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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

h. brown's columns for October 18, October 22


October 18, 2002

Watching City Hall

by h. brown

No matter what you say, … I will NOT hate you!

– Gavin Newsom sinking to a new low at our first "debate"

Had my first "debate" with Gavin Newsom. Oct.13th. It was billed as a "forum," I think.

I was born for that kind of thing. Pop was a radio preacher and he could get carried away. Mom is from great literary stock. Combined, they produced (on the 8th try) a ranting, zealot, drunken (not their fault), pot-entranced, demagogic. Me.

Oh, it wasn’t that way at all. You really don’t think I’d go into a room full of people, mostly older than myself (who were giving up the Giants’ playoff game) and… Naw, I was nice.

Newsom’s response was from a comment I made to him about his campaign slogan, “He gets it.” I commented that it reminded me of “He hate me” (a phrase worn, literally, on the back of a player’s WFL jersey). Gavin must have figured that I was using my normal dialect. He sounded kind of like a young Jerry Brown. Had that Jesuit kind of dementia that is both reassuring and troublesome.

God help us if this boy really does think that his proposal to take the last few dollars from the pockets of the poorest of the poor is a good idea. We didn’t get into that. But, you don’t care what was said, do you? Naw, you want to know the "feel" of the thing.

It felt like this

It was a pretty small room. Newcomer High. No stage. Two plain folding tables. Four candidates at the one on the audience’s right, sitting left to right (in alphabetical order): moi, Gavin, Len Pettigrew & Lynne Newhouse-Segal. To your left was a table of three panelists: Nia Crowder & Daniela Kirshenbaum flanked David Ish, the new publisher of the Marina News. I’d guess there were around 100 people. I didn’t attack. I talked of the first transcontinental baseball series (held here - Toledo Mud Hens took first train here to play our local team), asked the crowd for a billion dollars to buy some buildings to establish a land trust segment of San Francisco real estate.

Wednesday night (October16) I went to see Newsom defend his Prop N in debate against Matt Gonzalez. Same thing. It’s like everyone on the political left has been dipping into 55-gallon drums of malaise and rubbing it all over them.

I just can’t get excited about politics lately. As is often the case, these things come in waves like our winter rains that wash upon us all. I mean, Matt did well and Gavin was at his "Max Headroom" best, but I really didn’t care. I was more into the audience. Foxy ladies and tripped-out wonks; a tame demonstration out front. The whole thing was like a TV movie of a campaign.

Newsom (who has lots of Al Gore’s arm motions) seemed ready to unleash a little passion. He actually turned to face Gonzalez at a couple of points and even raised his voice a bit, but that’s a waste with Gonzo. This is a guy who lived in the raw emotion of the criminal justice system for over a decade and he does not rattle.

I feebly rattle a few cages

I jogged over to the N debate & started tryng half-heartedly to get something going upon arrival. Gonzalez was talking to Examiner hit-man Frank Gallagher while a TV crew filmed them. I did what I thought was the right thing. I got to the edge of the crowd circling them, leaned forward and kicked Frank lightly in the ass. No one takes me seriously. Anyone else would have been spread-eagled on the sidewalk. There were lots of cops around. But, oh no, not me. After an initial start, they just laughed and kept on talking.

I challenged a few Prop N drones while they finished the interview and then Gallagher & I ducked around the corner for a nip of Kentucky nectar before the event. I like that guy and it shocks the hell out of many of my lefty cohorts. It had been a couple of months since I saw Frank & he’s dropped 35 lbs and gotten a haircut from, I’m guessing, Newsom’s barber. Politics aside, he’s only 35 but the changes made him look in his 20s again & I was a bit jealous.

Speaking of which …

I meet Joel Ventresca & Ed Jew

The week before, I was at some center somewhere in the Mission to face a panel of some Filipino group. Bright and early. A Saturday morning.

Jogged over & sat in the outer office with Ventresca and Jew, who are candidates in District 4. (Just an aside – did you see where the Independent editorial board endorsed Andrew Lee in 4 while allowing their ace political columnist, Samson Wong, to endorse Fiona Ma? Well done, James) I started barbing the two District 4 hopefuls (it’s amazing I don’t get my tail kicked more often). Joel just smiled a Yoda smile and was quiet until I noted that he didn’t look anything like his pictures. He said, “I’ve lost over 40 pounds in four months by just cutting out bread and rice and potatoes from my diet – starches.” Jew began extolling the virtues of Tai Chi, standing to strike postures that ranged from smooth and flowing to threatening in their lightning speed. The guy hosting the interviews came out into the outer office where we were sitting and stood gazing at the spinning and slashing Ed Jew.

Well, things can get a bit tense out there on the campaign trail. As candidates we owe it to the public to present the best possible image. Ed lightens up with a bit of Tai Chi. Joel brings down his weight and blood pressure. Me? I’m more of a traditional guy. I drink.

Other secrets of my success

Like Yassar Arafat, I seldom sleep in the same place two nights in a row. Columnists, like terrorists, flourish best in dark places. They eschew bathing to insure elbow room in tight gatherings. And while we can all get through a metal detector with a swagger, most of us couldn’t get past a breathalizer.

Of course, the politicians couldn’t either, so you still have politics and political coverage.

Hall takes canoe into the taxi gyre

The last thing a local politician wants to do is piss off 4,500 cab drivers. Especially, in San Francisco where your driver is likely to be some kind of accountant or brain surgeon or something. When you factor in 20 runs a day with, say, 2 passengers each, that’s … 90,000 people daily. Nevertheless, strong-willed 7th District supervisor Tony Hall has again ventured into this minefield. It works like this. …

There are around 6,000 cab drivers in San Francisco. Around 1,500 of them are "medallion" holders. That is to say, they can legally put a cab on the road & in order to keep it rolling, and they can (usually through a company) hire 3 other drivers to keep it moving. That’s 4 drivers per taxi with 3 of the 4 paying the other $82 a shift to use the vehicle. Hall has heard the siren call of the medallion holders and the companies that provide them with logistical support. They want to raise the "gate," as the daily fee is called, to $90. Oh, they want to kick up the fares a bit too but the emphasis at Hall’s latest hearing was on the gate. The companies filled the room with medallion holders who make money both ways. While normally working only a small percentage of the time. The companies and medallion holders want to saddle the other drivers with their raise at a time when they are making up to 40% less due to the economic downturn. It’s confusing, no?

The normally accurate Nick Driver, writing in the Examiner, managed to emphasize the company point of view pretty much to the exclusion of the average cab driver. The Ex reported: “Cabbies: Raise fares.” That, of course, only told 25% of the story. It should have read: "Greedy Cab companies move to screw 75% of drivers and 100% of public. Testimony from regular drivers noting that at least one company (Yellow) reported 50% profits last year … went unreported. Other testimony noting that many medallion holders only pay $30 or less a shift (they OWN the companies) … went unreported. It’s a Republican kind of move. Management raises prices, lowers costs and increases profits upon the backs of employees and the public during bad times.

There was one funny bit though.

Me? I’m flying in my taxi … takin’ tips … and getting stoned!

– Harry Chapin

After watching Hall’s show before the Transportation and Commerce Committee, I saw the director of Da Mayor’s Commission (another stone fox) at the Black Leadership forum later in the day. We bantered and she asked if I’d seen the last commission hearing. I hadn’t, but I did later that night.

Now, I won’t name the driver but Jeeez, was he high. Seems the cops had caught him smoking lotsa doobie in the parking lot and the airport and it weren’t the first time. He was before the commission to defend himself but he soon had the entire commission, the audience, and me (watching on the tube) roaring. I’m something of an expert on a good pot buzz and this boy was flyyyyinnng!

They gave him a few months off the job to clean up his act. I had to chuckle. From my years of experience with drivers going back to the few months I drove for Yellow in St. Louis in the 1970s, I’d guess if you wee-wee tested all the drivers, there wouldn’t be many cabs on the street.

that’s enough for now: sobone@juno.com   


October 22, 2002

Watching City Hall

by h. brown

You’re really funny, mister!

– An adolescent Newsom supporter evaluates h. brown

My hard fought campaign for District 2 supervisor is winding down. With only 3 forums & a radio show left to display my wares … 15 short days … still with 0 expenditures … the hill, she looks tough.

The above statement was at the League of Women Voters’ forum held at Marina Middle School on October 17. I got a pretty good buzz before heading over with Courtney Haslet, one half of the documentary team covering the race. We sat up his camera in the auditorium and headed out to find a glass of Chardonnay before the "debate." Outside we found Len Pettigrew, fellow candidate & former crushing defensive force for the Philadelphia Eagles, taping balloons to the sidewalk. Red, white and blue ones. He had short strips of duct tape lined on one arm from his wrist to his shoulder. Methodically, he moved along an arc formed by the balloons which directed the public to the forum. I tried to get him to forget the public and come down one with us. Len stayed on the job & I drank a bit extra for him. It went well.

It went well

Did I mention that it went well? Oh, I insulted the audience once. The fools jeered and crawled into their shells like a bunch of turtles and snails when a question was read asking the candidates’ position on the possible war with Iraq. A streak of isolationistic swinery reared its ugly head and I slammed it down.

“You rob the resources of the world, drag it back here, then think you can hide?!”

Or something to that effect.

I brought up the dreaded G word briefly (that would be "Getty"). Otherwise, it was pretty quiet. I loved it, of course. An hour and a half before a respected forum. I didn’t curse. Or pass gas. Or smoke or drink on stage. The audience was cardboard cut-outs at first, but I got em going a bit. I really am considering doing one of these things straight. I wonder what that would be like?

Certainly not the next one though. PG&E Headquarters @ 245 Market, this Wednesday (Oct. 23), 11:30 am-1:00 pm. Co-sponsored by two other heads of the local mad dog, Donald Fisher & Charles Schwab. And they invited MOI? Y’all come too. In the PG&E Auditorium. I’ve invited a few other friends and associates.

Back to the last forum. I came off stage energized and ran to the 5 friends who came to watch. “What’d ya think!!?” I thundered.

“Newsom sure is good looking,” noted an old girlfriend.

“Maybe you came in 3rd but I could have done better,” offered one of the guys.

“Are those the only clothes you have?” asked another.

“Did anyone bring any pot?” closed the comments.

Well, I’m not in this for adulation. Or money. Or to cause pain.

Why the hell was I running? Whatever.

Matt Gonzalez for mayor

Yeah, that was it. I decided to run against Gavin to try and nick him up a bit. You know, jab for weaknesses? Check him out for next year’s run for mayor. In an odd aside, the moderator of the forum I’ve been talking about opened the proceedings by saying, “I’m not sure how to proceed, since one of the panelists is the next mayor of San Francisco.”

Gavin leaned slightly to me (we always sit next to each other cause teacher puts us in alphabetical order). He said, “Are you going to be Mayor?”

I looked on past him on down the line of other candidates and replied, “Must be. I don’t see anyone else who’s qualified.”

But you see, most of us on the left have conceded Newsom will be the corporate candidate. Only Tony Hall could supplant him and Tony is not nearly so well connected. However, on the other side of the political spectrum, we are stuck with Ammiano, a front-runner who (unfortunately) is unlikely to garner 50% plus one in the present environment against Newsom. We’ll end up in another run-off. Ammiano vs. Newsom. Newsom will beat Tom far worse than Willie did. I don’t even want to think about the debates.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Ammiano is the best candidate by far. He’s been at the point of the progressive movement for a couple of decades and his heart is pure. I am just speaking as a cold-blooded political junkie who is as immersed in the mind of the average voter as anyone I know. Tom can’t win and he’ll take us down with him yet again. I say, thank Ammiano for his services and draft 5th District Supervisor Matt Gonzalez. Matt can win for a long list of reasons.

Why Gonzalez can beat Newsom

▪ Gonzo is as tall and good-looking as Newsom. (And I’m sure we can come up with a couple of more ties and an iron.)

▪ Gonzalez is smarter than Newsom. Not to down Gavin. But there are some smart cookies on that board and only Peskin seems quicker. Matt comes across more naturally in debate. Newsom is wooden and his long lines of mostly meaningless statistics bore even his followers.

▪ Gonzalez is pure of heart and intention. This is the only supervisor who doesn’t check the wind before he votes. He’s most like Bill Bradley when you consider recent political heavyweights. That kind of thing communicates to an audience.

▪ Gonzalez is a Mexican-American. The fair-skinned Castilian look makes you forget. This is a candidate who can make speeches in the Mission … in Spanish.

▪ The entire working press corps respects him. That is truly bizarre. Fellow thug columnist Frank Gallagher actually praised Gonzalez in a column in the Examiner on October 21, saying: “By the end of the 90 minute debate, Gonzalez had emerged as the last, best hope of the City’s progressive wing – perhaps the only pol who could successfully challenge Newsom in a Mayoral bid next year.”

Gallagher and I both like a good fight and Gonzalez vs. Newsom would be one hell of a wing-dinger. Newsom’s millions against Gonzo’s true believers. The child of immigrants returns to the land stolen from his ancestors to battle the martial plutocracy that drove them out.

There could be a novel in there. OK, maybe a TV movie? A short story? All right, two poems and a series of cartoons?

My "battle" plan

Like I said, I’ve not spent a farthing beyond the filing fee for this election. I’ve walked no streets, rung no bells, made no phone calls. Still, I thought it a responsibility to try and bring together at least one semi-coordinated demonstration of support. Or defiance. Or perhaps a party. So I went through my address book & contacted a bunch of people (most of whom I barely know) with a request that they come to the PG&E forum. That, and put together a party for election night.

Being a realist, I’m betting the party gets the stronger response.

Here be the plan:

boys & girls,

I have 3 more debates with Gavin Newsom. The next is the best if you want to make a statement before the public. PG&E, Donald Fisher & Charles Schwab have invited us to a forum in their auditorium at 245 Market (PG&E building) this Wednesday from 11:30 am – 1:00 pm. I hope you all will do me the favor of making some kind of statement on behalf of yourself or the group you represent on the sidewalk in front of the building. Newsom has opposed all of you on behalf of his corporate masters for the past 6 years. Please join me in my effort. I will speak on your behalf on stage. You can represent yourselves on the street or in the auditorium.

love you all,

h. brown

you too?: sobone@juno.com