Brodkin Has Earned Newsom’s Support

by Dana Woldow on January 5, 2009

What is Gavin Newsom thinking? That’s the question children’s advocates are asking themselves as rumors of the removal of Margaret Brodkin as Director of the Department of Children, Youth and their Families swirl around San Francisco like litter around Civic Center Plaza on a windy day.

A licensed clinical social worker and grandmother of three, Brodkin, 65, served for 26 years as the executive director of Coleman Advocates for Youth, prior to being appointed to the top post at DCYF by SF Mayor Gavin Newsom in late 2004. Among her accomplishments at Coleman was getting the initiative called the Children’s Amendment approved by voters in 1991; described as a “fiscal bill of rights for children,” it created the Children’s Fund, a set aside establishing a baseline budget for services to benefit the youth of San Francisco. It was the first measure of its kind in the nation. As Brodkin said at the time, “Kids have been just so shortchanged. Even the most liberal, progressive politicians have been wonderful on the rhetoric and wanting to do the right thing. But when push came to shove and the resources were limited, they didn’t want to waste political chits on a constituency that had no clout.”

Early in 2005, shortly after taking the helm at DCYF, Brodkin was hailed as one of four Human Rights Heroes by the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Magazine. The magazine praised her as “an articulate and passionate advocate for social justice for children” and prophesied “we can expect in her new role that she will lead the way in enhancing the lives of children and youth through innovative partnerships with parents and youth, community organizations, schools, and the private sector.”

Enhancing the lives of children and youth is exactly what Brodkin has done – in spades. Particularly striking is the extent to which DCYF has been able to have a positive impact on the lives of San Francisco’s public school students. From afterschool care to early literacy programs to salad bars in cafeterias, the support DCYF provides to San Francisco public schools touches virtually every one of the City’s over 55,000 students.

Just a partial list of DCYF’s accomplishments this past year (from the 2008 DCYF Annual Report to the Mayor, available on their website www.dcyf.org) includes:

► More children are being served by high-quality, City-support programs than ever before – 44,400 children are in DCYF-funded programs, up 6,400 this year

► More young people are finding training and employment through City-supported programs than ever before – 4,261 youth ages 14 to 17 were placed in a job

► More community-based organizations are striving for High-quality Standards than ever before – and all DCYF-funded organizations are compliant with established Minimum Compliance Standards

► More City departments are collaborating with DCYF toward common goals than ever before – including Sunday Streets, Shape Up, and the Violence Response Network

► More coordinated efforts between SFUSD and City departments are happening and on the horizon than ever before – including the launch of the community school concept via a grant just awarded to us from the C.S. Mott Foundation

► More San Francisco community members – children, youth, and adults – are engaged in an open, transparent Children’s Fund decision-making process than ever before – including 1,000 San Franciscans who commented on our latest Community Needs Assessment

► More San Francisco families are able to connect with available resources from City-sponsored efforts than ever before – including 9,000 people a month who visit SFkids.org and the 40,000 San Franciscans who attended our family events last year

► More regional and national entities seek out DCYF expertise than ever before

And all of these efforts have been accomplished with a very lean staff of just 35 City employees.

The rumor of Brodkin’s removal from DCYF has been circulating for weeks, and Coleman Advocates has issued repeated public calls for a denial if the rumors are untrue, and yet there has still been no official response from City Hall. On December 22nd, more than two dozen children’s advocates signed an open letter to Mayor Newsom begging him to address the rumors and keep Brodkin at the head of DCYF, where she has done such an outstanding job for the City’s youth. The next day, despite the fact that it was just two days before Christmas, 75 people rallied outside City Hall at noon in support of Brodkin.

A friend who is a reporter for one of the local newspapers told me that she asked the Mayor point blank about the rumor and his response was only that he would not respond to rumors – exactly (as my reporter friend pointed out) the response he gave for months when asked about rumors of the possible firing of then-Park and Rec General Manager Yomi Agunbiade, right up until the moment Agunbiade was fired. If the rumors are untrue, why not say so?

Unlike the police department, or Park and Rec, DCYF is run as a model of efficiency and effectiveness, with virtually no complaint from anyone, ever, in the communities it serves. The average San Francisco resident could name off the top of their head half a dozen major scandals within the police department or Park and Rec, but I defy you to name even one questionable activity from within DCYF.

Margaret Brodkin has been a champion of the rights of children since Gavin Newsom was a child himself. Could he possibly be thinking of removing the highly regarded and universally respected head of the most effective governmental support for children and their families in the entire country? Does Newsom not understand that a move like that would have repercussions across the state and the nation, none of which would do anything to enhance his reputation or his chances of attaining higher office?

When he appointed Brodkin to head DCYF in 2004, Newsom praised her by saying “Margaret has been a pioneer in developing the theory and practice of local child advocacy. Under her leadership, Coleman Advocates’ work is known nationally, and is being replicated in communities throughout the country.” San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and their Families should serve as a model for the state; the Mayor should be touting its effectiveness and promising to bring Brodkin’s brand of advocacy for the state’s youngest and most vulnerable members to every community in California. That’s the smart move – not showing Brodkin the door and turning her department over to some toady who will flatter the Mayor’s ego but fail our City’s children.

Randy Shaw, publisher of Beyond Chron, may have foreseen the current rumored situation when he wrote in a September 2004 column praising Newsom’s choice of Brodkin, “As a rule, politicians fear appointing activists to high-level government positions. Loyalty is a central requirement for political appointees, and activists are seen as too likely to put their constituency’s interests ahead of the political interests of their boss.” Could it be that Brodkin’s position at DCYF is now threatened because she has continued to advocate for what is best for children, not what is best for Newsom’s cronies?

Dana Woldow is the parent of two San Francisco public school graduates and one current SFUSD student. She has been an advocate for better school food since 2002, and is grateful for the support that San Francisco public schools have received for better food from DCYF. She is one of several dozen advocates who signed the letter to Mayor Newsom begging him to retain Margaret Brodkin as head of DCYF.

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