Bridging divides with kindness, SLO Mayor Harmon style

August 20, 2020

Mayor Heidi Harmon

OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT

San Luis Obispo’s Mayor Heidi Harmon says SLO must be a “welcoming city,” one that values, supports, respects, nurtures, cares about people. One that is kind. One that is tolerant. She has specific people especially in mind: “people of color,” persons of unconventional sexuality, the undocumented immigrant.

It’s the sort of stuff any decent person would likely agree with. It’s also a standardized set of progressive talking points, though frankly a city like ours would expect caring for the underdog from its mayor, no matter who that mayor might be.

As election season moves along, Harmon has stepped up the kindness talk, expanding its locus beyond her usual social media haunts to the Tribune, and even to this publication. The Tribune piece, despite its verbose meandering “transformational” gobbledygook, is a remarkable extension of Harmon’s previous kindness program, now aimed generally at bridging divides among us, divides she sees as the root of our coming downfall.

“We can perpetuate the division that is leading to our collective demise,” she wrote, “or we can instead have the courage to be vulnerable enough to recognize and celebrate our interconnectedness and do the difficult and essential work of healing the divide.”

The base problem, Harmon declares, is “we have stopped listening to each other.” The fix: “It is only through listening that we can see our commonalities and our shared concerns. The lack of nuance in our current climate is dangerous for everyone. It stifles a process of robust civic dialogue across differences. . .”

To get there, she declares, we must stop hectoring each other and reach out. “Let’s call each other up instead of calling each other out.

“When we cause harm,” she adds, “let’s have the courage to be present and bare [sic] witness and choose to do better.”

“We can create a good life here in SLO,” concludes Harmon, “by letting go of the politics of division and instead embracing a politics of belonging.”

Thus writes our mayor.

* * *

“For crying out loud this country is in the middle of major crises and you’re writing to me about your frustration about golf. Honestly please don’t vote for me next time because I’d rather not be mayor than be a leader of somebody like you. Find something better to do.”

If you merely skimmed that quote, please read it again. Then let it sink in.

This is Mayor Harmon’s response to an email from an 86-year-old constituent inquiring some weeks ago why the city golf course, unlike many others nearby, remained closed.

This is the reality of Mayor Harmon’s governance, and it’s not what one would expect from her kindness preaching, is it? Nor is this a rare or exceptional example.

Here’s another: a constituent last year wrote to complain about Harmon seeking yet another pay raise while in office. According to New Times, “In response, Harmon told [the constituent] that her email was ‘off-base, ageist, and classist,’ and that her ‘lens is based in white supremacy.’”

The constituent told me she had not seen Harmon’s reply until it turned up in New Times, and doesn’t think she ever received it via email, suggesting New Times must have got it from Harmon herself,  who may or may not have ever sent it to the constituent. She bristled at the “white supremacy” comment. “That is the sickest statement she could have made,” she told me.

Calling each other up, instead of calling each other out, indeed!

So what’s going on here, with a mayor who talks kindness and practices meanness?

It would be easy to write this off as mere hypocrisy, but I think there’s a lot more driving both ends of Harmon’s mayoral behavior spectrum. And these matters cut to the core of how and why our city’s government has failed the cause of democracy.

The truth behind Harmon’s style of governing is it actually has little to do with kindness and compassion, with caring and empathy, and more to do with the exercise of power and dominance, “patriarchal” values she professes to scorn.

Harmon focuses her welcoming, caring and kind rationale for official actions into abusive governance to give preferred treatment to non-underdog factions, specifically her upwardly mobile white millennial political base and several special interests, like her bike buddies.

In her mind, it appears, these are downtrodden long-suffering minorities. And it’s sure handy, besides, that through social media she can turn them out to testify en masse at council meetings whenever she wants. Making affluent millennials the handmaidens of “change” in return for gifts to them from the city is a great symbiotic relationship for a politically-ambitious mayor. But it’s a transactional politics, not respect for democracy.

If you’re not among one of her favored factions, God help you if you live in SLO and need anything from the city, whether it be golf, or the ability to continue to live in your home without facing city actions making that next to impossible.

* * *

Harmon’s disdain for the city’s older home-owning residents is legendary. She resents them because they have something she envies. So making their lives miserable is ducky, especially if it means doing something her clique wants.

So when 74 percent of the Anholm district’s residents said they didn’t like the bike facility the city proposed imposing upon them, taking away half the parking-impacted neighborhood’s street parking, did she “call them up” and talk? No, she called them out and double-crossed them.

Faced with a roomful of upset residents, the city council adopted a milder bike plan that made bicycling safer while helping elderly and disabled residents stay in their homes. Residents thought the matter settled.

At the very next council meeting, however, the council reversed course, threw out what they’d adopted, and voted to proceed with the most neighborhood-abusive option, which is what Harmon’s bike clique demanded. Although this non-agendized action was a blatant Brown Act violation, the city attorney – our highest paid “public servant” – couldn’t seem to see any Brown Act violation.

An ensuing public hearing, held to fix the Brown Act non-violation, was a Harmon-produced theatrical. By script, her bike buddies were out in force. One of their spokespersons was a young woman who’d penned a nasty Tribune op-ed decrying the mean privileged affluent old white people of Anholm who’d selfishly blocked her favored bike scheme. Such generational slander is commonplace with her ilk. Of course, the writer is part of the most affluent privileged young white generation ever to walk the face of the earth, so it’s hard to understand what significance to attach to her name-calling other than as a crude expression of her own ungracious resentments.

Harmon’s theatrical production was superb. She staged it so residents’ concerns got buried, and planned the final public speaker to be the husband of the op-ed writer, who swaggered to the microphone, puffed himself up several inches, and summed up the bikers’ demands. Harmon then called upon her co-conspirator on the council, and the double cross was completed.

That, in real life, is how Harmon bridges divides.

* * *

So what to make of the two ends of Harmon’s mayoral behavior spectrum, her talk about bridging divides and being kind versus her nastiness and raw exercise of power and dominance?

I think their origin lies within the woke politics of the San Luis Obispo Progressives (SLOPs), the Democrat faction where Harmon hangs out.

When you’re woke, you fancy you’re not only more aware than others, you also have answers, and your answers are the right answers. The answers of those you consider non-woke are wrong answers. Since wrong answers are evil, they cannot be tolerated, and preferably shouldn’t even be heard. If expressed, their presenters get called out.

So when 74 percent of Anholm residents registered disagreement with proposed city bikeway actions, to a woke mayor that wasn’t a signal she needed to start listening and negotiating, it was a signal the residents were wrong and must be crushed by her power and dominance. That’s how woke SLO politics works.

Today’s “progressive” movement – including the SLOPs – is condescending towards those who disagree with them. This progressive condescension is joined to manipulative power-play politics to produce an anti-populist elitism masquerading as democracy. But this “democracy” is anything but democratic.

Indeed, it can’t be democratic because wokes deny legitimacy to anyone they disagree with. Leaders like Harmon, to quote Matt Taibbi, formerly of Rolling Stone, set themselves up as humorless “philosopher-kings who set correct policy for the ignorant masses.” Examples of that are legion: the neighborhood-harming bike schemes in Anholm and recently – under dark cover of Covid – on many other residential streets; the anti-gas electrification ordinance said to cut global warming that will instead increase it; the ridiculous tall building approvals and other unpopular development schemes; the green power farce of our mandatory CCA membership.

“If sixties liberals,” Taibbi writes, “were able to sell their message to the rest of the country by making music even squares and reactionaries couldn’t resist, the woke revolution does the opposite. It spends most of its time constructing an impenetrable vocabulary of oppression and seething at the lumpen proles who either don’t get it or don’t like it.”

It is ironic to quote Taibbi in this context, for he earlier figured in revealing Harmon’s glory to her acolytes. Readers may recall our global-warming-fighting mayor jetted off to New Hampshire — jetting anyplace being about the worst thing one can do for global warming — for a party at Bernie Sanders’ place. Taibbi was there to report.

He reported our “colorful mayor” announced “we’re all fucked” by global warming. I didn’t read his comments as complimentary. About a month after they appeared at his Rolling Stone blog, suddenly Harmon was announcing on social media, with great excitement, that she’d been quoted in Rolling Stone. Indeed, that – as well as the quote itself — was a Harmon milestone.

So I don’t think Harmon’s making-nice/being kind/bridging divides talk is necessarily hypocritical. It’s woke political code-speak. It’s philosophically consistent for a woke mayor to be kind to some and mean to others, to view some as categorically right and deserving and others as irredeemably wrong and cancellable.

We just have to understand her being nice doesn’t apply to us. What her Tribune piece actually means is not what we think it says. Such is the way with our woke mayor.


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Rambunctious

Good time mayors serving in less than good times never works…..


slocalgal

Her email response to the elderly constituent who asked about golf is unbelievably arrogant. Self-admittance that she is only representing those who conform to her agenda. She needs to go.


WeThePeople

1.) How did Harmon get elected?

2.) How did she become so out of touch with her constituents?

3.) How has she not been recalled?


If she is re-elected, the voters in SLO have only themselves to blame!


pigsrule

Yeah, but I’ve noticed that no one can be woke enough. The marxist radicals and anarchist will never stop with their demands until their system is in place. Heidi Harmon is a useful idiot at this point.


Jorge Estrada

Yes Heidi is photogenic and yes Heidi has an articulate delivery of words, so I ask: What example of her own success has she to build on? Now that she is in her silver years, what tangible offerings from her surplus can she deliver? Is she the living example of the San Luis Obispo’s Wizard of Oz? People need to ask these questions, maybe she has a big house to share with a homeless person or anything other than a pep talk?


ActaNonVerba

Yes Heidi is photogenic and yes Heidi has an articulate delivery of words


Are you being sarcastic?


varian08

You have problem with women,with young people,with black people,with mexicain people.I have been reading your comments because of your scornfull actanonverba motto.may be you spent to much time on a ship.

I am very sorry to see you so bitter.Heidi is a very charismatic women,very few people in this world are willing to take the lead.

The kind and smart people rule the world.


aye-caramba

The Rainbow Unicorn Queen.