a free and independent press

Political Climate with Mark Simon: A free, independent press

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

It is easy to think we live in cynical times.

Our national political divisions are acutely drawn and described. Sometimes it seems as though suspicion is the order of the day. Any decision, move or statement seems to be greeted by the assertion that there is a hidden agenda of self-interest or in service to a special interest.

Nothing is what it seems to be.

Throughout the Peninsula, we struggle with seemingly intractable concerns such as a housing crisis, traffic and congestion and the changes being forced upon us by a booming economy.

In the face of these difficult issues, we proceed toward a November election that may be a critical turning point in our region, and it seems we are not immune to this sometimes-toxic atmosphere.

The antidote is openness. That’s why the campaign finance disclosure requirements are such an essential part of our elections.

That’s why a free and independent press remains a critical element of our public discourse – a press that proceeds without fear or favor and that does its best to present unbiased facts and to treat everyone fairly and with integrity. And that opinions within a column such as this one are clearly stated and arrived at honestly.

Much of my professional life has been devoted to such principles. In that spirit, as a still relatively new online columnist for Climate and as the political campaigns roll full steam ahead, it is wholly appropriate to introduce myself and my own expectations for how I will live up to the principles of fairness and integrity.

I began my local news career at the Redwood City Tribune in 1976, where I first was a courthouse and police reporter, then a political reporter. Incidentally, my desk mate was Janet McGovern, now the editor of Climate Magazine and whose own journalistic integrity and love for this community are unimpeachable.

The Tribune was acquired by the Tribune Company of Chicago, merged with its sister paper, the Palo Alto Times and became the short-lived Peninsula Times Tribune. I continued there are a political writer and, later, a daily columnist.

When that paper went out of business, I joined the San Francisco Chronicle as a daily columnist, a job I held for more than a decade before returning to political reporting.

Throughout my journalism career, I have covered six national political conventions, three presidential campaigns, six races for governor and U.S. senator and countless local races for political office.

In 2004, for a variety of reasons, I left the news business – something I thought I’d never do – to join the executive staff of the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages SamTrans, Caltrain and the county Transportation Authority.

I assumed a series of jobs — Special Assistant to the CEO, Executive Officer for Public Affairs and, under former Redwood City Mayor Jim Hartnett, a friend of many years, Senior Advisor/Strategic Initiatives and ultimately Chief of Staff. Among the projects I worked on during these latter stages was the effort to put a sales tax measure on the ballot.

I retired from the transit district in December and I was offered a contract to write an online and print column for Climate.

The offer was from Adam Alberti, a senior executive at the public relations and crisis management firm Singer Associates. I have been friends with Sam Singer since my days as a political writer. Both Sam and Adam were employed by the transit district at my direction on occasions when we needed advice on difficult public relations and political issues.

Climate is owned by SF Bay Media and Adam is the publisher. Adam has extensive political and public affairs experience in San Mateo County, representing developers, major employers and a long list of business interests. He revived Climate so that attention would be paid to the issues of growth, development and a thriving economy, and the consequences of such things.

Much has been said in tweets and online postings about the interests behind Climate. If you want to know about the clients Singer Associates has served over many years, you can look at their website. They’re all right there, fully disclosed. As to who is funding Climate, Adam says that there are several investors and they prefer not to be disclosed.

And here’s what I say: It makes no difference to me. Throughout my career in the news business, publishers always have had financial interests, newspapers have had investors and all news organizations have advertisers.

They didn’t influence what I wrote or how I wrote about them, and they won’t now. Adam has never prevailed on me to slant a story or to favor one candidate over another, and he has made a commitment to me that he won’t.

If any of the interests Singer Associates represents comes before a Peninsula city for any reason, they will get the same coverage as every other organization. They won’t get special treatment – not here, and, if I can presume to speak for Janet McGovern, not in the print magazine.

I have lived on the Peninsula since 1960 and in Redwood City since 1980. I raised my children here, coached Little League and AYSO, swam on the masters’ team at Peninsula Covenant Community Center and taught my boys to drive in the parking lot of Canada College.

A life lived in this wonderful, beautiful Peninsula means I have associations, friendships and affections. This is particularly true in Redwood City, where seven candidates are running for the City Council.

I coached Rick Hunter’s son, Tommy, in Little League. My youngest son went to North Star Academy with Jason Galisatus, so I’ve known him since he was in the fourth grade and his parents since before he was born. I serve on the board of the Sequoia Awards scholarship foundation with Diane Howard and have known her for more than two decades. Ernie Schmidt and I belong to the same church and also serve together at Sequoia Awards.

I’m just getting to know Giselle Hale, Diana Reddy and Christina Umhofer and, believe it or not, I like them all. I admire anyone who is willing to run for office, something I could never do.

I don’t apologize for my friendships, but those same friends can tell you that I take my responsibilities seriously and that I will work hard to report accurately and I will not shade the truth for them.

I believe in the electoral process and the role of an unbiased press. I will cover this campaign fairly and without a desire – overt or secret – to favor one candidate over another. I’m not in someone’s camp. I don’t have a desire to tilt the election one way or the other.

That’s what you should expect. That’s what I expect of myself.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.