Former mayors of San Francisco Dianne Feinstien, Frank Jordan, Willie Brown, and Gavin Newsom have joined forces in opposition to the creation of a new position that might sap the powers of the office they once held. Writing in to the Chronicle, the politicians say that "San Francisco ‘reforms’ would undermine mayor’s effectiveness," citing a variety of proposed changes including the creation of a new Office of the Public Advocate.
That whole thing started, at least publicly, with an opinion piece in an April issue of the Chronicle. Former state Assembly member Tom Ammiano argued that San Francisco could really use one of these public advocate positions, an office that would act "like a complaint and whistle-blowing department — but with teeth." Framing the position, Ammiano wrote that "The mayor and the board of supervisors need to show that they aren’t afraid of independent oversight." New York, Portland, and Seattle have Public Advocates, he noted, invoking Bill de Blasio, the New York Mayor who was previously that city's Public Advocate. "City Hall needs to introduce legislation that creates the Office of the Public Advocate and put it on this November’s ballot," he concluded.
David Campos, who will soon be termed out of his position as District 9 Supervisor, loved the idea so much that you might be forgiven for suspecting he had a hand in dreaming it up. Ammiano is, after all, Campos' close friend and political ally, and soon Campos had called to turn the idea into a ballot measure for the public to approve in the fall.
The Chronicle's Heather Knight was among many to suggest that Campos was transparently crafting a position for himself, suggesting, for example, requirements for the position like a law degree that might appear tailored to Campos' own qualifications. "No word yet on whether the measure would also require that the public advocate be a native of Guatemala who lives in Bernal Heights, sports bow ties and has the same initials as our nation’s capitol," Knight wrote mockingly.
Earlier this month, Supervisors Malia Cohen and Katy Tang sparred with Campos over the proposal by pushing for amendments that would limit the powers of the public advocate, stripping the position of appointment powers over the Offices of Citizen Complaints and Labor Standards Enforcement and restricting the position to two terms. Campos called Cohen and Tang's move a "[a] corrupt act by someone who is clearly corrupted,” according the Examiner, alleging that the two were protecting the mayor's powers under his orders, no less. Asked about Campos' conduct, Cohen told the paper that “Campos is being a crybaby," comparing him to Donald Trump.
Most recently, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted last week to move two measures forward to the full board that, if approved, would add a ballot measure for the creation of a public advocate. The boards' six progressives called for a special meeting to consider it, the Chronicle wrote, and a decision will be made by the 29th.
That decision should be a HELL NO, or so Feinstein, Jordan, Brown, and Newsom say. "The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering dozens of measures to place before the voters this November," they write. "Along with bond measures, new taxes and zoning changes are charter amendments that will erode a mayor’s ability to manage city government. As former mayors, we urge the Board of Supervisors to stop playing politics with the governance structure of San Francisco."
Nodding specifically to the proposed position, the group writes that "The proposed charter amendments include the establishment of a new citywide elected official (the office of the public advocate) and the removal of the mayor’s direct oversight of the city’s housing and economic development departments." That's a problem, they say:
We recognize that in San Francisco, as a city and a county, there has always been a certain tension between supervisors and the executive wing of city government. To that end, important charter reform approved by the voters in 1995 strove to find a balance between legislative and administrative authority. The Board of Supervisors regained the power to both add and subtract spending in the annual budget, to legislate on almost any administrative matter, and to veto mayoral appointments to virtually every city commission.
On the other hand, and most importantly, the mayor became more accountable for the performance of every city department, merging the functions of the chief administrative officer into a new administrative office reporting to the mayor. Clear accountability of the mayor’s office is essential for our city and county government to work. As a result, San Franciscans know to hold the mayor responsible for the efficient and effective delivery of government services.
The Justice League of Former Mayors encourages you to call your supervisor and say as much. Personally, I want to call Art Agnos on this — as the only living former mayor not on this list, what does he think? Oh, and last, I have to commend the photo team at the Chronicle: Whoever put a photo of Campos on the article, which doesn't mention him by name, is our true public advocate.