Virtue signaling: the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to rebuke those who do not.
On Dec. 15, 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors debated what they considered a pressing issue. Was it about creative solutions to house the 8,000-plus people living on the streets? Or concern for the opioid crisis, which by mid-December had caused the deaths of more than 600 people, dwarfing the 173 deaths from Covid-19? Or, speaking of the pandemic, was it a robust exchange on how they could help the many small businesses struggling to stay afloat in the face of unprecedented financial hardship? No, it was none of those things. Instead, the board voted 10–1 in favor of a resolution to remove Mark Zuckerberg’s name from San Francisco General Hospital. Why? Because the company he founded, Facebook, is an unquestionable source of misinformation and also exploits the data and privacy of its users.
In 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, gave $75 million to the city’s sole public hospital, where Chan worked at the time as a pediatrician. Chief executive of the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, Dr. Susan Ehrlich, said the donation allowed the hospital to acquire state-of-the-art technology, and the naming reflects their appreciation. Fortunately for Dr. Ehrlich, the board’s resolution is nonbinding, meaning it doesn’t have the force of law, nor does it require the hospital to do anything.
In the 10-1 vote, the lone nay came from board president Norman Yee — yes, even the almost always sensible Catherine Stefani voted in favor. But Yee wasn’t doing it out of appreciation for the $75 million, he just “couldn’t support the condemnation without more of a policy discussion.” He did say he would support removing Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital while leaving Chan’s name. That makes zero sense, of course, because unless the salaries of pediatricians have gone through the roof, Chan’s money also comes from Facebook. Ironically, Yee was among several supervisors behind the 2015 resolution that approved the gift and name change.
I would have expected a resolution making it Zuckerberg-Chan day after the hospital was the first in the city to administer coronavirus vaccines, not grandstanding about an agreement that, as co-sponsor Supervisor Gordon Mar pointed out, the board has no authority to revoke. It’s not as though the city plans to give back the money, either. I’m no Facebook fan, but the whole thing seems as hypocritical as it is absurd. Then again, hypocrisy and absurdity often define the Board of Supervisors.
‘MARINA TIMES’: ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
At the board’s Dec. 1 meeting, Supervisors Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen — both lawyers — developed a case of amnesia about the First Amendment. Since 2012, the Marina Times has participated in a program worth about $5,000 a year in which the city places public notices in neighborhood newspapers. Bonus points are given for women ownership (check) and being local (check). Every year — including last year, when Preston and Ronen were also on the board — the contract has been rubber stamped. But in 2020, after I criticized Preston for his incompetent handling of the homeless in the Haight, and Ronen for penning legislation to stop owner buyouts of tenants despite having bought a building with owner buyouts of tenants, they decided to single out the Marina Times to prevent us from receiving “a dime of public money,” as Preston put it. Supervisor Shamann Walton chimed in, too, saying it “wasn’t a First Amendment issue” and the city shouldn’t fund a publication that prints “rumors.” I assume he’s talking about my July 2020 column about the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Community Benefits program — a pay-to-play scheme where contractors “choose” to donate to nonprofits in exchange for lucrative jobs with the agency. It just so happens, before he was elected supervisor, Walton was executive director of one of the most prolific beneficiaries of those benefits, Young Community Developers.
Only four supervisors — Catherine Stefani, Aaron Peskin, Asha Safai, and Rafael Mandelman — rejected Preston’s trashing of the First Amendment. Progressives are fine, of course, with blogs like Mission Local and 48 Hills that write glowingly about them, and moderates have no problem with the San Francisco Chronicle ignoring for decades the widespread corruption brought to light in this column and now ensnaring the city’s moderate-appointed officials in federal indictments — but most were fine with defunding the one newspaper that criticizes them both.
VIRTUE SIGNALING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
It would have been a lot more painful listening to the three supervisors judge my character if they weren’t so bad at it. Take for example, the case of Fernando Madrigal. On April 9, 2020, Ronen and Walton attended a rally on the steps of City Hall to support legislation, co-signed by Preston, to close Juvenile Hall. Walton and Ronen stood beside 21-year-old Madrigal as he spoke about spending time at juvie for robbery when he was 13. Lauding him as a “youth activist,” they presented Madrigal as their poster boy for why Juvenile Hall should be permanently shuttered.
At a July 30, 2019 rally against gun violence, Madrigal once again joined Walton on the steps of City Hall, this time alongside Sha’ray Johnson, mother of 15-year-old Day’von Hann, who was tragically gunned down at 24thand Capp Streets on July 8. Just two weeks after that rally, federal authorities arrested Madrigal as Day’von’s killer. Madrigal, a member of the Mission Norteños, mistook Hann as a rival gang member. Then, on Dec. 15, the feds indicted Madrigal in connection with a second killing after he allegedly lured the victim near Candlestick Park on July 12, 2018, claiming he wanted to buy marijuana. Missing for more than a year, tree trimmers found the victim’s bones in a wooded area of Oakland. The skull was recovered a month later. In the superseding indictment, Madrigal is charged with racketeering conspiracy and two counts of use of a firearm causing death.
Had Walton and Ronen done a little background work, they may have found Madrigal’s Instagram account with images of a black short-barreled rifle capable of firing the rounds used in the Hann shooting, and a video allegedly depicting Madrigal loading a magazine with the same ammunition on July 6, 2019 — just two days before Hann was killed.
Walton and Ronen celebrated Madrigal as a “youth activist,” but in reality, he was a gang member who the Feds say committed two murders — one in each of their districts. Unlike the hours spent deriding Mark Zuckerberg and the Marina Times, however, the supervisors have been silent on Madrigal. Perhaps they’re too busy anticipating their next virtue signaling opportunity while solving none of San Francisco’s problems.
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