How Cities Fight Corruption:

Notes for an article in progress

1. As San Francisco’s current election fraud scandal shows, cities, like individuals, can go dreadfully astray.

2. Local corruption is particularly insidious because it seems “too insignificant to worry about,” yet, in fact, most tax money (federal, state, and local) is deployed locally by the occupants of city hall. In San Francisco’s case, $6.1 billion in public funds pass through their less-than-trustworthy hands.

3. Why don’t cities fall apart? Some do. Notable cases.

4. Some cities, the ones that are serious about long-term prosperity, fight back:

  • Chicago started their commission against organized crime in 1919. It is still in operation.
  • Hong Kong had one of the finest anti-corruption efforts in the world. It was established in 1974 and was recently handed over to the government of China, widely regarded as one of the most corrupt nations on earth. Fortunately, other countries in Africa, South America, and the South Pacific have learned from Hong Kong’s excellent example so the “know-how” they painstakingly developed will not be entirely lost. (For other references: go to and search (“Hong Kong”+”corruption”+”campaign”)

    5. Sadly, San Francisco was the pioneer in these efforts, starting way back in 1906. After succeeding in an investigation that resulted in the arrest of the Mayor, all 18 members of the Board of Supervisors, the Chief of Police, and the reigning political boss of the time, the founding group “retired.” No doubt contributing to the members’ decision to “retire” was the shooting of the lead prosecutor in court; the kidnapping of the publisher of “The Call,” formerly one of San Francico’s major dailies; and the dynamiting of a key witness’ home.

    6. The San Francisco effort was unique in that it expanded its investigation to include malfeasance on the part of several corporations, namely PG&E, Pacific Telephone, a privately owned public transit company, and a major real estate developer.

    7. Oddly, in this 90th anniversary year of one of the most extraordinary stories of official corruption in US history, the two local newspapers, which coincidentally backed then-Mayor Schmitz to the bitter end, have been entirely silent on this chapter in San Francisco history. Interestingly, one of the papers, The Examiner, is still owned by the same family that owned it in 1907.

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