Public Works appointment causes sparks to fly in San Francisco mayoral race 

The appointment of a city department head with a checkered past has pushed the once-innocuous San Francisco mayoral race further into an all-out brawl, with the recent injection of hostile race-card politics.

Mohammed Nuru, an 11-year Department of Public Works manager, was appointed head the 1,200-employee agency. But critics of the move were quick to point out Nuru has been implicated in an investigation by the City Attorney’s Office, a scathing audit by the Controller’s Office and as the subject of a discrimination lawsuit.  

Mayoral candidate and City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Monday blasted Mayor Ed Lee’s approval of the appointment, calling it “cronyism” and “poor judgment.” Lee responded by calling Herrera’s comments a case of “smearing other people’s good name” and noted Nuru’s status as “one of the very few African-American department heads.”

Lee’s sentiment was echoed by the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP, who held a news conference Tuesday on the steps of City Hall to denounce Herrera’s comments. Brown said Herrera is playing “racial politics.”

“If [Nuru] was guilty of what they accused him of, they would have locked his butt up and thrown the key away,” Brown said, adding that Herrera owes Nuru an apology.

In 2004, Nuru’s former nonprofit, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, was accused of illegal campaign activity. The investigation, led by Herrera’s office, found that Nuru coerced employees of the now-defunct group into supporting the campaigns of former Mayor Gavin Newsom and former District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Herrera also noted a 2004 Controller’s Office report that accused the group of inadequate accounting practices and tens of thousands of dollars in improperly used grant funds from The City. SLUG was subsequently barred from receiving city contracts.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Herrera said, adding that his comments about Nuru have nothing to do with his race.

Nuru was also the target of a lawsuit settled this year accusing him of treating black women differently in the workplace. The City paid out $105,000 to Toni Battle, a former manager who investigated instances of discrimination against employees at the DPW.

Nuru declined to comment on the lawsuit, the tumult over his appointment or the past city investigations.

“I just want to stay focused on my job and continue serving The City,” Nuru said.

Lee, who worked with Nuru when he was the department’s director, said he disagrees with the finding that Nuru was involved in the questionable activity.

“That kind of disturbs me that people don’t take a look at what he’s done, and try to accuse him of things that are, in my opinion, very false,” Lee said.

Herrera insists he’s simply focusing on Nuru’s record and the fact that he will now oversee a department with a $129 million annual budget.

“The individual that was just appointed to lead it has a history of ethically questionable conduct,” Herrera said.

Examiner Staff Writer Brent Begin contributed to this report.

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