Chris Daly, San Francisco’s most incendiary supervisor, has portrayed himself over the years as one of the forces fighting on behalf of the common man, ready to leap tall buildings to take on corporations, lobbyists, special interests and greedy developers everywhere.
And Daly, who is up for re-election in November, must really like his job, because it appears he’s willing to do to just about anything to keep it — even if it means taking gobs of money from corporations, lobbyists, special interests and developers, especially those plying their trade in his district.
Do progressive values now carry dollar signs? That’s what a lot of people are wondering after the self-styled populist filed his latest campaign finance disclosure forms, which show that Daly has made a slew of wealthy new friends while in office.
In the filing period that ended June 30, Daly’s disclosure forms show that big-money developers, land-use attorneys, lobbyists and their clients gave nearly $17,000 to his re-election campaign — 30 percent of the $55,501 he’s received in contributions so far. Have developers discovered that if they want to get a green light on their projects theyneed to deal with the new power broker in town, or have they just decided to be good neighbors?
From Rincon Hill, where the controversial twin towers are being built, to a massive new apartment complex in the mid-Market area, representatives of the industries Daly has vowed to combat are learning anew what it means to give. Even the head of the Miami-based company that just built the Metropolitan, an exclusive condo development near the Embarcadero, sent Daly the maximum contribution of $500 — which shows that when it comes to greasing the rails, politics in California and Florida aren’t very different.
Now there’s nothing wrong with accepting money from fat-cat developers or lobbyists — and Daly is just doing what politicians have been doing since the beginning of official campaigns. But Daly ran on a campaign to get rid of the kind of pay-for-play politics he associated with the reign of Mayor Willie Brown — and a quick scan of his fundraising would suggest that Daly has learned a thing or two from Slick Willie.
"It’s just the new reality," one developer, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. "If you want to build a project in Daly’s district, you have to deal with him."
I called Daly to get his take on why so many A-list developers and lobbyists are contributing to his campaign, but he declined to return it. But anyone who remembers his power play last year, in which he got developers to kick in tens of millions of dollars for a "special nonprofit community fund" for his district, knows that Daly may fancy himself a street activist, but he’s learned the ropes like an old pol.
"I knew that we’d have to be careful about the corrosive effect of money in politics," Daly wrote on his blog last year. And indeed, it looks like he’s been carefully studying the effect of money in politics.
His list of contributors reads like a lineup of big guns noisily transforming Rincon Hill, South of Marketand other areas of Daly’s District 6. Besides Sonny Kahn, CEO of Crescent Heights of America which, built the Metropolitan, there’s John Malcolm, chairman of the drilling company that bears his name and has been involved in numerous high-rise projects. Robert Mendelsohn, a former supervisor who is one of the principals involved in the Old Mint Museum project ponied up for Daly, as did a number of well-known landuse attorneys working on projects in his district, including Alexis Wong and Alice Barkley.
Several lobbyists representing developers also dug into their pockets for Daly, including those from Barbary Coast Consulting, which worked on the Rincon Hill Tower project. So did HMS Associates, which represented Angelo Sangiacomo, the developer of a recently approved 1,900-unit development on the site of the old Trinity Apartment complex at Eighth and Market.
Treasure Island, which is in Daly’s district, was also well-represented on the list, with lobbyists Jay Wallace and Darius Anderson among those contributing to the supervisor’s re-election bid. Daly, who sharply criticized Mayor Gavin Newsom for cutting a sweetheart deal with developers on Treasure Island, received $2,500 from individuals trying to build there.
"One might think he’s sold out his progressive roots and the machine politics he promised to fight," said Rob Black, probably the best known of the dozen or so candidates challenging Daly in November.
Hey, people change. Daly might even become warm and fuzzy on the stump. You just never know.Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (415) 359-2663.