By Steven T. Jones
Mayor Gavin Newsom -- or at least his reelection campaign -- appears to have finally woken up from two years of relative disengagement with city business to come out swinging at his favorite target, Sup. Chris Daly, who chairs the Budget Committee. The awakening began last week when Newsom responded to Daly's proposal to tinker with his budget by tartly labeling the move the "worst kind of election-year politics and terrible public policy." That opening salvo was ramped up today by calls to arms by the Newsom campaign and his favorite press minion. At issue is a legitimate, significant difference in policy priorities: should the city be putting more resources into the Police Department and street cleaning and repair, as Newsom proposed, or programs to create more affordable housing and stave off health care cuts, as Daly wants.
Budget hearings are designed to sort through these very choices, but the atmosphere has now been poisoned by election year politics and the nasty deceptions that can bring out.
Newsom's "back to basics budget" seems designed to shore up his political base and compensate for his weaknesses. Crime is up and Newsom has done little to creatively address the problem, so he proposes more money for cops and an additional police cadet class. They're saying anyone who opposes the idea is against public safety -- a shrewd political move that could even win over key Budget Committee swing vote Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, a progressive whose crime-ridden district has forced him to make public safety a top priority.
Newsom also appears to have won over the small business community (which has been sending out e-mails all day stoking the flames) with some giveaways to them and satisfied conservative voters who prefer clean streets and crackdowns on poor people to the kinds of social services progressives prefer. All these groups are expected at a noon rally tomorrow on the steps of City Hall.
But Daly is pushing back hard. Daly used the Sunshine Ordinance to obtain documents showing that he reserved the steps for his own budget rally before Newsom did but somehow got bumped, and he's leveling charges of illegal coordination between the Mayor's Office and his reelection team. He has canceled a Budget Committee hearing that was supposed to follow the dueling rallies, pushing that opening hearing back to June 18.
Just what should the average San Franciscans make of this overheated standoff? For starters, know that nobody wants to endanger anyone's safety, just one of many overblown accusations now flying. The reality is budgets are complicated, messy business in the best of times, and moreso now that Newsom is starting to feel scrappy again and the need for affordable housing to offset the building boom of million-dollar condos has gotten far more pronounced.
We're working on some budget stories for next week's paper and this week's blogs, and the folks over at Beyond Chron (who also work for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and therefore know that issue well) yesterday had a couple good analysis pieces on the mess. Hang on tight, folks, it looks like the mayor's race has gotten started before the progressive camp even has a candidate.