Saturday, January 07, 2006

Willie Brown: Guilty until proven innocent?

Granted that the Willie Brown years were a mixed bag for San Francisco, especially his failure on the homeless issue and his aggressive pro-development policies. Brown is what I call a Development Democrat: Keep your constituents---especially the unions---happy by building a lot of stuff, which provides jobs and money to keep the political machine well-oiled, regardless of any impact on the neighborhoods. On the other hand, there were some great things accomplished during the Brown years: the wonderful remodeling job on the Ferry Building, the rehabilitation of Union Square, the excellent new baseball stadium, and the completion of the fine restoration job on City Hall. It's not clear how much credit Brown can take for these triumphs, but they all happened on his watch, and they all make the city a much better place.

But all the snickering about corruption and favoritism under Brown's regime has become commonplace in SF. Matt Smith in the SF Weekly:

During Brown's 15-year career as all-knowing-all-controlling Assembly speaker, systematic capitol shakedowns became so rife that FBI agents launched an undercover sting operation, ensnaring lesser pols and leaving Brown unscathed. As S.F. mayor Willie again systematically funneled public funds to political friends. FBI agents crawled over San Francisco, carting away underlings and getting nothing on Brown. That one needed to be a Willie Brown crony of one sort or another in order to feed at the S.F. government trough, however, was well established by investigative documents and news reports. ("Keep it Really Real," SF Weekly, Dec. 28-Jan. 3)

Bullshit! If Brown's transgressions were so "well-established," why has he never been busted for anything? Why wasn't Brown "ensnared" by a sting like "lesser pols"? Because there is no evidence that Brown ever broke any laws. Smith certainly adds nothing substantive to verify the myth of Brown's corruption. The truth is that Brown played by the rules and the laws that everyone else played by. Accusing him of being a crook just because he did it a lot better than anyone else is sloppy journalism.

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At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Rob, you are right on. The claim of "corruption" is much overblown, as in, prove it! Names, we want names!
He also deserves credit for civic improvement. Letting civic buildings go, etc., is long-range stupidity. Remember the "deferred maintenance" of Alioto, new busses with no spare parts, etc.
However, I do have a question -- is it possible to be unethical on many levels, to engage in the worst sort of cronyism, to behave in a largely unexemplary way, yet remain within the bounds of the law? I frankly did not follow his career that closely, but perhaps that is what his critics believe. Again, though, I want names; I want examples of cronyism. Politicians always reward their friends, and that is the way it is done. No plum appointments for political opponents. But, a legitimate criticism would be that the people appointed to commissions and otherwise favored were boobs and morons and otherwise unqualified. But, again, I want names and facts.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The "corruption" charge is not reserved just for Willie Brown but for anyone certain progressives don't like or don't agree with, especially city bureaucrats and elected officials. And the implication always is that those making the charge are pure of heart and deed. It's a form of self-righteousness that some of our comrades on the left like to indulge in. Maybe a case can be made against Brown about cronyism or influence peddling, but Matt Smith doesn't bother trying to prove anything specific. He seems to think the generic accusation is enough. It isn't.


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