I almost couldn't believe it -- the same week that the feds came down and essentially called Pacific Gas and Electric Co. a crew of incompetent crooks, Mayor Ed Lee goes to a PG&E PR event and talks about what a great company it is. He actually said PG&E was "a great company that gets it."
PG&E kills people, blows up houses, tries to block consumer choice, screws the city out of millions of dollars -- and then uses some of its vast cash flow, which comes out of all of our pockets, to improve its image in the community by giving some money to a nonprofit that helps kids learn to read and play baseball. Nice that the company can cough up $250,000 -- which is about .005% of the $50 million the company spent to block public power efforts. Thanks, guys. Sweet of you.
Listen: This sort of stunt is cheap PR for the utility. I'm happy that RBI got some money, but that doesn't excuse what the city's greatest corporate criminal has done -- and it shouldn't buy the mayor's praise.
City Attorney (and mayoral candidate) Dennis Herrera was outraged. He issued a statement this morning saying
“Ed Lee’s lavish praise for PG&E as ‘a great corporation’ on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the San Bruno tragedy, just days after federal regulators blamed the utility for a ‘litany of failures’ that claimed eight lives, is unconscionable,” said Herrera. “It shows insensitivity to victims’ families, and poor judgment for allowing his office to be used as a corporate PR tool. No less troubling, it ignores the serious work my office and others have done to protect San Franciscans from PG&E’s negligence, to prevent further explosions like those in San Bruno last year and in Cupertino on Wednesday. The interim Mayor should reassess his laudatory view of PG&E, and apologize to San Bruno victims’ families.”
Kind of obvious, no? Well, not according to the mayor, whose campaign spokesman, Tony Winnicker, had this to say:
This is just another political cheap shot from the City Attorney. Ed Lee was one of the first people to hold PG&E accountable for the condition of its infrastructure in SF and witnessed first hand the devastation and suffering caused by PG&E's negligence in San Bruno within days of the blast. Holding PG&E accountable for the loss and suffering they've caused doesn't mean you shouldn't recognize when they also do something good for our public schools and low-income kids. We wish more local companies would get it and support our public schools and low-income kids, and THAT is what Mayor Lee was talking about.
And if there's anyone who should apologize in this instance, it is Dennis Herrera for shamelessly using the victims of the San Bruno blast and the students of Bessie Carmichael as fodder for his political attacks on Mayor Lee.
Actually, I think that the fact that the company is a corporate criminal should, indeed, be a factor in recognizing it for trying to buy goodwill in the community. But as for Herrera, when I told him about Winnicker's statement, he went a bit further:
"The mayor should understand the importance and impact his words have and what the appropriate context might be for his complements for a corporate citizen's contributions."
Spoken like a lawyer, but you get the point: This was really stupid, inappropriate and embarassing.
You wonder how PG&E got Lee to this event -- although you don't have to wonder too much. Lee's pal Willie Brown is on a PG&E retainer at about $200,000 a year.
John Avalos has also weighed in on this, releasing a statement that makes all the points:
Ed Lee called PG&E a “great corporation” yesterday–a great corporation who spent $50 million last year trying to pass a ballot measure that would ensure their monopoly in places like San Francisco instead of repairing and inspecting pipes like the one that caused this terrible destruction. Now this “great” corporation want its customers to foot the bills for its negligence and bad practices? Ed Lee says that this corporation “gets it.” PG&E seem to “get” that a symbolic donation to a charity at the height of their unpopularity might help their rate-payers forget the catastrophic results of their negligence and bad practices.
The residents of that neighborhood in San Bruno will not forget. The families of those who lost their lives that day will not forget. And anyone who fought to defeat Proposition 16, in an effort to maintain a city’s right to produce their own power won’t forget the blatant cynicism of this corporation.
I’m deeply disappointed, and I would like Mayor Lee to tell San Franciscans what makes this corporation “great” and what it is besides insider politics and business as usual that PG&E “gets.”
So far, the rest of the candidates have been a bit shy about going directly after the mayor. It's about time they started.