Last budget-balancing act?

It appears that the best part about being the outgoing (hopefully) mayor of San Francisco is that you can tell reporters that next year’s budget deficit has dropped to only $462 million and it’s still September.

Good times must be right around the corner.

That’s the word from Mayor Gavin Newsom, who gave himself credit for juggling years of record deficits by noting that he’s already knocked $250 million off next year’s budget deficit through layoffs, hiring freezes and labor-contract concessions. And he said he’s still chipping away.

Of course, there’s little doubt that Newsom is really, really hoping that he doesn’t have to go through another budget cycle with a Board of Supervisors made up of philosophically opposed evil twins who wanted to save every pet program by raising taxes. You can bet that if Newsom is gone because he’s elected lieutenant governor and the board majority picks one of its own, new taxes will be the order of the day.

Yet it will be someone else’s job to make the tough calls, such as Muni service cuts, which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s own workers apparently support, so as not to give themselves so much busy work.

In Newsom’s planned absence, it will be up to the board to make the hard choices — and if you recall, several of them were more than happy to propose deep cuts in police and fire services, something that would not look too inviting right now in the wake of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

Next year’s budget dance promises to be crazier than the last, when fees for every possible public service — whether ambulance rides or park reservations — were greatly increased. San Francisco is adding more than 5,000 parking meters, its civic version of heavy metal. And, of course, the fees for those meters have skyrocketed, lest any car owner forget that driving is a punishable offense. (In case you haven’t noticed, police are ticketing drivers at what is likely a record rate, but that’s another column.)

Newsom is still making cuts — the deficit was at $712 million just a few months ago. But it’s that last $350 million or so when it really gets tough.

“Balancing the budget is a daily chore and he intends to bring the deficit down even more by the end of the year,” Tony Winnicker, the mayor’s spokesman, said. “Still, it’s a significant challenge.”

For someone else, he’s hoping.


Support center gives scribes fighting chance

In the beginning was the word, and the word was that San Francisco was a good place for supporting writers and their beloved prose.

And then the word spread — all the way to Ireland.

Tonight, a fundraiser will be held here at the United Irish Cultural Center to support Fighting Words, an organization that provides tutoring in creative writing to students in Dublin, a program that’s the Irish equivalent of 826 Valencia, author Dave Eggers’ brainchild to get students involved in writing. The program will include a “conversation” with Irish author Roddy Doyle, who founded Fighting Words with Sean Love, the former head of Amnesty Ireland.

In a little more than a year, Fighting Words has helped 13,000 students in story-writing workshops and helped publish their prose — all for free. The organization has managed to find a deep trove of support among the world’s literary community, counting among its patrons authors Richard Ford, Nick Hornby and the aforementioned Eggers.

As it approaches its 10th anniversary, 826 Valencia has spawned a number of like-minded chapters in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. It turns out people love a good read.

For ticket information, visit


Mudslinger Harris eats own words on campaign contributions

Campaign contributions can be tricky things, especially when donors turn out to be convicted criminals. Just ask Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley, the two candidates for state attorney general who have run into a sticky wicket due to some dubious donors — after accusing each other of being less than honest.


Harris has accused Cooley of accepting contributions from Gladwin Gill, a major Republican donor who pleaded guilty to money laundering three years ago. Yet, this week the Los Angeles Times reported that Harris had not returned $1,250 from former Democratic rainmaker Norman Hsu, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison last year for breaking campaign finance laws and defrauding investors.

Harris’ campaign said that she couldn’t turn the money over while she was still a local candidate due to finance regulations. But after she became a candidate for state office, she could — it’s just one of those things that fell through the cracks.

Not unlike Hsu himself.

Readers of this column might remember that Hsu raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates — especially one-time presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton — while he was still on the lam from California authorities for defrauding some Peninsula investors of $1 million.

Somehow, the U.S. Justice Department lost track of Hsu after he had been sentenced to prison and escaped to Hong Kong, only to turn up in New York as a fashion industry consultant. And no, I’m not making this up.

Hsu raised money for Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom, but the mayor didn’t hesitate to return the contribution. Harris did and it blew up in the form of newspaper headlines this week.

Tight campaign races generally don’t tread anywhere near high moral ground, but this latest chapter just proves that mudslingers don’t usually end up looking too clean.

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