Editor's Notes

The years when Willie Brown ran this town were really, really bad

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tredmond@sfbg.com

I have friends — progressives, activists, good people — who support Ed Lee for mayor. They tell me that Lee is accessible, that he listens to labor and grassroots community groups, that he's going to be good on a lot of issues and that, compared to the mayors we've had in the past 30 years or so, he won't be all that bad.

I respect that. I understand. But I try to remind them, and anyone else who's listening, that the years when Willie Brown ran this town were really, really bad.

At the height of the Brown era, during the dot-com boom, hundreds of evictions were filed every single month. Thousands and thousands of low-income and working-class tenants were displaced, tossed out of San Francisco forever. Blue-collar jobs were destroyed as high-tech offices took over industrial space. Every single developer who waved money at the mayor got a permit, no matter how ridiculous, dangerous or crazy the project was.

In 1999, Paulina Borsook wrote a famous piece for Salon called "How the Internet ruined San Francisco." But the Internet was just technology; what damaged this city so badly was a mayor who didn't care what happened to the most vulnerable populations. At one point, Brown even said that poor people shouldn't live in this city. We called his policies "the economic cleansing of San Francisco."

He controlled local politics — brutally. If you didn't kiss the mayor's ring, you were crushed. He announced one day that the supervisors (then elected citywide) were nothing but "mistresses who have to be serviced" — and since most of them were utterly subservient to Brown, they didn't even complain. Only one person on the board — Tom Ammiano — regularly defied the mayor; occasionally, Leland Yee and Sue Bierman joined him. But that was it.

The corruption was rampant. People who paid to play got in the door; nobody else came close. You did a favor for Brown and you got a commission appointment or a high-paid job, even if you weren't remotely qualified.

The ones who suffered most were the poorest residents, particularly tenants, particularly on the east side of town. Brown didn't seem to care that his appointments, deals and policies were causing terrible pain on the ground; it was as if politics was just a fun game, as if he were some sort of royal potentate, partying in the executive suites and ignoring what was happening on the streets.

There are people who believe that Ed Lee can be independent of Brown, and I hope they're right. But Lee and Brown are close, and Brown helped put him in office — and the thought of even a small part of that rotten era of sleaze coming back makes me very, very nervous.

Comments

Thanks for this piece Tim. But it's way worse than you make it sound.

Willie Brown didn't simply help put Ed Lee in office. The whole Ed Lee thing was Willie Brown's project from day one. Lee isn't just "close" to Willie Brown, Lee is Brown's puppet. "Mayor Ed Lee" doesn't exist without Willie Brown. Ed Lee is the fifth term of Willie Brown. Ed Lee = Willie Brown.

Tim, you're letting Ed Lee supporters off way too easy. All these "progressives, activists, and good people" who are supporting Ed Lee (they know who they are) are by definition no longer progressive. By endorsing Lee they are endorsing Willie Brown and all the dreadful things he did during his eight years in office. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Almost to a person, these former progressives who support Ed Lee are doing so because they stand to gain personally by him being mayor, not because he's "accessible" and listens to community groups. Please. I have lost all respect for these people. They have sold out their principles and the people of this city in the most despicable way.

I mourn for San Francisco. We barely survived the first 8 years of Willie Brown's reign as mayor. I seriously doubt we can survive another eight.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

Thanks for this piece Tim. But it's way worse than you make it sound.

Willie Brown didn't simply help put Ed Lee in office. The whole Ed Lee thing was Willie Brown's project from day one. Lee isn't just "close" to Willie Brown, Lee is Brown's puppet. "Mayor Ed Lee" doesn't exist without Willie Brown. Ed Lee is the fifth term of Willie Brown. Ed Lee = Willie Brown.

Tim, you're letting Ed Lee supporters off way too easy. All these "progressives, activists, and good people" who are supporting Ed Lee (they know who they are) are by definition no longer progressive. By endorsing Lee they are endorsing Willie Brown and all the dreadful things he did during his eight years in office. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Almost to a person, these former progressives who support Ed Lee are doing so because they stand to gain personally by him being mayor, not because he's "accessible" and listens to community groups. Please. I have lost all respect for these people. They have sold out their principles and the people of this city in the most despicable way.

I mourn for San Francisco. We barely survived the first 8 years of Willie Brown's reign as mayor. I seriously doubt we can survive another eight.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

just a heads up. i came to this article from an external link. it's almost impossible to find this article on your actual website. it's not posted or linked anywhere that I can find. telling you this just in case you were wondering why no one is reading this piece.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

Hi Guest, the Editor's Notes are published in the paper edition every week. Everything published in the weekly edition of the paper is available through the "This Week's Paper" permalink at the top of the home page or "This Week" in the top nav bar. Here's the permalink for you to bookmark: www.sfbg.com/paper -- for more information, please see the "About" link in the top nab bar. Thanks!

Posted by marke on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

This point is important. Reaching the 'This Week's Paper' page is not easy or intuitive at all for the uninitiated.

I would recommend putting the clickable -image- of this week's paper at the top of each page of your site so folks can easily and immediately go to the paper. (There also needs to be a more easily accessible link to Bruce's blog.)

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 31, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

Yes it was a bad time. But the Guardian of today is far less equipped to get the word out. your website is a mess, most of the work you all did i the 90s is not found via Google (ergo it does not exist) and you fired all the people who know and have the institutional knowledge from the first Dot Com Boom and Bust. As it stands, the paper is full of mostly opinion pieces and ad-driven "special issues" so basically Ed gets a free pass and Willie laughs at you all all the way to the bank.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 02, 2011 @ 5:00 pm