In the most overtly political of Bernard Zakheim's Depression-era Coit Tower murals, a man reaches for a copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. How funny, then, that a dozen swells last year enjoyed a candlelight banquet just beneath him, a hookup for one of the state's biggest right-wing political donors arranged through a call to a city department head from Willie Brown.
Das Kapital, meet da kapitalists.
Thomas Coates' elegant Coit Tower dinner for a dozen has become the latest flashpoint between neighborhood activists and the Recreation and Park Department, which oversees the tower. A letter from the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, claiming the Coates dinner violated city rules by shutting the public out of the landmark during business hours, spurred Supervisor David Chiu to call for a hearing. While the Dwellers have put Proposition B on the ballot to "prioritize" money generated by Coit Tower for sustaining the tower, the Recreation and Park Department would rather the tower — a cradle of workin' man's WPA art — serve as the city's champagne room, and then spend the money as it sees fit.
SF Weekly obtained e-mails and receipts generated by the April 2011 dinner, a $20,000 charity item Coates purchased to benefit the Parks Alliance, which supports Rec and Park. They reveal an admirable and alarming dedication to meeting the donor's whims — "I just need every part of the bldg, inside and outside, to be sparkling!" wrote one Rec and Park employee. Informed that the Coateses "only like Chardonnay" and "Tom is a vodka cocktail guy ... up w a twist," the organizers responded "Buttery Chard and vodka cocktails will be plentiful." As the organizing was on par with, say, launching an amphibious invasion, the Parks Alliance's Jane Scurich chalked it up to "the very casual manner in which the dinner was initially secured through a phone conversation between Phil [Ginsburg, the head of Rec and Park] and Willie Brown."
Ginsburg has written to the Elections Department that Prop. B "could likely result in the severe restriction of public access to Coit Tower" and "severely reduce the department resources used to maintain nearby parks and playgrounds in lower income and underserved neighborhoods." It would certainly cut into the ability to auction off Coit for private events, something the department notes it wants to do more of in the request for proposal for the tower's next concessionaire. Cordoning off a city landmark for private events by the politically well-connected "flies in the face of what Coit Tower is all about," says Telegraph Hill Dwellers president Jon Golinger. "It was donated for all the people by Lillie Hitchcock Coit."
It was also donated in memory of the city's firefighters — so be careful during those candlelight banquets.