When Cesar Reigned

An aging journalist remembers 1999, when an election became a revolution, and the city changed forever

Lucrecia Bermudez appeared much less confused after Martin Eng developed a tiny bullhorn with speech-and-thought-synthesizing features.

J.R. Manuel so ingratiated himself with world leaders that Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America joined the government of Cesar. (Canada, never an actual country, joined a commonwealth.)

Jim Reid stole, sure. But only three Bic pens which he accidentally brought home from work each month.

David Martz, an attorney after all, inevitably lost his earnestness. But even during his corrupt and cynical years, the Minister of Largess was more effective at delivering social services than the former good-old-boy charity/government network.

Joel Ventresca, Secretary of the Navy, managed to secure funding for a program called Sea Wars. Nobody could explain exactly what it did, or why it cost billions of dollars.

William Felzer kept to his chambers Merlin-like, emerging occasionally to announce a program or read a poem.

Martin Eng, when he wasn't helping Lucrecia, directed the chip-implant conspiracy.

And Cesar Ascarrunz, well, he did magnificent things. He built his Palladium, where thousands of people drank past sunrise -- legally. He cinched up his pantalones and vanquished NIMBY neighborhood associations, the Municipal Transit Workers' Union, Illegal Transit-Impeding Unit drivers, and Tenderloin landlords. With Felzer's help, he rebuilt the school system. He built his Riviera, creating such a great supply of housing that rents declined citywide. Nobody had to live on the street. Citizens walked, bicycled, and rode on an efficient transit system.

There was happiness in the land.

This all happened so long ago, but I can still feel the excitement and boundless promise of that day, Nov. 1, 1999.

Now, sitting in my 15th-story SOMA Riviera apartment, I see a great and prosperous city of 3 million people. I see a Mecca of diversity; a Venice of the arts; a cultural Mount Olympus; the Most Beautiful City in the World.

Or at least that's what I see when I close my eyes.

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