Editor's Notes by Tim Redmond

Is it fair for the mayor to be filling his staff jobs on someone else's dime?


Mayor Gavin Newsom is all hot and bothered about the report by the Board of Supervisors budget analyst saying Newsom has taken $1 million that is supposed to pay for homeless services and Muni and used it to pay his own staff. The mayor says it's all just a personal attack on him by the supervisors. He also says other mayors have done the same thing. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Phil Ginsberg, the mayor's chief of staff, called the report "bullshit." (Actually, the Chronicle, in its infinite decorum, used the term "bull-," to avoid offending the tender values of its readers.)

OK, look: there are politics going on here. The supervisors and the mayor aren't getting along, the mayor has unleashed a rather savage attack on board president Aaron Peskin, Peskin is going after some of the mayor's commissioners, and maybe Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who asked for the report, had some sort of political motivation. Or perhaps McGoldrick, who doesn't tend to like this sort of bullshit, just got mad that the mayor was doing something funky with the taxpayers' money.

Whatever. Nobody is denying the factual accuracy of the report. And if Newsom wants to make an issue of it, he ought to get beyond the politics and the accusations and just tell us:

Does he really think this is a good way to spend city funds?

Should the Human Services Agency, which is responsible for the most needy and broke people in town, be spending $95,000 per year to pay for a mayoral press aide? Does that money really help the homeless? Is there a good argument that having a media flack in Newsom's shop defending the mayor's homeless policies helps save lives, provide housing, or get substance abusers into recovery?

Fine, Mr. Mayor: perhaps you can elucidate it.

Was Stuart Sunshine, until recently Newsom's chief transportation aide, really worth $203,000 per year? Did paying him that salary out of Muni's budget help improve bus service? I dunno, maybe it did. But I haven't heard Newsom tell me how.

Is it fair — and is it a good idea — at a time when every city department is being asked to cut back, when crucial city programs are being reduced or eliminated, when it's going to be an ugly year for the public sector in general and San Francisco in particular, for the mayor to be filling his staff jobs on someone else's dime?

That's the real issue here: if Newsom thinks his high-paid staffers in his newly renovated office are doing such a bang-up job that two underfunded city agencies ought to be writing their paychecks, then the public is welcome to listen to his pitch. But there is nothing political or personal about asking the questions; that's exactly what the supervisors ought to be doing.

Newsom is the chief executive of San Francisco. He sets the policies; he hires the senior staff. He can be upset with the legislators who are the checks and balances of his power, and he can disagree with the conclusions of a report that the board's budget analyst has produced. But to call it bullshit when he knows it's true (and when he knows from his own experience that Harvey Rose, the budget analyst, is widely respected for his fairness) ... well, that just sounds defensive. Bad place to be, Mr. Mayor.