By Benjamin Wachs
... the problem with great actors: they just can’t pull themselves away from center stage ...
Most people don’t think that government meetings are much fun -- proving that most people are smarter than they look. But, I’m telling you, yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors has a big future in re-runs. It’s likely to develop a fan base … maybe even make it to syndication. Pretty soon we’ll all be dressing in drag to see midnight showings at the Castro Theatre.
To do justice to the situation, these meetings would really need to be covered by a theater critic, rather than a political reporter, but let me set the stage. There’s Chris Daly, a once-gentle housing advocate who read so many books about Ralph Nader that he lost his wits to fantasy and became a knight-errant. Daly used to be the chair of the city’s Budget Committee. Poor soul -- he thinks he still is. But he was deposed for pulling too much shit exactly like the shit he’s about to pull.
Daly stands before his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and proposes an alternative budget to the one they’ve worked on for the last 30 days. A “people’s budget” (as if the people were ever actually going to read it) that “all progressive San Franciscans” should not have to think twice about (assuming they ever thought once). “Should we be appropriating new money for roads that are increasingly ruined by SUVs while we cut affordable housing?” Daly asks.
There’s more where that came from. “We have the opportunity to say, right now, let’s delay the hiring of new police officers and stop the firing of public health nurses!” he thunders (sort of).
When no one’s interested, he accuses the other supervisors of cowering before “A campaign of lies and deceit” that has been waged against him “by political forces that I believe are evil.”
He’s referring, of course, to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “Bullying” and “possibly illegal” reelection campaign. As a result of their insidious campaign of lies against him (did you know about this? Nobody told me) Daly is forced – nay, driven – to refer to himself in the third person. “No one wants to touch Daly,” says Daly. “Daly is radioactive.” Bob Dole, anyone?
Now it’s chaos among the supervisors as Board President Aaron Peskin gets down off his pedestal (kind of literally) to address these charges. He’s going to defend his budget, which he deeply loves. Don’t attack baby near the mama bear.
“When you’re running a municipal corporation,” Peskin begins, “there are an endless number of needs and a limited number of resources, and we, year in and year out, in conjunction with the mayor’s office, work to balance those needs.”
Oh blah blah blah. Peskin’s being completely reasonable, but it’s too dull; he’s not calling anyone evil, and he’s lost the crowd. Supervisors stroll across the meeting room to huddle up and confer as he’s speaking, plotting their next procedural moves. Supervisor Ammiano looks like he’s thinking about Sodoku; not playing it, just thinking about it, adding little numbers in his head.
Supervisor Elsbernd paces back and forth. Elsbernd (who, let’s not forget was appointed by the mayor) has the kind of scowl on his face that comes with having to even listen to something beneath you. It must be difficult to be surrounded by us lesser mortals.
Finally Peskin finishes, returns to mount Sinai (where the law is given) and then Daly picks up exactly where he left off. There’s not even an attempt at discussion – only an Olympic level effort to be more progressive than thou. Twice during this competition Daly gets applause from the packed crowd.
When Daly finishes, the board is content to let him carry the gold medal. It’s dead silence. Daly can’t even get the second sponsor he need to bring his “people’s budget” up for a vote. He warns them that -- if they don’t give him a vote on it -- he might pack up his toys and go home.
I’m not making this up, watch the re-runs for yourself.
He warns them again that if they don’t do the right thing, there’s no point in his being here. Creating a budget isn’t a political process, people! It’s about doing the right thing!
With no second, the Board of Supervisors moves on. Supervisor McGoldrick proposes a budget amendment. He gets a second.
Daly gets up and walks out.
It takes the crowd a moment to realize what’s happened -- and that he’s not coming back. “Is he … is Daly gone?” I hear people behind me asking themselves.
Not only is he gone, but he’s removed himself from the city’s website and taken up full-time residence at his blog (“TheDalyBlog.org”) where you can find his “unedited, uncensored, unadulterated analysis of San Francisco politics.”
“Check back regularly for the real deal,” he promises. “No holds barred!”
As opposed to what? After a performance like that, what’s left?
Daly eventually came back of course -- about 15 meeting items later, by my count -- and started voting again. That’s the problem with great actors: they just can’t pull themselves away from center stage.
Still, what a show. I hope he has a good agent. Because, that ringing sound you hear? That’s Hollywood calling.