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San Francisco Scandal a ‘Third-Rate Soap Opera’

March 10, 1993

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ San Francisco politics have been wild and woolly since the Gold Rush days. But the shenanigans beneath the City Hall dome since Frank Jordan became mayor 17 months ago have left even veteran pundits agog.

A political outsider elected on a promise to be a ″citizen-mayor,″ Jordan has been dealt one blow after another since he beat Mayor Art Agnos in 1991.

He called the latest - in which the Police Department’s former spokeswoman and her boyfriend, a city supervisor, accused the police chief of sexual harassment - a ″third-rate soap opera.″

The scandal that has been the talk of the town for nearly a month has wasted valuable time and effort that should have been spent on the city’s mounting financial problems, Jordan said. Others agree.

″People are angry. They’re as angry as I’ve ever seen them,″ said Kevin Shelley, a member of the city’s governing body, the Board of Supervisors. ″They feel business is not being taken care of.″

The scandal came to light Feb. 11 when a young police officer named Joanne Welsh, fearing she was about to be dumped as department spokeswoman, accused Police Chief Tony Ribera of sexually harassing her in 1989, when she worked for him in a precinct station.

As the story unfolded, Ribera and Welsh’s boyfriend, Supervisor William Maher, once fast friends, wound up in opposite corners as Maher defended Welsh and Ribera insisted he was innocent. Jordan, meanwhile, left town on a two- week Asian trade junket.

Maher went to Ribera’s office the day before Welsh leveled the harassment allegations to complain about the chief’s treatment of Welsh. After a heated argument, Ribera threatened to arrest Maher for meddling in department business, then threw him out.

After Welsh came forward with her charges, Ribera said only he made her department spokeswoman at Maher’s insistence. Maher, who has considered running for mayor, quickly apologized and distanced himself from Welsh.

Welsh, 31, went on to fail two polygraph tests connected to the charges, and the Police Commission found insufficient evidence of harassment. Welsh was reassigned to another police station and said she plans to request disability leave because of the stress caused by the whole affair.

Ribera still faces an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where Welsh’s complaint is pending.

Although some say the news media made too much of the case, it is only the latest of several problems involving Jordan’s staff.

Since he took office, a dozen high-level city employees have left. His first press secretary was fired and his second quit, as did his chief of staff and budget director.

But Jordan, a former police chief, has had his biggest problems filling that job. After he took office, he pushed out holdover Chief William Casey to hire an old political rival, former sheriff and supervisor Richard Hongisto.

Hongisto was ousted a few months later after he ordered officers to pull from newsracks thousands of copies of a newspaper that lampooned him on its front page. He was replaced by Ribera.

″When he campaigned for mayor he said he was no politician, and he’s not,″ said Marc Sandalow, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who has covered Jordan since his campaign for mayor.

″The advantage is that his instincts are to help San Francisco and not to advance his own career. The disadvantage is that he seems powerless to prevent the kind of chaos that’s been going on.″

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