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?

When Bush finds himself compared to campaign consultants and other political professionals, he looks mildly perturbed. "My question for you," he responds, "is why do you compare me to other political players? Why don't you compare me to other journalists?"

To reinforce this point, Bush hands over a binder of his Examiner columns. Reviewing the articles at home, I find clipped to them a letter Bush wrote to Examiner Executive Editor Phil Bronstein and then-Ex Publisher Will Hearst.

In the letter, sent sometime before the November elections, Bush suggested how the Examiner could maximize its coverage to undermine Proposition J, a measure advanced by the Independent that wrested the lucrative public notices contract from the Ex. "Here's a quick snapshot of what the [poll] numbers show that will get you the best advantage -- and suggest the best buttons to hit," Bush wrote. "Republicans hate this measure more than anyone else. Hit them with the city cost, and you up your side of the argument."

Bush went on to recommend Examiner endorsements for the Board of Supervisors: "Don't endorse Mabel Teng. She will simply be Migden's second vote on everything, and she is even less honest that [Migden] is."

By manipulating institutions that command larger audiences, Bush amplifies the small megaphone of CitiReport into an air-raid siren.

To this end, Bush still regularly tips off other reporters to hot stories. The first appearance of the Jordan inaugural committee came in the Chronicle's "Matier and Ross Report." Ganahl and Taylor's now defunct "Insiders" column at the Examiner was also a frequent beneficiary of Bush's tips.

One such leak led to the downfall of former police chief Dick Hongisto two years ago. After learning from cop sources that Hongisto was in the Mayor's Office trying to explain how thousands of copies of the San Francisco Bay Times disappeared from their racks overnight, Bush tipped off a Chronicle reporter. "Reporters started asking embarrassing questions before [Hongisto and company] had a chance to get their stories straight," Bush says. "Timing is very important."

When first interviewed about his tipster antics, Bush spoke freely, saying that his deal with the Examiner requires him to produce a column and regularly feed the paper tips. But asked about the arrangement a few days later, he clammed up. "Don't take me there," he said. "I don't want to go there."

Over at the Examiner, Bush's tipster gig has upset some of the reporters. "Ninety percent of what he tells us is completely false," one Ex staffer says. "Sometimes the reporters spend all day chasing his wild gooses and they come up with zilch. And when they tell him the tips aren't true, he treats them like they're stupid."

But what Examiner reporters don't understand is if they canvass the city to confirm an embarrassing rumor about a Bush target -- even if the rumors are completely untrue -- it magnifies the rumor a hundredfold, which gets to a key point about Bush: Sometimes he just likes to fuck with people.

One evening Bush and pollster David Binder were walking out of an Embarcadero Center restaurant when a gaggle of tourists approached. "Where can we go to get a great view of Lombard Street?" one of them asked. Bush replied that they should go down to the Embarcadero and walk north and eventually the famous street would come into view. After the tourists departed, Binder realized there was no view of the Crookedest Street in the World from the Embarcadero and that Bush had just sent the hapless crew on several miles of fruitless trekking.

"Larry, they aren't going to see Lombard Street from the Embarcadero," Binder announced. "I know, David," Bush replied. "But they're gone, aren't they?"

Bush commands 24 drawers full of files in his tiny office, collecting so much information on people that he's become both archivist and J. Edgar Hoover of the city's political set. If you're a politician and you generate a paper trail, Bush is a professional hazard. Just ask Frank Jordan.

Last year, Bush was digging for evidence to support his allegation that Mayor Jordan's 1991 campaign didn't report all its contributions when he heard about a former Jordan aide who had six boxes of documents Jordan left behind in his campaign office.

Both Bush and the City Attorney's Office, which was investigating Bush's charges, wanted a look-see. So Bush and a city investigator dug through the boxes together. Suddenly Bush noticed confidential police surveillance reports. Yeehaw, he thought, a violation of state law. Bush snuck out of the office and phoned Phil Bronstein. "Get those things over here," the Ex editor commanded, resulting in a page-one story calling into question why Jordan possessed the secret police files and announcing district and city attorney probes.

The mayor defused the story by saying he inadvertently boxed and moved the documents when he left the Police Department.

But Bush promises more revelations from the cache as Jordan runs for re-election this year. "I'm not through with him yet," Bush says with a wicked smile. "I'm never through.

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