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?

By the time the 1991 mayor's race rolled around, Bush had created deep divisions in the gay community. Many gay leaders like Britt and Migden refused to support Agnos because of Bush's antics.

The conventional wisdom of the Agnos camp linked the mayor's defeat to Alioto's entry. But one reason Britt and Migden urged Alioto into the race was because Bush had pissed off so many lesbian and gay leaders. "He's the reason we couldn't support Art," says Dick Pabich, a retired political consultant who ran campaigns for Harvey Milk, Britt and Migden.

In the runoff between Jordan and Agnos, Migden and other gay leaders demanded Bush's head before they would support Agnos. Agnos obliged, moving Bush from the Mayor's Office to his fundraising operation. Bush says he left voluntarily without pressure from anyone.

Bush's troubled exit from government still eats at him. "It was a difficult period of my life," he admits. "I really allowed myself to become a lighting rod."

The apparent lesson of Bush's fall is that when he has his hands directly on the levers of power, his killer instincts can get the better of him. If he's one step removed, instructing others how to shift the gears, his excesses are kept sufficiently in check and he's more effective.

"When he was in the mayor's office, we all just wished he would use his considerable talents to fight the real enemies -- the radical right," Willson says.

Bush's reputation as a basher of lesbian and gay leaders is largely his own fault. But his work to empower and defend his community is too often overlooked. In fact, it was in this guise, not as a mayoral operative, that he earned the moniker Cobrawoman.

The year was 1986. The AIDS epidemic was still a new terror and Bush was working for Agnos in Sacramento. George Deukmejian, the Republican governor, had just vetoed an Agnos bill outlawing discrimination against those infected with the virus, and Bush was pissed.

He hit the phones and within a day had 22 papers up and down the state savaging Deukmejian on their editorial pages. The governor was running for re-election and dropped 10 points in the polls. Later that year, AIDS organizations convened a dinner where they awarded Bush and christened him with his reptilian appellation. "They called me Cobra because I was quick and effective and Deukmejian didn't know what hit him," Bush says.

In 1987, Bush arranged a visit by C. Everett Koop to an unprecedented joint session of the state legislature, where the surgeon general addressed the representatives about the AIDS epidemic. Coming at a time when Koop's boss, Ronald Reagan, was ignoring the epidemic, the visit was quite the PR coup. Bush had embarrassed a political enemy and enlightened the public at the same time.

Bush spends many a weekend at Butterfield & Butterfield auction house keeping an eye out for silver antiques. "Little objets," he says, using the French pronunciation. A collector of Christmas tree-ornaments and a master chef, he prepares what is said to be a perfect beef Wellington and some outstanding curries.

Not exactly the stereotypical hard-hitting, populist muckraker. But this establishment brat has staked much of his reputation on attacking his own kind. Last summer, for example, Bush made life extremely uncomfortable for the city's corporate elite.

He was on the phone with his good friend Gwenn Craig, an administrator in the research department at UCSF, when he stumbled on an idea that would eventually bollix the plans of corporate leaders and realign political power in San Francisco.

Bush was bitching to Craig about the Committee on JOBS, a group of 23 corporations to which UCSF belonged, and how it was attacking liberal ideals like progressive taxation and governmental checks on the power of the mayor. "How do you like that, Gwenn?" he asked. "These are your people and they're contributing taxpayers' money to defeat all the things you stand for."

Suddenly, the proverbial light bulb clicked on. UCSF's communications with JOBS' CEOs and the group's hired gun -- lobbyist Don Solem -- were public records! Bush made a California Public Records Act request and UCSF was forced to cough up 1,000 pages of documents. In the July 5, 1993, issue of CitiReport, Bush drew back the curtain on a previously unknown political juggernaut. He showed how the group:

* wooed lesbian and gay leaders at the same time it was funding the campaigns of moderates and conservatives.

* snuck an intern onto Supervisor Angela Alioto's staff in an attempt to control the budget process.

* spent two years and $90,000 to control the revision of the city charter in a way that would disempower neighborhood groups.

* worked its way into the mayor's good graces and won the right to interview possible appointments to a vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian picked up on Bush's scoop in its July 13 issue with this screaming cover headline: "Hostile Takeover. Exposed! The secret downtown plot to crush progressive politics in San Francisco." The Guardian compared JOBS to Oliver North's contra resupply network.

With its trademark fondness for overkill, the Guardian had stolen Bush's thunder. And he was loving every minute of it.

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