How Much Is That Free Notice?
Last year, the Independent lost the lucrative advertising contract for the city's public notices to the Examiner when the Independent bid came in $190,000 greater than the p.m. paper. What to do? Why, place a proposition on the ballot that eliminated the requirement that public notice contracts go to the lowest bidder, which is what the owners of the Independent, the politically powerful Fang family, did last year with November's victorious Proposition J.
Now comes the 1995 bid for the public notice contract: According to city documents, the Examiner bid $316,000 and the Independent bid $527,000. That's $211,000 more, even greater than the gap between the Examiner and Independent bids last year. So who got the contract? The Independent. A contract awarding the Fang paper was introduced to the Board of Supervisors last week.
Prop. J gives the Fangs the nod for the public notice contract because the bidding process is scored by points, with extra points going to minority businesses, free- rather than paid-circulation newspapers and locally owned papers rather than those owned by out-of-towners. By no accident, the new law makes it so the Fangs' Independent can outscore any other bidder — no matter what its bid.
“I think the people have spoken,” says Independent Publisher Ted Fang. “The knock against us was that it would cost more, but the public said it wanted free public notices and it was OK if it cost more.” (By “free,” Fang means free at the newsstand.)
The contract must still be OK'd by the Board of Supervisors, but since most of the supes supported the Independent's rewrite of the rules last year it is a foregone conclusion that the Fangs will win the contract.
The supes aren't the only city officials who are more interested in playing petty politics than collecting petty cash.
In the 1994 Voter Handbook, Police Chief Anthony Ribera paid for a ballot argument out of his own pocket to urge voters to OK Prop. J. Ribera's obvious target was clearly the Examiner, whose tough reporting on his bad-boy antics has given him fits.
“Proposition J would allow our locally owned Independent to compete with the corporate giants for the city's Public Notice contract,” Ribera wrote in his argument. “The Independent presents a non-biased objective view of local news and has been a longtime sponsor of the 'My Favorite Cop' program.”
Then there was Frank Jordan, who benefited from the Independent drumbeat of criticism against his opponent, Mayor Art Agnos, and who hired Fang son No. 1, James, as his international trade director.
With his usual deaf ear for the facts, Jordan falsely asserted in a Voter Handbook argument also signed by Supervisors Willie Kennedy and Terence Hallinan that there would be no additional cost to the city if it dropped the requirement that the low bidder wins the contract.
“Politics may have played a part in it,” Ted Fang says of Jordan's support. “But people wanted free public notices. I applaud Frank Jordan for doing so.”
Most recently, however, Ted Fang has been busy applauding Jordan challenger Willie Brown. Publisher Fang was a prominent head-table guest at a recent Brown fund-raiser, and his paper was the first to run a column called “Run, Willie, Run,” written by Warren Hinckle.
“The mayor's race is far away,” Fang chuckles. “Some of the major rumored candidates have yet to even announce.”
Which leaves Frank Jordan humming the old song, “Try to remember, that time in September, and follow … follow … follow.”
By Larry Bush