After a brief respite, I’m back. I intend to periodically record my thoughts on matters of public interest. My column in Bay Area Media News papers has run the agreed upon three years and now I will record my thoughts for a vastly reduced readership. No matter. I learned a powerful lesson from having a deadline every Tuesday. The benefits to self from writing – apart from whether or not anyone ever reads your content – are awesome.
When I was a student, my seminary English professor made us write a daily essay. I remember the grueling nights spent dissecting Shakespeare’s poetry. But the forced regimen, learned long ago, to condense ideas into one clear message, has served me well throughout the rest of my life. Also, there is a certain value in the simple discipline of articulating your own thoughts and impressions only to yourself. We sometimes don’t know what we think until we reflect and organize our precise thinking.
But writers write to be read. So let us begin… Read More »
Today marks my final column after three years of weekly dissertations. That’s 156 columns, or about 100,000 words.
Writers know sleepless nights and the midnight oil. Frankly, I’ll miss them both.
There is satisfaction in communicating a simple thought in writing – however difficult it can be at times. And there’s something gratifying about sending your thoughts out to be critiqued by the literate masses.
Am I inflating my vitae to call myself a columnist when no newspaper actually hired me? Will the résumé police unmask my inflated biography? Many readers simply thought I was buying the space – a blowhard’s advertorial.
That would be a plausible explanation in a day when novice politician Meg Whitman is spending tens of millions to become a public servant.
But readers know by now that I was really given the space by this newspaper’s owner.
Imagine if you could pretty much write anything you wanted in 650 words every seven days as long as it wasn’t X-rated or otherwise unfit for a family newspaper. In these angry times, there is plenty to rail about. Read More »
A recent Atlantic Monthly article by James Fallows titled, “How to Save the News” offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of an industry currently beset by technological upheaval and rapidly evolving information consumption patterns.
At one point in the article, Google CEO Eric Schmidt states, “Nothing I see suggests the ‘death of newspapers.’”
The case of the San Francisco Chronicle would appear to be an exception.
The paper’s paid circulation numbers within the city itself have shrunk to 64,000 on Sunday and 58,000 during the week. If estimated Daly City subscribers – who are not really San Francisco residents – are subtracted, Sunday paid circulation falls further to 57,000 and weekday circ dips to 52,000.
San Francisco is a highly educated city of 808,000 residents. That means that only 6.4 percent pay to read the flagship daily newspaper each morning, about one in 16.
Those numbers aren’t encouraging. Read More »
This November, California’s junior senator, Barbara Boxer, will face a stiff challenge from one of several formidable GOP candidates: Harvard pedigreed moderate Tom Campbell, wealthy former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, or Tea Party darling Chuck DeVore.
After three terms in Washington, Boxer must climb down from the senatorial throne and beg for votes in an angry state where unemployment has reached 12.5 percent and spiraling budget deficits have resulted in cutbacks to parks, transit, libraries, police and fire departments.
Eighteen years in the Senate might seem to entitle Boxer to an easy re-election. But easy elections in tough times are for dictators.
Full disclosure: I am a Barbara Boxer contributor and I hope she wins. Early in her career, I helped her get elected to Congress.
A subsequent campaign – which I did not manage – proclaimed “Boxer is a Fighter.” This year, she’ll have to be more than a fighter if she wants to hold on to her championship belt.
I’m sure the pugnacious Senator was watching apprehensively last Tuesday night when the working class voters of Pennsylvania dealt a lethal blow to the political career of her six-term Senate colleague, Arlen Specter.
Old, tired and defeated, Specter’s sepulchral countenance during his televised concession speech fit the occasion perfectly. All that remained was for his eyes to be closed and the body slid neatly into the coffin. Read More »
A few months ago, I devoted a column to the impending opening of my restaurant, Credo, at 360 Pine Street in the heart of downtown San Francisco. I recounted the doom-and-gloomers and naysayers who scoffed at me. They predicted falling sky.
Today, Credo is open and serving more than 1,000 diners per week.
For our March launch party, we squeezed more than 400 friends into Credo’s 75-seat ground floor dining room. The original skeptic, my wife Janet, opened the night on a humorous note by recounting her initial horrified reaction to my idea.
The famous social justice priest Monsignor Eugene Boyle, now a venerable 88 years old, then blessed the premises.
Our guests enjoyed a short parade of Credo personalities: Mario Maggi, our Milanese executive chef; Tim Felkner, our suave young general manager; Frank Holland, our editor and creative director; and finally my close friend, Lorenzo Petroni.
Lorenzo owns North Beach Restaurant, a renowned destination which is thronged nightly. Who better to help me cut the ribbon?
That was the easy part.
Credo’s grand opening was a lot like some of my experiences as a political consultant.
The campaign launch always turned out to be irrelevant to the final outcome of the election. I usually forgot the details of the announcement by the time the election rolled around; the rough and tumble of the actual campaign quickly replaced the ceremonial perfection of opening day. Read More »
John Ruskin, the great English philosopher, art critic and poet, once said that “Nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rivalship: or nobly, which is done in pride.”
After nearly three years of writing this column, I have decided that I disagree with Mr. Ruskin.
I began my relationship with the owners of this paper under antagonistic circumstances. In 2006, I filed an anti-trust lawsuit to block a partnership between Hearst Corporation (owners of the San Francisco Chronicle) and MediaNews Group (owners of every other Bay Area daily), which I believed would have diminished the richness of news-gathering and opinion in the Bay Area.
Apologies to Mr. Ruskin, but I believe that rivalry between competing news organizations is not only beautiful, it is essential in a democratic society. My lawsuit succeeded in stopping the partnership, and I ended up with a quarter page space in the Tuesday paper to try my hand as an independent columnist for three years.
The calendar has nearly run out, and my June 8th column will be my last. Read More »
Two Fridays back, I attended the 13th annual Catholic Charities Loaves and Fishes Dinner, which my wife and I started and ran for its first 10 years. I quickly discovered that the priest pedophilia scandal has reignited the debate about celibacy within the Catholic Church.
Although many contend that there is no direct correlation between pedophilia and celibacy, Catholics in the pews are beginning to discuss the Church’s ban against a married priesthood.
Former United States Federal Attorney Kevin Ryan and his wife Ann sat at our table. As the retired U.S. Attorney in the Region, Ryan was deeply troubled by the revelations of molestation by priests against innocent children.
I recently wrote that the celibacy topic was above my pay grade but Ryan challenged me to focus a column on this important issue.
So, last week I asked my mother – a devout Catholic – whether she favored lifting the ban on a married priesthood. She was baptized as a convert at St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro nearly sixty years ago. Read More »
We called him “Kes.” He was a big, burly guy who played center on the basketball team and hurled the shot put in track.
Kes was an excellent student; very smart. We liked him. He was our classmate at St. Joseph’s High School in Mountain View and St. Patrick’s College/Seminary in Menlo Park during the 1960s.
There were hundreds of students in the seminary and dozens in our class. The all-male seminary was filled with young Catholic teenagers and men studying to become priests from throughout the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Central Valley, as well as Hawaii.
On the two campuses, students ranged from 13 to 25 years old.
Kes and I were both students for the priesthood from the Oakland Diocese so we sometimes commuted home together on Christmas and holidays. I left in 1969 but Kes stayed and was ordained a priest in 1972.
“Kes” was Steve Kiesle, the pedophile priest who was allowed to continue in his role for years after being convicted for tying up and molesting two young boys in a church rectory in 1978.
Kiesle’s story has taken on new weight after recent revelations that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict – ignored pleas from Oakland Bishop John Cummins to remove Kiesle from the priesthood in 1985. Read More »
The sexual abuse of children is so vilified in our society that the mere possession of child pornography by an adult is grounds for an automatic jail sentence.
One well known local writer, Ken Kelley, died in jail after kiddie porn was found on his computer. Radio talk show host Bernie Ward is serving time for sending illicit sex pictures of underage children over the Internet.
Nevertheless, thousands of priest child abusers all over the world – in the U.S., Ireland, Germany, the Philippines and elsewhere – were allowed by both ecclesiastical and civilian authorities to roam like predators molesting innocent children.
Buried stories continue to be uncovered like mass graves at a holocaust site. Now, like Watergate slowly winding its way into the Oval Office and engulfing Richard Nixon, two new stories implicate Pope Benedict himself.
First, there is a sickening account in the New York Times of serial abuse by a Wisconsin priest who went unpunished for decades. He continued to molest children while being transferred periodically by higher ups who were aware of his history. Pope Benedict is linked to the chain of leniency.
Second, Europe has just been rocked by new revelations that Archbishop Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict – allegedly did not oust a known child molester when he led the Munich Diocese as a younger prelate. Read More »
Recent developments in the California gubernatorial race are giving me political flashbacks.
UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies, shortly after the 1994 elections. A political postmortem.
Several hundred political junkies and a smattering of candidates mixed freely with academics and media types, all eager to dissect the election.
As the losing gubernatorial campaign manager, I was on the hot seat. My candidate, Kathleen Brown, had lost handily to incumbent Governor Pete Wilson. Wilson’s team of consultants entertained the audience with detailed accounts of their own behind-the-scenes strategic brilliance.
Standing off to one side, the famous pollster Mervin Field listened pensively. George Gorton, Don Sipple and Joe Shumate of the Wilson campaign were openly derogatory of my commercials and strategy as the Sacramento Bee’s John Jacobs, (formerly of the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner), nodded in enthusiastic agreement.
“I feel like a cadaver at my own autopsy,” I opened. Gallows humor seemed the only credible rejoinder.
Newspapers were rampant with commentary that I had bankrupted KB’s campaign by wasting money on summer television and not saving for October.
Professor Bruce Cain, who headed the institute and who was also one of the state’s leading election pundits, presided over the event, occasionally tossing a sympathetic shrug in my direction.
Which brings us back to Election 2010: Jerry Brown is in trouble for almost the same reasons as Kathleen Brown 16 years ago. He will be massively outspent just like his sister Kathleen and soon will have to choose between two lousy options.
I know, because I’ve faced the same choice. Read More »
When it happened, no one is quite sure. But during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the stream of money flowing into our political system began to swell. Since then, the river has become a raging flood that is now drowning our democracy.
I remember managing my first victorious campaign in the 1970s. We spent less than $20,000 on a major race and won handily.
Another time, I was able to win a campaign for my client by spending less than $2,000. We placed brochures on the seats of every transit rider and delivered our literature door to door with teenage volunteers.
During those lean years, I needed a day job to support my forays into political campaigning. I opened a store on the San Francisco waterfront at 33 Filbert Street just to pay my bills.
I would have starved to death if I had tried to live on my pittance wages from running campaigns.
But by 1980, my fee alone for running a single congressional race in Los Angeles was well over $100,000. In 1987, my firm earned millions when I was hired to direct a package of initiatives on the California ballot. And our bill was only a slice of the nearly $80 million spent on the races.
At the time, I thought this huge sum would become a high water mark for spending. In fact, the amount has been exceeded multiple times in the intervening decades.
The mega sums now spent on elections are nothing compared to the gusher of cash paid out by special interests for lobbying and public relations. Read More »
Sixteen years ago, I managed the gubernatorial campaign of Brown’s sister, then-State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, who was soundly defeated by incumbent Governor Pete Wilson.
Jerry was a quiet bystander during that campaign, contributing only $150 to his sister’s cash-starved campaign as a protest against the power of money in politics.
Now Jerry must raise tens of millions to beat Whitman, an adversary with unlimited personal wealth who is anxious to paint him as an over-the-hill 1970s retread.
He should also take note of critical lessons from his sister’s failed quest in 1994. Like “Jerry 2010,” “Kathleen 1994” faced several major obstacles. Read More »
In 2008 an unknown, inexperienced senator from Illinois emerged from poet Carl Sandburg’s Chicago and rekindled hope in America. The common thread among Barack Obama’s supporters was a passion for change.
Over the course of my career in politics, I’ve seen a number of leaders like Obama who were determined to make a difference.
Looking back, the “Difference Makers” all share three distinct qualities.
As a young man I worked for the labor leader Cesar Chavez. When the state of Arizona passed a law that prohibited farm workers from organizing a union, Cesar decided to recall the governor, a Republican by the name of “One-eyed” Jack Williams.
There was only one problem: I took a poll and discovered that 85 percent of Arizonans were against the recall. The poll was taken door-to-door throughout the state by volunteers. I went into the living rooms of many voters myself and saw their antagonism toward Chavez first-hand.
Cesar’s reaction to my survey was volcanic. First, he ordered more volunteers into the state to intensify the campaign. Second, he raged at me for producing such awful numbers.
I saw then the first attribute of the Difference Maker – a refusal to acknowledge that any obstacle is insurmountable. Well, almost any. Read More »
Last month we learned that lax security procedures allowed a terrorist to board a commercial flight bound for Detroit with a bomb sewn into his underwear. Luckily, the device’s detonator failed, sparing the lives of hundreds of passengers.
Nevertheless, the botched plot exacted a heavy economic and psychological toll.
The subsequent national uproar forced President Obama to call for full body scanners at airports and led to severely tightened security precautions at airports around the world. Air travelers reported tortuous delays and federal officials laid plans to spend $1 billion on full-body scanners.
As I watched the president and his White House aides call for even tighter airline security measures, I wondered why the gold plated equipment and elaborate precautions already in place had missed an underwear bomb.
It may feel like we’re fighting terrorism by instituting draconian security at airports and vulnerable facilities across the nation, but I am beginning to feel that the gigantic expense of defending Western society against a small band of terrorists is itself a massive victory for terrorism. Read More »
With only two days left in the first decade of the 21st century, it’s hardly a surprise that many Americans are heaving a sigh of relief. The rest are likely holding their breath until the clock strikes midnight.
And who could blame them? By virtually any metric, the last 10 years have been extraordinarily difficult ones for the United States.
The Internet gold rush that began in the mid 90s had reached fever pitch by early 2000. I remember speaking to a Berkeley freshman at the time who was starting an online business from his dorm room. I asked him about his business plan.
“I don’t need a business plan,” he told me. “I could take my mom public right now and make a million dollars!”
Needless to say, the dot-com era ran headlong into a buzz saw in March of 2000. When investors realized that a bad company with “.com” at the end was still a bad company, the bubble exploded.
Eight months later, Americans went to the polls on Election Day to cast their vote for president. No one anticipated the constitutional crisis around the corner. For more than a month, Americans were treated to daily dispatches about “hanging chads” and clandestine legal maneuverings as George W. Bush and Al Gore vied for Florida’s 25 electoral votes. In the end, Bush claimed the presidency after an extraordinary 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.
The Bush v. Gore ruling hinted at the level of bitter political polarization that would mark the next nine years. Despite Bush’s pledge to bridge the divide, it took a horrifying national disaster to bring the country together again. Read More »
Squeak’s work has had special significance for my family ever since I gave my wife one of her paintings to mark the birth of our youngest daughter. Titled “Thank You,” the work of art perfectly expressed our elation and gratitude at this special time.
My time at the museum took me on an unexpected detour down memory lane.
I remembered my mother praising the innovative design of the new Oakland Museum after she visited the complex when it opened in 1969.
As a young kid, I took the AC Transit bus from our family home in San Leandro to the Oakland Library near Lake Merritt just blocks away. I spent many afternoons combing the stacks and burying myself in books I never knew existed.
A student of Coach Sid Gillman – father of the long ball – Davis believed in having his quarterback throw bombs. He was coach of the year in 1963 – 46 years ago – and he built a blue collar culture that fit the East Bay’s up-from-the-bootstraps fans. Read More »
“I thought you were a smart businessman,” an astonished colleague exclaimed when he heard I was opening a restaurant. “Even my wife Janet looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re opening a what?!”
I had heard the horror stories all before. “Restaurants don’t make money” is ensconced in the pantheon of aphorisms right next to “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
When I began to tell friends and associates last year that I planned to open an eatery in San Francisco, they practically organized an intervention to deter me.
Coming as it did while the country was plunging headlong into a financial catastrophe, my urban trattoria concept wasn’t wildly embraced.
I countered skeptics with the example of my good friend, Lorenzo Petroni, who began his career as a waiter upon his arrival from Lucca and who now presided over a small empire from his North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. I also cited the legendary Sirio Maccioni, whose famous restaurant Le Cirque has become an internationally recognized brand.
“But you’re Irish,” folks admonished me while shooting winks at nearby associates.
Nevertheless, I forged ahead with little more than a name: “Credo,” the Latin word for “I believe.” Catholics recognize Credo as the prayer of the mass which enunciates the tenets of the Catholic faith. But this creed is followed immediately by prayers to God for help in daily life.
Let’s just say that I’ve done my share of praying for Credo to get off the ground. Read More »
Recently, I experienced the death of two friends.
One was my next door neighbor, Clay Thomson. Active until the end, he collapsed after stepping off his treadmill at 79 years of age. He seemed much younger and his passing occurred too soon.
He wanted no funeral or formal service, so a group of us sponsored a Saturday afternoon party in his honor. The memorial event was attended by many retired doctors who had worked with him throughout his long career as an anesthesiologist. Friends from decades past also filled the room to help his still grieving wife celebrate his memory.
I met my neighbor when I bought my house more than 20 years ago. He and his wife immediately invited me to dinner and introduced me to other long-time neighbors.
They patiently endured a disruptive remodel of my house and even though they were staunch conservatives, they good naturedly attended the large Christmas Party I held every year which attracted Democratic politicians from throughout the Bay Area.
My new neighbor became a true friend. In 1995 I was married. My wife was living in Los Angeles and worked for Mayor Richard Riordan. She had grown up in Sacramento, but she was new to the Bay Area.
Our neighbors quickly embraced her and arranged a dinner party to introduce her to the neighborhood. When our children were born, they too were singled out for special gifts at Christmas and birthdays.
Meanwhile, our retired friend and his wife led volunteer campaigns for a well known museum, skied at Lake Tahoe, spearheaded a local tennis club and participated in efforts to preserve the quality of life in our neighborhood.
As one speaker after another rose to offer their memories, three phrases kept recurring 1) Excellent doctor 2) Loyal friend 3) Private person.
He had drawn the admiration of peers in the medical profession. He had touched the lives of many through simple kindness regularly extended. Yet he never sought the limelight for himself.
In this respect, he was a stand-in for all those quiet heroes in our nation who act nobly and transform the world by leaving their own small corner of the universe so much better than they found it. Read More »
Politics is an uncompromising taskmaster that does not always reward virtue. In fact, it can often be a grim reaper that punishes principle.
The writer Joseph Campbell dissected what he called the “Hero’s Journey.” The heroes of history and mythology all endure scorn, ridicule and defeat but ultimately their adherence to a noble cause is vindicated and they receive justified acclaim.
But that’s only the case in myths and movies.
State Senator David Roberti was president pro-tem of the California State Senate for 13 years, from 1981 to 1993. Roberti was highly respected for his policy-oriented track record, probity and commitment to social justice.
A Democrat’s Democrat, Roberti was also a liberal’s liberal. While the Assembly was controlled by the flamboyant Willie Brown, the low-key Roberti held a tight grip on the State Senate.
I was Roberti’s personal campaign manager for many tough campaigns. Unlike other legislative leaders, Roberti was a fierce protector of his fellow Democratic senators but not always good at protecting his own self-interest. That meant many tough elections. Read More »
Last week I saw Doubt, a Meryl Streep/Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie about a nun who accuses a popular priest of molesting a young altar boy. I found myself saddened not only by the actions of rogue priests, but also by the indelible stain they have left on the entire priesthood.
I personally owe much to a series of great priests who helped me immeasurably throughout my life.
I was raised in Saint Felicitas Parish in San Leandro and attended St. Leander’s Elementary School. My mother was a convert to Catholicism and my father was a Catholic by virtue of his Irish heritage and his baptism at St. Peter’s Church in San Francisco’s Mission District.
St. Felicitas had two priests. Pastor Michael McGinty was an older man who baptized my mother and then both me and my sister Jill when we were six or seven years old. Later, all of my brothers and sisters were baptized.
Edward McTaggart was the assistant pastor, a dynamic young priest who had recently been ordained. He managed the parish youth programs including CYO sports. St. Felicitas had a large program that produced many championship teams. I played basketball and baseball, and our baseball team won the Bay Area CYO championship in sixth grade. Father McTaggart was a role model not only for me but for many others as well.
In today’s jaded world, it is almost inconceivable that I decided to become a priest when I was in the 8th grade and went into the seminary in my first year of high school. Read More »
When I was a kid, my father was a world-class recycler. He rarely bought anything new. Instead, he had an eye for quality used cars, bikes, wagons, lawn mowers, television sets, coffee pots, kitchen equipment and other consumer products that he purchased from secondhand stores and flea markets in San Leandro, Oakland, Alameda, Hayward or Fremont.
He and my mother also had a constant eye out for bargains on food and clothes. They were experts at scouring the newspaper for sales at Safeway, Lucky’s, Capwell’s, Sears, Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward.
Do-it-yourself was a way of life for my family. Our home in San Leandro was the site of an ongoing infrastructure project orchestrated by my father and implemented by successive generations of Reilly children and relatives.
In my dad’s view, buying new, paying retail and hiring contractors were luxuries only wealthy families in Piedmont could afford. How else could my mom balance the books on a milkman’s salary with 10 kids to feed? Read More »
Last week, I told the sad story of the death of Mervyn’s.
I recounted my childhood memories of the first Mervyn’s store in San Lorenzo, and how that single store eventually grew to nearly 300 across 12 states with $4.5 billion in annual sales, only to be brought to its knees by corporate greed.
I received dozens of thoughtful messages from folks who came from families like my own and who wished to share their own fond memories of Mervyn’s.
The unnecessary demise of this Bay Area retailing icon evoked deep emotions. It was more like the death of a person than the passing of a department store chain.
“I remember many times when my children gathered their allowance to purchase Hot Wheels or a Barbie outfit,” wrote one parent.
Another reader recalled a time when “credit” was more personal: “When I was about eight years old, my mother would give me a note saying it was OK to charge a new shirt or a pair of shoes at Mervyn’s.
“Mr. Mervin Morris would check our account on a 3×5 card and I would soon be on my way with my purchase.”
One mother’s story showed how Mervyn’s remained true to its community roots through the years. “Our family will never forget the “Local Hero” scholarship that Mervyn’s gave our daughter,” she wrote. “It was a company that understood and honored the need to give back to its community.” Read More »
The death of a business rarely evokes emotion these days. “Good riddance” is a frequent reaction. “Don’t let the door hit your fanny on the way out,” is another popular refrain.
But when Mervyn’s – a Bay Area retail institution – declared bankruptcy in July and announced a liquidation sale on October 15, many were saddened.
Of course, the company has been hurt by the same stormy economic picture that all retailers are now facing. But Mervyn’s is also an example of how unscrupulous financial engineers loot good companies and abandon them to be picked over by buzzards as they roll over and die.
When I was a young boy in the 1950s, my family lived in Washington Manor – a small enclave of postwar homes near San Lorenzo’s Arroyo High School.
I can still remember the day my mother took me to Mervyn’s in the San Lorenzo Village Shopping Center to purchase my first pair of black-and-white Converse high tops. It was the first of many trips to the friendly local department store during my childhood.
Mervin Morris began in 1949 with this single store in San Lorenzo and built it into a chain he ultimately sold in 1977 to Dayton Hudson, (now the Target Corporation, one of the nation’s iconic retail brands).
Opening branches from Hayward to Daly City, Walnut Creek to San Jose, and from Vallejo to Marin, Morris developed the prototype of the modern department store chain serving working class families. Read More »
In the 18th century, a philosophy of knowledge emboldened the Founding Fathers to build our democracy – a system of government based on the meritocracy of ideas, rights of the individual and a free press. Capitalism itself is rooted in an innate belief in the power of individual initiative rather than the supremacy of group action – which inspired Marxism and Communism.
I just returned from the glossy desert city, where I saw firsthand what is happening to our $75 gas station fill-ups. With oil revenue for the United Arab Emirates projected to exceed $100 billion in 2008, a fantasyland is rising from the hot desert sands along the Arabian Sea.
To understand our shrinking planet, it is necessary to experience its complexities firsthand. But traveling the globe doesn’t always reassure us about the ideological and religious conflicts that still afflict the human race. A recent family vacation was a case in point.
Last Monday morning, my wife and I took our two young daughters to the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Visitors from all over the world, including the French themselves, jammed every wing of the museum. We had similar experiences at the Prado Museum in Madrid and almost everywhere else.
But behind the unrelenting tourist crush, police armed with machine guns lurked in the shadows. Heavy security checked every bag that passed through the gates. Read More »
The Richmond was a diverse neighborhood that contained homeowners and renters, Asians, new professionals, Irish and Italian native San Franciscans, married couples, singles, seniors and young people.
The Richmond was supposed to be the most politically moderate neighborhood in the city. But as we walked door to door, day after day, I saw something else – an amalgam of every point of view from very liberal to very conservative.
Read More »
Today is election day in California.
Even though I actively support many candidates financially and through volunteering, just turning on a TV during election season is difficult for me. Opening my mailbox is painful. I feel smothered by the tidal wave of television commercials and brochures that wash through my house every election cycle.
I was a political consultant for more than two decades before exiting the profession in 1996. I was responsible for helping to create dozens of campaigns and many new techniques for managing them. I certainly produced my share of marginal political ads.
But frankly, I’m shocked by the state of political advertising today. It’s appalling.
Nevertheless, mediocre candidates win and atrocious political ads work for two disturbing reasons: because one side has more money, and because there isn’t enough objective information coming from neutral sources like newspapers to communicate the truth.
“A Voice That Will Be Heard”
I was Nancy Pelosi’s political consultant when she was first elected to Congress in 1987.
Her performance in that campaign augured the political skills and passionate determination that would not only elect her to Congress but also propel her to become the first female Speaker of the House.
On February 1, 1987, San Francisco Congresswoman Sala Burton died of cancer. On her deathbed, she endorsed Nancy Pelosi, a 47-year-old San Francisco Democratic party leader, to succeed her in Congress.
Pelosi faced a legitimate challenge from Harry Britt, a gay San Francisco supervisor who had succeeded Harvey Milk after Milk’s assassination in 1979. Britt’s stock in trade was an array of carefully calibrated positions on high-profile progressive issues. We quickly assessed Britt’s weaknesses: First, he lacked an organization. Second, he was a talker, not a doer. Read More »
If one word has come to characterize the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, it is “change.” The early success of the “change candidate,” Barack Obama, has been charged by Americans’ growing revulsion to negative commercials, libelous mailings and the practices of shadowy special interest groups that bend campaign finance laws in order to wage deceptive campaigns against political opponents.
Unfortunately, these practices are commonplace in many state and local campaigns. And without aggressive and balanced local media reporting to counteract them, illicit political activities often work. Here’s an example:
When former California State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton was termed out of office in 2004, he returned to his lobbying law practice with a $1.8 million fund raised between 1998 and 2004. Burton grew the fund during his years as Senate leader, poaching money from other accounts raised for purposes as diverse as voter registration, electing Democrats to state and federal offices, and advocating for an initiative to overturn term limits. The $1.8 million was spun into an entity called “Former Leaders for an Effective Government.” Read More »
One of the most egregious examples of the broken system in Sacramento is the dual role of legislator/lobbyist played by one key leader — former President Pro Tem John L. Burton when he was Assemblyman, State Senator, and President pro tem of the State Senate. I first met Burton when I was managing Barbara Boxer’s campaign for Congress in 1982. Burton had announced his retirement from Congress because he suffered from a major drug problem. His chosen successor was Marin Supervisor Barbara Boxer, who I knew and had helped over the years. The problem, however, was that Burton was still active in Boxer’s campaign. Several times an incoherent Burton insisted that I attend 7:00 AM meetings in his office on campaign strategy. I dutifully arrived on time. But Burton never showed up. Usually he would materialize unannounced in my office when I was not there and wander the halls intimidating my staff with his irrational behavior. Frantic phone calls and meetings were filled with ranting and incomprehensible speeches. He was clearly still using drugs during the campaign while he was a United States Congressman and presented a real danger to the success of Boxer’s campaign. Nevertheless, we won by 20% over a tough opponent. After the campaign, Burton entered rehab and later obtained a six figure part-time job in Sacramento at taxpayers’ expense from his close friend Speaker Willie Brown. Eventually, Burton ran successfully for the Assembly and State Senate where he became President pro tem of the Senate. During his years in the Assembly and Senate, and since being termed out of the legislature in 2004, Burton has maintained a lucrative lobbying law practice at The Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco. Read More »
After 2000 years, the message of Jesus resonates on Christmas Day 2007 as loudly as ever. I am a Catholic. Confession of sins is a sacrament in the Catholic Church – luckily for me. “Judge not, lest you be judged” is an apt admonition as is Jesus’ famous warning, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
The Catholic Church is an institution which has survived twenty centuries in spite of the occasional actions of ecclesiastical ministers whose sins have sometimes undermined the teachings of Christ. In our time, the scandal of priests abusing children has thrown back the curtain on the risks of celibate priesthood, the poor screening of seminary students, outmoded personnel policies and the inadequate supervision of troubled priests. In his book, A PEOPLE ADRIFT, THE CRISIS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA, Peter Steinfels wrote, “The American Catholic Church’s sex scandal of 2002 occurred because terrible things were done to thousands of children and young people. It occurred because many church officials…failed to prevent those crimes and do everything in their power to repair the harm.” The huge financial settlements will neither heal the wounds nor restore credibility.
Nevertheless, The Catholic Church is an irreplaceable force for good in America. Read More »
The lines of photographs stare blankly like rows and rows of stark mug shots. These are not criminals, but the faces of innocent victims of the twentieth century’s second holocaust.
The Khmer Rouge murdered almost two million Cambodians during a bloody four-year purge in the 1970’s. Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was a school converted into a prison where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 1976 and 1979. My wife and I visited Tuol Sleng last week. Read More »
In 1887, The Hearst Corporation was born with William Randolph Hearst’s purchase of the San Francisco Examiner. That small investment is now a sprawling international empire. Today, the Hearst Corporation owns 14 daily newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, a chain of Hearst Argyle television stations, a thriving magazine company, internet investments, 20% of ESPN, and stakes in A&E and Lifetime cable television. The company generates huge profits.
In 2006, the Hearst Corporation officially cut the ribbon on its new headquarters – Hearst Tower in New York City. The New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that “this 46-story tower may be the most muscular symbol of corporate self-confidence to rise in New York since the 1960′s, when modernism was in full bloom and most Americans embraced technological daring as a sure route to social progress.” Hearst Tower was designed by British Architect Sir Norman Foster who is responsible for such global icons as the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Building in Hong Kong, the Reichstag renovation in Berlin, and the British Museum in London. Read More »
It was only 1932 when 25% of Americans were unemployed. Hunger was the number one political issue in America. The economy was mired in a deep depression that tested the premises of a capitalistic system and even, according to the historian Arthur Schlesinger, threatened our faith in democratic government’s ability to create economic advancement for the average citizen.
My father, Joe, grew up during the Depression in San Francisco’s Mission District. My mother, Bess, is a Berkeley native who was born and raised on Carrison Street, one block away from the intersection of Ashby and San Pablo Avenues. My mother graduated from Oakland Tech High School. Married after World War II, they initially lived with my mother’s parents in Berkeley and started a family that grew to seven boys and three girls. Later, as their family expanded, they moved again to a larger home in downtown San Leandro where my parents, now in their eighties, still live today. Read More »
For decades whenever commentators raised an example of the power of the political television spot, they invariably cited the daisy ad. The daisy ad was a commercial for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in 1964… A young girl picks daisies in a field…The idyllic tranquility is destroyed by the countdown to an exploding mushroom cloud as a nuclear bomb detonates. Though the ad ran only once – it sparked a response that reverberated for decades.
The commercial was created by Tony Schwartz – a pioneer political media consultant. Schwartz himself was a blind eccentric whose inability to see led to heightened focus on his ability to hear …and to a career as one of the most successful radio and television spot producers of his generation. He put his ideas into a seminal book on communication called The Responsive Chord. Schwartz’s central thesis was that political commercials are not about teaching new information and new facts to voters. Schwartz preached that the best spots ratify what people already believe rather than educate them about new truths or challenge them with new ideas or solutions. Read More »
In January 1982, I owned a political consulting company headquartered in San Francisco. I was in the process of opening new offices in a classic, turn-of-the-century Edwardian near downtown when my phone rang one morning. It was Bill Honig, Superintendent of the Reed Union School District in Marin County. Reed Union had 500 students in the entire district. Centered in the high income city of Tiburon, Reed Union was one of the wealthiest and smallest school districts in California. I knew Bill Honig was already a declared candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A native San Franciscan whose father had founded a highly respected ad agency, Bill Honig was attempting the impossible – the Superintendent of possibly California’s tiniest school district wanted to be elected Superintendent of California’s schools – the largest public school system in America.
Honig was running an insurgent, reform campaign to unseat incumbent Wilson Riles, a popular State Superintendent running for his third term. He hired me to manage his campaign. We had less than 6 months to introduce Bill Honig to California and to pound home his succinct but effective message: “homework, discipline, required courses. It worked when he was a young student and it will work for California students in the 1980’s.” Read More »