Letters

Spring 1999
Fault-Free Willie

To the editor:
Despite the fact that City Journal has months to prepare an in-depth article, the authors of "Willie Brown Shows How Not to Run a City" (Autumn 1998) did not even abide by even the most basic standards utilized by journalists working under a 24-hour deadline. The authors did not confirm quotations, verify quotations taken out of context, or authenticate the accuracy of statistics; and they failed to contact a single person at City Hall for response. Almost every paragraph of this "scholarly" piece contained blatant errors and innuendo that depict a San Francisco unknown to those of us who live here.

The article states that, "For the first six months of 1998, murder is up a frightening 43 percent." No context is provided to explain that in 1997, San Francisco had the lowest number of homicides since 1967. In fact, there were 66 murders in 1997, down from 84 in 1996 and a staggering 50 percent lower than the 133 murders that occurred during former mayor Frank Jordan’s second year as mayor. These facts reveal that, compared with the Jordan administration, murder has declined every year since Mayor Brown took office.

The authors also claim that District Attorney Terence Hallinan wants to "decriminalize prostitution." What the article omits, however, is Hallinan’s fervent support for San Francisco’s First Offender of Prostitution Program, which has twice been chosen as a finalist for the Innovations in American Government Award by Harvard University and the Ford Foundation.

The authors claim, "With Brown and Hallinan running the show, it won’t be long before even the official crime rates start to creep up again." This statement is puzzling, since statistics show that under the guidance of Brown, Hallinan, and Police Chief Fred Lau, San Francisco’s crime rate has dropped in most categories, including robbery, aggravated assault, auto boosting, other larceny, and auto theft. Other than a journalistic bias that undermines the credibility of the entire article, it is curious as to why the authors would extrapolate a rise in crime rate from these facts.

Treasure Island is yet another example of the article’s over-abundance of hyperbole and exaggeration. The authors write of Treasure Island, "Brown has used it as a private preserve, hosting lavish parties and offering development contracts to cronies." To date, there have been no private parties sponsored by Mayor Brown. In addition, contracts with the city and county of San Francisco—of which Treasure Island is not yet a part—are reviewed and awarded only with the approval of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority. Any contracts over $10 million or exceeding ten years must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Real-estate leases are awarded on a competitive basis in an open public process. More than 150,000 people have visited Treasure Island in the last six to eight months, so it is hardly a private playground for the administration.

Another inaccuracy pertains to the quality of life within the neighborhoods of San Francisco. Haight Street is described as a place where "wild-eyed street people harass pedestrians on every corner," whereas in reality (something the article clearly has difficulty portraying), real-estate values and rents on Haight Street have risen. Both residential and commercial vacancies are in the single digits, symbolizing San Francisco’s appeal as a place where people choose to work and live. The 720,000 residents and 130,000 daily tourists would not come to San Francisco if it were the crime-ridden, imperialistic, and downtrodden place the article describes.

To the authors’ credit, one single paragraph correctly portrays Mayor Brown’s ability to run San Francisco. Unemployment is at a staggeringly low 3.5 percent, compared with the 6 percent statewide rate. Last year, tourists spent $4 billion while visiting the city. San Francisco used its $130 million surplus to fund new programs for children, municipal transit, and to refinance its debt and improve its bond rating. Hotel and business tax revenues have risen.

Despite its robust economy, San Francisco is by no means void of its problems. However, while public discourse and informed criticism are part of the necessary self-reflection that is required to address issues like poverty and crime in urban centers such as San Francisco, City Journal’s article reflects only the tolerance of poor journalistic standards rather than participatory public journalism.

Kandace Bender
Press Secretary to Mayor Willie Brown
John Shanley
Public Information Officer, District Attorney’s Office, San Francisco

Brian C. Anderson responds:
Tellingly, Ms. Bender and Mr. Shanley don’t say a word about one of our key arguments: that Mayor Brown’s reversal of his predecessor Frank Jordan’s quality-of-life campaign, Operation Matrix, has dramatically worsened San Francisco’s homelessness problem. Matrix followed sociologist George Kelling’s now famous "broken windows" policing theory: that an unrepaired broken window sends the message that no one cares, egging on would-be criminals to act on their antisocial impulses; conversely, a window quickly repaired says that society does care, dissuading potential lawbreakers. In other words, so- called victimless crimes—such as urinating in public or sleeping on the sidewalk—aren’t victimless after all: in undermining civic order, they lead to more dangerous crimes. Matrix was successful in moving the homeless off the streets and into San Francisco’s innumerable shelters, and serious crime subsequently plummeted, as the broken-windows theory would predict. The public felt safer, and tourism boomed. Matrix was that rare creature, a public-policy success.

Bender and Shanley say nothing about this because Mayor Brown’s old-paradigm approach to the homeless—treating vagrants as victims of a cruel economic system—has been an unmitigated disaster. To his credit, the mayor has recently backed away from his earlier approach, launching a quality-of-life campaign strikingly similar to Matrix. But the damage has been done: a conservative estimate puts the number of homeless in San Francisco at 16,000—at least double what it was under Jordan’s watch. Whether Brown’s change of heart is real or not, however, remains to be seen.

Bender and Shanley’s specific charges are an odd mixture of ad hominem invective and outright disingenuousness. In writing the article, my co-author and I drew on hours of interviews and a wide reading of the Bay Area press. Brown’s defenders offer not a single quotation taken out of context or inaccurate statistic, though they claim an abundance of them. As for not contacting a single person at City Hall for a response—it’s a blatantly false accusation. Twice I called City Hall to set up an interview with Mayor Brown, explaining that City Journal planned an article on his administration. I wasn’t given the courtesy of a return call.

Let me treat in order Bender and Shanley’s other arguments. Brown’s chosen defenders have made an exceedingly weak case for their boss:

1. Bender and Shanley don’t deny that murder increased a frightening 43 percent for the first six months of 1998 (they say nothing of rape, which increased 21 percent over the same period), as City Journal noted. Instead, they attack us for denying "the context," which they think lessens the severity of that alarming statistic. But as readers of the original article will quickly see, we do supply historical context, and point out that violent crime had been dropping in San Francisco, even after Mayor Brown took office—largely as a result, we hypothesize, both of California’s statewide efforts at fighting crime and the lingering effects of Operation Matrix. Our argument, rather, was prospective: San Francisco is increasingly becoming an unsafe place as a result of Mayor Brown and District Attorney Hallinan’s lax attitude toward crime—rooted in the discredited sixties-bred notion that "society" is to blame for criminality—and their related refusal to embrace fully the quality-of-life policing that has made New York City, and many other urban centers across the country, much safer. The lamentable increase in murder and rape—and drug dealing, which Bender and Shanley also ignore—is a sign that the Brown administration’s bad policies are beginning to have serious real-world consequences.

2. Our article says Hallinan wants to decriminalize prostitution. To this, Bender and Shanley offer a bizarre non sequitur: they complain that City Journal doesn’t mention Hallinan’s "fervent" support of the First Offender of Prostitution Program—which decriminalizes prostitution! O.K., I’ve mentioned it now. That the Ford Foundation and Harvard University have celebrated the program comes as no surprise: both are deeply mired in the old-paradigm urban thinking that almost destroyed the American city over the past three decades. (For more on the Ford Foundation, see Heather Mac Donald’s trenchant article "The Billions of Dollars That Made Things Worse," Autumn 1996.)

3. Bender and Shanley are startlingly disingenuous on Treasure Island, a piece of property formerly run by the Department of Defense in San Francisco Bay that offers a magnificent view of the city. The Bay Area press calls it "Willigan’s Island" and "Willieworld" for a reason: Brown has rented it out repeatedly to various San Francisco bigwigs, generating much public resentment and even a citywide ballot initiative, passed in June, that sought—unsuccessfully, thus far—to wrest control of the island from Brown. Are Bender and Shanley actually claiming these weren’t private parties? Why the big fuss over them, then? Until the fall of 1998, Brown needlessly kept the public away from the island; only after public pressure mounted has he begun to relent, and tens of thousands of people have been allowed to visit the island over the last few months. The Treasure Island Authority is appointed by Brown and works out of his office, so to claim its independence from Brown, as Bender and Shanley do, rings hollow, to say the least. The public was outraged again when, late in 1998, the authority recommended a key development project go to a team with close ties to Brown, even though, critics charge, the agreement would have brought in far less money than other proposals. The authority was forced to reconsider its decision.

4. If Haight Street is such a wonderful place these days, why was it a principal target for the mayor’s recent Matrix-style crackdown on disorder? Haight Street has made national news for its newly uncivil and even dangerous atmosphere. Just ask a few merchants on the street, who have had to put up with the chaos. Even hardened civil libertarians have had it.

5. As we said, San Francisco does have a robust economy, but Bender and Shanley don’t address our argument that it is, at least in part, an illusion: San Francisco is becoming a city of reverse commuters, with people working in hi-tech Silicon Valley south of the city—where the average salary is $75,000—and returning home to enjoy the city’s chic cafés and exciting nightlife. Will these "cyber-yuppies" stay put as San Francisco’s quality of life plummets, or will the beautiful communities north and south of the city increasingly lure them? Time will tell.

Bender and Shanley, perhaps wisely, remain silent about other economic developments we canvass, including recent mergers affecting San Francisco’s financial sector, which will cost the city thousands of jobs as firms seek more affordable business environments, and the growing dissatisfaction of San Francisco’s hot multimedia companies, a third of which are thinking about leaving town because of astronomical rents.

San Francisco, Bender and Shanley correctly, if ungrammatically, observe, "is by no means void of its problems." But under Willie Brown, those problems—especially regarding the city’s quality of life—are getting worse, and they are getting worse because of bad public policies. I’m not sure what "participatory" public journalism means—if anything—but if City Journal has helped open a few eyes to the true nature of San Francisco’s difficulties, that seems to me the very definition of public journalism.


What’s a Poor Boy to Do?

To the editor:
Janet Daley ("Progressive Ed’s War on Boys," Winter 1999) is decidedly selective in commenting on Britain’s educational situation. Our girls now surpass our boys in all subjects in national examinations at 16, and at 18 they are only marginally less successful in physics. This is an extraordinary situation, which owes much to positive efforts by authorities. The lesson is doubtless applicable to the U.S., where, for example, in the top 10 percent of science grades, boys outnumber girls by five to one.

Daley implies that education in Britain is now so boring that boys are switched off, poor things. The tortoise-like girls, without a scrap of imagination, simply plod on and do better than the truly brilliant boys, the hares. Thus, she argues, girls are not really clever like boys. One would think they were scrubbing floors rather than soaring high in mathematics.

But girls are not doing better because boys are doing worse. In Britain, the standard of education in the nineties has risen for all, a trend that is continuing with government curriculum obligations in early literacy and numeracy.

Daley is also wrong in some of her data. The selective grammar schools only ever did well for the middle-income groups. The poor were far less likely to be selected because entry at 11+ was by achievement, and their poverty had a detrimental effect. The upper classes continued at private schools as they had always done. Nor has the proportion of working-class university students fallen. Although it is much the same at her "traditional universities"—presumably, Oxford and Cambridge—as it has always been, it is vastly increased at all other universities, and is going up sharply.

Like many detractors, Daley fails to reach conclusions or make suggestions. Nor does she mention that in the world of work, the men reign. Women still have some way to go.

Joan Freeman
Middlesex University
London, England

Janet Daley responds:
Joan Freeman’s letter about my article is positively bizarre. Nowhere in my piece did I state that "education in Britain is now so boring that boys are switched off [but that] girls, without a scrap of imagination, simply plod on and do better than the truly brilliant boys." This is so far from what I actually wrote that it can only be attributed to paranoid feminist fantasy. Did she read my article? How on earth could she have concluded that my argument amounted to the assertion that "girls are not really clever like boys"? As an ex- philosophy don myself, and the mother of two extremely clever daughters, I cannot imagine uttering such a view, let alone committing it to print.

Furthermore, her facts are wrong. The standard of state-school education "for all" has not risen in the nineties. By international testing standards, Britain has fallen below the level of almost every developed country—except the United States, I’m sorry to say. The selective grammar schools, which accepted every pupil who passed an examination at the age of 11 (known as the 11+), rescued huge numbers of working- class children from the limitations of their backgrounds. The proportion of working-class children who get into university—not just Oxford and Cambridge, but all the real universities, as opposed to the new so-called universities, which, by U.S. standards, are no more than junior colleges—was higher under the old selective system than under the non-selective comprehensives that replaced it. Ms. Freeman’s naïve brand of political ax-grinding has done more to damage British education than any number of 11+ exams.

A Prescription to Reduce Crime

To the editor:
I would like to offer a "response from a methadone patient" to Theodore Dalrymple’s "Addicted to Addicts" (Winter 1999).

Dalrymple’s opinion typifies the thought of many misinformed, well-intentioned people who regard methadone treatment as mere drug substitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dalrymple completely ignores the difference between addiction and dependency, which is the crux of the issue. Methadone will continue to be unfairly stigmatized and treated as a scapegoat until this difference is widely understood.

Heroin produces euphoria, and the user’s tolerance skyrockets—which is not the case with methadone. Heroin may seriously impair health; methadone does not. Heroin users lie, steal, beg, and scam for drugs; methadone patients do not. Heroin users lose motivation; methadone patients earn degrees, build businesses, raise families, and succeed in many walks of life. Heroin users take from society; methadone patients give back to society—and most even pay for their treatment.

Dalrymple brushes off and demeans the drug’s true accomplishments, stating: "Considerable evidence exists that, in many cases, the . . . drug reduces heroin addicts’ lawbreaking; and if they don’t become upstanding pillars of the community, at least they cease being quite so destructive of themselves and others. This is a triumph of a kind."

Now that I have stopped gagging, let me explain: if your personal definition of "pillar of the community" includes people who lead quiet, law-abiding lives—working, paying taxes, raising families, and attending meetings to help each other stay clean—then many methadone patients qualify. These quiet lives are the true pillars—not self-appointed arbiters of morality like Dalrymple who get high on attacking, moralizing, and demonizing that which he does not understand.

Of course, there are cases of abuse. Historically, methadone has been a last resort for the "hardest of the hard-core" addicts for whom all else has failed. Some methadone patients continue to use other drugs, and some engage in other addictive behaviors (mostly petty crime) to pay for them. In time, however, most of these severe addicts begin to come round, and take positive steps toward recovery.

Methadone has been studied in clinical settings for over 30 years. A mountain of hard statistical findings bears out my claims. The American Medical Association has defined addiction as a disease; some people refuse to accept that definition. If folks want to disagree with medical science—fine, they are entitled to their opinion. However, when respected publications present ignorance as credible opinion or fact, I take offense. I work hard to pay for my methadone treatment. The drug impairs neither my health nor my ability to work or study. Where is the harm done?

Dalrymple concludes his diatribe by insulting the therapeutic community, implying they condone methadone out of personal interest. Quite the contrary: take away the methadone, and there will be more therapeutic jobs than ever—not to mention the many new openings for police officers, prison guards, and morticians.

R. Vlahos
Arlington, VA

To the editor:
If not methadone, what was Theodore Dalrymple ingesting when he wrote his misanthropic article "Addicted to Addicts"? Its cynical tone treated both physicians and addicts in a shabby and facile manner. He writes that policy makers are more interested in the damage to society by drug addiction than the "fate of individual addicts." Who causes the damage to society? Collectively, the individual addicts do, and it would seem logical to address the problem from the bottom up. His argument that methadone just creates a different addiction ignores his own point that methadone maintenance prevents crime. Is the city’s methadone program more expensive to society than the cost of crime and incarceration? If you have those figures, Mr. Dalrymple, please show us.

Dalrymple also writes that Mayor Giuliani does not want to treat addicts as if they were ill, because they chose addiction. This is resurrecting Dark Age conventional wisdom, and he might check with the AMA. I am a recovering addict—my drug of choice was alcohol—and I can assure you I did not choose to be an addict, nor have I met anyone who did. I agree that many addicts use an easy "I’m sick and can’t help myself" excuse. But they can help themselves if given some chance by society. In many cases, methadone offers this less-than-perfect chance and prevents crime and prison time.

The idea that physicians are "Addicted to Addicts" is facetious. Most doctors follow the simple, bespoken rule to "do no harm." It’s a pity that that simple axiom is not followed by political crowd-pleasers and ill- informed journalists who want to be tough-minded and cute at the same time.

Mark Blackman
New York, NY

Theodore Dalrymple responds:
Neither Mr. Blackman nor Mr. Vlahos answers my point that it is perfectly possible for methadone both to reduce the level of offending in individual addicts and to increase the overall amount of drug-related crime in society. Britain is now awash with methadone, but there is as yet no sign that drug-related crime is on the wane.

Both Mr. Blackman and Mr. Vlahos use the argument from authority to prove that addiction is an illness like pneumonia: the American Medical Association says so. But professional associations are not immune from the vagaries of political fashion. Not long ago, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality to be a disease, but—after much political lobbying—it does so no longer. Are we not to think for ourselves, but to accept what professional associations decree, just as fellow travelers once accepted contradictory doctrinal fiats from Moscow?

Many addicts known to me recognize the dependence of some members of the "therapeutic community"— not quite as monolithic as the term implies—upon a continuing supply of people who take methadone for prolonged periods.

A Figure of Speech

To the editor:

I am honored to be a focal point of Brian C. Anderson’s criticism of the New York State Legislature ("How 211 Nobodies Strangle New York," Winter 1999).

I hope your readers understand that my reference to "throwing bombs" is just a figure of speech.

Mr. Anderson incorrectly refers to me as "seeking to decriminalize pot." Marijuana was decriminalized in New York State 22 years ago. I seek to authorize physician-supervised and state-monitored use of marijuana by people with serious medical conditions. Thousands of New Yorkers suffer from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS whose lives could be made longer and more tolerable by medical marijuana. The law allows medical use of controlled substances that have a high potential for abuse, addiction, and harm. The exclusion of marijuana is an example of political correctness outweighing legitimate medical judgment.

About the caricature of me in the article: I’ve never worn bell-bottoms, a headband, or anything faintly resembling the psychedelic jacket that artist Arnold Roth dressed me in. My style has been pretty boring all my life. However, my concern is not sartorial but political. The cartoon implies a set of political and social views that have never been mine. The attitudes of self-indulgence, "dropping out," disrespect for the political process, and lack of tolerance for people you disagree with —which many readers may associate with people who dressed that way —have always been anathema to me. Among the things that always troubled me about those attitudes is that they easily transform into right-wing politics.

Since about the age of 12, I have been a firm believer in active involvement in the politics of our representative democracy, constitutional values including mutual respect and civil liberties, and using governance to advance social justice.

Richard Gottfried
New York State Assembly

Brian C. Anderson responds:

I never meant to suggest that Assemblyman Gottfried wasn’t an effective and principled legislator. His effectiveness is precisely the problem.

For three decades, he has promoted policies that have made New York —both state and city —a basket case in every imaginable way: taxes bloated to business-killing levels; under-performing and expensive schools and the absence of real education reform; criminal-friendly laws that undermine public safety—one could go on and on. Though Arnold Roth’s caricature of the assemblyman—worthy of Daumier—might not have captured his sartorial style, it certainly did capture the spirit of his musty ideas. And while Gottfried’s bombs may be made of words, they’ve done quite a bit of damage.