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Home Alone At City Hall

An outraged Mayor Willie Brown decided to cut short a trip to Asia on Thursday to contend with a coup by a city supervisor who made two key appointments in the 14 hours he acted as mayor.

"It's like a father having to return home to deal with unruly children," Brown's spokesman, P.J. Johnston, said of the mayor's efforts to book a flight back to San Francisco before his scheduled return Monday.

As mayor-for-the-day Wednesday, Supervisor Chris Daly secretly appointed and swore in two environmentalists to the city's Public Utilities Commission, then announced the appointments on official letterhead he had drawn up for the occasion.

Less than 20 minutes later, a Brown aide told Daly, 28, that his mayoral powers had been revoked. A Brown ally, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, stepped in and immediately tried to undo Daly's appointments by naming two commission members supported by Brown.

But city attorneys said it looks like Daly's power play will be successful unless Brown can persuade at least eight of San Francisco's 11 supervisors to reject Daly's appointees: Adam Werbach, former president of the national Sierra Club, and Robin Chiang, whose architecture firm has worked on numerous public transit projects.

Daly deflected questions Thursday about why he chose to slip in his picks for the commission while Brown was gone, but he insisted the appointments were good ones.

"That's the way it went down and sometimes it works like that," he said. "The good news is that when the dust settles we have two incredibly qualified, intelligent and competent commissioners sitting on the PUC."

The Public Utility Commission oversees the city's water and power system, which is slated to undergo a multibillion-dollar refurbishing. The commission faces difficult decisions about system expansion and whether the city should set up a public power utility.

Mayor Brown was said to be particularly livid because the mayor-for-the-day honors had been intended as an olive branch to Daly, with whom Brown has never gotten along.

"Mr. Daly showed he is still the spoiled little brat of San Francisco politics that we all knew him to be," Johnston said.

Some supervisors said Thursday they were offended by Daly's antics. Others said they were amused, and it was unclear whether Brown, whose second and final term as mayor ends this fall, would be able to muster the votes to undo the appointments.

"This is nothing but an immature, selfish act that was used for political exposure and expediency," Supervisor Tony Hall said. He called Daly "the Madonna of the board."

But Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is running for mayor, said Daly's appointees are well-qualified, while Brown's selections "are usually patronage."

Still, Ammiano said, "When I'm mayor I'm not going to appoint Chris Daly as acting mayor. That career is over for him."