Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mayor Newsom's anonymous critics: What are they afraid of?

San Francisco is a city that has always prided itself as a safe haven for rebellion, from the city's labor history (Harry Bridges and the longshoremen), to the beatniks (Ferlinghetti, North Beach, Alan Ginsberg and Howl, etc.), to the hippies (the Grateful Dead, the Acid Tests, the Summer of Love, Haight Ashbury, etc.). The city is also the birthplace of Burning Man and Critical Mass, two events that still attract people who fancy themselves as rebels.

The question is, Why is so much of the political opposition to Mayor Newsom expressed anonymously? Seems like the city is now creating a new chickenshit political tradition, one that includes the anonymous hit-piece and the anonymous website.

Exhibit A:
The three websites below are all designed to express opposition to Mayor Newsom, but none of them explains who is responsible for their creation: http://www.gavinnewsomsucks.com/, http://gavinwatch.com/, and http://www.sfpartyparty.com/?m=200707

It's widely known that the PartyParty site is the brainchild of Ted Strawser, though you don't see his name anywhere on the site. Why doesn't Ted put his name on it? Maybe he doesn't want to politically embarrass Leah Shahum, his Significant Other, the head of the SF Bicycle Coalition, and a Newsom appointee to the MTA board. Maybe he's just kind of lame and worried about negative feedback. Either way it's not a particularly effective way to make a political point. If you can't bring yourself to put your name on it, you probably shouldn't do it at all.

Exhibit B: The item by Matier&Ross (below) describes an elaborate, expensive, and anonymous anti-Newsom hit-piece in the form of a postcard. This sort of thing is usually done closer to election day to try to influence the vote. The creators of this postcard evidently felt compelled to get it in the mail immediately. Looking at the card, it's hard to see why its wimpy creators were in such a rush to get it out there.

Exhibit C: Then you have the city's two main chatboards: Junto, which is more or less progressive, and The Wall, which is more or less conservative. Almost all of those who post on these boards do it anonymously under pseudonyms. (I post on both boards under the "District 5 Diary" banner; learning my name is just a click away.) The rationale for the anonymity is that these folks can express unpopular political views and disclose important information only if they can do so without using their names. Well, maybe. When you take a close look at the exchanges on these boards, you quickly see that, as often as not, the debate is often petty and of little political consequence. While responding to a particularly lame post, I often think, "You need to be anonymous to say that?" In short, one suspects that most of these folks are just chickenshit. Not that I think it's okay to "out" those who take part on these boards, as H. Brown does from time to time. But it's really hard to believe that all of that anonymity is justified, given the banal, trivial content of so many of the posts.

Matier & Ross: Newsom-hater's 'prank' didn't come cheap
SF Chronicle, September 9, 2007
Scores of postcards showing a tieless San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom eyeing a woman's low-cut dress under the headline, "Fresh out of rehab ... newly single and ready to service," have been mailed out over the past couple weeks.

Nothing on the cards identifies who is sending them. Judging from those who have reported being on the receiving end, they are aimed at an audience of Democratic women.

The cards list the Web addresses of two anti-Newsom sites devoted to spoofing the mayor's personal and political troubles, www.gavinsucks.com and www.gavinwatch.com.

We couldn't reach the folks behind the sites to find out if they had any involvement, but the mayor's folks don't think so, speculating it was "a Newsom hater" with money.

The cards advise recipients to phone either "Eric" or "Jim" at two listed phone numbers - one belonging to the office of Newsom's campaign manager, Eric Jaye, and the other to the office of Jim Sutton, the mayor's campaign finance lawyer.

Sutton said both his wife and Jaye's were among those who received the postcards, which he brushed off as a prank.

If it's a prank, though, it's an expensive one. The cards carry first-class postage of 25 cents, and Jaye says hundreds have been turned over to Newsom campaign headquarters alone.

The mayor's campaign staff has contacted U.S. Postal Service inspectors to see whether there's a mail fraud case to be made. That's because the cards list the return address as "1320 Sutter St. next to BevMo" - which just happens to be Newsom campaign headquarters.

Labels: ,