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A primer for out-of-town journalists flocking to the Pelosi power story

Wednesday, Jan 10 2007
Woo hoo!

Last Thursday, San Francisco became hometown to the world's most powerful woman. Party on dudes, er, babes, er, ladies, um, anyway: Party oooon!

As if.

We'll come to hate this, trust me, just as liberal San Francisco came to loathe hosting U.S. history's most politically powerful African-American man, former California Assembly Speaker and S.F. Mayor Willie Brown.

This city will tire of Nancy Pelosi's power and fame just as swiftly, not because of Madam Speaker herself but for what she'll set in motion.

International reporters for television, newspapers, and the Internet will book more and more flights to San Francisco. They'll troll Fisherman's Wharf to interview salty local types about our famous hometown girl. After they're done, some will venture for coffee to North Beach. The ones staying in Financial District hotels will go jogging along Market Street. Fare-padding cabbies will drive them through SOMA, Hunters Point, the Mission, along Castro Street, and into the Sunset. And as a result, they'll get the idea to write follow-up features about San Francisco. They'll start with notebooks scribbled with a checklist of San Francisco archetypes to confirm. And if they spend more than an hour at the task, they'll phone to their home bureau with a headline-generating truth: Among world-famous cities, San Francisco is the most twee.

In the interest of international peace and understanding, and news you can use, SF Weekly saves the coming foreign correspondent hordes some trouble, answering their questions ourselves.

San Francisco? You guys are the ones with the sleek go-getting mayor, right?

Gavin Newsom's chief press flack Peter Ragone is the most powerful member of a mayoral executive staff that has a collective influence far outweighing that of the boss. The resulting four years of rule by staged events and photo ops created a national image of Newsom as a can-do liberal in the Pelosi mold, thus providing a natural setup for Bild and La Repubblica profiles positing Newsom as San Francisco's next hometown giant.

Unfortunately for Ragone, parachuting foreign correspondents do most of their research during conversations with cabbies going to and from the airport. And taxi regulation is the one civic issue our vapid mayor has taken a longtime personal interest in, and thus botched up. The foreign press' initial taxi-borne interviews will produce a lot of meaty bad press, sadly.

This summer Newsom dismissed members of his Taxi Commission as punishment for firing the mayor's top taxi-regulation bureaucrat. The bureaucrat, a longtime Newsom aide, had recently hired as her deputy a former roommate who, while previously working as a cabbie, took a woman and her kids to the movies, then drove back to her empty home and robbed it. So, Newsom found himself going on the record defending this reputed creepy stalker/burglar as a top taxi regulator.

A few months later, taxi regulation became a worse embarrassment. As if to rub the mayor's face in his own powerlessness before the mostly anti-Newsom Board of Supervisors, the board voted to increase the base fare for a taxi ride from $1.85 to $3.10, despite opposition from Newsom, from riders, and from cab drivers themselves. This made the average S.F. cab ride one of the costliest in America and certain to tax the expense accounts of visiting correspondents. It's an embarrassment for Newsom, a restaurateur whose businesses depend on taxis to deliver customers, and whose political career has been bankrolled by other taxi-dependent restaurateurs.

I can't wait: global headlines sporting the words "San Francisco," "emperor," and "no clothes."

San Francisco: Isn't that the groovy West Coast drug city?

A few months from now, when visiting Dutch reporters from publications such as De Groene Amsterdammer begin poking around for a post-deadline dope score, our status as a stoners' haven may have backfired.

Since the city began in late 2005 a scheme of light regulation of medical marijuana stores (read: enhanced legitimization of drug dealing), around 40 pot storefronts have opened around the city. These shops are essentially middlemen for the growing Northern California wholesale/retail pot industry. At the supply end, indoor-growing facilities are sprouting up around the region in gutted houses, apartments, and warehouses. At the retail end, S.F.-storefront pot is carted regionwide to be sold on the street.

On the back end, meanwhile, DEA arrest reports from around Northern California during the past few months seem to indicate the wholesale market has moved beyond the era of hip supplier/activist Dennis Peron. Officers have been stopping pot carriers with automatic weapons in their cars, and this summer Sacramento-area police and DEA agents busted an indoor growing operation there run by an S.F.-area Chinese gang.

San Francisco cops didn't make that bust, or busts of any other crimes stemming from drug dealing, because officers receive instructions to treat the pot industry gingerly. The enforcement-free zone means they lack avenues to go after the violence and other crime drawn to our growing, multimillion-dollar drug-commerce-Mecca. Next, expect extortion rackets, money laundering, etc.

U.C. Hastings School of Law Dean Nell Jessup has made a point of living in the drug- and crime-infested Tenderloin neighborhood that's home to her school. This commitment has been difficult to fulfill, she said, as the area is home to increasing drug dealing and violence. When I spoke with her in December, just before she met with District Attorney Kamala Harris to discuss the drug problem, she said the neighborhood seemed more dangerous than it was when Jessup lived there decades ago.

Won't that be nice — stabbed Dutch journalists filing war dispatches from San Francisco.

Oh, wait, don't tell me. San Francisco. Leftist idealism. Right?

To their credit, many voices in the national media have disabused Americans of the notion that Nancy Pelosi is a left-wing San Francisco values-toting firebrand. She's merely a millionaire swell who happens to be good at asking members of her social class for campaign donations, recent radio, television, and newspaper accounts have pointed out.

But while these stories inform, they also deceive. In order to make the point that Pelosi's to the political right of her hometown, they perpetuate the myth that San Francisco is the base of operations for some sort of firebrand left-wing political ideology.

It's not. The left's just an opposition faction here, with the mayor, Pelosi, and the rest of the city's ruling "moderates" as their enemies. As such, they spend much of their time seeking to embarrass their rival faction.

During the past month or so the city's left faction has strived to oust the city's chief disaster-relief official, who'd been installed in 2004 as part of a political shuffle the mayor had hoped would enhance his power. The mayor's power-seeking shuffle didn't have its intended effect. As a result, the left's effort to humiliate and force out the disaster-relief official succeeded.

Next up: Ed Lee, who had been reappointed to the post of city administrator, and previously installed on the Planning Commision by Willie Brown. Mayor Newsom moved Lee out of the administrator post last year and created a job for him at the S.F. airport called Director of International Economic and Tourism Development, which, as with so many patronage slots, is a $186,000 title involving little apparent work.

Expect embarrassing hearings on this next year.

But your leftists do do leftist things, too, like fight for the environment. Right?

Hardly. The most reviled people in the city are smart-growth advocates, who seek to slow nature-killing California sprawl by promoting urban density here. The second most reviled are natural-areas preservationists, who seek to preserve the last bits of nature remaining in the city by limiting how those areas can be used.

Solving poverty?

Did you notice the homeless and drug addicts filling our city's doorways, bridge-tunnels, and parks?

Promoting justice?

Not at all: Thanks to a dysfunctional justice system, you're more likely to get away with killing someone in San Francisco than most places in the First World. Please don't get any ideas, foreign journalist adrenaline junkies.


Nah, the good galleries long ago decamped for Los Angeles. The musicians, for cheap-rent Modesto.

Um, peace and love?

Look elsewhere. This is a fighter's town. People move here, meet a group of fighting-mad friends, then join one of the city's myriad wars: dog-owners vs. parents, renters vs. owners, bus-riders vs. drivers, bohemians vs. geeks, everybody against newcomers.

A few years ago, I denounced the city as a petty battle zone.

Krissy Keefer, Nancy Pelosi's left-wing opponent in last year's race to represent San Francisco in Congress, wrote a letter in response: "I am really smart and [Matt] is dumber than dog shit."

Whether or not she's right, the new status of our favorite daughter Nancy Pelosi threatens to expose San Franciscans' deficiencies to the world of foreign correspondents. We can only hope they get stuck in traffic at Fisherman's Wharf.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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