As we wind down 2010 and look forward to 2011, let us recap some of the biggest stories in city politics this year:
5. Fox Feeding Frenzy
The kids’ meal toy ban. Meatless Mondays. Cell phone radiation labels. No water bottles at City Hall. A four-hour debate about a Gaza incident. We have given more fodder to conservative media outlets than the hue of Sarah Palin’s lipstick. If anyone at City Hall were smart enough, I would accuse them of being a double agent.
4. Weaker Speaker
November’s election losses for Democrats meant that our congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, is no longer speaker of the House. Many people (myself included) wondered if she would step down from office or at least let someone else be in charge for awhile. Instead, Ol’ Crazy Eyes is staying in the game as minority leader — and I detect a glint of ambition to grab that gavel as speaker again. Or maybe that is just the Botox. Either way, local politicians waiting since 1987 for a chance to run for Congress will just keep on secretly cutting themselves and practicing their introductory speeches to interns to an audience of Beanie Babies.
3. Usurping the Supes
This year, two major measures that were rejected by the Board of Supervisors were put on the ballot through signature gathering. They were Muni reform and the sit-lie law, both of which passed at the polls in November. It just goes to show you that at some point the grownups have to fling open the door at City Hall and demand, “What are y’all doing in here?” It felt good too. There will be more so long as the problems of potholes and panhandlers are overlooked whilst plastic bags remain enemy No. 1.
2. Pension Attention
San Franciscans woke up this year to find that we owe a bajillion dollars for city employees’ pension and retiree health care benefits. Proposition B on the November ballot would have forced city employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. Opposition to the measure was paid for by unions whose money comes from dues deducted from public employee paychecks. Since taxpayers pony up the money for those paychecks, we actually funded the opposition to pension reform. Adding fuel to the “No on B” campaign was a bunch of politicians whose own retirement benefits would have been affected by the reform. Despite the fact that only 56 percent of city retirees even live here to vote against it, the reform measure failed. And Moody’s promptly downgraded our credit rating. To recap: Too much taxpayer money was promised to city workers, taxpayer money was used to oppose the effort to rein that in, and now that the opposition worked, taxpayer money will be used to pay higher interest rates that result from our lower credit rating.
1. Mistermayor’s Mission to Move
In the Jimi Hendrix song “Red House,” he sings, “If my baby don’t love me no more, I know her sister will.” And so it has been with Mayor Gavin Newsom, who — lacking an enthusiastic response when he knocked on the door of the governor’s mansion — went on over the hill and crashed at the lieutenant governor’s pad. But not before months of tortuous denials, indecision, campaigning and ultimately throwing the future of The City into question with the flagrant fiasco his breakup with us has left behind.
The past year had some winners and losers. And, lest you think I am only interested in pointing out the negative, here are three winners from 2010:
Phil Ginsburg: The general manager of the Recreation and Park Department took over last year and inherited a beehive of conflicting interests, preservationists and budget cuts. He has managed to weather severe budget cuts to the department by making some of our beautiful resources into revenue streams in a way that is respectful and still allows low-income students to attend summer programs for free. Plus, he has to deal with nut-bags who oppose any beneficial endeavor. “Oh, don’t extract gold from that gold mine! It’ll make noise, kick up dust and destroy my childhood memories.” The eye-roll injuries alone would prevent me from holding this job.
Alex Tourk: His firm, Ground Floor Public Affairs, batted a thousand this year. They were behind the successful effort to pass the sit-lie law (“Civil Sidewalks”) and to defeat the foot patrols measure that would have killed the sit-lie measure. Also, Tourk’s inspiration to hold elections on Saturdays also passed, and just like his last brainchild — Homeless Connect — it will be a model for cities everywhere in about five minutes.
Michela Alioto-Pier: The battle over whether she could run for re-election as supervisor in District 2 exposed the tremendous popularity of Alioto-Pier. Case in point: She supported Mark Farrell, who went on to win the race. Her history of legislation advocating for women and children, along with business-friendly politics, will make her a formidable candidate for mayor in 2011. Oh yes, she is running.