Mayor Lee's waffling on big issues is hurting the city's ability to cut the best deals for the public
Neither Lighty nor others involved in the CPMC negotiations would discuss details of the pending deal, as per the instructions of mediator Lou Giraudo. But they did talk to the Guardian about the political shortcomings that led to such a protracted mediation process on a project that has been in the works for many years and involving a looming state deadline to replace the seismically unsafe St. Luke's Hospital.
Lighty called Lee's conciliatory approach to CPMC "an administrative orientation and not a political one," noting that what worked during Lee's long career as a city administrator may not be working well now that he's in the Mayor's Office dealing with issues where consensus isn't always possible.
"I don't think it's a very sophisticated view and I don't think it's one that produces the best results," Lighty said.
Lighty did say the negotiations were getting close to resolution. "What comes before the board is going to be vastly superior to what the mayor and CPMC proposed," he said. "I think what you'll find whenever this comes out is it will repudiate the mayor's approach."
He contrasted Lee's style to that of his predecessor, Gavin Newsom, who took positions on most controversial issues and would often get involved with forcing his allies to cut deals. For example, shortly after taking office on 2004, Newsom demanded that his allies in the hospitality industry end their lockout of hotel workers, and when they refused he turned on them and even famously joined workers on the picket line, pressuring the hotels to soon end the lockout.
"Why did you need to bring in an outside mediator for CPMC? Why didn't the mayor do that?" Lighty asked, noting that Lee has stayed away from the current negotiations.
Ken Rich from the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development has been in those meetings but didn't return our call. Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey has also ignored repeated messages seeking comment on the issues raised in this story.
Rudy Nothenberg, who negotiated big deals on behalf of five successive mayors before Lee and who has been critical of the Warriors Arena deal that the Mayor's Office has negotiated, said Lee's unwillingness to take strong stands with developers is hurting the city.
"I was able to say I'm going to get the best deal I can for the city," Nothenberg told us, saying he approached all negotiations, including the construction of AT&T Park, with the understanding from the mayors he worked for that he could simply say no to bad deals. "You need to bargain for the city as if these guys walked away, well, then that's okay too."
Sup. David Campos, who has been trying to get CPMC to strengthen its commitment to keeping St. Luke's open as a full-service hospital, agreed that, "There have to be times when you're willing to say no." And on the CPMC project, Campos said that fell to the supervisors when the Mayor's Office wasn't willing to. "It was clear that the board was not going to approve it," Campos said, "and sometimes you have to do that to get to a result you can live with,"
UCSF Political Science Professor Corey Cook said the problem is less with Lee's overall philosophy than with what is strategically smart on individual issues.
"The mayor's strength is in trying to come up with consensus measures," Cook told us, calling the approach "generally a good one" and saying "the decider isn't always who you want, then you get George W. [Bush]." Yet Cook also said intractable problems like the condo conversion debate may require a different approach. "Sometimes you do need to stake out clear ground to limit the terms of the debate."