A Cautionary Tale
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not
everything that counts can be counted.
— Albert Einstein
Be nice to people on your way up because you meet
them on your way down.
— Jimmy Durante
Last week, San Francisco native and California's
secretary of state Kevin Shelley resigned his post amid a probe by a joint
legislative audit committee into the alleged mishandling of voter funds,
questions about donations from several donors in San Francisco, and his
treatment of his staff.
Shelley's father was a longtime congressman and mayor
of San Francisco in the sixties. His mother ran the War Memorial Complex
(including the Herbst Theater) for many years. Shelley himself was an aide
for Rep. Philip Burton, a San Francisco supervisor, and then an assembly
member who represented the west side of San Francisco.
He was seen as a "golden boy" and a member of the
Burton-Brown machine. He helped to establish the city's Ethics Commission,
was a staunch supporter of unions, the man behind several environmental
measures, and noted for his moderate politics.
But Shelley was also noted for his rude treatment of
his staff and the people around him. When I came to San Francisco, one of
the city's senior managers said to me, "I know enough about Shelley that I
never want to get him mad at me."
When he went to Sacramento, his supervising style
didn't change. A camera captured his behavior when he yelled at a former
staff member trying to leave the building — with Shelley even briefly
blocking the entrance to the elevator.
His behavior was so egregious that it was brought up
for discussion in the Assembly. And yet he still continued to berate his
The Chronicle even reported that a group of people
who worked for Shelley in the Assembly used to have dinner together,
calling themselves "Shelley Survivors.'' And yet stories of his rudeness
to his staff continued to float around the water coolers in Sacramento and
Many others would have heeded the warning signs.
Shelley did not.
But why should Shelley heed the warnings? We, the
electorate, helped him get away with it. If I, a Green, knew about his
behavior, then many others did as well? Yet we still elected him to be our
Shelley got away with berating his staff when he was
a city supervisor — and San Francisco voters not only re-elected him to
that seat but also sent him to the Assembly.
Several accounts in the Sacramento Bee and elsewhere
told how he brought people to tears when he was in the Assembly — yet we,
the San Francisco electorate, still re-elected him and even elected him to
the second highest spot in California.
And with Shelley as an example, what is the message
that we, the electorate, are sending to other politicians?
That it's okay to berate your staff? That it's okay
to drive staff members to tears? That it's okay to humiliate your staff
week after week?
And the next question, do we really want politicians
who use behavior toward other people that we wouldn't tolerate in a
seven-year-old son or daughter?
Because in the end, how they treat their staff and
those around them is a measure how they treat us, their voters.
As promised, SFCall readers are the first to get this
scoop. The second annual Political Trivia Contest will be on Wednesday,
March 2, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Dylan's, Folsom and 19th Street.
Masters of ceremonies are Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi,
Terry Baum, Renee Saucedo, Sarah Lipson, Calvin Welch, and Mark Sanchez.
The categories include Famous San Franciscans, Great Political Scandals,
Housing in San Francisco, Lucky Landmarks, and LGBT Facts.
Teams of two to more can compete. The winning team
will get a better-than-cash-value prize. Hope to see you there. If you
have any questions, email