Mecklin

Get Me Rewrite

I breakfasted a few weeks ago with someone who, depending on one's point of view, might be described as either a wise man or a wise guy of the local scene, and he insists the Willie Brown story has run its course. His contention is that the mayor's 60-40 election victory over Tom Ammiano makes it senseless to continue reporting possible cronyism and corruption in and around Brown's administration. After all, voters knew Willie Brown and all the possibilities that have swirled around him for a long time now, and re-elected him overwhelmingly, knowing what they would get. So why bore people by telling them what they already know, and not only don't care about, but support?

After an initial, tepid flash of subdued indignation, and after much thought, I -- well, to put it plainly, I came to agree. Of course, such a thoroughgoing change in outlook did not happen instantly. First, I had to acknowledge the obvious: Voters clearly understand -- and believe in -- something about Willie Brown that I have been missing. Over the course of several weeks, I made an honest effort to erase preconceptions, and to look at the mayor in the way one of his supporters -- someone uninvolved in the conventions and gossip of journalism and politics -- might. When I did this, something else became suddenly obvious: If I wasn't looking for a story, if I was just looking to explain (even if the real explanation was rather boring), all of the blaring but unproven allegations of untoward behavior that hover around the mayor seemed remarkably empty. In fact, the more I looked at the general run of coverage of the Brown administration, the more I saw it not just as slanted, but repeatedly, almost purposefully off-point.

For a while, I could not think how to respond; after all, I was one of those who had written most harshly about the mayor. Every idea for correcting or balancing the media portrait of Willie Brown that I had helped paint seemed, on second and third thought, insufficient and insincere, especially coming from me. Yet I couldn't just stop writing about the mayor altogether, just because his story was no longer sexy, as my wise friend was suggesting.

In the end, I decided on a straightforward approach. I would re-report and rewrite a few misconstrued news stories from recent weeks, adding the context missing from the original accounts. And I would continue this service through the end of the second Brown term as mayor, hoping my changed view of the mayor would, however gradually, win out in the marketplace of ideas. This hope may be naive, but in this special case, it seems to me that naiveté may be the best policy.


SAN FRANCISCO -- Mayor Willie Brown has named Emilio Cruz, a dynamic young executive who previously served as the top executive for the Municipal Railway, to lead the city's economic development efforts. Because of his extensive political and private-sector connections -- he is state Sen. John Burton's son-in-law, and recently worked at one of the nation's largest construction management firms -- Cruz is expected to be able to tap into a broad array of resources as he does for San Francisco's economy precisely what he did for Muni. Sue Hestor, Bruce Brugmann, and Fidel Castro hailed the appointment. "Only a good, long, deep recession can stop the dot-com boom that is ruining this city with clean, high-paying jobs," Hestor said. "And Emilio may be the only person who can create recession less than an hour from Silicon Valley."

"Ditto, ditto dum, da da dum, da da dee," Brugmann and Castro intoned in unison.

San Francisco tenant activists also supported the move, saying they expect a Cruz-led business downturn to reduce residential rents to mid-1970s levels by the end of the year.

Sources close to Cruz say he plans to push the city's economy toward past levels of inactivity by hiring several thousand surly, ill-trained union workers to handle all applications for everything businesses need quickly from the government. Other past-reclaiming initiatives under consideration are a per-minute tax on Internet usage, a Palm Pilot ban, and subsidies aimed at encouraging the re-formation of the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead rock groups. Starbucks stock fell 93 percent on news of the Cruz appointment.


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Economists are hailing San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's plan to apply means-testing to beneficiaries of rent control, saying it could become a national model for achieving housing equity. Although the mayor has not released details of his plan, it would apparently make people designated as "too rich" ineligible to lease apartments at rent-controlled rates. Milton Friedman, dean of American conservative economists, says the combination of means-testing and rent control has a unique power that essentially vaporizes the law of supply and demand. Whereas ordinary rent control is a form of price restriction that inevitably leads to supply shortages and high rents, Friedman says that adding means-testing to the mix creates a rental situation so confusing that ordinary market considerations simply vanish.

"It's called the 'Poof Effect,'" Friedman says. "A similar plan has already made Manhattan's residential rent problems go poof. There's no reason Mayor Brown's plan can't stimulate poofing in San Francisco and, indeed, cities across the country."

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