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Thomas Mayfield is a survivor. For the past decade, the political operative from Hunters Point has drifted through the administrations of three different mayors, always managing to find himself a niche.
First he ran gang prevention programs for former mayors Art Agnos and Frank Jordan. Under Mayor Willie Brown Jr., Mayfield helped create TURF, a group of former gang members and other youths who patrol Muni lines and public housing projects.
Most recently, Brown dispatched Mayfield to the San Francisco Housing Authority, where he has been pulling down more than $90,000 a year running the agency's community out-reach office.
What Mayfield has done, mostly, during his myriad stints of public service is dole out jobs -- sometimes very high-paying jobs -- to ex-gangbangers, low-income residents, troubled teens, and former drug dealers.
Whenever the city starts a program aimed at steering troubled youths away from their lives of poverty and crime, or trying to give convicted felons and former criminals a second chance, Mayfield seems to end up in charge.
Some of the jobs Mayfield's programs have parceled out over the years have certainly gone to sincere young people intent on turning their lives around. And many have done so.
But in case after case, Mayfield has padded the city and Housing Authority payrolls with major, hard-core felons, including a suspected crack kingpin who remains on the public payroll to this day, even though he is the target of a joint federal and city Violent Gang Task Force investigating drug dealing in the city's housing projects.
Many of the criminals who have been given a "second chance" by Mayfield's programs have been arrested again for crimes involving drugs and violence.
Others have been recruited and placed in well-paying jobs for which they had no obvious qualifications, and received no training. When they lose those jobs they end up right where they started. Or worse, go back to dealing drugs and running with gangs.
Job programs can indeed help to break the cycles of poverty and crime, but they require careful attention to detail. The jobs can't be temporary patronage sops; they need to be lasting lifts up.
That level of care clearly has not been brought to bear by Mayfield or his political patrons -- former mayors Agnos and Jordan, and current Mayor Brown.
The programs Mayfield has run, usually funded by grants from federal agencies, have been allowed to operate with little or no scrutiny or accountability. Apparently, three mayors felt it was more important to hire a well-connected player from a poor part of town than to challenge his effectiveness.
Mayfield is just the latest and most noticeable evidence of a deep problem in San Francisco politics. More than anything else, San Francisco liberals want to feel good about themselves. And toward that end, empty -- even counterproductive -- gestures suffice.
Time and time again.
During his mayoral campaign in 1987, Art Agnos decided Thomas Mayfield would make a valuable addition to an Agnos administration.
Mayfield was then the director of the Hunters Point Gym, a facility run by the city's Recreation and Park Department. He worked with troubled young people from the city's projects and poorest neighborhoods. He knew about trying to help kids break from lives of crime and poverty.
In anti-poverty circles, Mayfield had street cred.
He was also well-connected in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, one of the largest African-American neighborhoods in the city. A former high school football star, Mayfield knew everyone who was anyone in a part of town that a white politician like Agnos could not expect to understand completely.
After Agnos was elected in a historic landslide, he brought Mayfield into the Mayor's Office as head of a gang prevention program funded with grant money from the Department of Health and Human Services. The money was distributed to various community-based nonprofit groups, including the Real Alternatives Project, or RAP, in the Mission District. These nonprofits hired caseworkers to mentor youngsters who were at risk of falling into a life of drug-dealing or other crime.
The Recreation and Park Department and the school district funded similar efforts. All of them were overseen by Mayfield, according to his former budget chief, Patrick Lynch.
The gang prevention model Mayfield and Agnos put together was built on the idea that former gang members and drug dealers were the best people to act as case managers and reach out to troubled youth. If the theory seemed wise, the results were often embarrassing. The gang prevention office became at least as much a vehicle for employing thugs as turning at-risk youth away from a life of crime.
One of the first gang prevention workers to be hired was Bernard Temple, a reputed hit man for crack cocaine dealers who earned a nickname -- the "Soul-Jacker" -- because he is said to have believed he stole the souls of those he killed. (Temple was tried and acquitted in 1997 of two murder charges; he is still under investigation by San Francisco police for at least one other.)
In 1990, while he was a gang prevention worker, Temple was also on probation, part of his sentence for a statutory rape conviction. Although the terms of his probation required him not to associate with known criminals, police caught Temple at a gang fight. During a subsequent search of his house, they found an AK-47 Chinese assault rifle, a shotgun, flak jackets, ammunition, and several ski caps with eye holes cut out of them.