San Francisco’s founders were ribald, New Orleans migrants with a strong outlaw sensibility. Gambling, sex, license and corruption were the key ingredients. Government was weak and pretty useless. Crime was controlled for decades by vigilantes. The City burned to the ground many times, once completely in 1864. By 1895 it was home to pre-hippy radicals, Wobblies and by 1930 the City had one of the only two general strikes in the U.S. A decade later the main union, the longshoremen, was run by a public communist for twenty years (a friend of mine).
I know San Francisco...
I know San Francisco history pretty well. In 1974 I started the first non-Grayline tour. The tours were for real people and were anti-tourist. I was so successful that two years later there were 90 such non-Grayline tours operating in the City.
I also know the political history of San Francisco having started Research in Politics in 1964. At one of my first meetings I had a guest lecturer, a political scientist, from San Francisco State College just starting the Fall semester. I started the evening talk by questioning whether there was corruption in San Francisco. I knew the Mayor and a few of the City leaders at the time.
My recent experience, before coming home to San Francisco, had been three years in Chicago where we all put a $10 or $20 bill in our driver’s license holder for when the police stopped us. That, cash behind the driver's license, only antagonised the S.F. police who considered themselves incorruptible.
The political science professor in his talk outlined his plan to study corruption and find it in San Francisco. Nine months later, by the end of the Spring semester he had found the corruption and reported on it.
The Tax Assessor was the central secret figure in the whole corruption system. The Assessor personally owned a dozen hat check concessions in the fancy restaurants in the City. Any insider who wanted to get his property tax reduced would do it by giving the appropriate cash in an envelope to the hat check women (older loyal women, all on salary). The money went back, daily, to the Assessor.
The political science professor called a press conference to tell the
story publicly. The story never saw the light of day. He checked his
data again and found that all the newspapers and TV stations had very
low tax assessments.
The Assessor at the time,1965, was Russ Wolden who, succeeded his father of the same name. Father and son had been the only two assessors since 1916.
The story of corruption in assessments first broke in Contra Costa County and was soon picked up by a Grand Jury in San Francisco. Russ was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to prison. The only mention of the Wolden matter was in one newspaper, buried very deep inside, on the day of his sentencing.
To put it simply San Francisco is a corrupt town, wholely corrupt and always has been. But San Francisco corruption is sophisticated and deeply buried.
Sophisticated corruption thrives in a population that is naïve, idealistic and blazé. That describes San Franciscans.
The current malaise is probably due to the fact that the rest of America is in a patriotic, upbeat, hard working, prosperous, go-to-church mood. California is in a reform mood with Governor Schwarzenegger wildly popular. San Franciscans are always against reform, they voted against the greatest California reformer, Hiram Johnson. San Francisco voted seven-to-one against the current governor and President Bush.
San Franciscans are always waiting for a revolution which is why the Hippy world was born and thrived in San Francisco as did the gay world.