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"Sure some of the contributors wanted to buy influence or access, but that's nothing new," Peskin says. "What the mayor's people are upset at is that a lot of the contributors were the same people who contributed to Care Not Cash, Newsom's homeless proposition in 2002. The rabble neighborhood supervisors aren't supposed to be getting those kinds of contributions from those kinds of contributors."
But Jaye did get some traction on one of his recent criticisms of the board president. Jaye tagged Peskin, a bike enthusiast who urges the use of public transit, for owning some Chevron stock. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently named the Chevron refinery in Richmond the third-largest polluter in the Bay Area for releasing 1.2 million pounds of toxic material into the air in 2006.
Peskin said he recently discovered he owned $4,600 worth of Chevron stock, which he claims was purchased for his self-employed wife's pension fund by the person who manages the account. "As soon as it was called to our attention, we dumped it," he says.
While the mayor's henchmen exaggerate Peskin's exploits, one well-publicized blow-up with Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier shows Peskin can be vindictive.
In October, Alioto-Pier proposed a charter amendment that would create minimum appointment standards for Rules Committee members. The board approved the amendment by a 7-4 vote, but immediately afterward, Supervisor Tom Ammiano suddenly realized he meant to vote against it. So the board members took the vote again, expecting the amendment would still pass 6-5. But out of the blue, Peskin also changed his vote and the amendment failed.
Afterward, Alioto-Pier asked Peskin why he voted against the measure. She says he answered with the now-famous line, "Payback is a bitch," because he was mad that she didn't support Proposition A. "I know everybody tells me this is politics and I shouldn't be upset," she says, "but when you use terms like 'Payback is a bitch,' you're not moving forward the business of the city and county of San Francisco."
Peskin says he was on the fence about the charter amendment, and simply changed his mind between the two votes. He also says he has no recollection of making the "payback" comment, which is slightly suspect given that his mind is a steel trap when it comes to minute details in the city's byzantine planning codes.
After the incident, Alioto-Pier wrote to City Attorney Dennis Herrera questioning the legality of Peskin's vote and comment, saying she felt it was political retribution. Herrera responded to her complaint, saying there was nothing illegal about what had happened in the amendment vote.
But Jaye says the supervisors do a lot of questionable voting that often flies below the radar. "'Log rolling,' trading votes for favors, has become common at City Hall," Jaye says. "'If you do X, Y, and Z, I'll vote for your deal.' That's illegal, and nobody is ever prosecuted." Both Jaye and Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard hint at something unethical in the relationship between Herrera and Peskin.
Neither Jaye nor Ballard will go as far as to say Herrera is covering for Peskin, but they both say the supervisor and city attorney have been close for decades, dating back to their college days at UC Santa Cruz.
"Herrera and Peskin are best friends," Ballard says. "They went to school together and share the same political consultant, Jim Stearns."
But if Ballard and Jaye meant to suggest indirectly that Herrera is weighing his opinions in his old buddy's favor, that implication has a major flaw: Herrera attended Villanova, an Augustinian university in Pennsylvania. Herrera said he did not meet Peskin until 2000, around the same time he first met Newsom.
"Dennis is a friend, but I can tell you, he doesn't do shit for me," says Peskin, who appears to be amused by the rumor. "And besides, if I was involved in something illegal, that's the purview of the district attorney's Office, not the city attorney. ... By the way, it is true that I did go to kindergarten through third grade with Kamala Harris."
Both mayoral reps backpedaled on the claim. Ballard says he couldn't remember making the comment, and that perhaps he meant to say Peskin went to grammar school with Harris. Jaye says he can't remember where he heard it, but he had no trouble believing it because the two men are such good friends.
A couple of weeks ago, the Chronicle reported that a new poll by David Binder showed Newsom's approval rating slipping eight points from a year ago to 67 percent. That's still amazingly high for a big-city mayor, and although Newsom's ratings have dropped slightly, they're still markedly higher than the Board of Supervisors' polling numbers, which were at a 45 percent favorable rating in January.
With his high polling numbers, Newsom is in a favorable position to do public battle with Peskin. While his ratings may take a hit, he stands a good chance of establishing a beachhead on the board for his chosen supervisorial candidates.
Peskin says he's well aware of the strategy of the mayor and his business allies: Vilify the board president and paint the board majority as a band of out-of-touch, corrupt politicians. "In 2000, we came in as reformers of the Willie Brown administration," he says. "Now the mayor will try to make his candidates 'reformers.' It's the oldest game in politics. There's no question they are trying to take a page from the reform book."