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Friday Fights: Popcorn Politics

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Flickr by bstorage
Flickr by bstorage

As the summer rolls towards us, it is the season for what the industry calls "popcorn movies." These are the inevitable Bey/Bruckheimer movies that promise explosions, more explosions and yet more explosions while at no time actually stressing any of your brain cells. Let's be honest, we love them, and we hate the fact that we love them. And yes, I will be going to see Battleship.

As we roll towards this November's election, we also have the appearance of "popcorn politics." These are the great shows and stands that our politicians will take over the summer, all angling to find that one blockbuster that will propel them back into office. Hollywood has the dream of another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and local politicians dream late at night of coming up with the next Care Not Cash.

Whatever happens during this time though, you can't afford a dud, a bomb that shreds you right before election time. Which means whatever you do, don't stick your head out. Which is what made Supervisor David Chiu's performance Tuesday night worthy of popcorn and attention. See, Tuesday was the board of supervisors' meeting, and it was streamed over the Web. Now, you might think this was not exciting and given the reports in the newspapers the next day I would not blame you because most of the stories were along the lines of "Supervisors approve 8 Washington."

Campers, that does not even begin to tell the story of a 15-hour board meeting. OK, maybe I am exaggerating there just a bit, but not by much. It was a 10.5 hours. 8 Washington is the new condo construction slated for the plot of land where the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club is currently located. To say this is a contentious issue is an understatement, and as the meeting headed into the evening, my girlfriend and I watched with rapt attention... and popcorn.

Public comment was, to put it lightly, excruciating, and not because ridiculous comments were being made. In fact, this was one of the more informed mobs I have seen at public comment. What was excruciating was the "mob" part because the line to comment must have gone out the door and down the street. It went on, and on, and on. One estimate was that 100 people spoke. At one point the stenographers took their own lives just to get out of it. No, they didn't, but Board President David Chiu did have to call for a break so they could recover. Speaking of which, I have to say that I was very happy to hear that the house band for the Lusty Lady apparently has another gig doing the intermission music for SFGov.tv. It rocks people, it really does.

But back to the board meeting. At 9:15 Chiu called for a recess for the board. You read that time right, and yes, the Tuesday board meeting starts at 2:00 for those keeping track at home. I tried to imagine the board members in a locker room at half time, towels over their heads, Chiu trying to rally them for the second half. John Avalos saying, "No coach, don't send me back out there."

But he did, and deep into the night rode our supervisors. The real action then broke out as the public comment ended and the board began discussing the project. They asked lots of questions. Actually they only asked three questions, but they found about 80 different ways to ask them, which required a continual parade of people from the developers, the Port, and the City Attorney's Office.

We were out of popcorn, which was terrible because now the fourth quarter had arrived, and so did a fabulous congruence of backbiting, alliance-shifting, and awareness of exactly which Supervisors were up for re-election this November. It was like Lord of the Flies had taken over City Hall, and this was all going down at 11 o'clock at night. President Chiu suddenly found himself fighting a furious rear guard akin to Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. The development is in his district, and many are not happy about it. And yes, he is one of the supervisors up for re-election. And no, progressives do not mind making him look bad. Chiu knew he had a dud on his hands, but he went for it anyway.

He tried to continue the proceedings to at least modify the legislation one more time. David Campos deftly rolled a grenade right under his feet by explaining why he did not believe a continuance was needed. Then the board voted against the continuance, dealing Chiu the loss. But Campos, the instigator, then voted against the project (along with Chiu and Avalos) keeping his progressive cred intact while forcing a loss for Chiu. Eric Mar even went to far as to vote in favor of the project, further isolating Chiu and ingratiating himself with union labor who want the construction work.

Chiu was down to almost nothing by midnight, but he was still fighting for all he was worth. There was a second piece of legislation that also had to be approved for the project. This was the final line in the sand, and gallantly Chiu was still fighting. It was rather remarkable, given the usual mode of politicians to save face at all costs, especially when gazing down the barrel of a re-election. This was like watching the charge of the light brigade, and into the valley of death rode David Chiu. Predictably, he went down in a hail of ayes, and early Wednesday morning the battle was over. Yes, you read that right: Wednesday morning. But you should have been there. And the best part is that it is still is not over, which means get your popcorn now... I feel another blockbuster just around the corner.