The Dark Prince of City Hall

First Larry Bush was a politician. Then he was a journalist. Then he was a politician. So now as editor and publisher of CitiReport, a hard-hitting journal with a private agenda, what the hell is he?

Migden and another old Bush enemy, former supervisor Harry Britt, refuse to discuss Bush. "I'm trying to purge my life of all negative influences," Migden says. The supervisor prohibits her staff from talking about Bush or even reading CitiReport.

When he worked for Agnos, Bush often found himself fighting his own community on behalf of a heterosexual politician -- an unpopular spot to be in. "It's understandable that he would attack opponents of his boss," says Dan Willson, a former editor at the Sentinel who now works as communications director for Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Maryland). "What was so disturbing was that he had this pattern of singling out lesbian and gay opponents. It created a plantation politics dynamic that disturbed a lot of people in the community."

Lesbian and gay leaders who wanted an audience with Agnos had to pass the Bush test first. One Agnos confidant said Bush would sneak peeks at the scheduling book and if someone was meeting with the mayor without his benediction, he would get on the phone and smear them in the community. "He had to be the gatekeeper," the Agnos supporter says.

Sometimes, Bush's old adversaries say, he would undermine programs that would benefit the lesbian and gay community merely because they were advanced by someone he didn't like. Critics still blame Bush for the removal of medical programs from Britt's cherished HIV early-intervention center, a move they say rendered the center an ineffectual referral service.

Britt's domestic-partners legislation was also a Bush target. Bush, whose lover had just died of AIDS, wanted to add health benefits to the 1989 package, a move that slowed the legislative wheels considerably. Britt's old allies say the real agenda was to delay the legislation until Agnos ran for re-election so the mayor could use it to rally lesbians and gays to his campaign.

Whisper campaigns also became a staple of Bush's repertoire, his old adversaries say.

T.J. Anthony, a former Britt and Hongisto aide who now works for Supervisor Barbara Kaufman, remembers how his opposition to Agnos' ballpark proposal in 1989 led to a vicious smear campaign that ruined his life for more than a year. The way Anthony tells it, Bush discovered that Anthony was placed in an orphanage by his destitute mother at the age of three. Bush so inflated the tale, Anthony claims, that by the time he heard it, he was portrayed as a emotionally disturbed child whose parents had to get rid of him. Bush then had a ballpark campaign aide visit Hongisto and attempt to persuade the then-supervisor to fire Anthony.

Bush denies all the charges of underhandedness contained in this article. "People love to put me in the picture," he says. "It's like I'm Forrest Gump, ending up in moments in history I never participated in."

Warming to the subject, Bush goes after his old enemy, Harry Britt. Responding to charges that he undermined domestic partners for political reasons, Bush says Britt begged Agnos to take the measure off the calendar in 1988 when Britt was running for the board because he feared it would damage his campaign. "Britt put his own personal political future ahead of the needs of the community all the time," Bush states.

He insists Britt's aim was to further his own political standing with the HIV center, not combat the epidemic. Bush says AIDS researchers and physicians finally convened a private meeting with Britt where they expressed concern over "ghettoizing" AIDS treatment.

None of this is to say Bush doesn't know how to play hardball -- or that Agnos' opponents were so naive they expected to be left alone.

Bush helped stage coups at political clubs in the hopes of unseating Agnos' enemies before they could deny his boss an endorsement. "He used to sit in the front row at meetings and take notes just to scare us," says one club member. "He was compiling his enemies list."

When Anthony opposed Agnos' ballpark proposal, he said Bush called aides to then-senate president David Roberti, city attorneys and the district attorney and orchestrated an ethics probe into Anthony's Lesbian and Gay Voters project.

But above all, Bush was a master of manipulating the gay press through leaks and ghostwritten articles.

Most of the Bush leaks showed up in the Sentinel. "He would call up and drop the juiciest tidbits imaginable," Willson says. "You know, the kind that make a journalist drool." The chief targets of Bush's leaks were gay and lesbian leaders who opposed Agnos.

When he couldn't leak, Bush took over with his own prose. In September 1991, Bush wrote a story that was sharply critical of Alioto's ties to the police union. Bush had Agnos commissioner Paul Melbostad deliver his hard copy to the Sentinel with the proviso that publisher Ray Chalker put his byline on it. The plant would have gone off without a hitch were it not for Willson, who placed Agnos' byline on the piece in protest. The resulting flap, which generated stories in almost every newspaper in town, was gratifying for Bush's enemies; it was one of the rare occasions his fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
San Francisco Concert Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.