By Sarah Phelan
with editorial research by Joseph Plaster
photo by Terrie Frye
Admit it! Would you even be reading this story if Daly hadn't said "allegations of cocaine use"?
For those few running dogs of the press who actually hung around for Tuesday night's four-hour hearing on proposed cuts to public health programs, Sup. Chris Daly's comments on Newsom's substance abuse problems seemed, well, entirely appropriate.
As the two reporters who were actually there know full well, Daly's speech, which lasted eight minutes, only spent 30 seconds referring to allegations of Newsom's cocaine use. The rest of the speech focused on the reality that there's been an annual ping-pong match going on between the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, ever sinceNewsom came to power. In this match, Newsom proposes making cuts to public health programs--and the Board objects. Then those impacted have to show up to protest at City Hall. At which point, the Board's Budget Committee responds by restoring funding to the programs that Newsom has once again targeted.
As Daly told the crowd, who repeatedly gave him standing ovations," I want to posit a theory that this is an intentional charade to make people come out year after year…people will talk about restoring cuts when they shouldn’t have to, especially in this year when there is a surplus. Every year, the board restores cuts...this is a
form of disrespect to people who have to come out."
This year, Newsom's proposed cuts include $4 million to HIV/AIDS funding, $2 million to substance abuse programs, the closure of the City's only 24-hour homeless drop-in center, and cuts to the Women's Community Clinic, the safehouse for juveniles and sexually exploited girls, and outpatient substance abuse treatment for women.
Acknowledging the applause from the 300-plus crowd, Daly said, "I think you’re applauding because this isn’t the first time you’ve been called out to a hearing to talk about budget hearings. It's backwards how we do our budget. The needs of the least fortunate should be met first, not last."Referring to Newsom's latest budget, which proposes a $2 million reduction to substance abuse programs, Daly asked, "And where does Gavin Newsom get his substance abuse treatment?"
And it was in this context--the noting that Newsom has targeted programs that help people with cocaine and meth problems--that Daly added, "while the Mayor artfully dodges allegations of cocaine use."
Of course, a full summary of Daly's speech was not printed by the dailies, the next day. Instead, The Chronicle misquoted Daly as having accused Newsom of doing cocaine, and the Chronicle and the Examiner have since devoted hundreds of words covering the Mayor's reaction to something that Daly actually never said.
What's been missing from all this coverage is what Daly and the people who attended the hearing really talked about. And it's an interesting omission since, in reality, Daly's rousing speech marked the beginning of the progressives' budget comeback. A much needed comeback after a bumpy start in which Daly tried to get his progressive colleagues on the Budget Committee to restore housing and health care funding to the Mayor's budget by making cuts that were so widespread that Newsom was able to energize his reelection troops for a budget rally field day, and Daly got bumped as Budget Chair.
But now the Budget Committee is beginning to push for the very things that Daly has been requesting. Those requests include restoring $4 million worth of funding for HIV/AIDS services funding and reducing the police department's budget.
However, none of the Budget Committtee's machinations have been reported in the "City Hall Uproar at Cocaine Claim" coverage of the state-mandated Beilensen hearing. Nor has there been any coverage of the comments of the many folks who waited for hours on Tuesday to explain just why their programs should be saved.
As Daly himself predicted at Tuesday''s hearing, as he nodded towards the near empty press box, "Most of the media is not going to write about the true face of the budget hearings."
"Instead, you'll hear about the Mayor's trumped up budget rally, and emails from Friends of the Urban Forest. I like street trees, too. I'm not saying we should defund trees. But when it comes to food, clothing, shelter and a little dignity, if you are struggling with substance abuse, a medical condition and homeless problems..."
Pointing out that the Mayor's budget is "gutting basic services," Daly urged the crowd to, "keep speaking truth to power, don't bend and break to the political winds, you know you deserve what's right."
And then, after applause died down, people came to the mike and talked about what proposed cuts to services that had turned around and saved their lives, would mean to them and San Francisco.
Some pointed out that cutting back on prevention and help will ultimately cost the city more in terms of other services that will then be needed, such as police and ER rooms.
Others noted that while they are not against Newsom's proposed methadone van expansion, it won't help the 80 percent of people who are not using opiates, but whose services are being cut.
'Don't shoot the City's health programs in the foot," said one speaker.
With four SRO collaboratives that work with hotel tenants – Mission, Chinatown, Central City and Families – hoping for a combined $150,000 increas to their budgets, but the Mayor proposing to cut them by $233,000, there was a SRO rally before the hearing, at which Ren-wen Ching, an organizer with Chinatown SRO, told the Guardian, through a translator that “up to 7 people living in a tiny rooms. ”
SRO Collaborative supporters showed up before the Beilensen hearings at City Hall.
Photo by Terri Frye
Muna Landers, part of the Coalition on Homelessness said the hotel rooms were originally meant to be single dwellings, but now over 450 families live in hotels without bathrooms or kitchens. 85% are immigrants, 80% are newborn to 12 year olds, and when one family moves out, three families move in; this is rising every year."
They are requesting $10,000 “as essential support to the families who live in these hotels as a last resort to living on the streets, these services help families with services, connect with community programs, etc.”
David Ho, an organizer with the Chinatown Community Development Center, which is $233,000 cut from its budget, told us, “Every year we have to come back and fight for SRO funding. These are programs for the poor and for public health, and they are always on the chopping block. The Mayor talks about the need to preserve working class families in the city, and here we are being left out of the budget.”
And in case the rest of the media is suffering from historical amnesia about Beilenson hearings on health service reductions, here is Daly in his June 21 2005 blog, titled Cuttin', Shuckin', and Duckin':
“Today, the Board of Supervisors held our required Beilenson Hearing on health service reductions. Another year of draconian health cuts proposed by the Mayor - $3.3 million in substance abuse cuts and $4.8 million at the General over and above the HIV/AIDS cuts, and another packed house of community folks at the Board of Supervisors making a good case against the cuts. In 57 California counties, the Beilenson makes sense. There, the Supervisors are singularly responsible for their County's health budgets. But in the City and County of San Francisco the Beilenson works backwards. The Mayor proposes the cuts, then ducks for cover, while the Board deals with the fallout. The highest ranking representative of the Mayor (who, at this point, is solely responsible for the cut proposals) at today's hearing -- Erin McGrath. As a Fiscal and Policy Analyst, McGrath reports to the Mayor's Budget Director, Ben Rosenfield. Rosenfield reports to Steve Kawa, Newsom's Chief of Staff. Kawa reports to Newsom, who seems to do most of his reporting to Communication Director, Peter Ragone. It's time for a change in State law to require that the Mayor of a City and County hold the Beilenson.”
Fast forward to today. As Daly asked me this afternoon, "when the Mayor's race is over and the feud between Newsom and Daly has died down, will basic health care services be available to San Franciscans of limited means? this time next year is treatment going to be available for someone with a substance abuse problem?"
As for his thirty-second reference to the Mayor's alleged cocaine use, Daly said he was referring to what he still believes was "an artful dodge" in the Mayor's response to the questions that were being asked when news of Newsom's sex scandal with his campaign manager's wife first hit, this Spring.
"I made that reference in relation to the Mayor's elimination in his budget of similar treatment programs," said Daly, noting the complete absence from the dailies coverage of ink, when it comes to the testimony of the 300 people who showed up on Tuesday night's BEilensen hearing "talking about life and death issues."
"I understand how the press and City Hall works," Daly said. "I'm fully aware they are trained on me, and that there are bigger politics going on that involve whether downtown gets to move forward with their agenda and make more money, or whether we [the Board] make more regulations that favor the working class. I know the issue of District elections is also at play. I've always understood what gets attention in the media and what doesn't, and I have a long standing critique of that, but what am I to do in the fight for basic health services and affordable housing? If I hadn't mentioned the Mayor's alleged cocaine use, the Beilensen hearings wouldn't have got any ink at all."
Unless, of course, he'd mentioned the Mayor's "sex scandal."
To find out what was actually said at the Beilensen hearing, check out videotape of the June 19 Beilensen hearing at sfgtv.