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The Daly Show 

Why a supervisor needs to feel some love and back off a counterproductive assault on a nonprofit housing agency

Wednesday, Feb 23 2005
In the usually spite-soaked rag that is local San Francisco politics, it was refreshing to run across Supervisor Jake McGoldrick last week sharing warm, friendly banter with sometime nemeses in the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Could it be the magic of springtime? Was it the thin air at the chamber's 12th-story Financial District offices? Nope.

"About an hour ago," McGoldrick giddily revealed, "we hugged."

The other half of the "we" was San Francisco's other ursine, politically awkward supervisor, Chris Daly, who'd blown up at McGoldrick late in January -- calling him an idiot, among other things -- for voting against a plan to donate $100,000 of city money to tsunami victims. For two weeks, ice. Then, Wednesday the two men met at City Hall, apologized, exchanged kind words, and shared a Valentine's week squeeze, before McGoldrick rushed across town to his chamber appointment.

That one hug may have been enough to turn McGoldrick from a sometimes-clumsy lion into a smooth, articulate lamb.

That's a good start. But there's so much bile and misdirected aggression swirling around Daly and his office that I think other city politicos need to take turns providing him with bearhugs until he, too, is transformed by the power of love. And he needs transformation.

Over the last month or so, Daly has used his venomous political style to escalate a conflict surrounding the nonprofit Mission Housing Development Corp., an outfit that's landlord to some 2,000 low-income San Franciscans. The battle seems to be part of a larger conflict over who controls development in San Francisco. Is it an amalgam of activist groups aligned with Daly, or the Planning Commission, Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection, and other city agencies formally assigned with this task?

At its core, this dispute pits (on one hand) Mission Housing Executive Director Jose Wheelock, who is backed by the group's board of directors, against (on the other) Mission Housing employees and ex-employees; their union, SEIU Local 790; Daly; Supervisor Tom Ammiano; and a slew of Mission political hanger-on activists.

"Jose Wheelock is an asshole," Daly said when I asked him about the situation last week. "They're running this organization into the ground. And if you fuck this story up, Matt, I'm not going to talk to you. If you do your usual shit again, I won't ever talk with you again."

For his part, Wheelock told me he's hired a private investigator to look into staff leaks relating to the mismanagement charge and a national public relations firm to help fend off a PR assault by his staff and their union.

Clearly this seemed to be something more than the usual I'm-more-progressive-than-you schism in the clubby world of Mission District political activism.

Indeed, the dispute reverberates citywide. It touches on the issue of who will control the bulk of future housing and office development in San Francisco for the next decade. As a result, it's an unusual corollary to the myriad behind-the-scenes political machinations that will ultimately determine who will get rich, and who will benefit politically, from hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of land-use decisions that accompany a development boom in eastern San Francisco.

From the point of view of Daly and disgruntled Mission Housing staff members, the political pressure they're applying to Wheelock and the Mission Housing board is a needed corrective to a management team that has demoralized staff, wasted money on executive perks, failed to exercise careful accounting controls, and severed ties to the community it is meant to serve.

"It's true that members of Mission Housing have been active in their communities," says former Mission Housing Resident Services Director Eric Quesada, offering a nod to critics who say the organization has spent too much energy and time providing protesters to land-use disputes. "But we got project after project because we had a dedicated staff that would develop projects on time and on budget. We don't have that anymore."

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who sits on a committee that just ordered a comprehensive city audit of Mission Housing's finances, says he, too, believes the agency has gone awry.

"What I found is that in Mission Housing, and in many other places, there are vestiges of an old, smug, Tammany Hall-connected apparatus that thinks it's their God-given right to spend money as they see fit, even when they're running an organization into the ground; hiring cronies, paying ungodly amounts of money," Peskin says. "That means Jose Wheelock's salary, the fact the guy's got a private credit card, that they had a professional CFO that they fired, [who] stands up and testifies, saying they've got separate bank accounts they don't show everybody, and that there's one hand washing the other."

Based on testimony from current and former Mission Housing staff members, the Board of Supervisors has instructed the city Controller's Office to conduct a comprehensive audit of the organization. The board has also frozen $360,000 in city-controlled funds that had been destined for Mission Housing, pending the new audit. Wheelock says he welcomes the audit, but he would like to see it encompass the past several years, so that his administration may be compared with that of his predecessor, Daly ally Carlos Romero.

I'm usually the last person to criticize zealous scrutiny of nonprofit groups that receive city funds. And it's hard to argue against charges of mismanagement when they come from company insiders.

But in the case of Mission Housing, there's insufficient separation between legitimate concern about how this agency has used city money and widespread nostalgia among San Francisco's progressive political faction for the days when Carlos Romero ran Mission Housing as a source for shock troops in Mission District land battles.

Even the criticisms of Peskin, who usually has his eyes on the road when it comes to issues of public integrity, seem overblown here. The supposed "paying ungodly amounts of money" refers to Wheelock's salary, exactly average for nonprofit agencies of Mission Housing's size. High among disgruntled staffers' "mismanagement" claims is that Wheelock has "lost" hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and grants. Some $360,000 of this "lost" money, however, has been frozen by the Board of Supervisors at the behest of the disgruntled employees.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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