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Friday, July 30, 2021

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News + PoliticsCity HallIs City Hall a "toxic" environment?

Is City Hall a “toxic” environment?

Or was it way worse when Ron Conway—a world-class political bully—was calling the shots behind the scenes and getting away with it?

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Now that Sup. Aaron Peskin has admitted he has a drinking problem and is in treatment, the newspapers are all talking about a “toxic” environment at City Hall.

There’s even a good bit of talk about men discussing the size of their political penises.

I get it. Nobody should be a bully to anyone, anywhere, and City Hall is no exception. We’ve seen a lot of men interrupting women on the board. The dick reference thing is so old it’s not only offensive but pretty boring.

But there’s another side to all of this that is worth discussing.

When Ed Lee was mayor, he loved to talk about the “city family,” the elected and appointed officials who were all supposed to work together and solve their issues in a polite way.

Lee was a really nice guy. I never heard him accused of raising his voice or saying a cross word to anyone. That includes me: I was, to put it kindly, critical of his policies, but (unlike his predecessor and the current mayor) he always talked to me. He smiled when I caught up to him in the hall, chatted in a friendly way, and answered all of my questions.

And what did we get from the “city family” era?

We got Mohammed Nuru. We got Harlan Kelly. We got a culture of corruption at City Hall that has undermined faith in local government. We got slush money directed to nonprofits.

We got a tech boom that drove tens of thousands of tenants out of the city, that devastated neighborhoods.

So: There is a thing called accountability that ought to apply to department heads and other people in power, and as Sup. Shamann Walton points out, sometimes that involves asking tough questions.

I’m not sure that the “climate” at City Hall today is anywhere near as “toxic” as it was when the nicest guy in the world was in the Mayor’s Office – and a plutocrat named Ron Conway was calling a lot of political shots behind the scenes.

In fact, I would have a hard time thinking of someone who was more of an open, active, aggressive political bully than Conway. And yet: Nobody at the Chron called out that “toxic” climate.

It’s hard to find a single Chronicle article in the archives that uses the terms “Conway” and “bully” except in terms of his behavior as a venture capitalist. (Heather Knight, who is all over Peskin’s behavior, wrote a flattering profile of Conway in 2012, when she used the term “devilish bully” almost as a compliment.)

So yeah, there has been some bad behavior at City Hall. But I think the place is a lot less “toxic” than it was when Conway called all the shots, the tech barons had six votes on the board, and corruption was the order of the day.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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3 COMMENTS

  1. City Hall is sanitized compared to the toxicity of egos battling the last at-large Board in the 1990s.

    Remember when there was outrage at the conflict of interest where the Board President should serve as Acting Mayor in the event of a vacancy when Ed Lee croaked?

    How’s that charter amendment going to patch that defect? Nothing, right?

    After all of those heads rolled, who did the City’s investigation? The “responsible adults” who were supposed to mind the City’s legal (City Attorney) and fiscal (Controller), that’s who, one of whom is being shuffled to a cushy job concealing corruption.

    We get Amy Beinart speaking for Ronen saying that the issue of rent relief has to take a back seat to producing a budget that Breed won’t veto. This is bass ackwards. The Board should pass its budget with six votes and demand that the Mayor veto rent relief.

    The “progs” are revealed a corrupt sham here, junior partners in the fleecing of San Franciscans.

  2. So Phil Ginsburg, and Wreck the Parks was cozy with Nuru. I kind of wondered. This whole mess started because Peskin was “mean” to Phil, and Breed panicked. Ginsburg reeks of corruption. He needs to be the next target for investigation. And what is Conway upto? He threatened any moderate who dared challenge Breed. Then he seemed to fade into obscurity. Somehow, I doubt he has just given up.

  3. Thanks to Tim Redmond for exercising some journalistic integrity and bravery here. For years the locals have had to stand silent under the reign of Peskin,and crew as the vendors have run SF into the ground. Corruption is rampant and everybody is greased. The city has been helpless as no heroes come forward and everyone is locked in place for their own benefit. Peskin’s grandstanding apologies for being a mean drunk won’t save us . Perhaps he should consider telling the truth to law enforcement as part of his 4th step.

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