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Kayo v. Willie (The Main Event)

In November 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush were running for President, and so was Ralph Nader.  On the Saturday before the election Ross Mirkarimi, Nader's California campaign manager, called me at home to ask if I would bodyguard Laura Nader, Ralph's sister, a distinguished UC Berkeley anthropologist, who was going to speak at an event that afternoon in Union Square.  (At one point in my brilliant career I provided security at the Irish Cultural Center bingo game.)

"Why would she need protection?" I asked. Ross said that the Democrats had scheduled a rally to honor Gore as a champion of women's rights, and a contingent of Greens was going to stage a counter-rally for Nader, featuring Laura. "Make sure she doesn't get heckled or harassed," was my assignment.

It was a chilly, gray afternoon and the two rallies were held without incident. Laura reminded her crowd that the Clinton-Gore Administration had done "little to defend reproductive rights... It took seven and a half years to get RU486...Feminists should support progressive Democrats in Congress, rather than attacking Nader." 

I was thinking about leaving when Willie Brown appeared and began berating Laura Nader to her face. In her face, actually, as the small, dapper mayor pressed to within a few inches of the graying, slightly taller professor. "If the Democrats lose it will be Ralph Nader's fault," was his theme, and he was furious. 

Laura Nader & Willie Brown

I made a move to intervene but Ralph's sister didn't want any help. She let the tirade wind down, then said in reference to her brother, "If the Democrats were really democrats, they would have let him debate." (The pundits had decreed that Al Gore lost the debate because he showed contempt for Bush's stupidity by audibly sighing at one point. This supposedly proved that Gore was an elitist, whereas Bush was a regular guy. Nobody pointed out that if Nader had been allowed to debate, he would have been the intellectual on the left, Bush the doofus on the right, and Gore the solid occupant of the center. The Democrats probably would have prevailed.)

Why did Willie Brown, who had endorsed Terence Hallinan when he first ran for district attorney in 1995, want to see him done in by the start of his send term? I put the question to attorney David Millstein, the mutual friend who had asked Willie to endorse Terence back in '95 and would serve for 13 months as Chief Assistant DA. Today Millstein and Willie Brown are both back in private practice, with offices in the same building (100 The Embarcadero). 

Millstein wondered if I was exaggerating the rift. The two men went back a long ways. Brown had come from Texas, attended SF State and Hastings Law School, and was soon a fixture at the Hall of Justice, defending pimps and prostitutes. (In his very readable SF Chronicle column last Sunday, Brown referred to his days as a "street lawyer.") In 1962, when Brown first ran for the Assembly, "Kayo" Hallinan led a squadron of DuBois club members to ring doorbells for him. In '64 the DuBois club contingent was bigger and Brown won. In '66, when the state bar association denied Terence a license because of his lengthy arrest record, Assemblyman Brown was among those who wrote letters attesting to his rectitude. 

That was another century. In 2000 Brown was the mayor, Hallinan the DA, and social breakdown was becoming more visible by the week on the streets of San Francisco. Brown's line to the media —identical to the Chronicle's— was that Hallinan could solve the city's problems by being less lenient. In July 2000 Mayor Brown strongly supported and Terence opposed an ordinance introduced by Supervisor Amos Brown, "establishing that any vehicle used to facilitate in the solicitation of acts of prostitution, or the acquisition or attempted acquisition of a controlled substance except marijuana is a nuisance and subject to seizure and forfeiture." It was subsequently reworded to remove the marijuana exception. 

At a hearing journalist Ellen Komp was among the pot partisans objecting to car forfeiture on civil liberties grounds. I summarized her observations in a note to Terence:  "Big push by the police, many anti-Hallinan comments from residents of crime-ridden areas. Greg Suhr and Kevin Cashman leading the push. Sue Bearman [a progressive supervisor] said she hoped you'd be at the next meeting, which may be Monday 9/25. Ellen was struck by how much manpower the police devote to decoy operations, which means fewer cops walking the beat."  

A few days before the Supes voted on creating car-forfeiture, the Examiner reported that Capt. Kevin Cashman, head of SFPD's vice squad, said such a law would be "an effective deterrent... Now pimps and prostitutes, johns and narcotics dealers and users commute to San Francisco to ply their trade rather than lose their vehicles in Oakland." (Oakland's vice squad had seized and auctioned off 288 vehicles thanks to that city's car forfeiture law.)

Kayo summoned me to his office to draft a response. "Hookers will still operate out of San Francisco because the conventions are here," he explained, not for the first time. "The hotels, the clubs, the concerts, the theaters, the Metreon, all the things that draw people to the city from all over the Bay Area... There could be unintended consequences. Johns might start parking their cars and proceeding on foot, which could lead to more stick-ups, people getting rolled..." He told me not to write that, he was just thinking out loud. I tried out a line: "Sometimes a reform that sounds good on paper will create unanticipated adverse side effects." Kayo said, "Don't even say it looks good on paper."  

He was confident that the supervisors would reject the bill —which they did.  Even the Chronicle had come to see its serious flaws. The editors wrote, "Brown should be commended for pitching battle against street crimes that are partly responsible for the deteriorating quality of city life. Street-level drug dealing and prostitution not only destroy the character of neighborhoods, they often foster more insidious crimes such as rape and drive-by shootings in which innocent victims become inadvertent targets. But the proposed ordinance goes too far to combat these evils by jettisoning our judicial system and declaring a form of martial law... For those convicted, the punishment is disproportional to the crime. Surrendering a $25,000 car for an offense that carries a $100 fine is unfair. This ordinance punishes on suspicion alone, and it shifts the burden of proof so that citizens must show why their cars should not be held hostage..."

After the car-forfeiture ordinance was voted down, Willie Brown never stopped telling the media that Hallinan's refusal to support it proved his unwillingness to crack down on vice. And Terence never forgave Amos Brown for dissing him at Supervisors' meetings and to the media. After the 911 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I mentioned to him that Amos Brown was taking heat for making a brave statement: "We've got to stop making people hate us." Detecting my admiration, Terence said, simply, "He's a Hallinan hater." 


  1. Mark Laszlo January 23, 2021

    How can this car forfeiture precedent be used to stop bandits with guns and badges from perpetrating the 4th amendment betrayal they use? The government has become a law-sanctioned kleptocracy, since the very rich bought laws to evade nearly all taxes, in effect, dumping most of the tax burden on those with less, by LEOs and judges preying on them.
    Civil asset forfeiture is a de facto violation of the 4th Amendment of the federal Bill of Rights, the 1st page of the USA’s constitution. Shifting property confiscation from criminal to civil law, does exactly what the 4th Amendment is written to protect us from, search and confiscation w/o a specifically ordered, case by case warrant, based on solid evidence of a crime. I hope during the Biden Administration, with democrat majorities, laws bought by the very rich
    with campaign donations (legalized bribes) to avoid taxation are pushed back.
    With the wealth disparity that reigns today, the USA is like a 3rd world kleptocracy, where the poor and middle class are preyed on by the govt to support it. Benjamin Franklin’s influence led us to be the most prosperous nation in the world by creating conditions for social mobility, by founding and fostering programs, lower classes could use to improve themselves.
    Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not dare help break unions or eviscerate social services, or cut back on the small business administration or public education, even as he fostered the military industrial complex he direly warned of about in his farewell speech.
    Graduated income taxes not ridden like Swiss cheese with gaping loopholes, necessarily limited the wealth of the rich so they would not become tyrannical oligarchs.
    President Ronald Reagan’s renaming of President Warren G. Harding’s “Horse and Sparrow” theory, likening capitalists to horses and sparrows to workers, (the more hay you feed to horses, the more horse shit sparrows get to eat) as the “trickle down” theory, has had plenty of years to prove it makes wealth rain upwards, hence the shriveling of the middle class and explosion of homelessness.
    Both oligarchic parties and the military industrial complex over them, have stolen the People’s prosperity, for a tiny minority of psychopaths. The rest of us must push back now, as we have gained a possible chance to reclaim “The Land of Opportunity”, with a step leftward, at the top, by long denied popular demand.

  2. Mark Laszlo January 23, 2021

    Point of fact, the Greens did not tip the balance for republicans in 2000. Greg Palast proved as with a smoking gun, a much larger difference in the popular vote than was found in the recount, was made by a republican cyberfraud that abused the Voting Rights Act in Florida.

  3. Fred Gardner January 26, 2021

    Nothing like an error in the first sentence. The Bush v. Gore election was held in November, 1999. “Kayo v. Willie” continues in next week’s AVA.

    • Fred Gardner January 29, 2021

      I was right the first time. Gore ran against Bush in 2000. Hallinan ran against Fazio in ’99. Maybe I shouldn’t have cut back on marijuana in response to COVID-19. (MJ is an immune suppressant, and now we want max immunity.)

      • Mark Laszlo January 30, 2021

        Thanks for all your Stories on “Kayo”, Fred: A rare example of the renaissance of the ’60s and ’70s succeeding politically, against all odds of our being crushed or bought.

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