Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The Betrayal of Supervisor Peskin
On Monday afternoon, November 14th, there was a meeting in the Board of Supervisors Chambers in City Hall of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.
These are usually fairly dull affairs, but Monday's meeting was incendiary.
The final agenda item was to hear a report from Budget Analyst Harvey Rose's office that was criticizing an "independent" audit by Economic Research Associates. They were supposedly tallying the financial benefits to the tax base of San Francisco by an annual event called the San Francisco Grand Prix bicycle race, which just completed its fifth year over the last Labor Day weekend. However, according to the account by Jo Stanley in the SF Examiner, "the researchers used a survey from the previous year about visitor spending and simply bumped up the amount by 7.5 percent for the passage of time."
During a series of contentious Board of Supervisors meetings this year, legislation was passed that gave the race a financial break in the amount of billable police time, where $1 in police fees were waived for every $2 worth of extra taxes generated.
This legislation emanated from Mayor Newsom's office and was angrily denounced at the time by Supervisor Chris Daly, the leftist firebrand on the board, as "corporate welfare" for a wealthy Republican investment banker named Thomas Weisel who has a fixation on Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France winner who used to headline this event before his retirement.
During questioning of this woman from the Police Department about whether the race organizers had paid the full amount of $336,000 for public services during the 2004 race or the amended $90,000 after the tax abatement, it turned out that that the organizers hadn't paid a single dollar for the 2004 race.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin had been the swing vote allowing for the original exemption, and the look on his face when he got this news from the policewoman was devastating. His subsequent outbursts at the policewoman and the cycling group lobbyist were savage, personal and to the point.
Dan Ospinow, the lobbyist for Thomas Weisel, did an amazingly good job of being apologetic and trying to put spin on the situation, but Peskin was having none of it. "I stuck my neck out for you guys when my colleagues had reservations, and you betrayed me," Peskin said. "You've lied to me over and over again. This is disastrous." He also pointed out that it was explicitly illegal for a permit to be issued to any group who hadn't paid the previous year's fees. "Who was responsible for that permit being issued?"
Adding to the disaster for the cycling group, there were only two public commenters on the issue, and both were devastating. This guy was a driver for Gray Line Tours out of Fishermans Wharf and he described how holding the race on Labor Day weekend absolutely destroyed tourist business in the area on what was normally one of their busiest days.
This neighborhood activist from Chinatown talked about how dismissively they were treated by the race organizers when they tried to talk to them about the impact the race would have on their shut-down neighborhood. It seems that the Chinatown tourist business for that day was also destroyed, not to mention the fact that bus service was screwed up for the entire day.
Though Supervisor Peskin really has no one to blame but himself for believing these gangsters, his public outrage was fascinating and sincere. I think he must have read the brilliant h. brown's take on his legacy (or lack of it) in last week's column in the SF Sentinel. Click here to check it out.
Thomas Weisel, the Republican financier, owned Montgomery Securities which financed a lot of the dot-com madness of the 1990s. It was sold for over a billion dollars to NationsBank which then merged with Bank of America which got into a bitch fight with Weisel over the direction of the firm. So in 1998 Weisel started a new firm, Thomas Weisel Partners, which is basically trying to do the same thing. They used Lance Armstrong and pro cycling as their theme (check out the website here). Though the firm lost money last year, they have just announced that they are going public. If they conduct their business as sloppily and with as much greed as their bicycle race, it probably isn't a good idea to invest in them.
Supervisor Daly, whose brilliant aide John Avalos is pictured above, was quite gracious in this moment of vindication, and didn't even say "I told you so!" though he does get close to doing so on his latest blog entry which you can get to by clicking here.
Even Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier, whose sickly sweet smile usually masks a knife being thrown at somebody's back, couldn't put a happy face on the situation. "I don't agree with my colleagues that the race should be canceled over this, but really, you've got to pay your bills," she chided.
Hearings on how the permit was given out illegally will be held at next Monday's special meeting of the committee. Peskin is genuinely pissed, so this should be interesting.