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Joe O'Donoghue's foul play
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tredmond@sfbg.com

Editor's notes

I used to say San Francisco politics was a contact sport, but these days I think it's more of a steel-cage match, which is generally fine with me. I have no beef with blood sport, and most of us are consenting adults who chose of our own free will to participate in this high-stakes game. But even ugly fights have unwritten rules, and one of them is that you don't make disparaging comments about people's gender, race, or sexual orientation. It's just not OK.

I mention this because there's a pretty serious furor in the queer community over an attack by developer Joe O'Donoghue on transgender activist Robert Haaland.

Ol' Joe, who also likes to think of himself as a poet, is fighting with Haaland over Proposition D, which would bar the city from sending some mentally ill people to Laguna Honda hospital (and would, as an aside, rezone lots of city-owned land for private nursing homes). Haaland works for the big city-employee union, Local 790, which is campaigning against Prop. D; O'Donoghue, who is a major backer of the measure, has decided to personalize the campaign. In a lyrical missive that's been widely distributed, O'Donoghue refers to "our transfigured Robert" and (in the not-so-subtle cloak of biblical language) suggests that Haaland is a bitter and angry human being because he was born a woman. Another letter refers to Haaland as "Robbi" and threatens to donate to the Prop. D campaign the same amount of money as the city had to pay to Haaland to settle a transgender police-harassment case. It's actually pretty vicious stuff.

Some queer leaders are arguing that there ought to be a city law banning political "hate speech," which is entirely the wrong approach: You can't outlaw any kind of speech without bad First Amendment problems. But we all can, and should, tell O'Donoghue (whose political statements are getting increasingly mean-spirited and personal) that he's crossed a very big line and that if he's going to pull shit like this, he's no longer welcome in local politics. The guy has a lot of campaign money to throw around, and it's tempting even for folks on the left to take it. But every decent San Franciscan ought to tell him to take a hike.

Now this: I've enjoyed all the historical stuff in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner about the 1906 earthquake, but everyone's leaving out one of the best parts. It was the failure of the private Spring Valley Water Company to maintain its pipes that helped doom firefighting efforts and that was a big factor in the passage of the Raker Act, which gave the city a public water system. Of course, the Raker Act also required us to run a public power system, which (as I've probably mentioned a time or two) has been blocked by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. all these years.