Standing up to the mayor

The Supes need to keep pushing on the Muni money and Mayor's Office staffing

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom spent a fair amount of time this winter on the presidential primary — but he's gearing up to spend far more time on the local supervisorial elections this fall. He's showing a much more aggressive attitude toward the board, particularly President Aaron Peskin, and will be looking for ways to either embarrass or undermine the progressive majority over the next few months. Then he'll push hard for his more moderate slate this fall.

That's what this whole flap over Peskin calling Port of San Francisco director Monique Moyer and berating her over a policy disagreement is about. Remember: the incident she's complaining about happened more than five months ago. Moyer's letter went to the city's Department of Human Resources, which took it as a complaint against a city employee and kept it strictly confidential. The City Attorney's Office also said it was a confidential personnel matter and wouldn't release it. But Moyer copied Phil Ginsberg, the mayor's chief of staff, on the letter, and Newsom's office doesn't deny that it was the source of the leak.

We aren't excusing Peskin's behavior; if he was abusive to Moyer or her staff, that's a problem. (He says he called and yelled at her over the Port's development plans, and we don't doubt he could have been more diplomatic.) But it hardly seems to rise to the level of a major political scandal.

It is, however, plausible payback for Peskin's very public attack on the mayor's dubious budget moves (including the diversion of money from Muni to pay for mayoral office staffers) and for the board's attempt to remove two of Newsom's public utilities commissioners from office.

With this kind of pressure (and nastiness) coming from the Mayor's Office, some of the supervisors may be tempted to avoid conflict with the still-popular Newsom, but that would be a mistake: the board needs to fight back on several key fronts.

For starters, the supervisors need to stand up to the increasingly intense lobbying campaign and vote Feb. 12 to remove Dick Sklar and Ryan Brooks from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The stakes are immense, with public power and the city's energy future on the line, and Brooks and Sklar have been on the wrong side of the key issues. The lobbying effort to save Sklar and Brooks has been unprecedented: Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who is still officially undecided, told us that "in all my seven years on the board, I've never seen such intense lobbying on anything, including multibillion-dollar development projects." Sklar has pulled out all the stops, and at one point his supporters offered to have US Sen. Ted Kennedy speak to the supervisors on his behalf. It will take eight votes to oust Sklar and Brooks — and the vote will be close — but the supervisors should ignore the pressure and stand up to Newsom.

And the PUC should hold off on any decision on general manager Susan Leal until new commissioners are in place.

The board needs to keep pushing on the Muni money and Mayor's Office staffing too — and take a hard look at the three people Newsom wants to put on the Municipal Transportation Agency. Since the mayor has fired three sustainable-transportation advocates, including Bicycle Coalition director Leah Shahum, the board should insist that the mayor or one of his top deputies appear at a hearing and explain the administration's long-term plans for the MTA and public transit in San Francisco.