Mayor Ed Lee declined to answer a simple question at the Board of Supes meeting – and then ducked my question about his connections with Zula Jones, who has been charged with money laundering in connection with her efforts to raise money for his 2010 mayoral campaign.
Let’s start with Sup. Aaron Peskin’s question, which showed the ongoing flaws in the Question Time program that requires the mayor to discuss policy once a month with the supes.
Peskin noted that he has been hearing a lot of complaints by phone and email – and in person, on the street – that
the city did not act responsibly in its negotiations with the National Football League to host the Superbowl 50 promotional events, or take any precautions to ensure that San Francisco would be reimbursed for the tax dollars that are being used to accommodate the events. There have also been many complaints about the lack of transparency from the city side.
Who in your office was the lead negotiator of this deal, and who are the members of the actual Host Committee?
Lee said he has been hearing a lot if “misleading and inaccurate statements” about the cost of the event. He said that the Bay Area “had to compete” to land the game, and that it will have “incredible economic and cultural benefits.” (“Cultural?” The NFL? Never mind….)
He talked about the millions in tax revenue that he expects to see, and noted that other free events, like the Pride Parade and Chinese New Year Parade get the same sort of deal that the NFL got – the city pays for the costs of police, public works, street closures, transportation, etc. (But Pride and Chinese New Year are actually cultural events. The Super Bowl is an orgy of corporate money put on by some of the richest people in the country who have a bogus tax exemption for a $10 billion business. Never mind ….)
“Some people,” the mayor said, “insist on finding only the most negative aspects that that doesn’t help our city.”
Okay: So who was in charge of the negotiations? We still don’t know.
When the mayor stopped talking, Peskin tried to ask, as the supes are allowed, a follow-up question. Board President London Breed shut him down – because, under the current rules, the entire process of asking and answering questions can’t take more than five minutes, and the mayor filibustered for long enough that time had run out before Peskin got another word in.
I asked Peskin what his follow-up question would have been. He told me he would have asked the mayor “to actually answer the question as to who negotiated the deal and ask for a copy of it.”
No such luck.
Now that there are six supes who are willing to challenge the mayor, maybe it’s time to change the Question Time rules to bring it back to what it was supposed to be: A free-ranging, non-scripted, policy discussion and debate, in public, between the mayor and the supes.
That’s an easy fix: Eliminate the current rules that require all questions to be submitted in writing in advance. Allow all supes adequate time for follow-ups, no matter how much time the mayor spends answering a question. I’d even allow all the board members to engage in the debate over any question. That would be a real public debate.
Yeah, it would take more time, but the public deserves this.
And then to the Zula Jones issue.
The wonder of Question Time is that the mayor has to face the press afterward as he makes his way from the supes chambers to his office on the other side of the building. This month’s episode got a little testy – a couple of people from the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition (see here) shouted that the mayor should fire Chief Greg Suhr, and followed him down the hall demanding that he meet with them. That led to a little pushing and shoving by his security detail, although nobody got hurt.
But between the shouting and the inevitable media interest in the Super Bowl, I got in one question:
Mr. Mayor, you knew Zula Jones when she worked for you at the Human Rights Commission, and you gave her an award at her retirement dinner, and then she went and raised money for your campaign. Did you ever have any concerns about her integrity or ethics, or was this all a big surprise?
“The Zula Jones that I knew was a city employee. Now she is charged with some charges of improprieties. I am going to have to give her the benefit of the doubt that the DA will have to press forward that case. But if she was involved in any allegations that the district attorney, the city attorney and the FBI — then she needs to account for that and needs to be fully accountable.”
Does that make any sense to you? Does it sound like an actual answer to an actual question?
And what kind of standards is he setting for his administration?
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. There seems to be a lot of evidence in this case, but if the mayor wants to take the position that he is withholding judgment until the legal process has run its course, whatever.
He also said that he “ran a clean campaign” and that “our campaign had nothing to do with the charges,” and there are no ethics complaints or charges against him, which is absolutely true at this point.
“I there are individuals who may have taken advantage of the public process, I abhor that,” he said.
But that wasn’t my question.
If Lee had any concerns about Jones going around and soliciting money for his campaign, he didn’t voice them at the time. And, according to FBI transcripts, the mayor met with an undercover FBI agent going by the name of “King” to discuss “business opportunities” shortly after “King” kicked in $10,000, at Jones’ request, to the Lee campaign fund.
It’s not that easy to get a meeting with the mayor. Lots of business people want his time; he can’t accommodate them all. He took this one, apparently at the request of Jones, who had just, according to the FBI, illegally solicited a campaign donation.
If I’d had a chance, I would have asked about that, too, but the mayor was hustled away while Mario Woods Coalition folks asked him over and over whether he would meet with them. That question, like so many others, was never answered.