New low for S.F. gutter politics

San Francisco citizens should not be expected to condone a supervisor expressing disagreement with the mayor’s budget by insinuating at a City Hall hearing that the mayor is a cocaine user. Such behavior — or rather misbehavior — is not political debate; it is slander that the Board of Supervisors should officially censure.

Supervisor Chris Daly charged Tuesday that Mayor Gavin Newsom was hypocritical in proposing cuts for substance abuse programs while undergoing alcohol treatment and while he “artfully dodges every question about allegations in his own cocaine use.” The next day Newsom called a news conference where he flatly denied ever using cocaine and called Daly’s allegations “sleazy … a whole new low” and “the cheapest of cheap shots.”

Daly countered by insisting he never actually said Newsom uses cocaine, only that the mayor “artfully dodges” questions about doing so. The supervisor refused to apologize and defended his comments as “germane” to discussion of the substance abuse budget.

Making personal allegations of illegal drug usage without any supporting evidence during a supervisors’ meeting is indeed “a whole new low” for San Francisco political discourse and should be universally condemned. We have a right to expect and demand better from our elected officials.

The conduct went far beyond “inappropriate” and “unbecoming,” which was what Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin labeled it. Even Daly’s usual allies on the board are hardly springing to his defense on this one.

Before the latest outburst, Peskin had already taken the unusual, but welcome, step of removing Daly as chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, presumably because Daly was delaying budget completion for the June 30 deadline by fighting a scorched-earth campaign over a number of Newsom’s funding choices. That feud was sparked when Daly tried to pry loose $33 million to boost affordable housing, and Newsom blocked this so the pending budget would remain balanced while spending more for long-overdue street repairs.

However, Peskin so far has refused to call a censure vote on Daly, saying there is no need for further admonishment. “I don’t have time for a symbolic sideshow about a resolution proclaiming this or doing that,” Peskin said. “I’ve got a budget to put to bed.”

Of course everybody realizes that when a legislative body censures the conduct of one of its members, no real punishment or enforcement occurs; it is simply a symbolic disapproval. And undoubtedly Chris Daly would only display loud defiance to any censure resolution against him.

But this is one time when the Board of Supervisors really ought to go on record in expressing a position against unfounded personal attacks within our city government. Doing anything less would be putting out the welcome sign for gutter politics in San Francisco.

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