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A Cautionary Tale

By Kim Knox

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 staff.

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 San Francisco.

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 representative.

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 list@marksanchez.org.