Supervisor Aaron Peskin appeared at his first public meeting Tuesday afternoon since announcing last week that he would be seeking professional treatment for alcohol abuse. And in addition to his emotional apology, the Board of Supervisors meeting featured a tense exchange of words between Board President Shamann Walton and Mayor London Breed over who bullies who more at City Hall.
SF's Board of Supervisors has a long history of outsized personalities and theatrical exchanges — many of us still remember former Supervisor Chris Daly declaring "It's on like Donkey Kong" in the days leading up to Ed Lee becoming mayor. And lately a lot of the drama has come from the mouth of Supervisor Aaron Peskin, a veteran of the board who's serving his 39th or 40th year as supervisor at this point. (Actually it's his 13th, non-consecutive.)
After a written apology statement about the "tenor" of his public relationships last week, and the pledge to seek alcohol treatment, Peskin delivered a verbal apology Tuesday. As the Chronicle recounts from the first hour of the meeting, Peskin said, "With or without alcohol, with or without stress, I am accountable for my behavior and I am profoundly sorry for and frankly embarrassed by the tenor that I have struck at times in my work. I own that. I have a problem and I’m taking serious steps to address it. I’m sorry colleagues and I’m sorry San Francisco citizens."
Peskin was pushed to apologize and announce seeking treatment last week after the Chronicle was set to publish a piece about a growing uproar about his behavior at City Hall, featuring dozens of interviews with staff. This followed a board meeting last Tuesday in which Peskin berated Rec & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg in an ongoing set of accusations he's leveled along with Sup. Connie Chan relating to the nonprofit Parks Alliance.
But there have been larger tensions at play between the Mayor's Office and the board in recent months, which you could hear in Mayor Breed's statements several weeks ago about the supervisors "butchering" her legislation to make parklets permanent.
Today, as the Chronicle reports, ahead of the board's meeting, Breed issued a particularly pointed statement to Walton about some alleged mistreatment of her staff at Board of Supervisors meetings. Breed said that Walton "should manage this board appropriately and not be someone who’s also inflicting harm on city staff and other people who are coming forward to testify with the board."
Allegations about bullying of staff also came this week from SFMTA chief Jeffrey Tumlin in quotes to the Chronicle's Heather Knight.
"In every other city where I’ve worked, I would always put the project manager or subject matter expert forward to present their work to the city council,” Tumlin said. “San Francisco is the only city where staff are reluctant to present their own work for fear of bullying."
Also, Knight includes a quote attributed to Peskin during a phone call with other supervisors and their aides last year, regarding the gross receipts tax, in which he reportedly said, "This will have to be one of those times where I take my dick out, and the mayor takes her dick out, and let’s see whose is bigger."
But the bullying allegations go both ways. Walton responded aloud during Tuesday's board meeting to the mayor's comments about bullying, saying, "This is the pot calling the kettle black. Our Board meetings have never been more efficient and respectful, including when the mayor was president of the board."
He called the mayor's chief of staff (Sean Elsbernd), several staff members and department heads the "true bullies."
"There will be disagreements in this work, but we can move forward without threats," he said, per the Chronicle. "Threats of any kind toward city officials are unacceptable and will be addressed."
Peskin will reportedly be continuing his work as supervisor during his treatment, at the recommendation of professionals, he said.