Also, he calls it 'San Fran.'

[dropcap]“L[/dropcap]as Vegas, Nevada.” 

That’s what boxers are taught to say when their brains have been rattled about in their skulls and they find themselves supine on the canvas, looking up. They may be in no position to comprehend the words the referee is saying to them to determine if the fight should continue. 

So, instinctively, they’re trained to blurt out “Las Vegas, Nevada!” — because the question the ref often asks is “Do you know where you are?” 

You couldn’t blame members of the San Francisco Police Officers Association for, apropos of nothing, belting out “Las Vegas, Nevada!” of late. They have taken quite the political beating in recent months — be it getting stunned by their own Taser measure; alienating every viable mayoral candidate; dumping tons of money into denigrating Police Commission President Suzy Loftus’ proposed use-of-force measures (which were approved); then dumping even more money into supporting Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus and denigrating Chesa Boudin (who won, of course). 

Oof. Las Vegas, Nevada! 

After walking into a barrage like this, you could excuse our city’s police union of behaving in a discombobulated manner. To wit: Following the June 2018 victory of Mayor London Breed, a politician the union vituperatively turned against in a viscerally personal manner, the POA hired Steve Kawa to be its City Hall political point man. 

If someone other than Breed had won, the POA would presumably have hired someone else to help mend its splintered fences. But Breed triumphed, so enter Kawa — a trusted and key lieutenant to Mayor Willie Brown before becoming the chief of staff for Brown’s handpicked successors, Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee. He negotiated labor contracts; he cracked the whip; he essentially oversaw the city’s autonomic functions. He was, in his City Hall run, artfully referred to as San Francisco’s “shadow mayor” or, in later years and under more laissez-faire mayors, as simply “Mayor Kawa.”

Kawa’s employment by the POA has long been a subject of discussion in San Francisco political circles, but good luck finding anything about it written down anywhere. Kawa did not return our call but POA president Tony Montoya confirmed that “Steve is on retainer for dealing with City Hall politics. I am able to bounce ideas and strategies off of Steve.” He referred to Kawa as “the unofficial mayor” for multiple official San Francisco mayors. 

Ousted former POA president and consultant Gary Delagnes also confirmed Kawa is on the POA payroll. 

Well, that was politic. And yet, this same union willingly participated in and promoted Tucker Carlson’s weeklong “American Dystopia” San Francisco filth porn extravaganza, with Montoya and fellow POA executive board member Tracy McCray providing on-camera interviews for FOX News’ latest discovery of San Francisco. The POA additionally pushed the five-part series on its social media feed. 

So: The POA went to the trouble — and expense — of hiring the most connected San Francisco government whisperer in the realm and then, per Montoya, did not consult with him prior to lending a hand to a FOX News broadside on San Francisco city government, further alienating the POA. 

That is not politic. That’s a Las Vegas, Nevada! moment. 

The condition of this city’s streets are a sore subject for Mayor London Breed. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Mayor London Breed, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, does not enjoy nationwide depictions of her city as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. 

She does not enjoy stories about fetid streets and ranting homeless people being used to justify conventions relocating to cheaper locales, thereby preventing placard-wearing SoMa visitors from indirectly contributing to our pension fund. That money will instead likely end up being fed into slot machines in — you guessed it — Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Breed does not enjoy the fetid state of our streets, period. Multiple reliable sources have informed us that city cleaning crews make a habit of hitting up spots on her itinerary before she arrives, and power-washing them. We’re told they did this with prior mayors, too. 

So, aiding and abetting in the nationwide depiction of San Francisco as a dystopian wasteland is not the way to make friends and influence people in City Hall. And that goes extra when the show is produced by FOX News and Tucker Carlson. 

The rub here is that the condition on our streets is dire — though any claims that this FOX series is doing anyone a service or shedding some manner of light on a neglected subject is weapons-grade B.S. The photogenically wretched state of our city has been documented through and through; even local journalistic outlets know they can be rewarded by reams of web traffic from keyboard warriors who’ll leave comments about “Libtards” and “Snowflakes” by nourishing them with a steady stream of stories about feces and needles (or undocumented immigrants shooting people). 

San Francisco is a city that could always use a good look in the mirror. Our policies and the competence with which they have been executed do need to be frequently reassessed. If anyone wants to analyze the myriad failings of San Francisco government, there’s plenty of material to work with. Carlson’s policy recommendations, however, pretty much begin and end with heavy-handed policing and locking people up — but let’s not pretend FOX News is making a good-faith effort here; they’ve long been bad actors and that’s why interview requests from FOX are routinely spurned by City Hall denizens.  

Carlson, who was born in San Francisco, is a smart man with great fluency in stupidity. He is also a superficially respectable and well-coiffed disseminator of White Nationalist talking points. He is not Ken Burns. His people were not here to document the condition of the city and wring out a kernel of truth but, instead, to chalk up the state of play on Turk and Taylor as the natural outcome of runaway liberalism and Democratic Party rule. They could roll camera in Los Angeles’ Skid Row, too — but L.A. isn’t a city that used to be led by our telegenic and wildly ambitious governor. Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein don’t live in L.A., either. 

As far as blaming our homelessness situation on liberalism, there are entire nations objectively more liberal than San Francisco — with fewer total homeless people (they also have far lower crime rates, recidivism rates and incarceration rates; unlike here, homeless people aren’t booted out of their tents during torrential downpours and elected leaders don’t balk at taxing wealthy corporations to fund housing and services for the indigent). As far as laying culpability at the feet of “the Democrat Party,” it warrants mentioning that virtually every big-city mayor is a Democrat. Sixteen of the nation’s 20 most populous cities are led by Democrats (and San Antonio’s Ron Nirenberg is an independent). 

There are painful and nuanced discussions to be had about this city’s handling of the homeless crisis, and San Francisco’s own role in exacerbating its rampant unaffordability — which factors into homelessness as surely as Mountain Dew factors into tooth decay. But that’s not the purpose of sending out cameramen to zoom in on every last piece of dung smeared across the pavement. 

Starting Monday, the 2,300-odd unionized San Francisco police officers will begin voting on whether to retain Montoya as president or instill his challenger, Rich Chibotti, who is backed by bellicose former honcho Delagnes and is, essentially, running from Montoya’s right. 

Among a voting population with a sizable chunk of members who, unironically, send around OAN News stories or stuff from Prager U, it would arguably burnish Montoya’s credibility to sit down with Carlson’s people and rip this city but good. Montoya could do worse than lifting, word for word, Travis Bickle’s lament in Taxi Driver:

“You should clean up this city here, because this city here is like an open sewer you know. It’s full of filth and scum. And sometimes I can hardly take it.  … Sometimes I go out and I smell it, I get headaches it’s so bad, you know…They just never go away you know … It’s like … You should just flush it right down the fuckin’ toilet.”

In 1976, this was an unnerving rant from a psychotic movie character. But it’s 2020 now, and, who knows? That kind of forward thinking could get you elected head of a public safety union. 

Alas, Montoya’s interview for Carlson’s series doesn’t appear to have been predicated in this way. “I am just now learning who he is,” says the union president. “I don’t have time to watch TV.” 

His rationale for doing this interview, he said, wasn’t to humiliate city leaders, but “I want them to accept responsibility.” And, if his interview backfires, wildly, he’ll have to accept responsibility for that: “I have to take that and grow from there.” 

He predicts a “nail-biter” election. We’ll see. 

Kawa, Montoya says, hasn’t yet spoken to him about the wisdom of sitting for this interview. 

“I don’t think Steve is a FOX News kind of guy,” Montoya says. “I’m sure it’ll get back to him at some point.” 

That sounds like a safe bet. Las Vegas, Nevada! 

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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19 Comments

  1. There is nothing “progressive” or “liberal” regarding San Francisco’s (failed) housing policies.

    I’m no fan of Tucker Carlson, but if you’re going to link to any videos, it seems like it should be the one’s you’re referencing in your article, i.e. Carlson’s “American Dystopia” series so that readers can more easily judge for themselves.

    The sad truth of the matter is that they’re a pretty accurate depiction of the current state of affairs in SF.

    And, yes, the ridiculous situation in SF with regards to housing and homelessness is directly due to 4+ decades of poor policy.

    Poor national policy when it comes economic strategy in a globalized world, poor state policy when it comes to education and mental health, and poor local policy when it come to housing.

    The latter is due largely to a selfish and myopic NIMBY localism which, over the course of the last 40 years has created a chronic housing shortage resulting in runaway housing costs.

    SF is just the most extreme manifestation of NIMBYism (which transcends conventional political categories — you find it across the lsft/right spectrum), but it occurs throughout coastal California — basically anywhere the jobs are.

    To the extent that this has occurred under the watch of so-called “liberal” political leadership, then we rightly deserve the blame for this failure.

    1. Well, that was quite a ride there Karl.

      As much as you’d like to pin the issues this city faces on the door of ‘liberal’ political leadership, you simply need to look everywhere in America to realize that these are problems that transcend the political spectrum.

      It is a reflection of migratory patterns of the workforce, chronic underfunding of mental health programs, chronic overfunding of the criminal justice system, and the unshaken belief in trickle down capitalism.

      The roadkill of our economic system exist in cities and rural areas all around America, whether the leadership is ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’.

      1. I agree with your analysis. What’s curious here to me is Joe’s concern with the POA, while acknowledgeing it has lost political clout. His concern is so great motivated to write his own hit piece, ala Carlson lite. Deep and entrenched animus to the POA is simply a form of hate, not a progressive position. The POA can reform, but Joe seems uninterested in enabling that. I find his smears here to be little more than yellow journalism pandering to the crowd that sparked Sandy Fewer’s post election rally cry.

        1. That was quite a write up! Will SF ever be ok… or the rest of the US? Politics are so convoluted. It’s as if the skills objective is to waste time, do very little while making as much profit as possible.

          Solutions are much easier to come by, however it will cut into some of the powerful people’s profit that depend on exploiting the mass populous.

          So what do you do?

    2. Kind of a clown comment there, Karl.

      If folks want to watch Tucker Carlson’s series, they don’t need me to link to it. He has a whole network promoting it. And a Police Union. They’ll find it.

      As noted in the story, San Francisco’s misery and filth is not made-up and our specific policies and practices deserve deep analysis. But Carlson’s only solutions were to prosecute people and lock them up. Simple!

      You’ll also note how he keeps saying “They want to do this in your town.” This is part of an invasion motif Carlson presents on his show. Immigrants, people of color, and Democrats are associated with filth — Carlson has overtly tied immigrants to litter and filth — and they’re coming for you.

      As for your comments about malevolent NIMBYS, they’re due all the scorn in the world. But it’s a transcendently simplistic notion to blame them and them alone for the state of the city today. Kind of conveniently leaves all the folks in power off the hook, doesn’t it?

      JE

      1. Except that the “folks in power” ( i.e., our elected officials) are voted into office by the NIMBYs — specifically NIMBY homeowners (who are very dependable voters.)

        Ultimately, 4+ decades of consistent housing underproduction — due to NIMBY-driven “local control” anti-housing-creation policies — has led directly to the current housing crisis; a chronic housing shortage with the inevitable runaway housing costs.

        1. One cannot claim to be “progressive” and also be a NIMBY.

          The disconnect between “liberal” aspirations and “liberal” housing policy is killing coastal CA cities.

          Liberal Ideology: We are pro-environment…

          Liberal City Policy: …but anti-growth and density.

          Liberal Ideology: We are pro-immigration…

          Liberal City Policy: …but anti-migration.

          Liberal Ideology: We are pro-equity…

          Liberal City Policy: …but anti-housing.

          HARD WORK IS TAXED, BUT PASSIVE ACCUMULATION OF HOUSING WEALTH BY NIMBY HOMEOWNERS IS NOT.

      2. Carlson is not saying lock them up and prosecute. You miss the whole point. He is saying that liberal policies have turned this beautiful city into a place where bad behavior has become acceptable. He also does not tie immigrants and people of color to the trash in the street, you did. He says that the stolen goods trade and the drug trade are largely operated by illegal immigrants, specifically from Honduras. Those are just plain facts. You misrepresent what tucker is saying, which of course shouldn’t surprise anybody. Do you even live in the city? Instead of confusing everyone with the POA bit perhaps find out where $300 million dollars allocated to the homeless, clean streets, etc…of tax payers money gets farmed out. Sure makes me wonder. Clearly some groups are lining their coffers…as they say “follow the money” because it sure doesn’t seem like its improving anything. In fact if you’re street savy enough you can collect a check every month for a few thousand and an extra $400 if you have a dog. Its just one big incentive after another. Again, this all points to liberal policies, not people of color.

          1. I only have so many hours in the day to engage with bad-faith dopes on these Internets, champ.

            JE

  2. Carlson’s series was timely and interesting. He has covered Los Angeles homeless mess as well, just not for a week. He didn’t lob PR bombs from Washington or New York, the series features locals and their points of view. SF and it’s politicians deserve any shame they feel about a situation they exacerbate with their ridiculous policies. But they don’t care to defend their policies or politics because they don’t want to go on Fox. Willie Brown would have sparred with Carlson because he wasn’t afraid to defend his liberalism. Current politicos prefer to hide under their desk, coming out to preach to the choir when the coast is clear.

  3. Nice response from “Karl”. I watched the Fox series and as much as the Author wants to paint it as a hit piece to Fienstein & Pelossi Fix news the correct size brush. Quality of Life issues grow worse by the day and SF citizens pay the ultimate price. Tracy McCray was honest in her answers about how stealing, urinating, defecating, open drug use etc…is just another day in the life. The author’s article is long and winded & hard to follow his thought process. Perhaps Fox News just hit a nerve? That’s my guess. BTW, Tucker says “San Francisco”

  4. I am a Gay Man that has lived in SF since the late 80’s , the city has gone through a lot of changes, but the current Alt Left agenda is destructive as now proven in Philly.
    It should not be illegal to be poor , but the solution is not Anarchy !
    Provide refugee level assistance to any Citizen that needs it , if needed create camp areas with Bathrooms , Showers , Laundry , WIFi , Basic Power were they can camp and be feed.
    But Outlaw Public Hard Drug Usage , Jail Those That Traffic Sex Workers , Jail Persons That Steal and Destroy Property, and if they are illegal Deport Them !
    We need more National Reporting to put pressure on getting policie that work in place !

  5. I’m just waiting for anybody – be they the gob-smack POA (one letter off it always seems) or the disaster that is our new DA (elected by defaults – like his opponents 1 having nothing to do with his appropriateness for the work) – ANYBODY – to answer me this: what does everyone in the massive and massively problematic camp that shuttles between 16th and 18th and Florida and Potrero ride a $4000 bike?

  6. I blame the Democrats.

    In 2000 they fielded a campaign that could not beat a blithering idiot.
    Result – disastrous war and an economic calamity that brought the economic system of western civilization to its knees.

    OK – we got Mr. Obama (jeez, how I miss my Obama) but it was Senate Democrats that killed the buy in for Medicare at 55 thus dooming our national health care to a half-assed system always on the verge of being terminated.

    Then in 2016 they couldn’t get it together to prevent that, that … thing from hell manifesting itself.

    In 2020 – we’re doomed to another 4 years with another weak field of candidates (as much as I like some of them). Most chanting a progressive agenda to true believers.

    Unfortunately the bottom line of “progressive” is inevitably linked to the most progressive city in America. No community in this country wants to end up like us – on the fast track to social degradation.

    The progressive Democratic one party system in this town has a huge hoard of ever increasing budget money but has not been able to resolve even the most basic of governmental social responsibilities – like a reasonably functioning public transportation system. Or how about taking a shot at remedying the festering wounds of segregation; our black brethren entrapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty within the concentration camps of the Bayview (yeah – I hear we’re building them new barracks). But I guess that stuff is old news within the mounting problems of our most recent seemingly self inflicted calamities.

    So – you end up handing Tucker Carlson his dish on a silver platter.

    And yeah – for 2020 all they have to do is point a finger and ask – you want to end up like that?
    Never mind the details and excuses on how we got here.

    Ugh … another 4 more years and then, barring all of us being subjected to a disastrous national crisis, there’s support for idiot to the power of 10 – Jr. – as incredulous as that sounds – with Kimberly Ann Guilfoyle as first lady.

  7. The POA is truly impressive.They’ve actually turned police officers, normally a highly admired and respected group, into a target of contempt and derision, like a little fire truck full of clowns. The POA is in a league of its own when it comes to doing really stupid stuff.

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