I didn't want to leave you with the notion that Muni managers have no respect for money whatsoever. So listen up: Last July, Emilio Cruz, then being paid more than $100,000 a year to run Muni, filed an expense report that, among other things, claimed reimbursement for 20 cents he put into a Chicago parking meter.

No holiday column would be complete until I expressed my concern for those who have suffered undeserved turns of fortune in the past year. This group includes Mayor Willie Brown Jr., whose popularity has fallen greatly, according to recent public opinion polls, even though he has done nothing, recently, that he has not been doing for a long time. So I'll offer this little holiday note, my best shot at cheering the mayor up as he heads into next year.

Mr. Mayor,
I realize that many in the press and electorate do not appreciate your accomplishments. Where you see rebuilt islands and renewed financial opportunity, they see only suspicious deals and two-hour cross-town commutes.

But I know you've done something truly extraordinary this year, and I feel duty-bound to make this singular accomplishment widely known. Call it my Christmas present to you, Mr. Mayor, in honor of your own Christmas present to the citizens of San Francisco.

Last week, Mr. Mayor, you finally came within sight of a longtime goal: replacing all those terrible old ugly newsracks in this town with new, spiffy centralized ones. With your wise guidance, the Department of Public Works finally offered up the contract under which a street furniture firm will install the new centralized racks, each of which will hold six different newspapers. Once the Board of Supervisors approves the contract -- which can't take more than another week or two -- you will have set this city on a brave new course. Evil, dangerous, unsightly individual newspaper racks will be forcibly removed from city streets, to be replaced by large, good, beautiful, safe, multipaper racks, adorned with advertising and other information approved by the government.

The Public Works director will, from this point forward, decide what newspapers can be placed in San Francisco newsracks, and, therefore, what publications San Franciscans can and cannot read. Any print news organization that criticizes you -- or any future mayor -- in an unfair, or harsh, or factual, or effective way can be reined in, cut off from distribution outlets, and set on the path of official truth, as seen and defined by the mayor himself.

When the newsrack contract is approved later this month, Mayor Brown, you will have reason to thrust out your chest in pride. Other San Francisco officials may regularly make themselves appear suspicious. But you are unique in this city's history. Once the newsrack ordinance is signed, you, Mr. Mayor, will have established yourself as a ruler willing to suppress a fundamental constitutional freedom in the name of a phony threat to public order. Spurious demagoguery, transient commercial advantage, and petty political vengeance will have slowly, slyly, and finally defeated those nattering nabobs of negativity in the press. Mayor Brown, you have entered the pantheon. Through long and determined effort, you have remade yourself in the image of a Southern sheriff and won the right to be known as San Francisco's first redneck in high elective office.

Do have a happy election year.

John Mecklin ( can be reached at SF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco,

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