The Daly Show

Even in a summer of discontent for San Francisco progressives, bad-boy supervisor Chris Daly remains unbowed

More specifically, progressives are worried about the effect of a Newsom juggernaut a year from now, when control of the Board of Supervisors could well hinge on three open seats in swing districts that sitting progressives Peskin, Jake McGoldrick, and Gerardo Sandoval will give up, thanks to term limits.

It was just such a concern that prompted Daly to call for a so-called Progressive Convention, attended by some 300 people in June, with the promise that, if no recognizable candidate from the left offered themselves against Newsom, he'd do it.

The convention turned into a political version of The Price Is Right, with no progressive standard-bearer willing to "come on down." Daly waited until after it was over to say he wouldn't run because he and his wife are expecting a baby.

Then, with the filing deadline looming and still no recognizable progressive willing to enter, he once again changed course, huddling with supporters to take stock of his chances. In the meantime, progressives had suffered the indignity of seeing one of their own, Sandoval, endorse Newsom. Acknowledging that he may have been "the least preferable progressive challenger," Daly, in the end, folded his cards.

His aim, he says, was to coax a viable candidate into the race. (He has since endorsed advocate for the homeless Quintin Mecke.) "But," he acknowledges, "I probably painted myself into a corner in the press. I was perhaps incorrect in putting myself out there to draw someone else in."

Despite his being the politician that the city's mainstream power brokers like least, even some of Daly's critics use adjectives like "bright" and "talented" to describe him. Aside from Peskin and fellow progressive Tom Ammiano (the board's longest-tenured supervisor, first elected in 1994), Daly, in 6 1/2 years in office, has been responsible for more legislation than any of his colleagues, City Hall observers say.

He wins kudos as a hard worker, boasts a near-perfect attendance record, and, despite his often headline-grabbing escapades, is a policy wonk with a reputation for poring over the minutiae of practically every item that comes before him.

Yet his often-erratic behavior for an elected official, including an altercation with an SFPD cop during a protest at UC Hastings College of the Law in 2002, and famous temper have made him a lightning rod — and some say, easy foil — for political opponents. "The reality is that, while Chris has been quite effective [on the board], he has squandered some of his effectiveness because of his inability to control his emotions," Peskin says.

Although Peskin is still a Daly ally, there are signs that the relationship has frayed. In June, Peskin removed Daly as budget chair (and appointed himself to replace him), saying that Daly's quarrels with Newsom over the budget and other matters had become too personal and hindered his ability to get things done. Daly, in turn, accuses Peskin of cutting a deal with the mayor to oust him, something Peskin denies.

But such dust-ups with fellow progressives aren't to be confused with the continual warfare Daly wages against the mayor, whom the fiery supervisor — whose 6th District includes not only South of Market, the Civic Center, and Treasure Island, but also poorer constituents in the Tenderloin and northern Mission — clearly resents. In Daly's view, the mayor is little more than a symbol of the moneyed establishment who largely owes his popularity to a knack for cherrypicking popular progressive causes.

Although then-Supervisor Newsom endorsed Daly during Daly's first run for office, the bad blood between them precedes Newsom's election as mayor. They often sparred when Newsom was on the board, most notably about Care Not Cash, the homelessness initiative that helped catapult Newsom to the mayor's office, and that Daly ridicules. Insiders recall with bemusement his getting under Newsom's skin by chatting him up, in the manner of a baseball catcher, to annoy and distract him during legislative sessions.

On his "The Daly Blog," which Daly moved off the city's servers in July (and which promises "unedited, uncensored, unadulterated analysis of San Francisco politics"), he is forever mocking Newsom. He chronicles the mayor's every stumble, from his past marital woes and divorce to his more recent alcohol abuse and affair.

The attacks hold little back. In one recent blog post, Daly introduced "Project Chicken Connect," featuring a graphic of the mayor with a chicken beak and deriding him as "an intellectual lightweight who has problems thinking on his feet."

But on the Richter scale of broadsides, none has resonated more than Daly's insinuating that the mayor may have had a cocaine habit. Besides drawing the angry denial from Newsom, Daly's remarks were roundly condemned by other elected officials. Even his progressive pals grumbled, some privately, others less so. On the day of their City Hall standoff, Dufty angrily told Daly that he had probably done more than anyone to help ensure Newsom's re-election.

Daly remains characteristically unapologetic.

He says that he was merely illustrating the "hypocrisy" of Newsom's wanting to slash substance abuse programs for the poor while using those programs himself.

He contends that he didn't really accuse the mayor of cocaine use, anyway; that news accounts distorted his words. Rather, he says he was referring to "rumors" that Newsom had used cocaine when he declared, before a supervisors' chamber packed with Daly's affordable housing supporters, that the mayor "artfully dodges every question about allegations of his cocaine abuse." And he says he was referring to alcohol rehab when he followed up by asking, "Where does Gavin Christopher Newsom get his substance abuse services, and how much do they cost the city and county of San Francisco?"

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