Friday, December 08, 2006

"Dear Chris: Nice try but no dice..."

The mayor needs to work on his writing to keep it short and sweet---or unsweet, as the situation requires. Here's the way I would have written the Statement to SF Supervisors on Monthly Policy Discussions (below), Supervisor Daly's attempt---passed by the city's voters---to lure the mayor into a monthly dog-and-pony show with the Board of Supervisors in front of SFGTV :

Dear Chris,

Nice try but no dice. See you in the funny papers.


Ken Garcia's column yesterday ("Mayor Ready to Strike Back After Supervisors' Petty Meddling," SF Examiner, Dec. 7, 2006) raises an interesting question about Gavin Newsom: Is he too nice a guy to deal with a Board of Supervisors that seems to enjoy sticking it to him at every opportunity?

I recently suggested that Mayor Gavin Newsom needed to stop trying to appease his critics and start fighting his opponents, who have been trying to nibble away at his authority through legislative gamesmanship. This week, the meddling got personal and petty, and the mayor essentially told me that the gloves are off.

Mayor Newsom has been excellent on homelessness in the city, the issue that got him elected in 2003. I was hoping he would be more combative politically, sort of a Rudy Guliani with a human face. But he never seems willing to make his political opponents pay the price for their shortcomings and missteps.

He's also good on graffiti, seeing it as a blight on the city's landscape that has to be dealt with promptly, regardless of the expense, which is considerable. But why not make those who support graffiti/tagging as an "art" genre pay the political price for enabling this form of vandalism? Why not mention the fact that his 2003 opponent, Matt Gonzalez, thinks graffiti is so great that he had an "artist" deface his office walls with it at City Hall? Why not mention the fact that Supervisor Mirkarimi's only response to graffiti/tagging in District 5 so far is to organize clean-up parties after the fact? Why not mention the fact that an editor of the city's leading progressive newspaper, Tim Redmond at the SF Bay Guardian, actually is on record as liking graffit/tagging, calling it "public art"?

The same approach could be used on other issues. He can take credit for initiating policies in SF that deal effectively and compassionately with homelessness. But why not also mention how little help he has gotten from the city's progressive leadership on the issue?

The question is, Is it enough for a political leader to be right? Doesn't he also have to point out that his opponents are wrong? Granted that his affable, above-the-fray approach has worked well for him so far, at least if his approval ratings are any indication. 

But he'll be facing re-election in less than a year, during which his opponents will be branding him as a pretty-boy, do-nothing mayor, who spends too much time schmoozing with socialites and flitting around the country. The trick for Newsom will be to take the gloves off without sounding angry and excessively negative while doing it.

Office of the Mayor Gavin Newsom
City and County of San Francisco Mayor
December 5, 2006

Dear Supervisors,

I write to share my thoughts on policy dialogue between the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. As you know, our administration is committed to open government and policy-based decision making. I believe that conversations between my office and Supervisors focused on policy issues can advanced such good governance.

To allow for open lines of communication between the executive and legislative branches, my office maintains an open-door policy with Supervisors. Several Supervisors have taken us up on this policy over time, dropping by to discuss a broad range of issues facing the city. Additionally, scheduled meetings with Supervisors on specific policy subjects and standing meetings with the Board President have also been productive toward shared goals.

We believe there is widespread agreement among San Franciscans that we need more policy based dialogue and less political arguing. Simply put, residents want elected officials to focus on the challenges facing our city and to collaborate on finding solutions. Too often inside of City Hall, policy dialogue becomes political theater, and the public interest loses out.

This past November the voters passed an advisory initiative asking the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor to commit themselves to substantive public policy discussion once a month. If structured appropriately, such dialogue will benefit the city. To truly serve the public interest, I believe that we should hold these conversations in the community. Bringing these conversations to the neighborhoods—during non-work hours— will allow residents to participate and will ensure transparent dialogue, while avoiding the politicized, counterproductive arguing that too often takes place in the confines of City Hall.

Beginning in January, my office will convene monthly public policy town hall meetings in different areas of the city. Each meeting will address a policy subject important to residents, such as homelessness, Muni, and keeping families in San Francisco. All Supervisors will be asked to participate in this public dialogue. I will be asking President Peskin to work with our office to ensure productive, policy-based meetings that allow for public participation. In the upcoming Committee meeting on this subject, we are hopeful that Supervisors will agree with us that the best place to have public policy dialogue is in the community.

I look forward to these community-based meetings that will allow us to productively address important issues facing our city.

Gavin Newsom

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