Fall of a San Francisco Democrat
Arthur Bruzzone

Wall Street Journal
December 13, 1991

     in the heat of the 1990 Texas gubernatorial campaign, Ann Richards was labeled by her opponents a "San Francisco Democrat." But this week, the San Francisco Democrat, San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, was voted out of office and was replaced by a former police chief and moderate Democrat, Frank Jordan. Mr. Agnos paid the price for ignoring basic city services in order to push an ultra liberal agenda.

    When he won the mayoralty in 1988, he and his supporters heralded the victory as the beginning of new era in American politics. City Hall would be controlled by the neighborhoods. Downtown corporate interests wouid be tamed and made socially responsible. He promised that disenfranchised groups would hold significant positions in his administration. And he fulfilled most of these promises. Anti-growth advocates were appointed to the planning commission. Business taxes were raised to a level higher than in any municipality in the nation. Blacks, women, gays and Hispanics were hired in unprecedented numbers.

    San Francisco has a tradition of progressive politics at City Hall. And citizens of San Francisco's Irish, Italian and Asian neighborhoods have been exceedingly tolerant of it. They quietly go about their business, hidden from tourists and the national media, while various cultural and political movements dominate the streets. That is. they did untll Saddant Hussein invaded Kuwait.

    The Persian Gulf War focused the anger of San Francisco's working citizens. While polls indicated that a majority of San Franciscans strongly supported the military action in the Gulf, anti-war protestors blockaded the San Francisco Oakland Bay Briidge and the streets of the downtown business district. When asked to condemn the blockade, Mr. Agnos said it bothered him less than the war did. At the same time, the cify's Board of Supervisors declared the city a sanctuary for war reslsters.

    The event reinforced San Francisco's distorted image, and business suifered.  Conventions were canceled, including that 0f the American Petroleum Institute, which cost the city $7 miliion.

    In the months that Jollowed, Polls showed that San Francisco's quiet majority wasn't just angry about the mayor's foreign policy. They were also fed up with failing city services and the shrinking employment base. The Agnos administration cut the street-sweeping budget in half in order to increase welfare. For two years, the mayor refused to allow poilce to remove a large group of homeless from the park across the street from City Hall. Aggressive pandhandlers intimidated visitors at the city's main tourist attractions. Eight thousand jobs were lost in the city in 1991.

    San Franciscans worried about a November poll of CEOs in Fortune magazine that rated San Francisco 19th out of 50 cities as a place to do business. Most damaging, they resented Mr. Agnos's closed door policy to anyone or any group that opposed his administration. A manifestation of his isolation was his decislon to add another layer of government to the city bureaucracy by creating seven highly paid deputy mayor positions. Ironically, Art Agnos, hero of a movement that was anti-estabIishment, had created an intransigent establishntent

    During Mr. Agnos's term of office, the city actually remained in fairly good economic shape. Unemployment remained iow, at about 4.5%, its port remerged as a najor Li.S. maritime container port, moving up to 12th from 20th place, and San Francisco-based Bank of America absorbed its Los Angeles competitor, Security Pacific.

   But the grim political news had the mayor's colleagues worried. They knew that if he was defeated. the entire progressive agenda was threatened, and possibly several political careers. The mayor's supporters distributed mailers that warned of the menace of a takeover 0f the city by Republicans--unlikely, since Republicans make up just 18% percent of San Francisco's electorate.

   In the end it was the city's traditional "Papal tigers" and Italian-Americans plus its new Asian voters-who voted Mr. Agnos out of office. Winning candidate Frank Jordan crafted a campaign that stressed the concerns of the city's quiet voters-lower taxes, streamlining city departments, creating more jobs and improving education.

   And there lies a message for both political parties. The quiet majority can't be Ignored indefinitely, not even in San Fran'cisco.

Mr. Bruzzone is co-host and producer of the San Francisco weekly televsion
prooram "SF / Politics" and vice chairman of ihe San Francisco Republican Party.