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SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin's Message to Newsom: Quit Attacking Me! 

Wednesday, Mar 5 2008

Page 4 of 5

Peskin says he was on the fence about the charter amendment, and simply changed his mind between the two votes. He also says he has no recollection of making the "payback" comment, which is slightly suspect given that his mind is a steel trap when it comes to minute details in the city's byzantine planning codes.

After the incident, Alioto-Pier wrote to City Attorney Dennis Herrera questioning the legality of Peskin's vote and comment, saying she felt it was political retribution. Herrera responded to her complaint, saying there was nothing illegal about what had happened in the amendment vote.

But Jaye says the supervisors do a lot of questionable voting that often flies below the radar. "'Log rolling,' trading votes for favors, has become common at City Hall," Jaye says. "'If you do X, Y, and Z, I'll vote for your deal.' That's illegal, and nobody is ever prosecuted." Both Jaye and Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard hint at something unethical in the relationship between Herrera and Peskin.

Neither Jaye nor Ballard will go as far as to say Herrera is covering for Peskin, but they both say the supervisor and city attorney have been close for decades, dating back to their college days at UC Santa Cruz.

"Herrera and Peskin are best friends," Ballard says. "They went to school together and share the same political consultant, Jim Stearns."

But if Ballard and Jaye meant to suggest indirectly that Herrera is weighing his opinions in his old buddy's favor, that implication has a major flaw: Herrera attended Villanova, an Augustinian university in Pennsylvania. Herrera said he did not meet Peskin until 2000, around the same time he first met Newsom.

"Dennis is a friend, but I can tell you, he doesn't do shit for me," says Peskin, who appears to be amused by the rumor. "And besides, if I was involved in something illegal, that's the purview of the district attorney's Office, not the city attorney. ... By the way, it is true that I did go to kindergarten through third grade with Kamala Harris."

Both mayoral reps backpedaled on the claim. Ballard says he couldn't remember making the comment, and that perhaps he meant to say Peskin went to grammar school with Harris. Jaye says he can't remember where he heard it, but he had no trouble believing it because the two men are such good friends.

A couple of weeks ago, the Chronicle reported that a new poll by David Binder showed Newsom's approval rating slipping eight points from a year ago to 67 percent. That's still amazingly high for a big-city mayor, and although Newsom's ratings have dropped slightly, they're still markedly higher than the Board of Supervisors' polling numbers, which were at a 45 percent favorable rating in January.

With his high polling numbers, Newsom is in a favorable position to do public battle with Peskin. While his ratings may take a hit, he stands a good chance of establishing a beachhead on the board for his chosen supervisorial candidates.

Peskin says he's well aware of the strategy of the mayor and his business allies: Vilify the board president and paint the board majority as a band of out-of-touch, corrupt politicians. "In 2000, we came in as reformers of the Willie Brown administration," he says. "Now the mayor will try to make his candidates 'reformers.' It's the oldest game in politics. There's no question they are trying to take a page from the reform book."

Currently, Peskin's progressives hold a loose 7-4 majority on the board. If Newsom-supported candidates can capture two seats, the mayor will have a working majority for the first time in his tenure.

The seats in play are currently occupied by lefty incumbents who are termed out: Peskin, Jake McGoldrick (who represents District 1, the Richmond) and Geraldo Sandoval (who represents District 11, which includes the Excelsior, the Ingleside, and Merced Heights). Peskin's District 3 promises to be one of the most hotly contested. Ten potential candidates have already announced their intentions, and more are likely to follow. Peskin has endorsed David Chiu of the Small Business Commission for his seat, but says he may still support others as they come forward.

Newsom has yet to endorse any candidates for the three open seats, although he's expected to weigh in before the candidate filing deadline on Aug. 8.

One factor in Newsom's favor is that there seems to be nothing unifying neighborhood candidates in the same way Brown's out-of-control development policies did in 2000.

State Senator Carol Migden, a former S.F. supervisor and veteran of hardball city politics, says she is not seeing much passion or talent coming forward from the neighborhoods to fill the board's open seats. "These are supposed to be coveted seats; you'd think people would be jumping over each other," she says. "Maybe they need another Willie Brown to get them motivated."

Peskin says that after his term is up, he will return to work with his wife, Nancy Shanahan, at the water-rights nonprofit they run. He says he never had any political ambition before he was elected, and he has little more now.

But watching him standing on the corner outside Caffe Trieste, it's hard to imagine him doing anything else. Seemingly all at once he checks text messages on his Treo, answers a reporter's questions, and schedules a shoot with a photographer, all while greeting passing constituents.

"I was never class president in school, and if someone told me I'd be a San Francisco supervisor, I would have told them they were crazy," Peskin says. "When Tom Ammiano asked me to run in 2000, my wife didn't think it was a good idea. I told her not to worry because I'd never get elected."

Dusk has fallen, and Peskin has to run off to another meeting. He starts to leave, but before he disappears into the bustling throng, he wants to repeat one last point.

About The Author

John Geluardi


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