What began as the party to end all parties has mushroomed into a scandal of sex and politics that has embarrassed the city's power structure and jeopardized the San Francisco 49ers' hopes for a pricey new football stadium complex.
Every political bright light in the city turned out last weekend for the 50th birthday party honoring Jack Davis--one of the most powerful and feared operatives in San Francisco. Mayor Willie Brown, 49ers' President Carmen Policy, Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan, Sheriff Michael Hennessy, the president of the Board of Supervisors, even an assemblywoman celebrated this milestone with the man who is running the ballot effort for a $525-million stadium complex.
And then there was the entertainment, all in the flesh: Male and female strippers. A 300-pound sadomasochist performing a live sex act. A leather-clad woman carving a pentagram into the back of a scantily clad man--and that was before her act really took off.
Immediately after the party, Davis told reporters he had no regrets. "Most people said it was the best party they'd ever been to," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "And it wasn't anything compared to the after-party at my house."
But by the time the fake smoke had cleared and the roasted pig had been eaten, the bash had shaken a city that prizes flash and tolerance and Davis was not answering calls.
The affair at the San Francisco Mart on Market Street has made the Bay Area ponder where the line should be drawn between taste and licentiousness. It has harmed Davis' carefully cultivated aura of invincibility and put the June 3 election on the stadium--already close--in real jeopardy.
Even for a city that prides itself on living on the edge, it was just too much. Fat Jack's birthday bash is all they are talking--and worrying--about here in the capital of flamboyance.
"It's a heartbreaker for us. It's a heartbreaker for our city," said Angela Alioto, a former supervisor. "Every old-time San Franciscan in this city has called me in the last 24 hours. . . . We work hard for our internationally known image of tolerance, diversity and avant gardeness. But this is about being in the sewer."
Sure, this was home to the Summer of Love and now is the site of some of Gay America's flashier spectacles, including the annual Exotic-Erotic Ball and the largest leather community celebration in the world, presided over by a county supervisor.
Sure, this is the place where less than two years ago, a San Francisco mayor lost a close bid for reelection by stepping naked into the shower with two Los Angeles disc jockeys as a campaign stunt.
But Jack Davis and his weekend bacchanalia have really taken the birthday cake, vaulting this local political consultant and gay activist into the national spotlight, causing normally tolerant stomachs to turn and tongues to wag.
Brown, who hired Davis to run his mayoral campaign, was deluged with press questions about the party at his regular Tuesday briefing. The mayor, a strong backer of a new stadium, tried to distance himself from the event, while avoiding direct criticism of Davis.
Brown said he came to the party early and left before the entertainment began, and "I can't even visualize how something like that would occur." But he insisted that the wild events "should have nothing to do with the campaign."
Policy had no comment on the party and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was not there. Both men were said to be appalled by the political fallout.
DeBartolo has fought hard to build his controversial stadium and mega-mall complex in one of San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods. He engineered Propositions D and F on the June ballot, which would provide up to $100 million in municipal bond financing to help build the project and has hinted that the team will leave the city if they fail.
On Wednesday, the campaign struggled to move ahead and stay on message--that the stadium and mall will keep the 49ers from defecting to some other city, bring desperately needed jobs to Bayview-Hunter's Point, and tax revenues into the city.
But while DeBartolo's public relations company scrambled to staunch the bleeding, election workers were calling into local radio talks shows to say they were quitting the campaign in disgust.
Michael Colbruno, press secretary for the stadium effort, took a page from the "I just buy Playboy for the articles" file, defending the fete as a "private party" and saying of the salacious entertainment: "I chose not to watch it. But I also chose not to leave. There was a whole other party going on."
But privately, senior stadium campaign officials were fuming.
"It is the ultimate hubris to throw a party like that--even in San Francisco, which is clearly the nation's most tolerant city--when you're working for a team as classy as the '49ers," said one campaign source.
For many who have watched Davis' long and colorful political career, the birthday bash was in keeping with what both friends and foes describe as the man's giant ego. Davis is known for pursuing political vendettas against onetime allies, such as Mayor Art Agnos, whom he helped unseat.
"I think that he knew the stadium propositions were in trouble, he is figuring on retiring soon anyway, and he just decided to give the finger to this town's politicians on his way out," said a top aide to one city official, who attended the party but spoke on condition of anonymity.
Frederick Hobson, a gay activist and a volunteer worker for the stadium effort, mourned the black mark that Davis' very public private party has given the city, the stadium and the gay community as a whole. Davis, he said, owes a public apology to San Franciscans.
"This went beyond the beyond," said Hobson, who was not invited to the sexual soiree and is proud of it. "Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell love to read this stuff every time. It makes us all look like fools and perverts."
The party was high in the line-up of Rush Limbaugh's Wednesday broadcast. After reading lengthy and detailed descriptions of the sexual high jinks and the city's dumbfounded reaction he asked the most damning question: Why would this be shocking to the people of San Francisco?
Davis' aura of invincibility as a political consultant grew when he helped an obscure former police chief, Frank Jordan, defeat Mayor Agnos in 1991. He is also credited with helping the San Francisco Giants win voters' approval for their new baseball stadium after two failures.
Most city officials are declining to comment on the party, other than to say they left early or were far from the large stage when live sex acts, most of them unprintable, took place. "This is beyond anything that would have happened at a birthday party for anybody in San Francisco," said Jim Ross, head of the Committee to Stop the Giveaway, which is fighting the stadium effort. "I have people that I consider extraordinarily liberal calling me up, just disgusted with it. . . . The conference of mayors is here in two weeks. If you're a mayor in a Republican city, what do you do?"
Kamer-Singer & Associates, DeBartolo's public relations firm for the stadium effort, is being deluged with calls about the hubbub.
Sam Singer, a partner in the firm, said he was unsure how the party would affect the election but acknowledged that it's not helping matters.
"Our agency is working for the DeBartolos, and our goal is to develop positive publicity for the stadium and mall project," Singer said. "Obviously something like this makes it more difficult."