Three things deserve notice today on the eve of the Bd of Supes’ consideration of the conflicting appointments to the PUC.
One is the 13-page opinion of the City Attorney, complete with references to that warhorse of American law, the 1805 case of Marbury v. Madison, but without much meaningful reference to current events.
The second is the significance, proximate and Big Picture-wise, of the failure of the Boys in the Back Room, who orchestrated the stealth appointments, to seize, or perhaps even recognize, the political moment when it was offered to them two weeks ago.
The third is the condition of the appointees in this crisis.
First, the City Attorney’s Opinion. To say that this document muddles the crisis instead of clarifying it is to indulge in understatement. This opinion is truly bizarre. Faced with a crisis over cronyism on one part in the appointment process and chicanery in the appointment process on the other part, what does the City Attorney do? He gives us the worst of both worlds. In his opinion, he not only okays the appointment of the intriguer, he also okays the appointment of the crony. … What’s that I hear you say? “Only in San Francisco!” Ain’t that the gnarly truth. …
The City Attorney’s Opinion is a failure: tortured and incomplete. It’s a panicked brief that reads as if a bike messenger dictated it over a cell phone while reading from borrowed law books perched on his handlebars as he was trying to navigate from Battery to Bryant in rush hour. Coherence got ‘doored.’ ... One sentence runs seventy words before collapsing into utter unintelligibility. Confused the City Attorney’s opinion is, and persuasive it isn’t.
But perhaps clarity isn't what the City Attorney was seeking. Obfuscation may have been the aim. The fact is that the City Attorney’s office, supposedly impartial, disinterested and loyal to the principles of the Charter – his true client, aided, in a most pro-active way, the stealth appointments. Appointee Werbach, for example, told me that, immediately after Chris Daly offered him the appointment, operatives from the City Attorney’s office were on the phone to him.
Maybe poor Dennis Herrera didn’t know anything about this – he was on vacation in Mexico when the deeds were done. But the failure of his 13-page report to come clean, to disclose, to explain the actions of the City Attorney’s office. doesn't help him any.
The C.A.’s frantic opinion throws a bone to the Mayor on one side and to the Boys in the Back Room on the other. Perhaps the City Attorney’s office thought by so doing, the matter would end and there would be no more embarrassing questions about the office’s behavior. But far from quieting concerns about the role of the City Attorney’s office, this opinion raises more doubts, and further inflames public opinion.
That brings us to the second point: the puzzling failure of the Boys in the Back Room a) to recognize just how great the revulsion of the public is to their stealth appointments, and b) to seize the political moment to resolve the problem when it was offered to them.
Public opinion – and I talk to and dispassionately consider the thoughts of scores of San Franciscans of all stripes before claiming to able to report what public opinion is and isn’t on these matters – was revolted both by Da Mayor’s appointment and by the appointment made by the Boys in the Back Room. More so, by the Back Room appointment for its stealth and hypocrisy.
Not inattentive to all this was Da Mayor, who knows when public opinion is wiser than he. He withdrew his appointment.
Da Mayor’s withdrawal of the Lee appointment was also a signal, a sign as big as the clock face on the Ferry Building that he was ready to deal with the Boys in the Back Room. A political moment had been created.
But the Back Room Boys failed to act. They seemed so proud of their original caper, no matter how reviled it was, that, in their gloating, they were inattentive to the march of events. They were incompetent to seize the new political opportunity. So nothing happened. And now the matter goes to the full Board, and if politics fails again, it goes to the courts. …Are you following this? Good. Almost done. …
So where does this leave the Boys in the Back Room? Stuck with an appointee the public doesn’t respect; Stuck with reps as conspirators against open government, and apparently unable to read the political landscape. They also shunned an offer from their foe to deal. For that, they’ll get steamrollered. … I just can’t believe that guys who like to think of themselves as politicians failed to see the political moment. Are they just posturers, frat-house politicians? Or merely inadequate?
What about Adam Werbach? It has been pointed out to him that he has taken office through skullduggery and trickery, yet he has steadfastly refused to resign. One wonders how smart this refusal was. Had he resigned, there was a good chance that subsequently he would have been appointed as a compromise candidate, with backing from both sides. He has good credentials. Now, if he takes office, he does so with a taint. Terrible. Because he is a smart guy and an honest guy. Just a little too ambitious. Terrible for him. ...
Terrible also for Andrew Lee, who doesn't deserve the opprobrium hurled in his direction. In the vilification directed at him by the enviros, isn't there a hint of unseemly class consciousness? Just because he, unlike Gonzalez and Werbach, didn't have a coolish Ivy League schooling, doesn't make him an enemy of the environment. And just because he's worked in the mayor's office and comes from a family active in small time politics, doesn't mean that he's 'owned'. To the contrary, there are small, mean forces in local politics who mutter that Werbach is their pawn, even if he doesn't know it yet.
But to return to the larger topic: What we have is an extraordinary failure of politics. And now the crisis goes to the full Bd.
Gawd knows what the Supes will do tomorrow. But the City Attorney’s Opinion is unpersuasive and is compromised. It has no heft. If relied upon, it will invite a greater crisis, full of lawsuits. … And while Werbach’s credentials are impressive, the manner of his appointment, which some of the Back Room Boys codenamed “The Blessed Event,” still stinks in the eyes and nostrils of the public. It would seem that the Supes, as public officials and as believers in politics, must vote to reject.
The Institute is adjourned. ...