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Why the mayor could use some "question time"
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tredmond@sfbg.com
Just about everybody in the "respectable" news media is going to call Sup. Chris Daly's latest charter amendment a crackpot idea, so I might as well join the crackpots right now. I think it's wonderful.
Daly wants to require the mayor of San Francisco to appear once a month at a Board of Supervisors meeting and answer questions. That's it — no decisions get made, no policies change. The mayor just has to stand up in public, in front of the district-elected legislators, and explain himself.
It's a longstanding tradition in England, where the prime minister has to show up at Parliament for "question time." It makes for outstanding politics and great TV. It's often pretty rough: The PM gets interrogated by the opposition and fires back. When the smoke clears, the public knows a little more about the government's policies, and the nation's chief executive is a little more accountable.
Imagine if G.W. Bush, who doesn't like press conferences, embodies the imperial presidency, and hates having to answer in public to anything, had to endure question time before the House of Representatives. Imagine Maxine Waters or Barbara Lee or John Murtha asking him about the war. (For that matter, imagine Bill Clinton avoiding impeachment by hashing the questions out in front of a Republican Congress long before it ever got to that.)
There's a lot to like about parliamentary democracies, and one of the best things is the relatively weak executive branch. Question time in England helps keep the prime minister under control.
And of course in San Francisco mayors are pretty powerful and tend to be pretty aloof. Willie Brown just ignored critics. Gavin Newsom talks to the press but doesn't get into active debates that much. So it wouldn't hurt the mayor — any mayor — to have to spend an hour a month in a public session responding to the supervisors' questions; it wouldn't hurt the city either. It would do wonders for fighting the inclination toward secrecy in the executive branch. And you know you'd want to watch.
Yeah, Chris Daly is not a fan of Gavin Newsom, and the political consultants working for the mayor will have all sorts of reasons to call this a personal attack and an assault on separation of powers (if not on the very nature of American democracy). But come on — if the prime minister of England can find time to handle this while leading one of the world's great powers, the mayor of San Francisco can fit it into his tight schedule.
Onward: The deal that gives Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group control over most of the Bay Area dailies is now complete — and already there’s word that Singleton and the Hearst Corp., which owns the ostensibly competing San Francisco Chronicle, will be doing a joint web venture together.
From the June 29 Contra Costa Times:
“MediaNews executives revealed the company is discussing with Hearst Corp. a joint venture to begin a new Web site involving the Bay Area online products of the Times and Mercury News; of the MediaNews publications in the Bay Area; and of the Hearst-owned Chronicle.”
Monopoly marches on.
Funny: I didn’t see anything about this in the Chron. SFBG