Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 1999 /23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Willie Brown Besieged
SAN FRANCISCO—From his black snap-brim fedora sporting a red
feather in its band, to his mirror-shiny black tassel loafers -- the solid
purple tie complements the shirt of robin's-egg blue with white collar and
cuffs; there probably was a comma in the price of the double-breasted suit
-- Willie Brown, a mayor as histrionic as this city's geography, is his usual
resplendent self this Election Day as he emerges from the union
Resplendent, but not altogether chipper, even after a
one-legged man, whose flannel shirttails flap as he swings himself across
the street on crutches, assures Brown of 60 percent majorities in the
Citywide, Brown will not today get the 50 percent plus one vote he needs
to avoid a Dec. 14 runoff but will come close enough (above 40 percent)
to make reelection likely. Still, as he heads downtown for a breakfast,
Brown, the once and, undoubtedly, future Tribune of the Downtrodden,
unburdens himself of hard feelings against those he calls "the heavy left."
They, he says, "want to double taxes on the wealthy, on businesses, they
want to tax every stock transaction, to control rents -- actually, they want
to roll back rents -- and they want neighborhood-based, not citywide,
land-use controls, and they want a referendum on every decision by
government." Yes, mayor, such people are called "San Francisco
They are criticizing Brown for the "Manhattanization" of the city (allowing
high-rises) and for "the Starbuckization, Blockbusterization and Rite
Aidization" of the city (allowing national chains to taint the uniqueness of
neighborhoods). Above all, there is the matter of the homeless.
Parts of this city, including stretches of Market Street downtown, literally
reek with the residue of '60s liberalism: The city spends substantial sums
steam-cleaning sidewalks, and still the smell of urine is assaultive. The city's
generous welfare provisions, some without residency requirements or time
limits, make it, Brown says, "clearly a magnet" for homeless people.
Earlier in his term, he celebrated such policies as proof that "we're
humanistic." Now he says "we give them tokens" for public urinals that the
homeless don't use. When the police began seizing stolen shopping carts in
which the homeless store their possessions, he was accused by some (the
"humanistic"?) of initiating "blitzes and sweeps," and criticized by others for
not doing so.
|The other Slick Willey
This city, which still flaunts its tolerance of everything except anything not
"progressive," has reached the limits of its tolerance, and not just regarding
the homeless. An infestation (as some see it) of cyber-yuppies -- they get
rich in Silicon Valley and live here -- is driving up housing prices as rent
controls (Brown does a disdainful riff on "people making $100,000,
$200,000, living in $600 rent-controlled apartments on Nob Hill") and
other regulations restrict the housing stock.
Hence the leaflet handed out at the union headquarters, saying Brown gives
working people "hope that there will still be a place for us" in the city.
There is, Brown says, a one percent vacancy rate in residential housing.
"Never," he says, "did I think a liberal left-winger, former housing authority
resident would be regarded by the left as other than a hero." But he is a
hero to the public employees' unions. He has increased the budget 40
percent, from $2.9 billion to more than $4 billion, has increased the city
work force by more than 4,000 (even so, overtime has increased 60
percent), and he would perish on the barricades fighting to prevent serious
privatization of public jobs. He also is a hero to the building trades unions
because he helped persuade the University of California (the city's largest
employer, other than the city itself) to build a huge new facility near the
Giants' (privately financed) new ballpark.
Born in the Depression and into segregated Texas 65 years ago, Brown
rocketed like a Roman candle from the cultural ferment of '60s San
Francisco to serve 31 years in the state legislature, 15 of them as assembly
speaker, which he would still be had the voters not done him the (at the
time) bitterly resented favor of imposing term limits. Today, luxuriating in
his executive life, Brown says, "I've outgrown Sacramento."
But he has not really outgrown urban liberalism characterized by
government support of every environmental, diversity and fairness fad.
Most places, a conservative is, as the saying goes, a liberal who has been
mugged by reality. In San Francisco, where someone called a conservative
can probably sue for slander, a post-mugging liberal is just a liberal with
bruises and a deepened determination to eradicate the "root causes" of
Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.
11/04/99: One-House Town
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money
©1999, Washington Post Writer's Group