As part of my effort to compile a list of most roastable moments of Sup. Chris Daly's decade-long career at City Hall, I asked the termed-out D6 supervisor if he would sit down for an exit interview. And shortly before Christmas, when there was still hope the Board would select a progressive interim mayor, and Daly had not yet vowed to politically haunt Board President David Chiu with shouts of, “It’s on like Donkey Kong” , we arranged to meet me at the Buck Tavern on Market Street, which Daly, who now holds the liquor license, is threatening to rename "Daly's Dive."
As it happens, the lion’s share of our conversation ended up taking place by cell, since Daly got stuck in late afternoon commuter traffic, as he drove to San Francisco from Fairfield, where his wife and children have lived since April 2009, making him a fitting symbol of the East-Bay-and-beyond migration pattern of couples who live in San Francisco, until they have more than one kid.
Except not all couples with two small kids get to move into one of two foreclosed properties that the in-laws bought with $545,000 cash in spring 2009. At the time, Daly’s critics accused him making such a mess of governing the city that he had decided against raising his own family here. Daly predictably disagreed. “There are few people who think about the future of San Francisco and the health of the city more than me,” Daly told reporters, explaining that his wife wanted family support raising their children, so she had moved to the same cul-de-sac as her parents, as Daly continued to live in a condo in San Francisco with roommates and to see his family on weekends.
Anyways, on the dark and stormy night that I interviewed Daly in mid-December, he acknowledged that he was going to be in for one helluva roast at the Independent on Jan. 5. in the worst possible sense of the tradition.
“Will there be controversial subjects, things that on the face of it, are not very nice? Yes,” Daly said.
And then he claimed he had agreed to this ordeal, because, under the roast's traditional format , he would get to go last—and thus would get to have the last word.
“Why would I want to end my City Hall career like this? Because I get to go last, and can really say what’s on my mind,” Daly said. “Unless the D.J. wants to say something as he’s spinning.”
Daly's comment suggests that folks who attend his roast at the Independent will witness a historically vicious verbal drubbing on all sides, since no one has ever accused Daly of holding back from saying what was on his mind. Even if it has led to seemingly counterproductive “We are shocked, SHOCKED!” responses. Like the time Sup. Michela Alioto Pier introduced an ultimately doomed etiquette ordinance, after Daly swore at a constituent during a City Hall meeting, in 2004.
Daly said at the time that he comes from a background as a housing-rights organizer on the streets of Philadelphia and San Francisco, where confrontation was an effective political tool. But he also claimed that he had learned an important lesson.
"In the future it's going to be better for me personally and politically to focus my energy positively on the people I care about instead of negatively on the people I think are doing them harm,'' Daly reportedly said.
Fast forward six years, and Daly is unrepentant about his record of fighting for low-income people, while openly defying City Hall’s unwritten rules of etiquette.
“Etiquette always seemed a little silly, something for the ‘other’ San Francisco, for the prim and the proper and that’s not what I am concerned about,” Daly said. “I’m aware of the turn-the-other-check philosophy, and, if I were religious, I’d be out of the Old Testament. I’d be, if someone pokes you in the eye, I’d poke back.”
Daly says he stopped caring about etiquette towards the end of his first year in office. “When those in power use that power to put down those who are less advantaged, when I see that, I respond quickly and with as much force as I can to prevent them from doing that kind of thing again,” he said. “ If you want to attack homeless people for political advantage, I’m going to attack you right back. That’s not ‘proper,’ but I think it’s just.”
Daly says he also soon realized tthat the truth wasn’t the driver.
“I already knew that money, power and significant forces would be pushing back against me but then I discovered that the actual truth wasn’t what played out there in the world of spin. It’s like when the Examiner’s Josh Sabatini asked me how I want to be remembered, and I said, “Not as the caricature the Examiner created of me.”
Daly, who moved to San Francisco in 1993 to work on homeless and affordable housing issues, was at the heart of the movement around Ammiano’s 1999 write-in campaign for mayor, and part of the progressive sweep onto the Board, in 2000.
“For me, it’s never been about being a ‘good’ vote. I breathe leftist progressive politics,” Daly said. “Where I can make more of a mark is in terms of setting the stage for those votes and holding the line in districts that are not progressive. I’m very proud of my attempts to hold the line on issues, but the work doesn’t make any friends.”
Daly noted that after he made comments about Newsom’s alleged cocaine use during the 2007 Mayor’s race, downtown interests threw everything they had left at him.
‘They got a lot of hits in, but no total blows,” he opines. “Last time I checked, I saved the city $150 million on the Americas Cup deal that they were going to ram rod through.”
And so, as he prepares to begin life as a bar owner, don’t expect Daly to pass up opportunities to launch verbal attacks, if he believes they are warranted, political consequences be damned.
“People want to have the power without any of the negativity they associate with all the shit we have to deal with to build this power,” Daly added. “So, it’s all, Daly and [former Board President Aaron] Peskin took control of the Democratic Party at midnight. Well, how did you want us to take over? “
Daly claims if you take away “negatives” attributed to him, you take away his wins. “People call me a lot of things, but I’m not a loser, I win a lot” Daly added, noting that Democrats being nice to Republicans has led to losses in D.C., not gains. “So, yes, I’ve got a lot of negatives, and they’ve clearly been made into a target, but if I can take the hits, and help people I care about, I’m happy to do it. That’s what I’ve done for ten years.”
Daly says he’s become “pretty desensitized to criticism,” even as he admits to being a sensitive person, deep inside. “I don’t think I’d have quite the visceral response to poverty and oppression, if I wasn’t sensitive,” he said. “I care deeply about people’s struggles. That’s why I’m here, but I also have a pretty solid critique of capitalism and I know how to follow the money, so when I get criticized by some downtown mouthpiece, I know what time it is.”
Daly says he started the Daly Blog several years ago, to push back against what he felt was unfair treatment in the media. And he says he endorsed outgoing mayor Newsom for Lt. Governor, despite their long and antagonistic history, so progressives could have a shot at installing a mayor in Room 200.
“My money now is on the selection of the mayor going to the new Board, and Avalos getting it in the 13th round of voting,” Daly said.
Daly made that prediction three weeks before the progressives on the Board seem poised to hand the keys to R.200 to City Administrator Ed Lee—thereby eliciting Daly’s ballistic “Donkey Kong” outburst.
With the outgoing Board set to meet Friday to make a selection, here’s another Daly roastable moment, this time from Peskin, related to the fall-out that ensued after Daly made two appointments to the SFPUC, while serving as acting mayor for one day, while then Mayor Willie Brown was out of the country, on a trip to Tibet.
“When Mayor Willie Brown left office, Charlotte Schultz had an unveiling ceremony of Brown’s picture. Newsom, who by then was mayor, was presiding. And Charlotte had a beautiful easel with a golden drape over it. When she pulled back the curtain there was a picture of Daly, who was listed as “41st and a half” mayor presiding from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on October 22,” Peskin recalled, noting that under Daly’s picture there was another curtain that contained Brown’s actual portrait.”
And while Daly’s controversial statements and outbursts always make headlines, there is no denying that he helped make the progressive agenda, including establishing mandatory paid sick days, universal healthcare, and forcing developers to contribute in affordable housing or services for poor, an integral part of city policy.
“The Chronicle used him as the poster child to try and dissuade anyone from supporting a progressive agenda,” former Sup. Jake McGoldrick observed. “He was used to smear any of our good ideas. And Chris never seemed to understand that some of us needed to be a little more sensitive, since we needed to get re-elected and didn’t represent districts that were as progressive as his. Personal attacks make the whole situation smell bad.”
Sup. John Avalos, who served as Daly’s legislative aide until he was elected as D11 supervisor, acknowledged that a lot of folks have accused Daly of doing irreparable harm to the progressive movement and being a gift to Newsom and the moderates at City Hall.
“People try and make hay out of it,” he said. “But his antics have probably hurt him more than anyone,” Avalos added, noting that he ran in 2008 as Daly’s former legislative aide.
‘And it didn’t hurt me, and I made no bones about where I came from.”
And then there’s the fact Daly defeated the Chamber ’s Rob Black in the 2006 election. “We don’t do enough to have better relationships between ourselves,” Avalos added , reflecting on the divided progressive movement. “It’s more than just one person.”
Peskin for his part acknowledges that Daly will be missed on the Board.
“He sucked the oxygen out of the room and made it all super lefty and caustic, and it certainly did not allow a better conversation to evolve,” Peskin said. “But it’s still going to be a pretty profound loss.”