What You Get When You Cross Night of the Living Dead With Being There
So I read in the papers that people are really going to run Frank Jordan for mayor, which just confirms something I've long suspected about this town: When it comes to political leadership, San Francisco is like that small, cursed town in Night of the Living Dead. We're damned with some form of radiation that reanimates political hacks, even after we've killed and buried them.
It really is like a low-budget horror movie, isn't it? We spend the good portion of a decade trying to find the right weapon to dispatch Angela Alioto, only to see her rise and rise again from the grave, a little more gamy each time. And now, when we've finally succeeded in placing her in a permanent sarcophagus and banishing (thank God) her harpy scream from the city skies, the corpse of Frank Jordan punches through the earth and starts walking around in daylight, scaring children and small animals.
The reason our political landscape has become a George Romero nightmare is easy to figure: The bright young people in town are too busy making scads of imaginary millions to care much about government -- or the fact that the dead are walking the Earth! -- so the leadership pool has gotten small and become clotted with muck.
One can hope that district elections will change this situation, drawing all sorts of new blood into the local political arena. But for the time being ... hey, did I mention that THE DEAD ARE WALKING THE EARTH?!!!
Sometimes I think we deserve our zombie curse. We so happily indulge in nostalgia and willful amnesia, rotted corpses begin to look to us like statesmen.
So it will be with Frank Jordan. The mad scientists who are reanimating Frank's corpus -- failed candidates and failed police chiefs among them -- will tell us that Frank is the everyman fighting against the arrogance of power, the regular Joe fighting the evil insider, the man of the people against the elitist bully.
This spin will itself be a reanimation of sorts. It's the same line Jordan used when he beat Art Agnos nearly a decade ago. It was a partial lie then, and it will be again. You see, Frank is generally right about his opponents: They usually are arrogant, power-mad pricks. He will be especially right if he uses this line vis-à-vis Willie Brown.
But there is a bitter truth about Frank Jordan, too, and it is rarely told widely and clearly enough. I have three stories that will, I hope, illuminate a bit of that truth, and if not stop, at the very least slow, the zombie madness.
Story 1 takes place in an airport, on an evening in 1992. I boarded a flight for New York to cover the Democratic National Convention. By happenstance I was on the same plane as then-Mayor Frank Jordan, his wife, wheeler-dealer investment banker Wendy Paskin, and several of his aides, some of whom have since reanimated themselves as loyal Brownites.
Upon landing in New York, I headed for the baggage carousel. Nearby, the Jordan party was gathered in a knot laughing, joking, talking policy, and deciding which fetes to go to during the convention. Being an irrepressible reporter, I headed over to see if I could get some "color" for my story. As I got to the crowd, I noticed that Paskin was leading the revelry. The aides were basking in her light, talking policy and parties. The mayor was nowhere to be seen.
I looked around and finally spied him, all by himself, standing by the luggage carousel, a silly smile on his face and his gaze fixed on the circling bags. He just stood there, frozen, watching the bags go around and around like some autistic child. As his wife and his aides yukked it up 15 or so yards away, Jordan, that silly smile pasted to his face, contentedly watched the bags circle until his and his wife's came out. He then picked them up and, looking all the world like a butler and not the mayor of a major American city, followed behind his wife and his aides as they walked outside, still laughing and joking and paying him no mind.
Story 2 takes place in the Mayor's Office. To understand it correctly requires a little context.
The budget battles during Jordan's tenure as mayor were nasty. The recession was on, money was tight, deficits were mounting, and some measure of tax increases and/or service reductions (that is, staff cuts) would be needed to close the deficit. The acrimony between labor (which wanted no layoffs of city workers) and downtown (which wanted no new taxes) was pitched.
Amid this heated budget-wrangling, Jordan called a meeting in his office between union leaders and representatives of the city's largest corporations. Jordan greeted his guests at a conference table, thanked them for coming, and then, to the complete surprise of every participant at the meeting, left the table, and strolled over to his desk, where he began placidly opening his mail. The stunned corporate and labor leaders just stared at him for several seconds before realizing that the mayor had no intention of actually taking part in perhaps the most important policy discussion under way in the city at the time. He was simply going to open his mail.
Story 3 takes place in a bar, circa 1993. It was well into the second full year of Mayor Jordan's term, and I was taking some of his top aides out for beers at my then-favorite bar, Mad Dog in the Fog. At the table with me were two high-level aides, whose names I will not mention so as not to embarrass them, because they too have now reanimated themselves into posts of importance in San Francisco.
Newcastle was the lubricant of choice that night, and we drank far too much of it for our own good. As the night wore on, and we all got drunker, the two aides began to speak more and more openly about Frank Jordan. Their boss, according to the two ambitious young pols, was dumb as a rock, thick as a plank -- stupid! stupid! stupid!
The aides opened a debate with me that night.
Why, they asked, didn't the press simply say that the mayor of the City and County of San Francisco was an incredibly and thoroughly dumb man, incapable of grasping even the basic concepts such as how a toaster worked?
I told them I was sympathetic to their argument. I had once sat in Jordan's office talking to our boy-mayor for a startling 45 minutes, discussing city affairs with him, and I had decided that yes, indeed, it was true, the mayor was simple.
Still, I told the aides, it is the job of journalists to show and not tell, and the sum total of coverage of the mayor showed, without a doubt, that he was a remarkably stupid man with the intellectual capacity of, say, a 10-year-old boy.
Both aides dismissed my argument and said what was needed was a story that just reported the fact -- the indisputable fact -- that the mayor of San Francisco was mentally challenged.
One aide grew animated in her inebriation. "He doesn't have any books in his house!" she yelled, banging her fists on the table. "He has a big-screen TV, but not a single book!"
Frank Jordan spent the rest of his time in office letting others run the city, while he gathered luggage and opened mail. Willie Brown, not to anyone's great surprise, won the mayor's race in 1995.
Now that Frank Jordan is talking about running for mayor again and the press is treating him like a viable candidate, I will do what I should have done after my drunken night with the two Jordan aides.
I will opine that Frank Jordan is an incredibly and thoroughly stupid man. I don't know if he has ever had his IQ tested, but if he did, I would not be surprised if the result showed up somewhere in the negative range. On second thought, they may have to use the negative exponents known as imaginary numbers in mathematics to measure his lack of intelligence.
So, at the risk of repeating myself, let me just say once and for all time:
Frank Jordan is dumb, stupid, backward, an idiot, a schlub, a moron, a dink, a mouth breather, a slack jaw, a drooler, a knuckle dragger, a nitwit, a nincompoop, an imbecile, an ignoramus, a dimwit, a booby, a jerk, a fool, a simpleton, an eighteenth wit, a dullard, a numskull, an oaf, a bungler, a dolt, a blockhead, a dunce, a dunderhead, a ninny, a lummox, a yahoo, a bozo, a goofball, a bonehead. He's just plain dumb.
So a question arises: Why did and why do some people want such a putz as mayor? The answer brings us around, by happy circumstance, to another political zombie who, I wish, were appropriately entombed, the only declared and viable mayoral candidate, one Clint Reilly.
Before Reilly reanimated himself as a candidate, he was a political consultant. As such, he successfully ran Jordan for mayor in 1991. Like a lot of other slimeballs (among them Jack Davis, who has reanimated himself as a Brown adviser), Reilly manipulated the moron mayor into doing some of the most galactically stupid things imaginable.
That's why Jordan was such a disaster as mayor, and why his corpse is such a frightful sight today.
Jordan, in sum, was a front man for the personal agendas of others. Those agendas, as it happened, were thoroughly detrimental to the city, and no one ever saw clearly who was behind them because those people were, by design, hidden behind Frank Jordan's idiot smile.
In a manner of speaking, many San Franciscans were too busy watching Jordan watch the luggage to understand until it was too late what was really going on.
For his part, Reilly was responsible for manipulating the mayor into conducting one of the most disastrous political events in recent memory, the appointment of Dick Hongisto as police chief. Always a little nutty as a member of the Board of Supervisors, Hongisto put on his chief's uniform and suddenly and inexorably, to my eyes at least, and to those of many others, went completely mad.
As people began demonstrating against the 1993 verdict that cleared the cops who beat Rodney King, Hongisto accomplished a truly remarkable feat. He moved reality so far toward the realm of the insane that it finally matched the idiotic rhetoric of the far left. He turned San Francisco into an armed camp. We, indeed, were living in a police state.
Demonstrators were arrested in the hundreds for no legal reason. The entire command structure of the Police Department hid as Dick ran amok. The city was forced to pay out $1 million to settle a lawsuit. Dick went even madder, sending officers out to steal hundreds of copies of a newspaper that criticized his tactics. Over the objections of Jordan and Reilly, the Police Commission finally fired the nut case.
If this town had any sense to it, before he was allowed to place his name on the mayoral ballot, Clint Reilly should have been made to pay back every dollar the city spent needlessly as a result of the Hongisto nightmare.
But in the Town of the Living Dead we allow the evil dead to continue to crawl out of their graves as often as they like.
I've been saying for a long time that the political culture in San Francisco is deeply sick. Everywhere you look shows decay, disease, and the evil dead.
The Brown machine is sick with arrogance and blindness.
Many of those who oppose the machine are even sicker, a weird and dangerous lot who would make Hongisto look like Winston Churchill if any of them ever got into power.
The press that covers the game is sickest of all, run by men and women of shallow imagination and brittle backbone.
When exciting new leaders step forward, as in the case of district attorney candidate Matt Gonzalez, no one pays attention. Instead, those opposed to District Attorney Terence Hallinan would, apparently, rather follow the reanimated corpse of Bill Fazio, who, at the very moment I am writing these words, stands on the steps of the Hall of Justice announcing his second candidacy for the job of district attorney amid the Gothic stench of decay.
We are very sick, indeed. And here is the surest sign of sickness: my endorsement for mayor of San Francisco.
Barring the entry of, say, a Gavin Newsom or a Tom Ammiano into the race for mayor this year, if all we have to vote on is the reanimated corpses of Clint Reilly and Frank Jordan and the rotting hide of Willie Lewis Brown Jr., all evils being what they are, I will vote for Brown.
Reilly knows nothing about government, and his political judgment is worse than Brown's. Jordan, well, I've told you about him.
The only one I would feel even remotely comfortable voting for in that scenario, I am profoundly sad to say, is a man who typifies just about everything wrong with San Francisco politics.
That, my dears, is sick.