Ammiano's Surprise, and Promise

When I spoke with Ammiano last week, the former stand-up comic was in good form, suggesting that if he somehow won the mayor's post, therapy might be in order; at the least, he quipped, he would need to purchase a lot of new suits. He went on to list housing, Muni, and a smooth transition to next year's district elections for the Board of Supervisors as his top priorities. I am a governmental policy junkie, and it was clear to me he has a real interest in the details and nuances of these issues. To be sure, his proposed remedies for municipal ills are different from those I support. When addressing affordable housing, Ammiano talks about continued renegotiation of the rates of federal housing subsidies as a way of keeping low-income families in the city; I see a need for aggressive private sector programs to build more housing. He talks about improving Muni by appointing transit advocates to the Muni board and brokering deals with powerful transit unions; I see a need for a change in Muni's basic working culture, so management has more power, and unions less. He mentions the possibility, in some instances, of commercial rent control; I cringe at the notion. But Ammiano made a point of saying that the city's problems are complex, and that to sound-bite his thinking on them would be to misrepresent that thinking. I do not wish to make such a misrepresentation; clearly, Ammiano is well-schooled in municipal governance and more than capable of in-depth analysis.

Furthermore, Ammiano made two points last week that I found heartening: First, he insisted that the city's major problems are interconnected, that effective policy on housing, for example, has to include effective policies to improve Muni. Second, Ammiano suggested that mayoral appointments be spread more equitably among neighborhoods, to make city commissions less "crony heavy." He even mentioned the notion of restoring some semblance of checks and balances to mayoral privilege. The mere realization that cronyism and unchecked executive power are not social goods sets Ammiano miles apart from -- and, in ethical terms, miles above -- Willie Brown.

Frank Jordan is a nice man who has proven he does not possess the constellation of abilities necessary to run San Francisco well.

Clint Reilly's motives for seeking the mayor's office are more honorable than he has been given credit for - I think he loves the city, and wants to improve it, by his lights -- and I am appalled that the daily media have played along with the Black Prince of local political consulting, Jack Davis, and allowed a two-decade-old incident from Reilly's private life to overwhelm discussion of his policy ideas, some of which are quite good. In the end, I tilt away from Reilly because I consider governance a profession, and Reilly has never held public office. It's as simple as that.

But if you have studied up on the matter and are certain Reilly or Jordan is your man, I'm not really trying to change your mind. No, this column is written to the undecided, the people who were appalled by the available choices for mayor, and particularly those voters who were undecided, but leaning toward Willie Brown, only because he was the devil they knew.

When former Klansman David Duke and the ethically challenged Edwin Edwards were in a hotly contested election for Louisiana governor in 1991, the notion of choosing the lesser of two evils was taken to a new level. As election day approached, a saying was coined: "Vote for the crook - it's important."

Last Friday, San Francisco voters were given a less dramatic and easier choice: They can support an incumbent who has bred incompetence, tolerated sleaze, and fostered secrecy, or a challenger who has experience, smarts, and a proven commitment to open government. If you're undecided, vote for the gay stand-up comedian who needs new suits. It's important, and obviously the right thing to do.

John Mecklin ( can be reached atSF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco, CA 94107.

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