Our perspective on the week's most notable San Francisco news
And for the record, in a couple of months it's going to get way too cold and rainy for this sort of thing anyway. (Tim Redmond)
City Attorney Dennis Herrera has always been limited by his office's neutral role in criticizing city policies and officials. But as a mayoral candidate, he seems to have really discovered his political voice, offering more full-throated criticisms of Mayor Ed Lee and his policies than any of the other top-tier candidates.
"I think it's kind of liberating for him that he can talk policy instead of just about legal issues," Herrera's longtime spokesperson Matt Dorsey, who recently took a leave from his city job to work on the campaign full-time, told the Guardian.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Herrera's shift began a little more than a month ago when Lee bowed to pressure from Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and other top power brokers to get into mayor's race, prompting Herrera's biting analysis that, "Ed Lee's biggest problem isn't that he's a dishonest man — it's that he's not his own man. The fact is, if Ed Lee is elected mayor, powerful people will continue to insist on things. And I don't think San Franciscans can be blamed for having serious doubts about whether Ed Lee would have the courage to say no."
Herrera followed up last week by providing an example of something Lee and most other mayoral candidates don't have the courage to say no to: the Central Subway project, with its runaway price tag and growing number of critics that say it's a wasteful and inefficient boondoggle that will worsen Muni's operating budget deficit.
"Fiascos aren't born that way. They typically grow from the seeds of worthy idea, and their laudable promise is betrayed in subtle increments over time," was how Herrera began a paper he released Sept. 8 called "It's time to rethink the Central Subway," in which he calls for a reevaluation of a project that he and the entire Board of Supervisors once supported.
He notes that the project's costs have tripled and its design flaws have been criticized by the Civil Grand Jury and numerous transit experts. "Let's look at this thing and see if it still makes sense," Herrera told us, a stand that was greeted as blasphemy from the project's supporters in Chinatown, who called at least two press conferences to decry that they called a "cheap political stunt."
While the stand does indeed help distinguish Herrera from a crowded mayoral field, he insists that it was the grand jury report and other critiques that prompted him to raise the issue. "Good policy is good politics, so let's have a debate on it and let the validity of the project stand or fall on its merits," he said.
Herrera and fellow candidate John Avalos were also the ones who called out Lee on Sept. 2 for praising Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as "a great company that get it" for contributing $250,000 to a literacy program, despite PG&E's deadly negligence in the San Bruno pipeline explosion and its spending of tens of millions of dollars to sabotage public power efforts and otherwise corrupt the political process.
"It shows insensitivity to victims' families, and poor judgment for allowing his office to be used as a corporate PR tool. No less troubling, it ignores the serious work my office and others have done to protect San Franciscans from PG&E's negligence," Herrera said in a prepared statement.
Now, his rhetoric isn't quite up to that of Green Party mayoral candidate Terry Baum, who last week called for PG&E executives to be jailed for their negligence, but it's not bad for a lawyerly type. Herrera insists that he's always wielded a big stick, expressed through filing public interest lawsuits rather than campaign missives, "but the motivation in how I do either is not really different." (Steven T. Jones)