We just can't focus on anything. There's way too much going on this week; even if we didn't already suffer from what we think must be a mild case of attention deficit disorder we would be overwhelmed with it all. Two new newspapers! A slew of new court rulings in Florida! Maybe, though probably not, a new president! The official departure, however temporary, of El Niño and La Niña! All Chris Matthews, all the time! Plus, the holiday that in our opinion is the very best of the year, enjoying a solid 8 percent lead over Christmas in the Dog Bites popular vote!
We, like many San Franciscans, are, quite naturally, a little giddy at the prospect of a bulked-up Hearst-owned Chronicle* and the debut of the Fangxaminer, on top of such seasonal treats as turkey, touch football, the pecan pie we've undertaken to contribute to the festivities, and Billy Dee Williams in a cravat hosting the Star Wars marathon while everyone recites, If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. We can't wait we can't wait we can't wait!
However. Though the traffic jam outside Trader Joe's is enough to make a Range Rover-driving Sea Cliff soccer mom fling one of her Nokias at someone, and though the annual zinfandel-vs.-Beaujolais-nouveau question of turkey-accompaniment is indeed vexing, and though the lampposts are still bristling with campaign signs from the last election -- "No on N!" -- and we're already struggling to remember: Which one was N again? Dog Bites must ask: Uh, aren't we supposed to be having a runoff around here?
Because, abruptly, everyone seems to have lost interest in the local electoral process. Certainly, the topic of missing Palm Beach chads is a compelling one -- you'll get no argument from us there! -- but we're a little disconcerted that it has so thoroughly eclipsed the fact that nine of 11 seats on our Board of Supervisors are still up for grabs. And after all the initial excitement over district elections, too!
"It's a problem," says District 11 candidate Gerardo Sandoval, who got 29.3 percent of his district's vote, compared with incumbent Supervisor Amos Brown's 26.6. "People do not even know there's a runoff."
Sandoval thinks the local media has "dropped the ball" on covering city elections; in his district, he says, lack of awareness of the upcoming runoff "is multiplied in the non-English-speaking communities."
Over in North Beach, many voters also seem to be assuming the election was decided last time around. "The worst thing that happens to me is when I walk down the street and people say, "Congratulations, Mr. Supervisor,'" says high-profile District 3 candidate Aaron Peskin. "I say, "Whoa, I got 38 percent of the vote, but I didn't win.'"
Our theory is that most people can only think about politics so much during the average day, especially when they're also trying to schedule time to refrigerate the pastry dough before rolling it out; the combination of a heavy meal and a heavy application of eye shadow by the Florida secretary of state is enough to make many otherwise conscientious participants in democracy bury themselves in InStyle's special entertaining issue.
At this point, though, you have to wonder whether anyone at all is going to be able to overcome election fatigue and drag him- or herself to the polls on Dec. 12. "In my district, it could be as low as 4,000 or 5,000 voters deciding who the next supervisor is going to be," comments District 6 hopeful Chris Daly. "Unfortunately, a lower turnout will benefit my competitor."
Chris Hayashi, the city Department of Elections' media rep, says the city does expect a lower turnout for the runoff, but that more exact forecasting is not her purview. "If it's raining, it'll be less. That's my prediction," she says. Meanwhile, work from the last election drags on. "All we do around here is count ballots," says Hayashi.
According to Sandoval, that's part of the problem. "The Department of Elections has taken way too long to release the vote counts," he says. "That's having a trickle-down effect in getting out voter information, absentee ballots, and so on."
Hayashi says the process has been held up by the close result in District 8, where Mark Leno will likely face a runoff with Eileen Hansen, but voter information pamphlets are now at the printer and will begin trickling into the mail probably by the end of the week. "You can't put half a million pieces in the mail all at once," she says. "And yes, the absentee ballots are going forward."
Meanwhile, it must be discouraging to be a candidate. Daly, who recently held a press conference to announce that he'd picked up endorsements from John Burton, Gavin Newsom, and Tom Ammiano, among others, says he got no media coverage of the event at all.
Then again, maybe we're looking at this the wrong way. Maybe we should, at Thanksgiving, be grateful for this respite from campaign fliers and negative advertising. Realistically, it's likely to be a brief one. "After Thanksgiving, as soon as everyone's down at the Macy's sale, that's when it will start again," Peskin predicts. "Everybody'll come back and find a stack of mail."
*In case anyone missed the announcement, John Oppedahl is the Chron's new publisher. La la la -- told you so!
Sure, we could stick around the office, where the unhealthiest people in the city congregate to hack and wheeze and lay claim to martyrdom, but last week Dog Bites, who is trying to get out more, had plans to attend the Publicity Club's Thursday luncheon "A Silicon Valley Perspective: San Jose Covers San Francisco." The event was to feature Erica Rowlands of KNTV and KBWB, along with Mercury News San Francisco Bureau Chief Robin Evans, explaining how their respective media outlets were storming up the Peninsula to, well, eat our lunches. Except that, the morning of the luncheon, Evans called the organizers of the event to say she couldn't make a speech after all, because higher-ups at the Merc felt the paper couldn't participate in any open discussion about its strategy.
Wait -- the Merc has a strategy for cracking the San Francisco market? Whatever it is, it's bound to be interesting; a disconsolate post-luncheon Dog Bites was wandering around at Powell and Market on Thursday afternoon when we noticed, in a newspaper box, the Merc's headline: "Clinton Upbeat in Bay Area Swing." Huh? Wasn't the president in Vietnam? Upbeat about what? we wondered, bending down to take a closer look -- which was when we noticed the paper was dated Nov. 4.
So perhaps part of the Merc's plan is to issue a bold challenge to what in Dog Bites' estimation is the tiresome and all-too-prevalent view that newspapers are meant to be consumed more or less on the same day they are printed. To this we say, Bravo!; putting a 12-day-old newspaper on sale in the heart of San Francisco is a small but necessary step toward recognizing the timeless quality of so much of what appears on newsprint, something that can only benefit those of us who strive for immortality, or at least job security, in this shockingly brutal profession.
Anyway, we called Evans to ask what the Mercury might be up to that was so, well, secret. "Oh, Laurel, considering the coverage you've given us, I don't think I want to give you any comments," she said.
"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine," we intoned, by way of reply. Well, OK, no, we didn't, because we're far too professional for stuff like that to even cross our mind. Ever.
So we're left to speculate. Not that we mind speculating, because it at least provides us with a distraction when we're sitting on the floor of our darkened apartment, rocking back and forth and brooding about all the people who hate us. What could the Merc's tippy-top-secret trade secrets for San Francisco coverage possibly be? Judging by the stories the paper runs on its San Francisco page, we'd bet one of them is renting an office with windows that open and close, so bureau staff can stick their heads out and get a good look at weather conditions. Drizzle lashes Bay Area.
But we'd also like to suggest, in case the Merc hasn't thought of it yet, that bureau staff members bookmark Go.com's make-a-map page, so they can find freeway exits, navigate San Francisco's tricky intersecting street grids, and double-check that the stories they're working on actually take place here in the city, instead of somewhere in San Mateo or Santa Clara counties. No, no, don't thank us -- just pay the bill promptly when it arrives.
Down and Out in the Mission
Yeah, everyone thought it was funny when Garden.com let its famous living billboard down on 101, um, die -- but then Garden.com itself announced Friday it was going out of business, as did Pets.com and BeautyJungle.com. Indeed, at a dinner party Friday evening there was much discussion of the popularly cited new statistic that a dot-com is going out of business every day now; fellow guests hoped that friends who'd been forced out of the Bay Area might soon be able to afford to move back.
Of course, displacement goes both ways. Dog Bites, who'd woken Friday with a vile and entirely undeserved headache, had earlier attempted to take the cure by visiting Valencia Street's new oxygen bar, because one of our friends -- who's in a position to know if anyone is -- swears 20 minutes of 02 is a panacea for every ailment from a bad mood to a hangover to incipient flu. We showed up at about half past four; there was no sign of anyone in the place. Around 5 o'clock another would-be patron arrived; he struck up a conversation by asking if we'd ever been to the oxygen bar before, and what it was like.
We said we had, and described the delights of aromatherapy-enhanced oxygen -- how it had made us, the skeptical and high-strung Dog Bites, into a believer, a mellow soul with glowing cheeks.
"Wow," said our interlocutor, and introduced himself.
Having established our mutual belief in the benefits of regular breathing, we waited as the sky slowly turned pink over Twin Peaks, and our companion called the bar on his cell phone to check again on the opening time given in its recorded message. We explained that we were sticking around in hopes of curing our headache.
"Or you could smoke a joint," he suggested, feeling around in one of his coat pockets. "The oxygen might cure a headache, but the joint will for sure." Then he showed us the T-shirt he was wearing; it featured the logo of Scour.com, which he said he'd been working for until it had laid him off that morning.
We waited a few more minutes before announcing that we were going back to the office. "Well, I'm going to smoke a joint," he told us, heading off in the opposite direction.