autobiographical/political books, and mounting a primary challenge against then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008, finishing in second place with about 16 percent of the vote. Sheehan was also the running mate of presidential candidate Roseanne Barr in 2012, although their Peace and Freedom Party ticket didn’t appear on the ballot in most states.

But these days, Sheehan has found it tougher to recapture the media spotlight she once enjoyed, causing her to sometimes bristle with frustration and a sense of entitlement, as she did with us at the Guardian for failing to help her amplify her message before now.

“Who came in 2nd against Pelosi? Who received well into ‘double digits?’ The campaign can’t get steam if ‘lefties’ put the same criteria as the [San Francisco] Chronicle for example for coverage. If I were truly in this for my ‘ego’ I would have quit a long time ago. You write, I campaign all over the world for the things I care about,” Sheehan wrote in a testy April 3 email exchange with me after a supporter seeking our coverage sent her a message in which I questioned the prospects of her campaign.

But getting progressive support in a race against Pelosi in San Francisco clearly isn’t the same thing as having a progressive campaign gain traction with a statewide audience, particularly because Sheehan doesn’t have many prominent endorsers or organizational allies.

By contrast, Rodriguez seems to be outhustling Sheehan, racing up and the down the state to promote his candidacy and work on rebuilding the progressive movement, with an emphasis on reaching communities of color who feel estranged from politics.

“People like me and others on the left need to step up if we’re not going to just accept the control of the two-party system. We have to fight for that democratic reality, we have to make it real,” Rodriguez told us. “You can’t just say vote, vote, vote. You have to give them something to vote for.”



Rodriguez is the author of 15 books, including poetry, journalism, novels, and a controversial memoir on gang life, Always Running, winning major writing awards for his work. He lives in the Los Angeles area, where he’s been active in community-building in both the arts and political realms.

Rodriguez is running on a platform that brings together environmental, social justice, and anti-poverty issues, areas addressed separately by progressive groups who have made only halting progress on each, “which is why we need to make them inseparable.”

While he said Brown has improved the “terrible situation he inherited from Schwarzenegger,” Rodriguez said that the fortunes of the average Californian haven’t turned around.

“People are hurting in the state of California. I think Brown has to answer for that,” Rodriguez said, noting that people are frustrated with the economic system and looking for solutions. “I don’t think Gov. Brown has a plan for it. In fact, I think he’s making it worse.”

Sheehan is critical of Brown for his opposition to full marijuana legalization, his resistance to prison reform, for allowing fracking, and for doing little to challenge the consolidation of wealth.

“My main issue is always, of course, peace and justice. But a corollary of that is for the resources of this state to be more fairly distributed to help people’s lives,” Sheehan said, calling that economic justice stand an outgrowth of her anti-war activism. “Since my son was killed, I’ve been starting to connect the dots about the empire we live under.”

When she studied California history at UCLA, Sheehan said, “I was inspired by Upton Sinclair and his End Poverty In California campaign in the ’30s.” She reminisces about the California of her childhood, when college education was free and the social safety net was intact, keeping people from economic desperation.

“It’s been done before and we can do it again,” Sheehan said. “I love this state, I love its potential, and I miss the way it was when I was growing up.”



Money is a challenge for statewide candidates given the size of California, which has at least a half-dozen major media markets that all need to be tapped repeatedly to reach voters throughout the state.

“I won’t take any corporate dollars and only people with money get heard,” Rodriguez told us.

But he says California has a large and growing number of voters who don’t identify with either major party, as well as a huge number of Latino voters who have yet to really make their voices heard at election time.

“I’m really banking on the people that nobody is counting,” Rodriguez said. “This is the time when people need to come together. We have to unite on these central things.”

That’s always a tough task for third-party candidates. Sheehan has a paltry list of endorsers, owing partly to the left-leaning organizations like labor unions staying with Brown, even though Sheehan claims many of their members support her.

“The rank and file is supportive of our message, but the leadership is still tied in with the Democratic Party,” Sheehan told us. “This state is deeply controlled by the Democratic Party, even more than it was a few years ago.”

But Sheehan considers herself a strong and seasoned candidate. “I’ve run for Congress, I’ve run for vice president, and I think that politics should be local,” Sheehan told us, saying her main strength would be, “I would work with people to create a better state, not against people.”

It was a theme she returned to a few times in our conversation, her main selling point. “It’s about inspiring a movement,” Sheehan said. “My biggest gift is getting out there and talking to people.” But if her strengths are indeed inspiring a movement, working with allies, and building coalitions, then why isn’t her campaign doing those things? Sheehan admits that it’s been difficult, telling us, “I found it easier in San Francisco to get the word out.”

Complaint against Yee includes firearms trafficking and envelopes full of cash


The federal criminal charges filed today against Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF), local political consultant Keith Jackson, reputed Chinatown organized crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 23 other defendants allege a vast criminal conspiracy that was penetrated by undercover FBI agents, who say they then gave Yee envelopes full of cash in exchange for official favors.

Among the many bizarre aspects of this blockbuster case, Yee stands accused of taking part in a conspiracy to illegally smuggle firearms into the country, and using those deals to help secure campaign contributions for his current campaign for Secretary of State, while he was sponsoring a trio of gun control bills that were signed into law last year.

Yee, who reportedly faces 16 years in prison for two felony counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, was arrested this morning during a series of early morning police raids, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment this afternoon, and was freed after posting a $500,000 unsecured bond.

Chow had a long criminal history as the admitted head of the Hop Sing gang in SF’s Chinatown, serving prison time. “Chow’s criminal history includes a guilty plea in federal court for racketeering, involving murder for hire, conspiracy to distribute heroin, arson, and conspiracy to collect extensions of credit,” the complaint notes. (You can read the full complaint here.)

Chow publicly claimed to go legit after being released from federal prison in 2006, and he has cultivated many high-profile business and political connections in San Francisco. But the 137-page criminal complaint that was unsealed today alleges that “Chow is currently the Dragonhead, or leader, of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization,” which it describerd as a criminal syndicate connected to Hung Mun, a criminal dynasty that began in 17th century China, “also referred to as a Chinese secret society and the Chinese Freemasons.”

It says Chow was sworn in as CKT head in August 2006 after being released from federal prison, soon after the still-unsolved murder of CKT head Allen Ngai Leung. Chow’s swearing-in was reported in local Chinese media sources, so SFPD and FBI conducted surveillance there and launched an investigation.

CKT is allegedly part of Triad, an international Chinese organized crime group with ties to China and Hong Kong, and in San Francisco it is said to be comprised of Chow’s Hop Sing, a street gang with 200-300 members, and the Wah Ching gang headed by George Nieh, who was charged with a variety of crimes today.

“Nieh said he was in charge of the Wah Ching gang and Chow was in charge of the Hop Sing gang. Nieh said they used to be enemies, but banded together instead,” the complaint says, relating what they allegedly told FBI informants who had infiltrated the organization.

The FBI says it began infiltrating CKT five years ago, including an undercover FBI agent dubbed UCE 4599, who in May 2010 was introduced to Chow, who “then introduced UCE 4599 to many of the target subjects.”

Chow allegedly told UCE 4599 that he oversees all of CKT criminal enterprises, but doesn’t actively run them anymore, acting as a arbiter, or as a judge when one CKT member kills another. Nieh allegedly heads the criminal activities division and reports to Chow.

They are accused of laundering money made from “illegal activities, specifically illegal gambling, bookmaking, sports betting, drugs, and outdoor marijuana grows.” They allegedly laundered $2.3 million between March 2011 and December 2013 for UCE 4599, with members collecting a 10 percent fee for doing so.

UCE 4599 told Chow he was a member of La Cosa Nostra, an Italian mob, and in March 2012 he was inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” the complaint alleges. It says that Jackson — a former San Francisco school board member and political consultant who has worked for Lennar Urban and Singer Associates — had also be inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” participating in various criminal conspiracies.

The complaint says Jackson “has a long-time relationship with Senator Yee,” and “has been involved in raising funds for” Yee’s run for mayor “and for Senator Yee’s current campaign in the California Secretary of State election.” And much of the complaint details deeds allegedly committed by Jackson and Yee.

In fact, the second person named in the complaint, right after Chow, is Yee, “aka California State Senator Leland Yee, aka Uncle Leland.”

“Senator Yee and Keith Jackson were involved in a scheme to defraud the citizens of California of their rights to honest services, and Senator Yee, [Daly City resident Dr. Wilson] Lim, and Keith Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms,” the complaint alleges.

Yee and Jackson met UCE 4599 through Chow, and then Jackson allegedly solicited him to make donations to Yee’s 2011 San Francisco mayoral campaign “in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. UCE 4599 declined to make any donations to Senator Yee, but introduced Keith Jackson and Senator Yee to a purported business associate, UCE 4773, another undercover FBI agent,” who made a $5,000 donation to Yee’s mayoral campaign.

Yee had $70,000 in debt after that mayor’s race and worked with Jackson on ways to pay off that debt. “This included soliciting UCE 4773 for additional donations and in the course of doing so, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed that Senator Yee would perform certain official acts in exchange for donations from UCE 4773.”

Yee allegedly agreed to “make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with UCE 4773’s purported client, and would provide an official letter of support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 donation. Senator Yee made the call on October 18, 2012 and provided the letter on or about January 13, 2013,” and Jackson allegedly took the cash donation from the agent.

Meanwhile, it says Jackson and Yee continued raising money for his Secretary of State race by soliciting donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, another undercover agent. “They agreed that in exchange for donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, Senator Yee would perform certain officials acts requested by UCE 4599 and UCE 4180.”

That included Yee issuing an “official state Senate proclamation honoring the CKT in exchange for a $6,800 campaign donation, the maximum individual donation allowed by law.” Yee allegedly did so, and it was presented by one of his staff members at the CKT anniversary celebration on March 29, 2013.

Yee and Jackson are also accused of introducing a donor to state legislators working on pending medical marijuana legislation, the donor being another undercover agent who claimed to be a medical marijuana businessman from Arizona looking to expand into California, “and in payment for that introduction, UCE 4180 delivered $11,000 cash to Senator Yee and Keith Jackson on June 22, 2013.”

In September, after making another introduction, Yee and Jackson allegedly received another $10,000 cash donation for their services.

In August of last year, in an effort to raise more money, “Jackson told UCE 4599 that Senator Yee, had a contact who deals in arms trafficking.” Jackson then allegedly requested UCE 4599 make another donation “to facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer with the intent of UCE 4599 to purportedly purchase a large number of weapons to be imported through the Port of Newark, New Jersey…Senator Yee discussed certain details of the specific types of weapons UCE 4599 was interested in buying and importing.”

The complaint, a declaration by FBI Agent Emmanuel Pascua, does indicate that both Chow and Yee sometimes tried to declare their legitimacy to the FBI agents.

“It should be noted that throughout this investigation, Chow has made several exculpatory statements about how he strives to become legitimate and no longer participates in criminal activity,” it says.

For example, Chow has been working on book and movie deals about his life, and he would regularly make statements attempting to distance himself from CKT’s alleged criminal activities, as well as building connections in the political world. Chow posed for photos with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and other local political figures.  

“Chow has also been portrayed in many Chinese newspapers as being involved in community affairs and has been photographed posing with local politicians and other community leaders. For example, in August of 2006, Chow was photographed hold a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for community service of the CKT,” it reads.

But the complaint also said that Chow continued to make incriminating statements to the undercover agents “confirming his knowledge of and involvement in criminal activity.”

The complaint says that Yee also made many exculpatory statements and expressed discomfort with how openly UCE 4180 discussed overt “pay to play” links between cash donations and official actions.

“Despite complaining about UCE 4180’s tendency to speak frankly and tie payment to performance, and threatening to cut off contact with UCE 4180, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson continued to deal with UCE 4180 and never walked away from quid pro quo requests make by UCE 4180. In fact, Senator Yee provided the introductions sought by UCE 4180 and accepted cash payments which UCE 4180 expressly tied to the making of the introductions.”

Yee’s attorney, Paul DeMeester, told reporters they will contest the charges: “We will always in every case enter not guilty pleas, then the case takes on a life of its own.”

Officials in San Francisco and Sacramento are still reeling from the allegations. “I think the whole city is in shock at the moment,” Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents Chinatown and ran against Yee in the 2011 mayor’s race, told us. “Today’s widespread law enforcement actions are incredibly disturbing. The detail and scale of the criminal activities are shocking.”

California Senate President Darrell Steinberg told reporters today that he has asked for Yee’s resignation and that he plans to introduce a resolution Friday to suspend Yee and two other Democrats chargeed with political corruption, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF), who took part in that briefing, told the Guardian, “I’m frustrated and angered on behalf of my constituents that my Senate colleagues and I are there each day to create positive changes and all of these situations are distracting…It reflects badly on a great institution.”

Guardian reporter Joe Rodriguez Fitzgerald, who contributed to this report, has been covering this case from the federal courthouse today, and we’ll have more on this unfolding story in the coming days and the next issue of the Guardian. 

Glimmers of sunshine


For 29 years, San Francisco Bay Area journalists have gathered in mid-March — around the birthday of founding father and free-press advocate James Madison — to recognize reporters, attorneys, citizens, and others who fight to shake or keep information free.

The act of standing up to defend the principle of freedom of information can be rather unglamorous, sometimes leading to grueling lawsuits. It’s grown even more complicated with the rise of the Internet, the decline of traditional newspapers, and the dawn of an Information Age that delivers instantaneous material that is at once more slippery and abundant than ever.

And yet, the digital realm has opened up a whole new battlefield in the fight for open access to relevant information the public needs to know. This year, the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee took the rare step of granting a posthumous Public Service James Madison Award to Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

As a leader in the digital rights movement, Swartz, who died at the age of 26 by taking his own life, was on the forefront of a movement that fought to uphold open access to information in the face of a corporate power grab that threatened to result in online censorship.

The fight against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act) in early 2012 marked just one of Swartz’s accomplishments as he fought for free and open access to information. Among his other contributions was RECAP, an online listing of court materials that allowed free access to documents held in the federal, paywall-protected court filing system called PACER.

To commemorate Swartz’s work, the Bay Guardian presents in this issue an illustrated history of his activism. While recipients of James Madison Awards have typically been individuals who took on government bureaucracies to wrest information out of the shadows and into the public eye, Swartz’s battle revolved around freeing information that is locked up by private interests, or protected by copyright.

“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world,” he wrote in a 2008 essay titled “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” “We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”

But first, here are a few updates on the fight for open access to information in San Francisco and beyond.



In 1999, San Francisco voters enacted a law to strengthen citizens’ access to government records and public meetings. To ensure that the open-access law was properly upheld, it also created a local body called the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

At each meeting, San Franciscans frustrated by their inability to get the information they sought from city bureaucracies appear before the board to air their grievances, in the hopes that the decisions to withhold documents will be reversed. Typically, citizens lodge around 100 complaints per year, according to task force clerk Victor Young.

But the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force has not been going at full speed for some time now. There’s a backlog of 62 cases, in part because the body could not legally meet for five months in 2012 because it did not have a member who was physically disabled, in accordance with the law establishing criteria for who can serve. (The previous member to meet the criteria, Bruce Wolfe, was denied reappointment. In an op-ed published in political blog Fog City Journal, task force member Rick Knee links this and the Board of Supervisors’ general foot-dragging on Sunshine with a political skirmish dating back to 2011, when the task force found the Board of Supervisors to be in violation of the Sunshine Ordinance.)

There have been two vacant seats on the task force for around two years, as well as two holdover members whose terms have technically expired. Applicants have sought out those seats, but the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hasn’t gotten around to appointing new members; the most recent appointment was made in October of 2012, according to Alisa Miller, Rules Committee clerk.

Come April 27, meanwhile, all of the current task force members’ terms will expire. Miller said she expects the Board of Supervisors to revisit nominations before the end of April. There are a grand total of 10 applications for all 11 seats. Given all of this, plus a lawsuit revolving around the city’s refusal disclose how the City Attorney’s Office advises agencies on Sunshine Ordinance interpretations, San Francisco is going through some dark days for open government.



Anyone who’s ever tried to request public documents from government officials under the Freedom of Information Act knows that it feels more like a bureaucratic nightmare than a federal right. But a new project from the Center for Investigative Reporting is hoping to streamline the entire process into a (relatively) painless procedure.

FOIA Machine ( is a website to request public documents at the federal, state, or local level, and is described by its creators as the “TurboTax for government records.”

“We wanted to make the FOIA experience better for journalists,” said Shane Shifflett, a data reporter at The Huffington Post who helped build the tool. “We built up a prototype and applied for grants. Then we put it on Kickstarter and it went crazy. That gave us a lot of confidence to see it through to the end.”

On Kickstarter, FOIA Machine raised over $53,000 from more than 2,000 backers, more than triple its goal.

FOIA Machine allows registered users to prepare requests, search a database of contacts, track the status of a request, and work with a community of fellow users.

Shifflett considers the community aspect to be the site’s strongest feature. “It’s crowdsourcing, so as people create requests, they can add contacts into the database. Now there will be a history of who worked with who, and it makes the process of figuring out where to send requests so much simpler.”

The site is still in development, and users who try to register promptly receive an email asking them to “stay tuned” for information in the coming weeks and months. Shifflett said that the group hopes for FOIA Machine to be up and running by June.



From time to time, sources have told us at the Bay Guardian that they would love to share sensitive information for news articles, but fear they would be retaliated against or even terminated from employment if they were to do so.

We have found a way around that.

Sources who wish to retain their anonymity while sharing information they believe the public has a right to know now have the option of using an encrypted submission system to anonymously send documents to our news team.

Created by Bay Area technologists in partnership with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, BayLeaks uses the latest cryptography software to protect the identities of our sources. This is a secure, anonymous way for concerned citizens to communicate with journalists to release information.

Our system uses SecureDrop, a whistleblowing platform managed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Tor, an online anonymity network that has gained the trust of Internet users around the world.

To learn more, visit



It’s not really a secret that big money has a colossal influence on politics, but the groups and individuals that write those hefty checks to lawmakers often prefer to stay secret themselves. And while political donations aren’t illegal, most voters would like to know exactly who is funding a piece of legislation or a political campaign, and where that money is coming from.

Fortunately for us in California, we already have a resource to easily find that information.

“There’s a collective influence of money in our political system,” said Pamela Behrsin, spokesperson for MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley that tracks the influence of money in politics. “Our founders said, ‘Look at all this money, and how this legislator voted on this bill. Do you think the money had any influence on how the legislator voted?'”

Through the website, users can also search by bill or proposition to find, for example, that big companies such as Philip Morris spent nearly $48 million to defeat Prop. 29, a proposed cigarette tax in California, on the June 2012 ballot. Supporters of the tax, such as the American Cancer Society and Lance Armstrong Foundation, could only muster a quarter of that amount.

“There’s a whole breadth of people wanting to understand the problem of money and politics,” Behrsin said. “This is one of the largest issues in our democracy right now. People are starting to stand up and say unless we get money out of our system, it’s going to be that much more difficult to fix.”

“Are Alt Weeklies Over?” Hell no! We’re needed now more than ever.


The New York Times yesterday ran an insightful and widely circulated op-ed from a fellow alt-weekly editor, Baynard Woods of Baltimore City Paper, that emphasized the important role that a staff of full-time alt-weekly journalists play in urban life, a niche that neither big daily papers nor online-only outlets can replicate.

“An alt weekly has a staff of paid reporters and editors whose jobs are not only to know the city, but to love it, to hate it, and to be an integral part of it, cajoling, ridiculing, praising and skewering city officials, artists and entrepreneurs alike, while giving voices to the ‘city folk,’” Woods wrote after ruing the economic forces that have hobbled our profession and given rise to the article’s headline: “Are Alt Weeklies Over?”

As someone who has worked for four alt-weeklies in California after starting my career at daily newspapers, I can attest to the unique and valuable role that they played in each of those cities: San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Eschewing the tired and unattainable goal of “objective journalism,” the alt-weeklies help provide a bottom-up framing of local issues and serve as a check on the dominant economic and political forces.

When I made the transition from dailies to alt-weeklies in 1995, I felt like a whole new world had been opened up for me, a feeling that I’ve heard expressed by many others in my business. Daily newspaper writers generally hew to the orthodoxy of their local Chamber of Commerce in economic coverage, while political news tends to split the difference between the two major political parties.

But in a dynamic world with major long-term problems that aren’t being addressed in a serious way — from global warming and environmental degradation to extreme wealth disparities and lack of investment in critical public infrastructure — sometimes the Chamber, the Democrats, and the Republicans are all wrong.

Saying so often falls to the alt-weekly writers and editors who can speak with a clear and true voice, and who can back up their perspective with years of diligent reporting to support it. When the Guardian says PG&E corrupts our political system, that’s not a statement of opinion, but a conclusion backed up by dozens of well-reported articles going back decades. In this instantaneous yet forgetful society we’re creating, that kind of institutional knowledge is invaluable.

That’s especially true when it comes to city life and the struggles we cover all day, every day, something that writers who strive for clicks from readers around the world can’t provide. Locally based reporters working local beats with adequate resources is essential to civic accountability.  

For example, it’s easy for us to see how the current displacement crisis will change San Francisco in unacceptable ways, and to see the echoes of previous political moments — the freeway revolts of the ‘60s, the anti-Manhattanization struggles of the ‘70s, resistance to trickle down economics in the ‘80s, warnings about the last dot-com economic cleansing in the ‘90s — in this current political moment. So we amplify the many voices crying out for reform and we’re willing to call our untrustworthy politicians and business leaders on their bullshit. We’re not afraid to call the liars “liars.”

“Alt weeklies can be harsh in their criticism, whether it’s aimed at a blowhard politician or an overrated artist. Some people say we’re too eager to charge people with selling out, with trafficking in an insular cultural elitism. But alt weeklies don’t simply delight in being mean; they are harsh because they care about the city and what goes on in it,” Woods wrote.

We at the Guardian love San Francisco, and we’re going to keep fighting for its soul — and the panopoly of inspired and inspiring people who feed that soul — with everything we’ve got, and neither the people who fund our paychecks nor those who populate our blogs are going to deter us from that mission.   

Writing in the dark


LIT True-crime fans will know the name Harold Schechter: the prolific author and Queens College professor has written books on such nefarious characters as H.H. Holmes, Albert Fish, and Ed Gein, as well as mystery novels centered around Edgar Allan Poe. His latest is The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, 386 pp., $24 hardcover, $9.99 eBook). It tells the disturbing story of Robert Irwin, a talented yet deeply troubled sculptor who slaughtered three people, including the mother and glamorous sister of a woman he was obsessed with, in 1937 New York City.

The killings — which took place in an upscale neighborhood that was, oddly, no stranger to violence — seized the public’s imagination, and the police investigation and Irwin’s trial were exhaustively covered by the tabloid media. Though the case has largely been forgotten today, the story still makes for undeniably compelling reading. I called up Schechter to learn more.

SF Bay Guardian How did you come across the story of Robert Irwin?

Harold Schechter For my last book — Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of — I was looking at crimes that had generated a lot of publicity in their time, but had since faded from public memory. The Irwin case was one that I became fascinated with. I wrote an entry on it in that book, but the more I looked into it, the more substantial a subject it seemed.

Originally, [The Mad Sculptor] was just going to be about the Irwin case, but then I kept coming across references to these other tabloid-sensation crimes that had occurred in the same neighborhood, Beekman Place, in the span of 18 months. So that became the book.


SFBG What transforms a crime into a “tabloid-sensation” crime?

HS I just came across this really interesting quote from a well-known book that was published in the 1930s. The person said, referring to [1922’s highly publicized] Hall-Mills murder case, “The Hall-Mills case had all the elements needing to satisfy an exacting public taste for the sensational. It was grisly, it was dramatic, it involved wealth and respectability. It had just the right amount of sex interest, and in addition, it took place close to the great metropolitan nerve center of the American press.”

When I write my books, I look for crimes that have a certain kind of story to them. It’s not just the gruesomeness of the murder, or the number of murders. Some of the most famous crimes in American history, like the Leopold and Loeb case, just involved one single murder. But it had colorful characters involved, plus that combination of money, violence, and sex. In the case of Robert Irwin, the mere fact that the tabloids could call him “The Mad Sculptor” made it immediately gripping. It conjures up all of these horror-movie elements.

SFBG Other than newspapers, what were your research sources?

HS The psychiatrist who treated [Irwin], Fredric Wertham, was another thing that attracted me to the case. I’ve been interested in him for many years, partly because of his connection to the comic-book industry. [Wertham wrote 1954’s The Seduction of the Innocent, which accused comic books of contributing to juvenile delinquency.] Also, the second true-crime book I ever wrote was Deranged, about cannibal pedophile Albert Fish, and Wertham had been his psychiatrist, too.

When Wertham died [in 1981], his wife donated all of his papers to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that they not be made available to scholars for, I think, 25 years. But just when I started to work on the Irwin book, Wertham’s papers became available. There’s a tremendous amount of material in his archives, so that was a very important source. And then, you know, the New York Public Library, and different New York archives and historical societies.

SFBG One unusual aspect of the Irwin case was that victim Veronica Gedeon had modeled for true-crime magazines, like Inside Detective.

HS I was aware of those magazines, but I didn’t quite realize how many there were. There were dozens of these lurid pulp detective magazines and true crime magazines, and they always had very sensationalistic painted covers, generally of scantily clad women being threatened in various ways. But the articles themselves were often quite well-researched and skillfully written, and they were all lavishly illustrated, including some actual crime-scene photographs, and dramatizations of them.

Ronnie Gedeon had posed in a bunch of them, always wearing a negligee or whatever, about to be strangled or shot. And of course, all of the tabloids kept pointing out that there were all of these premonitions of her murder in those photographs. Again, you can’t beat that combination of sex, violence, the trendy neighborhood, this madman who was a sculptor, an artist. It was just, as I say in my book, a kind of perfect storm of prurience.

SFBG The Mad Sculptor is both true-crime book and history lesson. It really gives a good sense of what NYC life was like at the time.

HS I see my books really as social histories. I feel very strongly that you can learn as much about a cultural moment from the particular crimes that the public is obsessed with as you can from looking at what movies are popular, or what heroes are worshipped. The Manson case tells you as much about the 1960s as the Beatles do. The Leopold and Loeb case tells you a great deal about the underlying fears and anxieties of the 1920s.

SFBG Your books always have such great titles: Fiend, Deviant, Bestial. What’s the naming process like?

HS I started with Deviant, about Ed Gein. At the time, I chose it because I’d been doing a lot of thinking about horror fiction and horror movies. The narrative structure of so much horror has to do with somebody who’s kind of following the straight and narrow path, and then just takes the wrong turn, like in [the Gein-inspired] Psycho. Horror is often about deviating from your usual path and ending up in some nightmarish world. So Deviant was chosen for that reason.

Then, for some reason, I got it into my head that it would be cool to write a trilogy of books that begin with the letter “D.” Partly maybe because there were so many creepy “D” words. So I wrote Deranged, then Depraved. At that point I kind of ran out of “D” words, but I had already established this one-word thing, so I did Fiend and Bestial and Fatal.

At that point, I was starting to get away from just writing about serial killers. So when I wrote my book The Devil’s Gentleman, I kind of abandoned the one-word title. But I have to say, I’ve always been kind of proud of my ability to come up with cool titles! Of course, The Mad Sculptor — sometimes they name themselves. *

Solomon: Why the Washington Post’s new ties to the CIA are so ominous


American journalism has entered highly dangerous terrain.

A tip-off is that the Washington Post refuses to face up to a conflict of interest involving Jeff Bezos — who’s now the sole owner of the powerful newspaper at the same time he remains Amazon’s CEO and main stakeholder.

The Post is supposed to expose CIA secrets. But Amazon is under contract to keep them. Amazon has a new $600 million “cloud” computing deal with the CIA.

The situation is unprecedented. But in an email exchange early this month, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told me that the newspaper doesn’t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA. He wrote that such in-story acknowledgment would be “far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.”

But there isn’t anything normal about the new situation. As I wrote to Baron, “few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA.”<–break->

The Washington Post’s refusal to provide readers with minimal disclosure in coverage of the CIA is important on its own. But it’s also a marker for an ominous pattern — combining denial with accommodation to raw financial and governmental power — a synergy of media leverage, corporate digital muscle and secretive agencies implementing policies of mass surveillance, covert action and ongoing warfare.

Digital prowess at collecting global data and keeping secrets is crucial to the missions of Amazon and the CIA. The two institutions have only begun to explore how to work together more effectively.

For the CIA, the emerging newspaper role of Mr. Amazon is value added to any working relationship with him. The CIA’s zeal to increase its leverage over major American media outlets is longstanding.  

After creation of the CIA in 1947, it enjoyed direct collaboration with many U.S. news organizations. But the agency faced a major challenge in October 1977, when — soon after leaving the Washington Post — famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein provided an extensive expose in Rolling Stone.

Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years “more than 400 American journalists … have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” He added: “The history of the CIA’s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception.”

Bernstein’s story tarnished the reputations of many journalists and media institutions, including the Washington Post and New York Times. While the CIA’s mission was widely assumed to involve “obfuscation and deception,” the mission of the nation’s finest newspapers was ostensibly the opposite.

During the last few decades, as far as we know, the extent of extreme media cohabitation with the CIA has declined sharply. At the same time, as the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq attests, many prominent U.S. journalists and media outlets have continued to regurgitate, for public consumption, what’s fed to them by the CIA and other official “national security” sources.

The recent purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos has poured some high-finance concrete for a new structural bridge between the media industry and the surveillance/warfare state. The development puts the CIA in closer institutionalized proximity to the Post, arguably the most important political media outlet in the United States.

At this point, about 30,000 people have signed a petition (launched by with a minimal request: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” On behalf of the petition’s signers, I’m scheduled to deliver it to the Washington Post headquarters on January 15. The petition is an opening salvo in a long-term battle.

By its own account, Amazon — which has yielded Jeff Bezos personal wealth of around $25 billion so far — is eager to widen its services to the CIA beyond the initial $600 million deal. “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,” a statement from Amazon said two months ago. As Bezos continues to gain even more wealth from Amazon, how likely is that goal to affect his newspaper’s coverage of the CIA?


Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  Bruce is the former editor and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean from 1966-2013.) 

A look back: The “Candlestick Swindle” in ’68


San Francisco spent this week saying goodbye to its beloved foggy stadium, Candlestick Park. Amidst the farewells, the Guardian spotted a post from sports blog Deadspin, which reprinted one of our articles from 1968  titled, “Before We Build Another Stadium… The Candlestick Swindle.” 

When we saw the post, we started thumbing through our archives looking for the article. Though Deadspin said it was from 1972, we found it in Vol. 2, Issue no. 10, May 14, 1968, it’s a down and dirty tale of intimidation, bypassing voters through dummy corporations, profiteering, and racism. Candlestick has a colorful history, to say the least. 

The author, Burton H. Wolfe (Burton, not “Mr. Wolfe,” he wrote via email), gave us permission to re-publish it in full here. Just for fun, we’re also embedding the original issue as a PDF, which can be download and printed. Looking through the issue, it’s heartening (and disheartening) how much, and how little, changes.


The Candlestick Swindle

It all began early in 1953. Mayor Elmer Robinson’s administration—and local businessmen—decided to import big league baseball for San Francisco’s economic and recreational benefit. A downtown stadium was adequate for San Francisco’s AAA minor league club, the Seals, but not for major league fare.

Hence, Robinson asked the Board of Supervisors to approve a $5 million bond proposition to construct a new stadium. Among the supervisors in approval: George Christopher, soon to become mayor; Gene McAteer, headed for the state senate; Francis McCarty, a future judge; Harold Dobbs, restaurateur and budding Republican candidate for mayor, and John Jay Ferdon, future district attorney.

In July of that same year, 1953, a local multi-millionaire contractor named Charles Harney purchased 65 acres of land at Candlestick Point from the city of San Francisco for $2,100 an acre.

Next year, a band of publicists headed by Curley Grieve, S.F. Examiner sports editor, beat the drums and called the natives to pass this bond issue proposition:

To incur a bonded indebtedness in the sum of $5 million for the acquisition, construction and completion of buildings, lands and other works and properties to be used for baseball, football, other sports, dramatic productions and other lawful uses as a recreation center.

Major league baseball, they proclaimed, would bring untold wealth to the city for a mere $5 million, a price that would be returned many times. After voters approved this in November, 1954, the search began for a site. If there were any doubts the stadium would cost more than $5 million, they were dispelled in a personal meeting between Robinson’s successor, Mayor Christopher, and the owner of the New York Giants, Horace Stoneham.

In April, 1957, Christopher and McCarty flew to New York to talk Stoneham into bringing the Giants to San Francisco. The Giants were losing money in New York, and scouting the country for a new home base.

To prove San Francisco’s support for professional baseball, Christopher waved the $5 million stadium bond issue at Stoneham. According to testimony reported by the 1968 grand jury investigation, Stoneham replied contemptuously:

Any figure other than 10 or 11 million dollars shouldn’t even be discussed because there would be no possibility or probability of a major club moving to that particular community.

Back in San Francisco, Christopher reported the need for more money to other city leaders and businessmen. Since the proposition suddenly to double the original bond issue might run into trouble with the voters, they decided to create a non-profit corporation called Stadium, Inc., as a legal arm of the city.

Bypassing the Voters

Operating through this dummy corporation, the Christopher administration could bypass the voters to raise more money.

Harney and two of his employees were selected as the first board of directors of Stadium, Inc. Christopher told Harney that he would be the contractor to build the new stadium, and his 41 acres of Candlestick land would be the heart of the 77-acre location.

In 1957, Harney sold back 41 acres of the parcel he had purchased from the city in 1953 at $2,100 an acre. The 1957 price the city paid to Harney for its own former land was $65,853 an acre. That’s a crisp total of $2.7 million.

The city’s Real Estate Department approved the deal even though other land adjacent to Harney’s was bought at about the same time for just $6,540 an acre. Harney made a profit of $2.6 million on the four-year land ownership switch.

Not so, Christopher and Harney later contended. Harney had graded and filled the land, and so naturally he was paid for his improvements. One fact raised doubts about that explanation: a $7 million fee awarded to Harney to construct the new stadium included $2 million for stadium construction, $2 million for grading and filling and $2.7 million for real estate.

Had it not been for the creation of Stadium, Inc., the Christopher administration would have been required to hold open, competitive bidding for the contract, and voters would have seen the price tags.

By operating through Stadium, Inc., Christopher was able to evade the city charter and arrange the contract in a privately negotiated deal.

Through the same apparatus, his administration was able to float another $5.5 million bond issue without voter approval. The interest rate on these bonds was set at 5% whereas the interest on the original $5 million bond issue was only 2.4%, a difference that would eventually cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Evading an Investigation

In February, 1958, Harney and his employees were removed from the board of Stadium, Inc., after, as the grand jury report later pointed out, “Three influential men then were substituted to represent the city’s interest—Alan K. Brown, W.P. Fuller Brawne and Frederic P. Whitman.”

The maneuver came too late to prevent Henry E. North from instigating a Grand Jury investigation into the strange transactions.

North, like Christopher, was a Republican and a conservative member of the San Francisco business community. Until his retirement, at 70, he had been executive vice-president of one of the largest property owners in the city: the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He had a strong sense of civic duty, however, and the Candlestick Park deal smelled to him of garbage.

The report North issued, as the result of the Grand Jury investigation, was potential dynamite. It showed that, shortly before the city purchased Harney’s land at $65,853 an acre, adjacent pieces of tideland were sold by the city for less that $4,000 an acre. It did not make sense that Harney’s land, partly under water, should have brought $61,000 more from city coffers.

On Dec. 2, 1958, the San Francisco Chronicle carried partial coverage of the Grand Jury report. On page 5, the year Harney purchased the city land was stated as 1933 rather than 1953. Of course, the 20-year difference would provide a reason for the tremendous increase in value, because the initial purchase price would have been at depression levels.

Undoubtedly, it was a typographical error. And no doubt it was by unintentional omission that other salient features of the Grand Jury report were omitted altogether and never printed by the Chronicle or any other major newspaper.

North charged that all bond issues negotiated by Stadium, Inc. were illegal evasions of the city charter. Bond payments had to be made from city funds, not the dummy nonprofit corporation, and so the whole deal amounted to legal subterfuge; a way to make taxpayers foot the bill without letting them vote on it.

The report, drafted by North and signed by 18 other citizens, estimated annual payments on the bonds of $990,000 for the first 15 years of the debt period. Against that, the city was to draw $225,000 a year in rent from the Giants and $225,000 a year from advertising and parking revenues, leaving a balance of $640,000 to be paid annually from taxes or city funds. It was estimated that the city could make up the balance by commanding the juicy television rights; instead, Christopher arranged for rights to go exclusively to the Giants.

Altogether, it was a marvelous deal for the Giants. In their last New York season, attendance at the Polo Grounds plummeted to 684,000. The club had gone broke and it was almost impossible to give away its stock. After the Giants first season in San Francisco in 1958, attendance tripled over its last year in New York, and their stock soared to $1,000 a share. In terms of revenue, the increase in gate receipts alone meant $3 million the first year.

While the Giants were reaping enormous profits at taxpayers expense, City Hall and the local newspapers were trying to make it appear that San Francisco, too, was earning money. The News-Call Bulletin, the now defunct Hearst paper, once stated that when all returns are in, the season just ended (1960) will have yielded the city about $530,000. The fact was that the sole revenue to the city was $50,000 received to maintain buildings and grounds.

The other Hearst paper, the Examiner, stated, on the other hand: City Hall officials said $375,000 of the revenue figure will be used to pay the annual cost of the city’s $5 million bond issue. The Chronicle published this figure: Of the remaining $527,000, the first $375,000 must go toward payment of the city’s $5 million stadium bond issue.

The fact was that all revenues from the ball park and its parking lot had to be used to pay off the $5.5 million worth of bonds issued by Stadium, Inc., with the exception of the $50,000 maintenance income. The other $5 million worth, issued by the city, had to be paid off through real and personal or property taxes collected by the city.

The result: a projected loss, not profit, of $640,000 the city must pay from taxes or other general city revenues (according to the Grand Jury report), and a loss this year of at least $360,000 (according to figures supplied to The Guardian by the city controller’s office and Mike Barrett, the Bank of America executive who handles Stadium, Inc.’s trustee account.)

Some annual loss on Candlestick Park will continue until 1993, when the stadium will finally be free of debt and owned completely by the city—unless, it is torn down before then or reconstructed, which will add more debt.

There was another interesting development at Candlestick: Stevens California Enterprises, which got the food and beverage concession at the ball park, bought all its milk until two seasons ago from Christopher’s milk company, Christopher Dairy Farms. The Borden Co. now has the lucrative contract.

Even though City Hall and the newspapers were misstating facts about the Candlestick story, San Francisco restaurateurs, hotel owners and shopkeepers at least began to realize that they were not making any money from the ball park, as promised by the ballyhooers. Only the Giants, Harney, and Christopher were making money. The Giants were attracting few additional tourists to San Francisco, and area fans who journeyed to isolated Candlestick Point, several miles away, did not stop to patronize downtown establishments. Some downtown business men were angry, and if North’s crusade were given time and publicity, they might cause an uncomfortable controversy.

Christopher sent emissaries to North, but he would not be wooed or pressured from his stand. To the contrary, he made even more vigorous attacks on Christopher and the ball park deal. The lives of future generations had been mortgaged by this shoddy piece of business, he maintained. Christopher was diverting city funds from various departments: $1.4 million from street improvement bonds, $1.2 million from state gasoline taxes given to the city for road improvements, $1.5 million from sewer bonds for services to the Giants ball park.

A Hidden Payoff?

Already the cost was $15 million, and it might exceed $20 million when various exits, entrances, widened access streets and the like were built to handle the anticipated large crowds. Privately, North informed civic and business leaders that there was an underhanded payoff in the deal, and he intended to expose it.

Christopher reacted viscerally to North’s charges. With newspapermen present, he asserted North was drunk, incoherent, and fixable. The description was published in the newspapers.

North went to Nate Cohn, one of the foremost criminal lawyers in California, and they filed a $2 million libel suit against Christopher. In a pre-trial hearing, Christopher’s attorney filed a thick brief with 45 motions for dismissal of the suit, hoping to tie up the case inextricably. In just an hour and a half, Superior Court judge Preston Devine threw out all 45 motions, indicating clearly that Cohn and North had a good case.

Breaking Down North

Christopher’s friends in the business community went to work on North. The publisher of one of the three daily newspapers, North told me, called on him and said, “Henry, why don’t you play ball? You’re giving the city a bad name, stirring things up like this.”

At the Pacific Union Club across the street from the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, where North was already in disfavor for bringing Jewish guests despite the no-Jews-allowed policy, fellow Republican business executives started a snub-North routine. One day, for example, an old business friend greeted North:

“Say, Henry, I see in the papers there’s some fellow named Henry North filing a suit against the mayor and stirring things up. Must be another Henry North in this town, huh?”

“No, that’s me,” North told him.

“Is that so?” the old friend said. He turned his back on North and never spoke to him again.

I talked to North several times during the siege because I was publishing articles about Candlestick Park in my magazine, The Californian (now defunct). In those days he was full of fight, willing to take on City Hall and the entire business establishment even if it meant losing every friend he had. He promised to tell me the names of the men involved in the payoff, and he excoriated Christopher.

“You know what I call men like George Christopher? Black Republicans. Men who never did anything in their lives for the good of the common people. They’ve never realized that this country as a whole is no better off than the great masses of its people.”

The Fateful Fifth

Then they went to work on his wife. Unlike Henry, she was not involved in politics and her life revolved around her friends and social affairs. Her friends snubbed her and she no longer received invitations. She cried, she pleaded, she begged Henry to call off the ball park investigation and the lawsuit, when that did not move him, she threatened him with divorce. Henry began hitting the bottle.

On June 2, 1960, shortly after I published a detailed article by Lewis Lindsay called “The Giants Ball Park: A $15 Million Swindle,” the press broke the story that North had buried the hatchet with Christopher. In its first edition, the Chronicle correctly reported that North and Christopher had drunk a fifth and a half of Scotch together at Christopher’s home, and praised each other for publication. “He’s a great mayor,” North said—and agreed that legal entanglements were finished. The Chronicle dropped mention of the Scotch in later editions that went to most of its readers.

Cohn was outraged. “We had this suit won,” he told me. “North assured me he was going through with this no matter what happened. But they got to him through his wife, the poor old bastard. You see how they do things in this city? It’s so goddamned rotten you can’t believe it.”

When I called on North again, I found a complete transformation in his appearance. The look of a peppery fighter with ruddy cheeks had given way to a physical wreck; a baggy-eyed, tired, meek looking man weighed down by defeat.

The saddest part of the story was that his wife divorced him anyway. Not long afterward, North died of a heart attack. Harney died in December, 1962.

With North out of the way, with the daily newspapers blacking out the most important parts of the Candlestick Park story, with The Californian reaching only a few thousand citizens, it looked as though the scandal would never be investigated. In an effort to stir up something, I personally appeared before the Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors and urged their help. One committee member, Al Zirpoli, had said before that he would favor an investigation.

No committee member challenged any facts I presented. When I finished, John Jay Ferdon, Committee Chairman, said only that he would not favor an investigation. He did not say why. (Six years later, when he had become District Attorney, he told me I was right about Candlestick.) Zirpoli, later to become a federal judge and the judge to hear draft resistance cases, said, “I agree with what Mr. Ferdon says.” He suggested, “If there is wrongdoing, your best course of action is a taxpayers’ suit.”

I went looking for wealthy liberals to finance a taxpayers suit, but none were in season. Cohn would have taken the suit if I could have found somebody to pay him for his time. All that he could do now was take me to business friends and introduce me.

The typical reaction came from Sam Cohen, owner of a plush restaurant on Maiden Lane said:

“Sorry, Burton, I can’t get involved. Do you know what Christopher can do to me with his power at City Hall? A Health Department inspector can find something wrong with this restaurant any time he wants. A door is too narrow, my stove does not meet regulations, anything to run me out of business. That’s how they do it. You can’t fight them.”

Since nobody in the city would fight, I asked Sen. Estes Kefauver, chairman of the Antitrust and Monopoly Sub-Committee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, to investigate. He replied: “As interesting as a study of how the San Francisco ball park deal took place would be, I do not conclude that it is a matter that should be gone into on the federal level. I think that it is entirely a local or state matter, and that the Subcommittee would perhaps be criticized if it moved into this area.”

Now Another Ballpark

Here we are eight years later, with a Candlestick Park that enrages so many people that a new mayor, Joe Alioto, wants to scrap it for a new stadium. His announced philosophy is that great public projects should not be waylaid just because all of the people aren’t getting enough spaghetti and zucchini. And no doubt many San Franciscans believe that a ball park is a great public project, greater than a school, housing complex or a modern transportation system. That attitude could be the most tragic part of this story.


City College Trustee resigns, protesting state takeover


Democracy is a thing of the past at City College of San Francisco, and now one member of its elected board has had enough. City College Trustee Chris Jackson announced today that he is resigning from the college board to protest the state takeover of the school, and he explains his reasoning in an op-ed in this week’s Guardian.

“I came to City College to do good work,” Jackson told the Guardian. “At this point it’s impossible to do that work I set out to do. That’s why I’m leaving.”

Jackson was first elected to City College’s board in 2008, but in 2013 he was a trustee in name only. The day City College was told it would lose its accreditation was also the day it lost its Board of Trustees. Those democratically elected by San Francisco voters to lead City College were pushed aside by California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris.

It was a state takeover, and the board was rendered powerless.

The seven-member board holds no more meetings, drafts no more legislation, casts no more votes. The public cannot hold elected officials accountable when things go wrong — because the man in charge is no longer someone San Francisco elected.

Robert Agrella is the “super” trustee, appointed by the state chancellor to make unilateral decisions regarding City College’s future, something they say is necessary to save the school. Agrella holds no public comment sessions, and told the Guardian previously that personal emails to him would suffice. Agrella hardly ever answers his phone, we’ve found.

Paul Feist, a spokesperson for the California community college state chancellor’s office, said that the takeover was necessary to make the hard decisions needed to save City College quickly.

Tremendous progress has been made since July, with key positions having been filled, collective bargains agreements reached and fiscal controls implemented,” Feist told the Guardian. 

To Jackson, it’s a mockery of democracy.

“If my resignation can bring a light to this public policy issue, I hope it does,” he said.

In the last month a vote by the California Community College Board of Governors made Agrella’s stay indefinite. Legally, he won’t leave until the state tells him he has to.

There is not a formal timeline for returning governance of CCSF to local trustees, but it is hoped that this happens soon after the college demonstrates it has addressed the deficiencies identified by [its accreditors],” Feist said. “The state has no interest in running City College indefinitely under a special trustee arrangement.” 

To those who wonder what this all means, and to understand Jackson’s grievance, one look only as far as two of Agrella’s latest unilateral decisions.

A performing arts center long planned to be built by City College was canned by the super trustee, citing funding concerns.

“Clearly, the college is in no position to make this commitment at this time,” Agrella told the San Francisco Chronicle when he cancelled the project. It was $6 million shy of its estimated $95 million cost.

The school’s only performance venue is the Diego Rivera Theater. It is the lone theater serving a school of 85,000 students (and sometimes more) but it seats only hundreds, and is dilapidated and crumbling.

That was the first of Agrella’s motions to overturn decisions by the Board of Trustees, but his next decision was directly challenged by Trustee Chris Jackson.

Just last month the super trustee overturned a decision by the board to drop Wells Fargo as its bank. Last year, the board voted to find a more ethical bank to do business with, instead of one that foreclosed San Francisco homes and held questionable ties to the student loan industry.

An investigation by the San Francisco Examiner found that after Wells Fargo exerted pressure on Agrella and promised the school at least $500,000 in grants, the super trustee repealed the decision to shop for a new bank.

The unilateral decisions of Agrella make Jackson furious, but it’s not as if he didn’t see it coming.

In a September 2012 meeting, the Board of Trustees faced a decision: Does it ask the state for a special trustee? It was quickly communicated to the trustees that if they didn’t ask for one, one would be imposed anyway.

It was a false choice. A public relations move designed to make the board look like they sought help when newspapers and TV stations asked them about the super trustee. In the end, no matter what decision they made the state would take control of the school.

“This special trustee, while not ideal, I don’t personally like, I think it’s appropriate for right now. But we need to understand how long they’ll be there, and what position need to be in for them to leave,” Jackson said.

“I hope this board doesn’t just cede power to the special trustee,” he said.

That was a year ago. Now five months without the board, City College has lost the vision a local politician can bring.

“I’ve certainly called him the conscience of the board,” Alisa Messer, the faculty union president at the college, said of Jackson.

“Chris made himself accessible to those who felt besieged. He’s for the underdog, regardless of being black or brown,” former student trustee William Walker told us.

“I’m just really sad to see Chris go,” said the current student trustee, Shanell Williams, who first met Jackson while on San Francisco’s youth commission.

All of them mentioned Jackson’s work to secure childcare for the two City College campuses in the Bayview. When City College’s accreditors tasked them with scaling down its mission of who to serve, Jackson championed the college’s GED program and won. He also worked closely with the group Students Making a Change, which endeavors to close the achievement gap for students of color at City College.

Jackson’s departure leaves a seat open on the board which Mayor Ed Lee can make an appointment to fill. But the legality of an appointment while the board is effectively out of power is an open question. The Guardian contacted the mayor’s office to find an answer, but did not hear back from them before press time.

“I think the thing San Franciscans ought to be asking is: Do we even have a board, and when are we going to?” Messer said.

As for Jackson, he’s looking forward to concentrating on his family and his career. He currently works at a nonprofit which helps people in Africa and India find new jobs in tech.

“I’ll have more time to spend with my daughter,” he said.  “I’ll have more time to focus on my own professional career, and am looking to go to law school.”

The 30 year old Jackson said he wants to be an attorney to help young men like D’Paris Williams, who was stopped for a traffic citation at Valencia Gardens in a case of alleged racial profiling. Jackson, who lives in the Bayview, wants to defend the people in his community.

“I want to be a part of that,” he said.

Update: Commenters and sources that called the Guardian rightly asked what Chris Jackson’s Ethics Commission fines had to do with his stepping down. Jackson was late filing his campaign reports and was fined about $3,000 by the commission. When the Guardian spoke to them a few months ago about this, they told us it was a routine matter and that Jackson was complying with their requests for payment. Jackson had already reached a payment agreement well before his resignation, which does not affect the fine, he said. 

This stuff’ll kill ya


FILM Clad only in a dingy T-shirt and tighty-whities, with an overgrown beard and a hollow look of defeat in his eyes, shut-in Ian (Adrian DiGiovanni) spends his days channel-surfing and plotting ways to commit suicide. When his beloved vintage TV (“His name was Kent,” he tells the camera, in the first of many direct addresses) fizzles, smokes, and goes dark, he finally takes action.

But after he’s lurched off the couch and dumped enough household chemicals into his bathtub to kill several hundred depressed agoraphobics, he falls and hits his head. When he wakes up some time later, groggy and bleeding from the mouth, he realizes his grimy bathroom has a new inhabitant: a talking pile of mold that immediately starts spouting Tony Robbins-like encouragement at our sad-sack hero.

A lot happens in the opening act of first-time feature director Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth. Delightfully, and sometimes gruesomely, the rest of the film keeps pace, even though we never leave Ian’s apartment. Unwelcome visitors (a wacked-out TV repairman; a snarky delivery girl; Ian’s angry landlord) and a series of surreal hallucinations, in which Ian imagines he’s appearing in the shows he used to watch on Kent’s screen (the best one: an alien buddy-cop drama that looks straight outta Troma), are troubling — though the pretty neighbor he glimpses through his apartment peephole offers brief moments of relief.

But Ian’s main focus, of course, is Motivational Growth‘s title character (voiced with purring bravado by the great Jeffrey Combs). The mold — it insists on referring to itself in the third person — looks like a Krofft Superstar Hour prop that fell into a sewage tank; it has barely-discernable features beyond an expressive mouth that never stops talking (and “when the mold talks, you listen,” it says, sternly). Though the mold encourages Ian — who hasn’t left his apartment in over a year, to tidy up and set a course for “Successville” — there’s also something undeniably sinister about Ian’s increasingly bossy new buddy.

With its pleasingly retro vibe, including a bleep-blorp video game-y soundtrack, Motivational Growth is quirky without getting in your face about it — though it may inspire you to rush home and scrub every inch of your bathroom. It’s a high point in the 10th annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, produced by SF IndieFest and stuffed tighter than a turducken with indie horror, sci-fi, and fantasy flicks.

The fest offers a sprinkling of classics (for all you Room 237 obsessives out there, it features screenings of both 1980’s The Shining and projection-booth stunt “The Shining Forwards and Backwards” — talk about a labyrinth). But mostly, it’s a showcase of new films that might be having their only local theatrical screenings, including several intriguing imports.

Billed as the Philippines’ first-ever indie zombie movie, T.A. Aderto’s The Grave Bandits has a few major flaws, including an overload of bodily-function jokes and some of the worst mad-scientist acting ever captured on film. But its young leads — particularly Marti Sandino San Juan as the slingshot-wielding Peewee — and some gushing gore effects mitigate most of The Grave Bandits‘ more unfortunate elements.

The premise: Two scrappy ragamuffins (Peewee and his slightly older buddy, played by Ronald Pacifico) make their living robbing corpses, a survival strategy that makes them unpopular enough to be chased by angry mobs. They’re able to steal a small boat and escape to one of the country’s tiny islands — unluckily, it happens to be the same place a gang of pirates acted the wrong way around a giant gemstone tainted by “an alien virus, dormant for over 100 years.” Ergo, a new angry mob to evade — one made up of flesh-ripping zombies.

Elsewhere among the international selections is French Canadian filmmaker Renaud Gauthier’s Discopath. The writer-director is clearly a fan of cult-horror nasties — 1980’s Maniac and 1979’s Don’t Go in the House, and to a lesser extent 1977’s Suspiria, seem to have influenced this stylish, self-assured creepfest. After witnessing a terrible tragedy as a child, shy loner Duane (Jeremie Earp) can’t stand music, particularly that newfangled genre called disco. For whatever reason, he agrees to go to a dance club with a girl he’s just met — with disastrously bloody results. Fast-forward a few years, and he’s fled New York City for Montreal. Living under a fake name, he’s working as a handyman at a Catholic girl’s school and wearing hearing aids that mute out the dreaded sound of music (insert your own “Disco sucks!” joke here).

But once a psychopath, always a psychopath, and heads soon start rolling (and spinning on turntables, in fact). If Discopath‘s plot is familiar to the point of homage, its synth-scored commitment to detail reaches exceptional heights: period-perfect clothes, cars, tabloid newspapers, décor (including a giant remote control that Motivational Growth‘s Ian would covet), and carefully-calibrated amounts of garbage scattered on NYC’s Me Decade sidewalks. *


Nov 29-Dec 12, $12

Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa, SF

New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF


Where I was on the day President Kennedy was shot


By Bruce B. Brugmann

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, a famous MIlwaukee daily newspaper always rated among the top ten U.S. newspapers.

I was packing with my wife Jean and two kids, Katrina and Dan, to go to San Francisco with the idea of starting a newspaper, which three years later became the San Francico Bay Guardian.  But I was still on duty in the Journal newsroom on the  Friday morning of the assassination. 

Early in the morning I got a call from the publicist of the Moscow Circus, which was finishing up its highly successful run in town. I had covered the circus as part of my show business beat and had rated it highly as the splendid show it was. The publicist, a good guy and competent at his job, wanted me and the Journal’s music critic, Walter Monfried, to go with him to lunch at a nearby German restaurant called Mader’s.

“I will buy the lunch,” he said, ‘”and you won’t have to write a thing.  You will be doing me a big favor.  I have lots of money left over on my expense account and I need to get it spent.  I want to spend it on the two of you.” And he repeated the point  for emphasis, “You will be doing me a big favor.”

And so Walter and I, after our noon deadlines on the afternoon paper, headed out for Mader’s,  planning for a big meal and lots of drinks.

We had a couple of drinks and ordered some German specialties of the house and settled in for a long lunch. Word of Kennedy’s death came to Milwaukee at 12:49 p.m. on Nov. 22, but Walter and I got the news by special messenger. Suddenly, Gus Mader, the proprietor, broke the lunch decorum by running around the room carrying a little sign.  “Kennedy’s been shot, Kennedy’s been shot,” he said in an excited voice.”Kennedy’s been shot.” Ane he kept running around the restaurant with the message.

I looked at Walter and said, “Walter, you know Gus. Can he be believed?”   Walter replied, “Yes, he can.  Kennedy’s been shot.”

We quickly finished our meals and did what newspeople do in the news business when disaster and a big story breaks.  We immediately went  back to the Journal newsroom.

It was pandemonium but functional pandemonium. The staff had only minutes to make the final deadline on the afternoon edition. Someone called downstairs to the press room,  nobody knows who, to yell “stop the presses” All the wires were pumping out copy relentessly,  AP, UPI, sports, regional wires, all of them. Our ace reporters had already been dispatched to the scenes, Bob Wells to Dallas and Harry Pease to Washington. Editors were conferring with reporters. Reporters were on the phones or typing furiously on their typewriters. Ruth Wilson was handling the mountains of material streaming in from the wires. The city desk was organzing local coverage and reaction followups and coverage from our Washington bureau. Things were tense and the air crackled but I was amazed at how efficiently and professionally the paper moved along.

The assassination was of particular moment for the Journal and its talented staff. They liked Kennedy and his politics and had a special personal and political affection for him. J. Donald Ferguson, the Journal editor sitting on the Pulitzer Prize board  in 1957, was responsible for the choice of Kenendy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” to be given a Pulitzer for the best biography.  “The book had not been considered by the other judges until Ferguson won them over, telling the board he had read it aloud to a 12-year-old relative, “‘and the boy was absolutely fascinated,'” according to a Journal history.

Kennedy had visited the Journal newsroom during the crucial 1960 Wisconsin primary and was friendly with many of its reporters and editors and his administration hired some Journal staffers, including Ed Bayley, former star political reporter  and later founding Dean of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism  The  Journal warmly endorsed him during the primary and general elections. Kennedy was a welcome change after the Journal’s famous battles during the 1950s with its native son Joe McCarthy and the national scourge of  McCarthyism.

The story made the final edition and then there were other extras, with huge “EXTRA ! EXTRA !” at the top of the front page. When the first of l00,000 copies of an extra rolled off the presses with more details, the Journal lobby was jammed with people waiting to buy papers.

The  Journal rose to the occasion magnificently, put out a special edition on deadline, and produced some of the nation’s best coverage of the assassination and funeral of any paper in the country.  We were all sad about Kennedy but very proud of our newspaper. . b3



























Media let BART slide


BART continues to stonewall important questions about whether it was training scab drivers to break the recent strike by its unions when its trainee-driven train killed two workers on Oct. 19 — a stance made possible by the failure of the mainstream media to connect the dots or correct the anti-union bias that characterized its coverage of this long labor impasse.

Local journalists have failed to highlight the connection between that tragedy and the subsequent decision by the district to suddenly soften its stance and sweeten its offer, within hours of the National Transportation Safety Board revealing that a trainee was driving and that BART’s “maintenance run” story was a deception.

Local media outlets did dutifully report that a trainee was driving, but they failed to point out to readers and viewers the significance of that disclosure or ask the district whether the training was intended to break the strike and whether that plan fed the district’s hardline bargaining stance.

We have asked those questions of the district, and when we got misleading obfuscations, we asked again and again, and our questions are still being largely ignored. And here’s why they matter: Because if the district was planning to run trains during the strike, it reinforces the unions’ contention that the district forced a strike that it was preparing to break, a plan that became untenable when two people died, just as the unions warned might happen if the district ran trains without experienced drivers.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost did finally confirm to us that, “BART has been training some non-union employees to operate limited passenger train service in the event of an extended strike if so authorized by the Board of Directors,” but she and BART Board President Tom Radulovich have each ignored our follow-up questions and requests to discuss this is greater detail.

This should be a huge scandal, the kind of thing that might force General Manager Grace Crunican to resign and BART directors to lose their seats — except for the fact that the media are ignoring this simple, obvious narrative and failing to do their job.

The East Bay Express, a rare exception on the local media landscape, published an excellent article on Oct. 30 about how the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area News Group (which includes the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, and San Jose Mercury News) misled the public about the BART standoff.

Not only have these daily newspapers written some truly atrociously anti-worker editorials, but even the supposedly objective news stories have been clearly biased in their emphasis and omissions, including the current failure to demand accountability.

But this could backfire considering the truth will probably come out eventually, even if it’s long after the media spotlight has moved on. NTSB investigations can take up to a year, but they are remarkably thorough and it will probably eventually discuss why these drivers were being trained.

The Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment announced on Oct. 29 that it will also hold a hearing to “get to the bottom” of the tragedy, and one can only hope that someone on that committee will grill the district about its intentions in running that ill-fated train and conducting new driver training just one day into the latest strike.