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The Class of 2000 

Eight years after being swept into office, a once-disorganized band of neighborhood leftists tries to create a citywide political machine.

Wednesday, Oct 29 2008
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Page 3 of 4

Peskin dismisses the claims of dysfunction. "I really don't know what they're talking about," he says. "The business of the city is getting done; all of the budgets have come in on time, the garbage is still picked up, water is still coming out of the tap, and the planes are still taking off."

But while the board may have taken care of city business over the last eight years, it has also staged a lot of theatrical productions in and out of the Legislative Chamber. Peskin himself has been involved in a couple of them. There was the time he reportedly told a colleague who had opposed his Muni-reform measure that "payback is a bitch" after voting against one of her proposals. Earlier this year, it came to light that the port's executive director had complained about Peskin calling her at home and berating her.

But most of the political dramas involving the board over the last eight years have starred Chris Daly. And his performances have been very entertaining — if you like watching multi-car pileups on the freeway.


Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, recently invited a reporter into her office for a wide-ranging talk about her experiences on the Board of Supervisors. When the conversation came to her colleague Chris Daly, she reached for a remote control device to turn off a television that was broadcasting a city meeting in the background. She paused for a moment and began to talk about one of her first meetings shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom had appointed her in 2004.

"I had just sent a mundane piece of his legislation to committee," Alioto-Pier says. "The next thing I know he's standing over me, pointing his finger down at me, and yelling, 'That's the most uncollegial thing I've ever seen anyone do on this board!'"

Another time, Alioto-Pier had just made an argument to the board against closing Golden Gate Park to vehicles because it would prevent access for the disabled. "I had just turned off my microphone," she says, "and Chris leans over to me and says, 'I represent the disabled community, not you, and the disabled don't go to Golden Gate Park.'"

Alioto-Pier laughs a little, presumably at the absurdity of the two incidents. "The irony of it," she says.

The Alioto-Pier story is only one of dozens. Daly, who didn't return several phone calls requesting comment, is perhaps best known for pitching invective-laced tantrums and then storming out of the chamber after working himself up into a red-faced knot. His supporters often excuse his behavior as a demonstration of his overwhelming passion for the poor who live in the Tenderloin neighborhood he represents. His critics say he's just an artless bully with the impulse control of hyperactive chimpanzee. Everybody agrees he is the city's most polarizing politician.

"When you have the negatives of a Chris Daly, it drags everybody down," says Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Lazarus, who is a former deputy city attorney. "Daly's antics, and some of the other supervisors', would not have been tolerated on previous boards. It's become so partisan."

Even Daly's allies on the board have criticized his rants at Newsom, which have freely crossed the line between political and personal attacks. He relentlessly mocked the mayor for problems in his first marriage, going public with a drinking problem, and having an affair with his deputy chief of staff's wife, who also worked in Newsom's office as his appointments secretary.

Then Daly outdid himself by publicly insinuating that Newsom had a cocaine addiction. The mayor vehemently denied the smear, and even Daly's progressive board allies complained. Undaunted, Daly proposed two anti-sin ordinances, both thinly veiled swipes at Newsom. One ordinance would have outlawed management-level city employees from dating non-management city employees. The proposed ordinance was so severe it even prevented expressing fond sentiments in the form of poems. According to the Chronicle's Matier and Ross, when Peskin refused to support Daly's legislation, Daly stormed out of Peskin's office saying, "I can't believe you won't sign on to my measure to prevent the mayor from f-ing his secretary!"

Daly also sought to restrict the use of alcohol and drugs by elected officials, commissioners, and committee members prior to meetings. When the Ethics Commission was considering the ordinance, one exasperated commissioner said, "Supervisor Daly, are you suggesting we put a Breathalyzer outside all of the city's meeting rooms?"

Both of the ordinances were laughed out of City Hall, but not before it cost taxpayers time, money, and patience. Like a child whose tantrums embarrass his parents and everyone else in a restaurant, Daly doesn't seem realize how much damage he does to the progressive cause. In the current campaign for the board, Daly's eight years of fits, tantrums, and rants are doing a great deal of harm to the progressive candidates he supports.

Daly's political opponents, which include the San Francisco Association of Realtors, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the San Francisco Coalition for Responsible Growth, are spending hundreds of thousands to beat progressive candidates, and the most effective weapon they have is Daly's behavior.

"One of our collective failures has been to ignore and inadvertently enable Chris Daly," Peskin says. "We never took him seriously enough to rein him in, and we should have done it years ago."

District 11 candidate John Avalos has been relentlessly attacked in mailers and robocalls because he is Daly's former aide. The San Francisco Coalition for Responsible Growth spent $14,700 on a hit piece mailer that had a picture of a man sleeping on a sidewalk next to an overloaded shopping cart. The large lettering above the picture reads, "Some supervisors think this is acceptable." And below superimposed pictures of Avalos and Daly: "Chris Daly and his legislative aide District 11 candidate John Avalos watched while their district, including the Tenderloin, got worse for working families."

About The Author

John Geluardi

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