Lee appointment of Nuru darkens the ethical cloud over Room 200

Hmm, perhaps there was a reason Lee was backed by the last two corporatist mayors and the entire downtown establishment.
Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

City Attorney Dennis Herrera deserves credit for being the one mayoral candidate willing to bring a full-throated denunciation of the sleazy and corrupt politics now flowing from Mayor Ed Lee, who yesterday appointed discredited political fixer Mohammed Nuru to head the Department of Public Works, compounding a series of ethically questionable actions by Lee and his supporters.

While it was inexplicably buried by editors at the bottom of Section C, the Chronicle's City Insider today had a pair of good stories on Lee's mounting political problems. The first was about how the U.S. Attorney's Office has reportedly launched a probe of Progress for All and its “Run, Ed, Run” campaign, for which Lee ally Rose Pak illegally sought support from executives at Recology, the garbage company that had just been awarded a huge city contract, largely because then-City Administrator Lee had given the company far higher ratings than the other two supposedly impartial bid judges.

The second story was about Herrera slamming Lee's choice of Nuru. On his campaign website, Herrera reminded voters about the scandals that have surrounded Nuru – like Lee, someone who has always taken his cues from former Mayor Willie Brown – who illegally diverted city funds and workers into campaigning for Brown in 1999 and Gavin Newsom in 2003. Brown now writes for the Chronicle and is even allowed to comment on the mayor's race.

The scandal – first broken by the Chronicle in 2004, furthered by reporting in the Guardian, and then investigated by Herrera's office – involved Nuru steering city funds to his nonprofit San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners and then requiring its employees to illegally do campaign work during work hours. Nuru then went to work for Lee at the DPW while continuing to illegally use SLUG's funds and employees for political purposes.

Herrera said the appointment smacks of “cronyism, politics, and poor judgment.” Previously, Herrera had the best line about Lee as he jumped into race, telling a mayoral forum: "To my mind, Ed Lee's biggest problem isn't that he's a dishonest man - it's that he's not his own man," Herrera said. "The fact is, if Ed Lee is elected mayor, powerful people will continue to insist on things.”

Topping that list of the powerful people who have clearly been pulling Lee's strings throughout his career are Pak and Brown, both of whom are consultants who regularly get paid by corporations that do big business with the city and need support from the Mayor's Office. And their actions are often blatant and shameless, just like Nuru's history, and even exposure of the misdeeds doesn't correct the problem.

For example, as I reported last week, Brown's administration helped Pak buy a Rincon Hill condo for half-price through a city affordable housing program in 2002, even though her disclosure forms showed she had $73,414 in her checking account, some of which probably included the $12,000 consulting fee she reported on her tax return from Emerald Fund – the politically connected developer of the project, employees of which are barred from buying such below-market rate units – and $10,000 from Chiang CM Construction, which helped fund Progress for All.

Most of this information was prominently reported in 2003 by the Examiner, but nothing was ever done. Pak got to keep her taxpayer-subsidized condo. Same thing with Nuru, who remained at DPW even after the City Attorney's Office and Controller's Office concluded his actions were corrupt. And Lee was appointed interim mayor even after being tied to several corrupt Brown scams, including overriding city workers to give contracts to fraudulent companies at Brown's behest.

And now, Lee has placed Nuru in charge of a city department with a $129 million city budget and 1,200 employees, despite Nuru's proven history of directing his subordinates to illegally campaign for his mayoral benefactors. You couldn't even make this stuff up, and even Examiner columnist Melissa Griffin flatly calls the move “stupid.”

But I think it's more than just stupid. And the appointment of Nuru is more than just a setback from DPW that good government activists had been fearing for a long-dysfunctional department that had gotten much better in recent years. It looks like flat-out corruption of the sort that ought to knock Lee out of the frontrunner position and hopefully land him in front of a grand jury at some point.


Ed Lee seems like a really likeable person, but whenever I read another story relating to unethical decisions on his part I realize that there is no way he gets my vote. On the other hand there is no way that I would vote for Herrera either. Herrera decided that it was OK for the city of San Francisco to take away the constitutional rights of San Francisco citizens to own functional handguns and defended that position in a court fight against the National Rifle Association (NRA). Herrera lost the case while costing the city about $800,000 Dollars in legal fees and awards to the NRA. To try to take away a citizens guaranteed constitutional right (2nd amendment) shows at the very least very bad judgment. To spend $8000,000 Dollars trying to do it is just plain stupid.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

there is no tangible evidence for this investigation! it is absolutely ridiculous that there is so much press about the U.S. attorneys looking into some unethical conduct when nothing is quoted or no facts are shown, all they quote is that there is "one reliable source". what the heck, who is this source and where is any of the evidence. it just doesn't make any sense why they are even continuing these rumors when they should be focusing on running a campaign. i would like to see some candidates highlighting what they've done and what they plan to do rather than seeing multiple candidates slandering others

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

I think you should qualify your claim, Steven, that good government types have been pleased with DPW in recent years. Better to say some such types approve of DPW leadership, because this good government activist is very displeased with DPW.

This city agency has ceded control of a very important piece of city property, Harvey Milk Plaza, and the globally symbolic beacon of hope contained there, the enormous rainbow flag and pole, to the very private Merchants of Upper Market/Castro.

I filed a public records request with DPW for any memo, agreement or contract ceding the control to MUMC, and DPW has repeatedly said to me, and before the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, that no such written contract exists. Yet, DPW resists calls for genuine community control of the flag and how it is to be used by more than just the MUMC members.

The problems with DPW giving control to a private group has been addressed by lots of news outlets, except the Bay Guardian and I hope you all will eventually take a look at this deplorable situation. The flag issues at Milk Plaza are still a story with new angles not yet covered.

Follow the link to just some of news coverage and blogging I've done about the problems regarding DPW, Milk Plaza and private control by MUMC:


Posted by MPetrelis on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

I should have followed Steven's link in this sentence before writing my note:

And the appointment of Nuru is more than just a setback from DPW that good government activists had been fearing for a long-dysfunctional department that had gotten much better in recent years.


At the link, the headline provides a qualifier that I was asking Steven to provide regarding his claim about good govt activists and DPW. He was referring to the carfree crowd, and my concern is that they may not be up on all the crap that MUMC gets away with regarding parts of Milk Plaza, that used to be controlled by DPW.

It's my hope the Guardian gets around to looking at DPW giving some control of Milk Plaza, and perhaps other pieces of city property, to private groups.

Posted by MPetrelis on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

If, as you say, the Examiner reported in 2003 about Pak's illegal condo purchase, and, as you say, Herrera concluded that Nuru's actions at DPW were corrupt, why didn't Herrera take any action at the time on either front?

Posted by Alan Collins on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

It's the Mayor's Office who oversees the officials involved in both instances, not the City Attorney's Office. As was the case when the FBI raided former Sup. Ed Jew for extortion, the reason he stayed in office so long was because Mayor Newsom refused to act for a long time. It was up to Brown to take action against Pak and Newsom to act against Nuru, and neither did. And now, under Lee, these two scoundrels are more powerful than ever.

Posted by steven on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

Law-breaking and corruption in City Hall are outside the purview of the city attorney and can only be remedied by the person who allowed the actions in the first place? I find that ludicrous.

Posted by Alan Collins on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

Lee's popularity is only going to go down, down, down as these stories surface. It can't go up now that he's a politician rather than a "caretaker." His platform seems illogical since his actions pulled the rug out from under it. He seems to be running with the message that civility and cooperation came to city hall while he's been mayor. But the only reason there was cooperation between the mayor's office and the board was because he was the caretaker.

Posted by The Commish on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

These public streets have been privatized and turned into illegal parking areas for nearby property owners.
In one case, Colin Alley, the gate was erected without a permit and is allowed to stand locked with the gate owner's car parked directly beneath a "No Parking Anytime" sign.
The people of San Francisco are prevented from walking down the streets they pay for with their tax dollars, and a handful of greedy bastards do whatever they please with the public right of ways, behind locked steel gates.



Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

I have worked there.
They promote their buddies, create jobs out of thin air, the test are rigged, do not promote women into management positions, and if you complain about safety or about someones brother, you get written up and this gets in your personnel file. They just make up lies and fire people. There is no justice. All the people in upper management at DPW need to be removed. It is the Good Ole Boy System, even if he is black.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 10:24 am