Warren Hellman
Warren Hellman. Photo by Marcel Houweling

Billionaire investor Warren Hellman, who has contributed $50,000 to the Yes on Proposition B campaign, has withdrawn his support. In case you haven’t heard yet, the contentious proposition requires city employees to contribute more to their health care and pension costs, and every San Francisco official except Public (not public employee — ha ha) Defender Jeff Adachi, the proposition sponsor, is lined up against it.

This late in the game, Hellman’s announcement represents quite a reversal, as illustrated by the San Francisco Citizen blog’s post title: OMG! Warren Hellman Pulls a 180. The Citizen poses this question:

“How do you get a strong-willed (and is there any other kind?) billionaire to change his or her mind?”

Indeed. The Chronicle’s City Insider reports that firefighters’ union head Tom O’Connor talked Hellman into his flip-flop over lunch. What can O’Connor have possibly said that Hellman hadn’t already heard? Was the billionaire promised a ride on the back of a fire engine?

Hellman’s statement, basically a pedestrian call for everyone to work together doesn’t, shed much light:

I’m leaving the Yes on Proposition B campaign for the same reason I got involved in the campaign in the first place – we need a meaningful dialogue in San Francisco between business and labor to solve long-term problems threatening the city’s future without name-calling and fingerpointing.

We must address the issue of spiraling public pension and health benefits costs. They’re like an iceberg floating beneath the surface that threatens to sink cities like ours. At the same time, I’m not willing scapegoat police officers, firefighters and other public workers to do it.

We got into this situation together and we must work together to solve it in the interest of a city we all love…

I believe that organized labor appreciates that it is in San Francisco’s interest – and the interest of its members — to head off a looming pension and benefits crisis before it cripples public services and leaves police officers, firefighters and other public workers without retirement security.

And I also believe that San Francisco business must understand its responsibility to pay its fair share to fund quality public services. And that begins with workers who are properly trained, fairly paid and able to retire with dignity…

And in case you’re wondering, the city’s ethics commission, The Snitch reports, said the Yes on B campaign is not required to return Hellman’s $50k, which he has not asked for (yet) anyway.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor for KQED's daily health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED News Fix.

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