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Tuesday, July 16, 2002

A Source at City Hall

one person's comments on politics in San Francisco



On public power, labor & politics

I wanted to get these thoughts off to you about Monday's board meeting before the cheap wine takes its claim. Most of these items either directly or indirectly deal with your latest column on the mayor.

Public power: Matt did a fine job in trying to get a public power measure to the ballot. He actually took note of the issue in 2000, recognized how helpful the Guardian was to his cause, and stuck by it. It is nice to meet folks in public life who take seriously what they pledge to do while running for office. It's refreshing to meet people who don't lie. What I don't understand is why McGoldrick and Peskin are so willing to just follow along with Ammiano on this one. I wanted to see these votes go down, so I cut out early from work and watched the board meeting. There was Bob Boileau, V-P of the Labor Council, huddling with the PG&E suits who rolled in to watch. Then Frank Gallagher, who didn't spend much time at the BOS. He headed up to the Civil Service Commission to watch the program unfold. But he did see Gonzalez's governance amendment approved on a 6-5 vote, and he was giggling about the role Newsom, Hall, and Yee played in that vote. You could tell Gallagher thinks its a poisonous amendment, one that will make it easier to defeat public power in November. I think Gallagher will be surprised.

My sole comment to Matt was that we were watching his colleagues make these key decisions about a public power agency based upon assumptions about what the public is going to do. Trying to read public opinion on a matter like this before a campaign and the public debate is impossible. That is information you can't know, but try telling that to Aaron Peskin (of course, later on in the evening he had a hard time getting the month right). Contested elections involve sorting out all kinds of factors that you can't predict. The job of the BOS here was to set the table, give the public the best possible agency to vote up or down, and structure the debate in an honest way.

Tony Hall hit some of these points, and he got the arguments right. But the high point of the day was watching Gonzalez threaten to pull his public power measure after the break when Maxwell (who had been primed by Brad Benson can't prove it with 100% certainty but I saw the conversations go down) wanted to resurrect public power with an appointed authority with no access to the grid. By the way, have you noticed the "camera walks" that Brad is famous for, the way he walks around the chamber to maximize his odds of getting on camera? Ammiano thought he'd nailed Gonzalez, but he forgot that Gonzalez's measure was not the one amended. Tom's miscalculation right there may be the difference in whether or not we get a reasonable shot of ever having public power in SF.

This brings me to McGoldrick. One of his oldest backers, someone who sat with him on the SF Tomorrow Board of Directors for years, told me tonight that if anyone tunes into Channel 26, it's over for McGoldrick. The SF Tomorrow board member called it a bad British comedy. Did you see how he tried to "rope" Gulliver's Travels into the Charter discussion? Jake does everything Tom wants, even when it's against not only McGoldrick's interest but Tom's as well. Jake McGoldrick went before the Guardian. He pledged to support public power (not a lite version, gutted by labor reps at the behest of PG&E) for his 2000 endorsement. So did Peskin.

That brings us to the question of why Tom is going this? It's a fair question. His mayoral candidacy has some obstacles. At least 20% of the electorate is homophobic. My first volunteer political work in SF was over domestic partners, and we never got more than 50% of the straight vote for it. 1/3 of the city's electorate voted for the gay marriage ban on the March 2000 ballot. Personally, I would be tempted to vote for a freedom from marriage measure, gay or straight, but that is another matter. But that's there, and it was there big time in 1999. So Tom wants to keep his 1999 base (which includes the Guardian) and add to that the Labor Council & the Democratic Party (DCCC). I don't think the votes are there at the DCCC for Tom Ammiano but I could be wrong. Robert Haaland, an Ammiano loyalist, did an excellent job of organizing for the DCCC in the 13th AD but Jane Morrison dropped the ball in the 12th AD. But you have to ask did Morrison drop the ball or was going slow on electing progressives in the 12th AD contingent upon the support she would later receive from certain Democratic elected officials (I think that was the deal). But the DCCC part of the equation is done because there won't be an election for that until 2004.

That leaves the Labor Council. The Labor Council is still up in the air. Right now, because of the laundry workers and SEIU 250 leader Sal Roselli's issues with Ammiano, he has some problems there. Supposedly, some compromise is in the mix. The SEIU workers are a big piece of the equation at the Labor Council because in SF we have far more public employee union members than union workers in private firms. But Tom's recent moves on planning (Kevin Hughes of the Building Trades Union was one of his three picks for the Planning Commission) combined with public power are all about lining up the votes within the Building Trades part of the Labor Council.

So it's an understandable calculus at first glance. But Ammiano's problem is that the 1999 base he is currently taking for granted has other choices next year. Last time the alternatives were Clint Reilly and Frank Jordan. One had a history of beating up a woman. The other took his clothes off, and it was not a pretty sight at all. Angela Alioto is running for mayor in 2003, and she has a long-term relationship with Guardian publisher Bruce Brugmann.

I get the sense that Peskin and McGoldrick are going along with Ammiano thinking their participation in his public power plans will help Tom at the Labor Council and increase Ammiano's odds. But Bruce Brugmann at the Rules Committee made his views known about Ammiano's public power measure. He called it the PG&E perpetuation act.

Right now we have two hermaphrodite versions forgive the non-pc analogy of the public power on the table, a fusion of the Ammiano and Gonzalez amendments. Personally, I was hoping that Matt would get Tom to go with his public power approach, particularly after the Milk Club and the Guardian weighed in combined with Gonzo's support for Ammiano's Planning picks, which are unpopular with several neighborhood folks who were hoping for a Dennis Antenore as one of the three picks. But that did not happen.

But frankly the IBEW (the PG&E union) isn't all that critical to the building trades council, much less Ammiano's fate at the Labor Council. If Ammiano was truly focused on his odds at the Labor Council, he would be rallying with the laundry workers because that union, SEIU 250, has far more votes to offer a mayoral candidate. Josie Mooney and Bob Boileau are sleazy Democratic hack types, and they are feeding Ammiano a load of bs about what he needs to do to get the Labor Council. In short, they are insincere about supporting him, and he's taking their advice sincerely when in fact he is being set up. Mooney is smart enough to know that by insisting upon no grid access AND no democratic governance in a public power measure, that means Ammiano gets in trouble with Bruce Brugmann. She knows that, and is telegraphing her influence over this process to people like Willie Brown and John Burton.

Gubernatorial elections traditionally are good for liberal causes. The first lavender sweep (which included passage of domestic partners), the extension of rent control to 2-4 unit buildings, Ammiano's election to the BOS & president of the BOS all happened in the November gubernatorial year elections. Public power could not ask for better placement in terms of an election. It's pathetic to watch a set of false assumptions about what the public is going to do. I understand why Tom needs the Labor Council, but if it means gutting public power that is just too high a price. If I am McGoldrick or Peskin, it's not a choice over whether you go with Ammiano or Brugmann. You choose the guy with the printing press every time. That is my read on this debate, and I think it makes more of the nuances we've all watched make sense.


p.s. Gerardo was a good vote today. Your column helped. I have some other things to report about Gerardo but that can wait. He was a good vote for Matt today.