SF's culture of corruption

In many ways, San Francisco hasn't changed. It's still the old Barbary Coast, ruled by capitalist thugs and corrupt politicians, only with glossy modern spin

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EDITORIAL The extent of the charges in the criminal complaint against Sen. Leland Yee, political consultant Keith Jackson, and others are shocking and sensational: international arms trafficking, drug dealing, money laundering, cavorting with organized crime figures, murder for hire. But the basic allegation that Yee and Jackson practiced a corrupt, transactional kind of politics wasn't surprising to anyone who knew how they operated.

What's worse, they were simply a more extreme — and now, thanks to FBI wiretaps and undercover agents, a better documented — example of the political corruption that is endemic to San Francisco and some other high-stakes American cities. The city of St. Francis gets sold out to the highest bidders everyday, by politicians who value wealthy constituents over the vast majority of us who are just trying to get by — and over the interests of city finances and governance.

Part of the problem is inherent in our money-driven political system, in which politicians are constantly hustling for cash from people who want things from them. Politicians deny they take actions with political contributions in mind, but well-heeled capital and labor interests don't spend millions of dollars on contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. These are business transactions.

We wholeheartedly support the call Senate President Darrell Steinberg made for fundamental political reform during the March 28 vote to suspend Yee and two of his allegedly corrupt colleagues. These cases aren't aberrations, they are indicative of how power get wielded when it's based on wealth. That's the reality that has gotten even uglier since the Citizens United decision equated money with political speech and upped the ante for would-be public servants.

But much of the problem is particular to San Francisco, where cozy relationships between politicians and corporate interests are often feted in plain view. Former Mayor Willie Brown — a lawyer and unregistered lobbyist who won't reveal his huge corporate client list despite having an influential weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle — helped install his longtime City Hall functionary Ed Lee into Room 200 to guard against anyone asking too much of the rich and powerful. Yee and Lee represented rival Chinatown economic factions, both wanting to use the power of the Mayor's Office for their interests.

In his March 22 column, Brown once again repeated a joke he's used before, that the "e" in email stands for "evidence," which is really only funny in a sick political culture that celebrates slick rule-breakers. And it was from Brown that Lee learned it was acceptable to brazenly give tax breaks and regulatory passes to the tech companies that his top fundraiser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, are invested in.

Megadeveloper Lennar Urban used its wealth and political connections to take control of San Francisco's biggest tracts of undeveloped and underdeveloped land, including Hunters and Candlestick points and Treasure Island, paying off community groups and hiring Jackson and other political henchmen to get the job done.

In fact, the FBI complaint says Jackson was working on behalf of that project when he approached accused Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow for support, leading to their alleged involvement in a string of wild criminal conspiracies. Meanwhile, Chow was getting public commendations from San Francisco-based politicians including Lee, Yee, Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Fiona Ma, and even Tom Ammiano. Chow courted political legitimacy the same way politicians seek cash, and mainstream media outlets were happy to play along.

Comments

I must say, that is one of the most succinct articles, only two columns, that sums up San Francisco politics today. Kudo's for the summary. Now will that pesky carpetbagger from Silly Con Valley, Ron (patent expert) Conway, get a real life?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

Only after those carpetbaggers Daly, Avalos, and Campos do so first.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 6:06 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

The funniest part is that Steven Jones said Yee "already had a reputation for, at best, political pandering and influence peddling; or at worst, corruption, a label for Yee long used in private conversations among figures in the local political establishment."

As Tim Redmond wrote before the mayoral election: "He's the best chance progressives have of keeping the corrupt old political machine out of City Hall — or he's a chameleon who will be a nightmare for progressive San Francisco."

So I guess a pol can be corrupt as long as he votes the BG way and isn't connected to Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, and Ed Lee.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

SFBG is so hopelessly out of touch these days

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

Just to clarify, Yee was the Guardian's third place endorsement in that race, after John Avalos (first) and Dennis Herrera (second). We also did more to expose his history and credibility problems than any other news outlet in town, running this cover story (which has gotten tons of hits since Yee was arrested, helping inform people's understand of him): http://www.sfbg.com/2011/08/30/real-leland-yee
Why did we endorse Yee at all? We knew at the time that Ed Lee was part of a corrupt political machine, and he has been every bit as bad as we feared he would be, maybe even worse, and we detail just a little of that in this editorial. Frankly, given that Yee was running on a somewhat progressive platform and had some progressive support, he probably wouldn't have been the shameless shill for greedy capitalist interests that Mayor Lee has been, but that's obviously just pure speculation, and nobody knew at the time just how far Yee would go to further his political self-interest (did anyone really think he was capable of setting up international arms deal for campaign contributions?). Knowing what we know now, we probably would have given Chiu our third place slot, despite being troubled by his betrayal of the progressives who put him in office and his swing vote on appointing Lee. But for us, that third place slot was simply a hedge against Lee, so we chose the most palatable of the top-tier candidates in the hopes that we would avoid the culture of corruption that has descended on this city.

Posted by steven on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

While Lee takes it from big business Avalos takes it from the public employee unions and Non Profit Inc. Neither is much concerned about the interests of the public at-large, at least with Lee the city benefits from an increased tax base.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

lee's side beat the progressives at scheming and Steve's bitter.

Moderate mayors have been the norm for some time, Steve's upset that invasive and busy body progressives couldn't scheme one of their own in against the majority of citizens.

Citizens that progressives claim to speak for but somehow these citizens never vote right.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

then SFBG would have turned a blind eye. but of course he lost to Lee by such a huge margin that even the SEIU bully boys could not rig the result.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

The last time SF had a progressive mayor was Art Agnos and he was voted out after one term. And the BOS only had a progressive majority for a short period too back in 2000 and people saw how well that turned out and went back to a moderate majority. Progressives constantly claim they speak for the city, yet their candidates and proposals constantly get defeated at the polls.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

Progressive leaders would rather cast their lot with the poverty nonprofits and their corrupt relationship with the City Family than with San Franciscans who many of them deeply detest.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 04, 2014 @ 5:55 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

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