The lights can seem a little dimmer in SF these days -- a lot of economic struggling and downsizing. But they're blazing in Washington, D.C.
"My sister and brother-in-law just got laid off in San Francisco," one lobbyist I know told me. "Now they have to move out of the Bay Area because it's too expensive. But here, business is booming. You can feel it. That's the real difference between the two cities." Of course, it helps when that business is government and you can print your own money.
Maybe that's why it felt like half of San Francisco was in the capital last week, joining a thundering herd of idealists, opportunists, lobbyists, and other money jockeys all looking for some piece of the vastly expanding action from the Obama administration.
I was staying at the Mayflower Hotel, aka, Elliot Spitzer's sin castle. While I didn't see the former Governor or the now-fashionable Ms. Dupre, every time I stepped outside I did run into someone from home.
First I crashed a dinner where Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk had a gaggle of 50-plus local biz execs and half the Board of Supervisors at the Newseum. (It's suddenly chilling, not charming, that newspapers already have a museum.) David Chiu was polite as ever and Bevin Dufty, animated like a game show host, worked the tables.
They were all there for serious business: trying to get about $2 billion of the federal stimulus pie for San Francisco -- for Muni, broadband for poor neighborhoods, health care technology, green jobs and high-speed rail. They worked the powerful, including Mmmes Feinstein, Pelosi, and Boxer, and joined the L.A. Chamber of Commerce at a lunch/reception on the Hill. LA Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, was there to add his star power to make sure he was presente in taking care of his peeps.
And why wouldn't you? David Chiu told the Chronicle's DC ace reporter Zac Coile that competition among cities for this dough was tough and heavy.
On the senate side of the Capitol, I ran into DA Kamala Harris at a confirmation hearing for her brother-in-law, Bay Area native and Stanford law grad Tony West, appointed by Mr. Obama to be the new assistant attorney general for the civil division. Tony's wife, Mara, Kamala's sister, used to run the SF ACLU and is now a vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation heading the peace and social justice operation. And their daughter just got accepted to Harvard Law. Those darn underachievers.
Ms. Harris was also in town to lobby her pal, Attorney general Eric Holder, for some funds to help fight crime in SF.
But wait. Who was missing in this intense, timely, to-the-hoop press of San Francisco officials and luminaries looking for some City help for the poor, the commuters and the environmentally-minded? One guess.
Right. The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Waldo Newsom.
And where was Waldo? Campaigning for governor in Oakland and applying for an upgrade on his high profile tech credentials by visiting Twitter. Stuff like that. "It's a shame we have to come to Oakland to talk to you," yelled a man at his East Bay appearance, according to the Oakland Tribune. It's also a shame, because some of that new paparazzi frenzy the Mayor manages to accumulate in lieu of perks for his constituents might have actually helped the SF contingent attract some useful attention.
Though in town, he was most definitely not driving a bus to help out Muni with its employee shortage that leaves riders stranded. He was instead at Twitter HQ where Mr. Newsom told the Twitter chiefs that "using Twitter has made me a better mayor, and I'm only 3 and a half weeks into it," according to the SF Examiner. "I'm barely scratching the surface." Maybe in the city, but in Oakland and elsewhere in the state, he's been boring right in. "I've been able to gain invaluable feedback about what people are thinking," he said about his Tweets.
Some of those people are thinking he's got ADD on the job.
A Sunday Chronicle story about his many absences should make him an Amber Alert candidate. But this DC thing was one trip out of town that he should have taken.
The Chamber folks had apparently worked the whole visit around Mr. Newsom's schedule so the Mayor could lend some of his glam and star power to their pitches for dough. But he stiffed them. Fortunately, just like the first round of City budget discussions, Board President Chiu stepped comfortably into the vacant role of city leader and got a quorum of his fellow Supes to commit to the trip.
At least someone's paying attention.
It's not like Washington was without appealing, high-powered celebs, though. I had lunch with Greta Van Susteren, who's salty and funny in person. She still loves Sarah Palin and isn't afraid to say so, even in an Obama-drunk city. Two ladies at a corner table wave at Greta as we leave. "We're the Indiana contingent," they shout at her, then giggle and elbow each other till their beehive hairdos quiver.
And I'm not giving up on Gavin Newsom, by the way. He may have been AWOL in Washington and only an occasional tourist in San Francisco, but news broke late in the week that he'll be the grand marshal at the 26th Annual Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade this May 17.