By Tim Redmond
JANUARY 8, 2106 – I’ve been to a lot of mayoral inaugurations, and I’ve never seen one like today’s.
There were so many protesters in City Hall that at times it was hard to hear what Mayor Ed Lee was saying. The boos and the shouts of “fire Chief Suhr” reverberated through the rotunda.
The demonstration was spurred by the latest (inexcusable) police shooting, but it also represented pent-up frustration at the mayor’s policies, at the evictions, the displacement, and the favoritism toward the rich that have been the hallmark of Lee’s first full term.
I couldn’t find anyone who remembered seeing this type of protest and unhappiness at a mayoral swearing-in ceremony. I watched the inaugurations of Dianne Feinstein, Art Agnos, Frank Jordan … even Willie Brown’s second term and Gavin Newsom’s second term – both marked by progressive unhappiness — didn’t have this kind of popular uprising.
The ceremony was in the rotunda, and security was heavy everywhere. But the protesters made their way to the second floor and filled much of the north side of the balcony.
At least three people were arrested and dragged out, although I have no idea what the charges were or will be. They did nothing illegal except to shout loudly while the ceremony was going on, which I don’t think is a crime in the United States.
At one point, the Tac Squad arrived, in full riot gear, on the second floor of City Hall, prepared to go in and violently remove the protesters. (Note to Chief Suhr: Sending the Tac Squad after people who are protesting police misconduct – at City Hall, a public building … not a good idea).
But the chief deputy sheriff on hand, Albert Waters, who is veteran of lots of City Hall protests, sent the riot cops away and urged the protesters to wait until the mayor was done talking before they shouted and chanted. Not everyone obeyed, but that approach prevented violence and mass arrests.
Still, the message was very clear: Ed Lee has some serious problems, and the conduct of his Police Department is at the top of the list.
In his speech, which went on way too long and was mostly either platitudes or things we had already heard, Lee referred to his past as a community organizer and activist, and said that now “we run City Hall.” That got the second-floor crowd going: “Bullshit,” several people shouted.
And in fact, if you looked at who was front and center in the audience, the people who get special access, it wasn’t young community organizers. It was Ron Conway, other corporate chiefs, and the old city power structure, the folks a young Ed Lee fought. Now they run City Hall.
After the mayor wound down, and the protesters wound up for another round, everyone left peacefully – although the celebs on the scene, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Attorney General Kamala Harris could not have missed the fact that, for all its orchestration, this inaugural was not all happiness and light.
There is serious trouble in Ed Lee’s city.
I wandered downstairs after the protesters cleared out, and there was the Lite Guv, holding forth for the cameras – and getting some harsh questions from African Americans who wanted some answers about the police killings. Newsom’s response: Gee, this is a local issue. I’m the Lite Guv. These things don’t reach my level.
I followed him as he started to leave and asked him about the governor’s budget, which still doesn’t restore the deep cuts of the recession and leaves a lot of social services funded below the level of a decade ago. Is that something Newsom agrees with?
Well, he said, he thinks fiscal prudence is good – we might have another recession any day, and we need to make sure we aren’t spending too much. But what, I asked, about all the social programs that are still at austerity levels and haven’t even gotten back to their pre-recession funding?
“I’m interested in outcomes, not in funding levels,” Newsom said.
I asked him if he would support Ellis Act reform as governor, and if that would be part of his campaign. He said he wasn’t “engaged” with that issue. I explained it to him; I told him Sen. Mark Leno had a bill that would have given San Francisco a little room to prevent evictions. He seemed to have no clue what I was talking about: “Have Mark send me the bill.”
There is the likely Democratic front-runner for governor of California, right there.