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Higher Cotton

Jan
5
2004

The Chron just can’t get soon-to-be-former SF Mayor Willie Brown. Over the weekend, they did the obligatory summation of Da Mayor’s term in office but that’s not what you should read. Instead check out The Bee’s profile, which does a much better job of putting Brown’s career in perspective.
You knew coverage of the mayor was off-kilter when he had to explain the phrase “we’re in high cotton now,” to a local reporter. Translated, it means that things are good. You don’t have to bend over to pick high cotton. It’s easier work.
Of course, Brown did some of his best work in Sacramento. The state capital, a bit more than San Francisco, is a city where people understand that political success is often the art of not doing and saying as much as claiming credit and taking bows. That’s, of course, why Brown is such an elusive subject and such an effective politician.
Both papers talk about Brown’s public works legacy and his problems with the city’s progressives. But they also fail to point out Brown’s biggest failure: San Francisco’s absolute paralysis during the Internet Bubble. It’s the failure of someone accustom to the legislative not (for all his high-handedness) the executive role.
San Francisco city government did virtually nothing during the boom. It just let it happen. It didn’t plan. It didn’t save. It didn’t think ahead. Its confusion – it wasn’t a refusal to do anything, it was just a complete befuddlement – triggered the urban class warfare between those who were well off before the bubble and those who are, having had the Internet experience, are much, much better off. That those newly wealthy people have settled in what were once the city’s established middle class – in the truest economic meaning of the words – neighborhoods like Noe, The Mission, Bernal Heights, just added to the confusion and the xenophobic resentment toward newcomers. It was everywhere and it escalated very quickly. I’ve still got the key scratches on my car to prove it.
City Hall wasn’t alone in not understanding what was happening to San Francisco. A few years ago, I had lunch with Phil Bronstein, the Chron editor formerly known as Mr. Stone. Apart from complaining about the Hollywood parties his wife made him attend, he, too was mystified by what was going on around him. Told that San Francisco’s center was about to pivot south – that the southern part of the city would be more dynamic because of its freeway access, the ball park, and the “better” weather, Bronstein scoffed. Real estate in Sea Cliff where he had just moved was still sky high, he said.
Ah. The personal made political. Maybe that’s why the Chron can’t get its hands on Willie Brown.

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