The Making of the Mayor 1995

In which Jack Davis repents, Clint Reilly froths, Roberta Achtenberg has a vision, Angela Alioto has an attitude, and the voters are the pigeons

Jack Davis, the political guru who engineered Mayor Frank Jordan's upset victory over incumbent Mayor Art Agnos four years ago, plots strategy from a third-floor lair in a nondescript Van Ness Avenue savings and loan. His office lies across a parking lot, through a side door, past a building directory with six or so tenants -- CPAs and the like. Davis' name isn't on the list.

It's a modest outpost for a political consultant who wouldn't be immodest if he boasted about piloting victories for the current mayor, a state senator (Quentin Kopp), and sundry other officials (State Assemblyman John Burton, to name one) -- as well as managing a score of ballot measure campaigns over the past 20 years. Davis' office decor might have been bought lock-stock-and-lithograph from a bankrupt motel sale. On one wall is a bleached skull (cattle, not Homo sapien). On the opposite are trophies of a different sort: vanity head shots of at least a dozen politicians. Davis himself perches behind a blond wood desk -- deciding to explain things.

This man has hated me: We were political enemies for years, and I worked for Agnos, whom Davis reviled. But today he intends to send a message.

"I think there is a moral responsibility that goes with one's actions," Davis tells me, deeply serious.

"I looked for a candidate to run against Art Agnos for the sole purpose of vendetta," he says. "Frank Jordan was someone I basically used to settle the score." Davis' beef: Agnos in 1989 set in motion an investigation that led to Davis' indictment for his role in an allegedly criminal campaign conspiracy (see sidebar for additional Davis beefs).

I am guilty, Davis now says, "of letting my anger and hatred get ahead of my thoughts. ... In the course of the past four years, I have watched San Francisco suffer as a result of my vendetta," he repeats. As penance, Davis says he has set out to find "a candidate to try and run against Frank to kind of pay back an injustice to the people of San Fran-cisco."

So when Jordan thrice asked him to serve as his re-election campaign manager, Davis turned down his former boss and started hunting for a candidate who could take Jordan down. He talked to business tycoon Lou Giraudo. He spoke with California Assembly member John Burton. He asked Mr. Speaker, Willie Brown, to enter the race. He pushed Supervisor Carole Migden to run. He urged Supervisor Terrence Hallinan to do the same. He helped add to the political waters a splash of liberal contenders who just might eviscerate each other and allow Jordan, the moderate, to keep his crown.

Sound familiar?
It should. For within the husk of Davis' apology is a singular truth about the coming mayoral race -- that what's happening in 1995 looks like a replay of '91. That the making of the mayor this year has everything to do with the unmaking of the mayor four years past. And that the coming election, as in '91, has been molded by the whims of candidates and the will of people like Davis: people with personal agendas. People who rely on polls, computers, "count books," and high-tech spin recipes. The same consultants, the same forces, the same dynamics behind Jordan's victory four years ago are at work -- the most critical part of which has already been finished. For a second truth is this: While the campaign in the coming weeks will increasingly take place in public view, the drama up to this point has been shaped behind a curtain where the public has no entree, but where the props have been readied, the players cast and recast, and, insofar as possible, the script written.

The script for this play calls for blood -- and lots of it.
"Willie's going to get the fucking shit kicked out of him, OK?" says California's Biggest Bad Boy consultant, Clint Reilly, the man who, unlike Davis, did agree to become Jordan's campaign manager. "What are they gonna say about the great Willie Brown who has just lost to Frank Jordan by 10 points?" asks Reilly. "Are they gonna be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again?"

Whether they're fans of Brown, ex-Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Roberta Achtenberg, Supervisor Angela Alioto, or Jordan -- "the man who wouldn't know a concept if it sat on his face," as Davis puts it -- the insiders are already plotting how to set up their private kingpins. And smash the others to bits.

Says Reilly: "The more votes Roberta [Achtenberg] gets, the less votes Willie gets. ... When Achtenberg and Jordan get through with this guy, you know" -- Reilly savors the thought -- "this is not the [Sacramento] capitol press corps he's running against here," he says. "This is the fucking cruel world."

Says Supervisor Alioto: "I think this will be the dirtiest, knockdown, drag-out type of politics that you will see in a long time."

Says San Francisco's ubiquitous pollster, David Binder, consulted by more candidates this year than any other: "Given what we saw in 1991, we have the potential for a repeat -- one candidate on the moderate-to-conservative side, and multiple candidates" running against him. That leaves three liberals to splinter the vote, and a runoff that pits a battle-weakened liberal victor against Jordan.

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