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Monday, April 12, 2002

Watching City Hall

by h. brown

Have you seen my little red rooster?

Do you know where he's gone?

There ain't been no peace in the barnyard

since my little red rooster been gone.

– Classic blues piece

Gary & the Argonauts weren't the only ones singing the blues last night. I caught their act at the Blue Lamp down on Geary & Jones after attending last evening's meeting of the Elections Redistricting Commission. Gary broke a guitar string in the first set but wailed on with riff after riff of screeching, tumbling, groaning cascades of bruising blues. Three bucks at the door & $3.50 for a pint of Sierra Nevada. A real deal. So was the crowd at the City Hall meeting.

"I think every political junkie in town is here." commented Patrick Murphy, my publisher with the San Francisco Sentinel. We'd camped in a back row of the main Board Chambers, which had become the overflow room for the live affair in Room 263. The larger chambers soon filled, as did the halls beyond. It was great.

It had the energy of a heavy weight championship fight and it was. We all knew this one was gonna go all 15 rounds for sure. The opponents were too evenly matched for this one to end in a knockout. Nope, it would go to the judges for sure. Word was, Willie Brown had already bought two French judges and a Ukranian clerk. Some of the lines the Mayor's old girlfriend, Claudine Cheng, suggested looked like they would have Chris Daly living in Oakland and Sophie Maxwell in Mexico. My side (progressives) had Gavin Newsom representing the Farallone Islands.

Did you see or read “Catch-22“? It has a recurring scene where all of the bomber crews gather round a large map of enemy territory to see which targets have been captured and which are still beyond "the bomb line." It really happened that way, though author Joseph Heller satirized it into a masterpiece. Twenty-four hours a day, people stood in front of the map, checking to see where the “bomb line” had moved. Their lives could very well depend upon it.

San Francisco's redistricting map has lotsa bomb lines. Finished products usually end up looking like a surgery job by Dr. Frankenstein. Ya think there's no way anything like that could work, then the damned thing gets up off the table, goes out into the hall & starts shaking voters' hands. Ahhhh, it was fun to watch everyone go from goose bumps to cold sweats as appendages were removed & switched into odd angles.

The two large TV monitors tracked the continuing adjustments as first one commissioner, then another, suggested changes. Legislative aides instantly recognized overlays of segments that crossed their boss’s frontiers & left conversations to race up to the monitors and study the moving lines like cats chasing the beam from a flashlight. "Can you hear me now?" called out the lobbyists on cell phones in the halls, calling out to their clients. There was so much microwave energy bouncing in the corridors that you could get a tan just going to the bathroom. In between we people-watched and shared gossip about who was screwing or used to screw whomever. A real San Francisco gathering. There were some nice hats too.

If the happening had an overarching characteristic, it had to be humor. Everyone shook their heads & made disparaging remarks about "politics," but everyone was smiling broadly when they said things like that. We were all in our element.

Players & voyeurs. Predators & prey. Doug Comstock, who heads an umbrella group for neighborhood organizations, nodded as he passed & worked the crowd. Chris Bowman, the walking Department of Elections archives, draped his long arms over the backs of a row of seats and held court. John Gardner, most recently of Jeff Adachi's incredible campaign, passed on updates and beamed. Susan Horsfall, who has connections with Lennar developers, told me she read everything I wrote. I told her I watched everything she said (I do) & resolved to stop leaving notes in the women’s john. Steven Currier, who's lobbying Gerardo Sandoval to get more “big boxes” in the Outer Mission (try Capp Street, Steve), called out my name. I had to get a better disguise.

Larry Roberts, from Matt Gonzalez's office, showed us the tire tracks Oz Erickson of Emerald Fund left over his body that afternoon when Larry stood to testify before Gavin Newsom's Neighborhood Services & Recreation Committee for a modification of the new Albertson's liquor license. Sean Elsbernd, whom you get to meet if you tell lies about Tony Hall, stopped to trade laughs.

It was a great gathering. The bomb lines moved on … and so did I.

gather nuts: sobone@juno.com