Mayor Ammiano: Really? Seriously?

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on January 26, 2011 with 3 Comments

By Larry Bush

Editor’s Note: This article was prepared for, a new political website that will launch in February.

January 26, 2011

Never was gonna happen. Not in a million years. Not in ten million years.

Two reasons: Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom.

Oh, and you can throw in Bevan Dufty and David Chiu for good measure, but they were just bit players in the Brown-Newsom The Empire Strikes Back Year 14.

So far, the armchair armies remain dazzled by the pretty façades erected to hide the real action.

Identity politics got Ed Lee elected, right? How ennobling. How wrong.

Passing the mayoral torch: Willie Brown to Gavin Newsom to Ed Lee.

A liberal outlook defeated Art Agnos as too liberal, but Tom Ammiano would have easily won. Say, what? How does that work? Because Ammiano is notably less liberal than Agnos, or Aaron Peskin, or Michael Hennessey? In what universe?

You can just see Newsom and Brown twirling their mustaches, saying, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

OK, so you need to see the play with all the numbers spelled out. Let’s do it.

The conventional political wisdom assumed that Ammiano would have had six votes “easily” because either Dufty or Chiu would have come on board. Dufty because of, wait for it, Identity Politics. Chiu because he would be cornered into supporting his colleagues on the Board.

Let’s dispense with Dufty first, because he is unquestionably being operated by remote control.

When asked early on whether he would support Ammiano, Dufty took a duck. Claimed it was a moot question since Ammiano says he wasn’t interested. So much for even a respectful tip of the hat in Ammiano’s direction. Nope, just pushed Ammiano to the curb. He did the same thing earlier with the annual Castro Halloween celebration, helping shut down an event that was a hallmark of the LGBT community for at least three decades.

Who did Dufty support?

Everyone knows the answer to that: Dufty was all-out for Sheriff Mike Hennessey.

Mike, by the way, was just one more card in the initial Brown-Newsom stacked deck wherein Newsom himself had signaled that Hennessey was acceptable to him as an Interim Mayor.

See, Hennessey was the fallback to avoid a Mayor Agnos, who the Newsom team had concluded had reached six votes by Sunday. And Agnos was not wearing their jersey. In fact, he wasn’t even in the stands for them. Nope, he represented a game change they couldn’t accept because it would jeopardize everything from key commission appointments like Planning to policies like community policing to public power to local hire laws to sanctuary city.

Former Mayor Art Agnos.

Truth is, with the Board meeting on the immediate horizon, Dufty called Hennessey’s office to ask for some crib notes to use in nominating Hennessey. That’s a pretty good indicator for how committed Dufty was for Hennessey – was gonna nominate Hennessey using the good sheriff’s own cue cards. Hennessey and his supporters must have thought: “Lock it down, it’s a done deal.”

Dufty leaves the first chinwag with Newsom in the morning on phone remote still saying he likes Hennessey the best. That lets Dufty set up some of the progressives to think maybe they can go to a safer way to get six votes if they go along with Dufty and switch to Hennessey.

Some progressive supervisors like John Avalos could then see a strong compromise with Hennessey having the most votes….after all Agnos had been out of office for 20 years and was not the universal choice of progressives. Mike was.

Except…except…Dufty only faked he had a vote. So for the first part of the Tuesday Board meeting, Dufty plays a low-rent Hamlet who couldn’t remember his lines, claiming he wanted to give the other supervisors a chance to reach six votes for an Interim Mayor. But nevertheless saying to his colleagues he would like Hennessey to be the Interim Mayor.

In the middle of the official meeting and debate of the Board of Supervisors, Dufty got a text instructing him to call for a recess and come behind closed doors in the mayor’s office. Why the recess, Dufty is asked. “Because I want one,” he replies, unable to think on his feet with a plausible answer. When he emerged from the mayor’s office, the message was: “Drop Hennessey and vote for Ed Lee.” Dufty then plunged the knife into Hennessey’s back,.

Ed Lee ? Ed Lee? What the in the world? Ed Lee was in China on vacation having taken himself out of consideration weeks before. Half the Board had never talked to him during the entire process.

Why Ed Lee? Because it was the perfect cover to pull over David Chiu, who appeared as late as Sunday to be willing to consider an Agnos vote.

Chiu had a perfect track record – not as a progressive, but as a supervisor who would walk across the hall and end up accepting Newsom-Brown’s realpolitik.

This is a guy who takes the world as it is, and then makes the most of it for himself. That should have been known from Day One, given his founding role and client list with Grassroots Enterprise Inc (see Astroturf in Wikipedia). He explains it all as Getting Things Done contrasted with Having Real Values (not his term).

Voting for Lee was the perfect cover for Chiu, who could claim he was acting on community solidarity while suiting up for the other team. Rose Pak quickly announces that she will put her money down on Chiu for Mayor in November.

Lee, of course, was not actually the preferred stand-in for the Brown-Newsom Empire Strikes Back axis. That would be Willie Brown himself. Rose Pak, the City Hall power broker who populates City Hall with her handpicked choices for seats from Police to Planning, Permit Appeals to the Port, had made it clear she wanted Willie Brown as the Interim Mayor. Who better than the man behind the curtain to step out from the curtain?

Rose Pak and Willie Brown.

Brown, while deprecating Pak’s proposal saying “You can’t go back,” still found time to make a few phone calls to some board members to check the pulse as well as instruct others to do the same. He would have had better luck checking for pulses in the city morgue. Yep, he really couldn’t go back.

Anyway, Brown already had secured a berth at the Chronicle as a columnist free to pump for clients, cronies and his own celebrity, reviving an anything-goes standard for newspapers that many thought ended with the actual death of William Randolph Hearst. Its current motto appears to have been taken word for word from National Lampoon: “Power To The Correct People.”

In fact, the Chronicle managed to allow into print an odious unsourced rumor that the problem with Hennessey was that he was brokering deals in exchange for votes as Interim Mayor – who to remove from the mayor’s staff, who to name to the vacancy that would be created at the Sheriff’s office. Of course, the Chronicle columnist didn’t check out the rumors – why let facts get in the way of a good smear, particularly one that, if true, would be a felony and carry jail time since exchanging votes for favors, whether for oneself or others, is a crime. One surmises that it was not a rumor spread by the progressive board members, and it may foreshadow what one can expect in “civility” from this refashioned board.

Ultimately, Ed Lee may prove to be more than the Brown-Newsom axis anticipate. Full disclosure: I worked with Ed Lee when I was an aide to then-mayor Art Agnos and Lee was appointed to Agnos’ staff as the City’s first whistleblower. He impressed all with his integrity and smarts. I continued to work with him afterward on such issues as monitoring campaign contributions from those hoping for a city contract, and Lee as City Purchaser briefed the Ethics Commission on strategies to uncover connections.

Looking at the November mayoral hopefuls, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where Lee is the progressive choice for a full term, having displayed the values that earned him respect long ago in a lower profile city job.

But for now, the Brown-Newsom axis, believing they had a front man ready to go, called in the crew that Willie Brown once famously called his “mistresses” – supervisors who owed their existence to them. Carmen Chu, former Newsom staffer appointed by Newsom. Sean Elsbernd, appointed by Newsom. Michela Alioto-Pier, appointed by Newsom. Dufty, former Brown staff aide. Sophie Maxwell, reportedly hoping for an appointment at Redevelopment or elsewhere courtesy of Brown-Newsom. David Chiu, seeking Rose Pak’s support for a mayoral bid. All of the Newsom-Brown team would continue to run the city for the 14th year of the Brown-Newsom Empire.

What took place the first week of January, 2011 was the San Francisco rewrite of the musical Chicago:

Give ’em the old double whammy

Daze and dizzy ’em

Back since the days of old Methuselah

Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler

Give ’em the old three ring circus

Stun and stagger ’em

When you’re in trouble, go into your dance

Though you are stiffer than a girder

They’ll let you get away with murder.

Or, if not murder, they’ll let you get away with City Hall.


Comments for Mayor Ammiano: Really? Seriously? are now closed.

  1. Good writing. I enjoyed that.

  2. Thanks Larry,

    Your ‘insider’ views are always the best. I’m looking forward to your new site. Send me the link and I’m sure Luke and the rest of the community will alert their readers.

    I do all the daily reading of all of the major wonks I can absorb and I don’t think anyone on any side has any idea what the hell’s gonna go down in November. That makes it all very delicious for my anarchist’s soul. Gonzalez is the highest profile lefty potential (lots of us are working to convince him to run) … Matt’s lefty with best track record both in achieving legislation and City-wide vote getting but the Chron (and, even the Guardian) are shutting even the mention of his name off their lists. He’s too independent for the hide-bound right and left.

    That aside, I make the November race as a showdown between Gonzalez and Ed Lee. I think Beijing will put their money behind the older of Pak’s ponies and that Gonzalez will swamp him in the final showdown.

    Then, it will get interesting.

    Go Giants!