Lobbyists Trump Lawyers
It took four years and a boatload of legal fees, but light-rail builder Stacy & Witbeck Inc. -- one of S.F.'s largest municipal contractors -- finally learned the value of a good lobbyist.
The firm ran into problems in 1992 after it presented the city with an $800,000 bill for a new set of Muni tracks that it had installed. The city said it shouldn't have to pay because the costs were the result of project delays; Stacy & Witbeck said the delays were the city's fault. Thus began a yearslong legal fight -- suits and countersuits going all the way to the state Supreme Court. When the dust settled in 1994, S.F. had barred Stacy & Witbeck from doing business with the city until 1999, a costly sanction given that the firm did $170 million in business with S.F. over the preceding 15 years.
Then Stacy & Witbeck got wise.
On the advice of another contractor, the firm hired Jim Gonzalez, a former Board of Supervisors member who registered as a city lobbyist after running Mayor Willie Brown's citywide precinct operation. "People wouldn't even take our phone calls" before then, says David Stacy, the company's president. "The doors were shut."
Gonzalez not only opened doors for the firm -- he opened them at the highest levels of city government. He arranged for Stacy & Witbeck executives to meet with Muni head Emilio Cruz (who was then the mayor's chief of staff and who had been a fellow top Brown campaign staffer), new Department of Public Works Director Mark Primeau, and City Attorney Louise Renne. (Even before hiring Gonzalez, Stacy & Witbeck and its top executives purchased a little goodwill from then-candidate Brown by donating a combined $2,000 to Brown's campaign.)
Within eight months of Brown's inauguration, and following several rounds of negotiations, Stacy & Witbeck was reinstated -- three years earlier than called for under the five-year debarment of 1994. In exchange, the firm had to apologize publicly to the city Transportation Commission for having "miscalculated" its 1992 bill, and agree to perform $250,000 of construction work for free.
According to Stacy & Witbeck, the affair -- the bill dispute, lost business, attorney fees -- cost it about $2 million. Comparatively, Gonzalez's approximately $3,500 bill -- and $2,000 in campaign contributions -- was money well spent.
Being back in the game, obviously, is good news for Stacy & Witbeck. But, it does have its price.
Says company President Stacy: "Well, I'm certainly getting more calls from supervisor candidates for campaign money."
With Friends Like These
As she scraped for contributions for her dark-horse S.F. supervisorial campaign, Margo St. James picked up most of her donations in one- and two-figure lumps. St. James' disclosure report for fund-raising activity between July 1 and Sept. 30 shows her banking more $5 than $500 contributions, the legal limit.
It's a select lot, indeed, that "maxed out" for Margo, the old-town gal who founded COYOTE, the prostitutes rights group in the '70s. Leading off her A list of fellow liberal pals was Assemblywoman Carole Migden. She kicked in $500 Aug. 1. The local plumbers and steam fitters union weighed in with $500 Sept. 17, and S.F. Fire Chief Robert Demmons joined the club Sept. 20.
Not bad. But the contributors who rounded out her list were even more interesting:
* Peter Rowland, the dapper con man who blasted onto the local political scene in 1992, schmoozing the town with Supervisor Angela Alioto at the same time he was defrauding people in phony investment scams. Rowland's personal association with Alioto was a blow to the two-term supervisor's 1995 mayoral bid. On April 14, 1995, Rowland, now 33, copped a plea in S.F. Superior Court that sent him to prison for seven months on a three-year sentence for grand theft. The scion of a prominent Watsonville family, Rowland was arrested on Aug. 11, 1993, and charged with 38 felony counts of grand theft, money laundering, and fraud. According to prosecutors, he stole more than $250,000 in cash, goods, and services over two years by peddling bogus investments, writing bad checks, and running other scams. (This, after a 1987 conviction in Santa Cruz County that had landed him in prison for 14 months for $611,000 in thefts.)
* Rowland sidekick Colin Hardwick, a former city jail commissary worker who delivered newspapers to Rowland behind bars. Hardwick, who has identified himself as a criminology student, took the witness stand on Rowland's behalf on Dec. 12, 1994, during a pretrial hearing over whether Rowland's bail should be revoked for allegedly attempting to rip off a Union Square hotel restaurant.
Both Rowland's and Hardwick's $500 donations were received Sept. 26 by St. James, according to disclosure reports filed last week.
Perhaps Rowland, who thoroughly enjoyed his infamy as the politically connected con man, is trying to ease his way back onto the political stage with his gifts. The $500 draft Rowland wrote St. James was a cashier's check -- apparently good as gold.
St. James, whose colorful run for office has been an antidote for an otherwise banal election, says she's happy to have Rowland's money. "I'll take money from everybody. There might be a bad apple in the bushel. He did some time, and I think he might want to work on paying back some of those women [he stole from]."
Adds St. James: "I certainly wouldn't invest any money with him."
Seal of Approval
As a judge pro tem, attorney Kay Tsenin, candidate for the S.F. Municipal Court bench, gained valuable experience settling small-claims cases as a court-appointed arbitrator the past five years. Tsenin makes the very point -- and fairly so -- in a new piece of campaign literature.
Unfortunately for Tsenin, the flier also suggests she hasn't paid sufficient attention to city law and how it has intersected with local elections recently. And that's a charitable reading. In clear violation of S.F. Administrative Code Section 1.6, Tsenin, wearing her black judge pro tem garb, is pictured standing next to the official seal of the city and county of San Francisco. The code expressly prohibits use of the seal "for any reason whatsoever" without Board of Supervisors approval.
Familiarity with recent political history might help, too.
In 1994, supporters of a ballot measure to establish a special taxing district to fill the Municipal Railway's annual deficit made the same error. When the violation was raised, the pro-Prop. O forces resorted to a cumbersome solution. They affixed orange dots to their literature to hide the seal.
(No such solution appears readily available to Tsenin. Round stickers attached to the candidate's propaganda would also eclipse her face.)
A year earlier, in 1993, garbage industry opposition to a recycling measure on the S.F. ballot ran into similar trouble with the administrative code. The anti-Prop. Z campaign, which, by the way, was also run by Barnes, had to trash the offending literature.
Tsenin says she's waiting to hear from her attorney about whether she's run afoul of the law. Meanwhile, Barnes says, Rothschild supporters plan to file a criminal complaint with the District Attorney's Office.
Good thing our judicial candidates are taking the high road. Who could possibly entertain the argument that judges' seats should be unelected and free of the stink of politics?