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An Arthurian legend: in which the mayor espouses employment in modern high-tech industries while allowing a return to the industrial age

Despite whatever criticisms one may level at Mayor Gavin Newsom, you have to admit he has balls.

Last Wednesday Newsom delivered a State of the City address full of bromides about making S.F. government more efficient.

"We have become more nimble, more flexible, providing better services more efficiently, and we are doing it in partnership with our residents," Newsom said, reading from twin translucent TelePrompTers perched above his lectern at S.F. State's McKenna Theatre.

Yet in order to make sure the "efficiency" address made a media splash, the mayor forced the city to become extraordinarily inefficient. To fill seats in front of the cameras for the mayor's speech, Newsom's office shut down much of city government for most of Oct. 26, compelling important department heads and members of their staff to truck the nine miles from City Hall to the campus of San Francisco State University and then wait for three hours. The event was at S.F. State, Newsom said, to symbolize his belief in education.

"Goddamned Ragone publicity stunt bullshit," groused one of many high-level bureaucrats who had to erase their entire Wednesday calendars to serve as extras in the event, referring to the head of Newsom's PR office, Peter Ragone. "When Willie Brown was mayor, it was at City Hall. It would take an hour. And you'd go back to work," the bureaucrat added, motioning toward the dais:

"Those TelePrompTers aren't free, either."

In San Francisco, "presidential glass"-style TelePrompTers such as the ones used by Newsom typically rent retail for $2,200 per day, with the requisite full audio service package needed to support them costing around $7,000.

Perched on either side of the podium like giant, see-through truck mirrors, they gave the event a slick, expensive, high-tech feel, as if it were the Democratic National Convention.

To burnish this effect, Newsom dragooned three dozen police officers, a half-dozen other public safety workers, and a hundred or so additional city employees to devote most of their day to padding the audience for the event. These city employees were ordered to sit immediately in front of the row of seats reserved for television and other media. Another group of police officers, drawn from the S.F. Police Department and the S.F. State University Police, cordoned off streets surrounding the theater. A corps of five black-suited private security guards manned three metal-detecting machines at the theater's front doors. In San Francisco, walk-through metal detectors rent at around $300 each for a day, with black-suited guards typically going for $40 per hour.

"With this kind of security I'd expect to see a professional show," noted one TV cameraman after passing through the pomp-and-circumstance security apparatus. "I mean, Jesus Christ -- I saw the mayor by himself in Starbucks just yesterday."

That must have been one of San Francisco government's "efficient" days. Wednesday was different.

Attendees were told to show up at 12 p.m. for the 1 p.m. address. At 12:10 a thin woman with frosted hair, stiletto heels, and large fashion sunglasses carried what looked like a 16-inch aluminum cosmetics "train"-style case frenetically up to the phalanx of rent-a-guards. They seemed to have been expecting someone like this and waved her through.

"That must be Newsom's makeup woman," a lobbyist allied with the mayor speculated.

As the hour of the speech came and went with no sign of Newsom, Chief Public Defender Jeff Adachi seemed to tire of smiling and greeting and took a seat. Willie Brown was on hand, looking dapper, relaxed. He held court for nearly an hour, flirting briefly with old flame District Attorney Kamala Harris. Eventually, however, he too seemed to weary of small talk. By 1:40 p.m., the assembled city-payroll glitterati -- professional schmoozers all -- had ceased kibitzing and either sat down or stood around awkwardly as if wondering what to do next.

Finally, at 1:48 p.m. the mayor bounded onstage with the fashionable lateness of a Hollywood-style celebrity who's also a busy leader. He nestled between the twin TelePrompTers and read them like a pro until 3 p.m., delivering a speech that came out in the next day's news exactly like he might have hoped.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's front-page spread headline, our "Mayor Sees a Camelot by the Bay."

Mingling among the time-wasting serfs assembled at the McKenna Theatre, then watching the mayor deliver a chimeric speech on the state of San Francisco, I have to admit the Chrongot it right. Newsom sees San Francisco as an aristocratic kingdom existing only in the realm of fantasy.

When the mayor wasn't reading lines about government efficiency last Wednesday, he was using stirring language to describe how his administration will be a steward for forward-looking economic growth.

Newsom added that he will chaperone growth in housing production to accommodate new workers in these jobs.

San Francisco is becoming a center for biotech, something called "Clean Tech," and digital media, Newsom said. "This is not by accident. We are San Franciscans. We are a city of dreamers and a city of doers. We are steadfast in our refusal to accept the status quo when it has outlived its usefulness. We are firm in our commitment to progress when others would be content to retreat," his speech said.

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