“Mohammed Nuru, the former director of San Francisco Public Works officially pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal fraud charge,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports, “marking perhaps the most definitive development to date in the City Hall corruption scandal that has ensnared department heads and city contractors.” That is big news in San Francisco, but this is more than a local story.
Mohammed Nuru was born in England, son of a British mother and a Nigerian father, and came to the United States in 1983 to study landscape architecture at Kansas State University. Nuru graduated in 1987 and supervised construction projects in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
As Susan Dyer Reynolds noted in Marina Times, Nuru’s ascent started in 1991 when he became second in command at the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG), a nonprofit managing community gardens. Nuru came to the attention of then–California Assemblyman Willie Brown and worked for Brown’s San Francisco mayoral campaign and his reelection bid in 1999.
In 2000, Brown hired Nuru as Department of Public Works deputy director of operations and “soon staff complaints rolled in about Nuru flaunting city rules and misusing public funds.” City officials feared to criticize Nuru lest they cross the powerful Willie Brown.
In 2004 Nuru drew fire for having city workers clear up a vacant lot near his Bayview home at a cost of $40,000. According to a SFIST report, “under then-DPW Director Ed Lee and Mayor Brown, nothing became of the complaints.” Nuru called himself “Mr. Clean” and in 2011 mayor Lee proclaimed him “a dedicated public servant who has proven over the last decade to be one of the hardest working city employees keeping San Francisco clean, green and beautiful.” It wasn’t.
As Daniel Greenfield pointed out, San Francisco was “covered in human waste” with 118,352 cases on the streets since 2011, the year Mohammed Nuru took over the DPW. Between 2013 and 2018, human waste incidents had increased by more than 200 percent.
As NBC News headlined a 2018 story, “San Francisco Paid Firm $400K for Research Claiming City is Nearly Spotless; Complaints Over Trash, Needles, Feces Soaring.” That was Nuru’s doing, and the DPW boss kept his job as the excrement piled up to record levels. San Francisco’s new District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, refused to prosecute public defecation.
In late January of 2020, the FBI arrested Nuru and restauranteur Nick Bovis for a scheme to bribe an official of the Airport Commission. “The complaint describes a web of corruption involving bribery, kickbacks, and side deals by one of San Francisco’s highest-ranking city employees,” the U.S. Attorney said in a statement. “The public is entitled to honest work from public officials, free from manipulation for the official’s own personal benefit and profit.”
The complaint also charges Mohammed Nuru with “using his official position to benefit a billionaire in China who was developing a large multimillion-dollar mixed-use project in San Francisco, in exchange for travel and lodging, high-end liquor, and other gifts and benefits.”
The city did not fire Nuru, who finally resigned on February 10, 2020. Last June, police arrested Mohammed Nuru for brandishing a knife and attempting to steal a bag of potato chips from a local food bank. District attorney Chesa Boudin declined to press charges, but a judge ordered Nuru to undergo a mental evaluation as part of the corruption trial.
Nuru was competent enough to plead guilty, and in May federal prosecutors will seek a sentence of at least nine years. That marks a contrast to the outcome of another Willie Brown protégé. Brown set up his girlfriend Kamala Harris, 30 years his junior, in lucrative sinecures and backed her runs for San Francisco district attorney in 2002 and state attorney general in 2010.
Harris was so lightly regarded that The Sacramento Bee, a veritable Democrat newsletter, backed Republican Steve Cooley. He was far ahead on election night but three weeks later ballot harvesting put Harris over the line by less than one percent. If anyone thought it was voter fraud it would be hard to blame them.
Harris was also a favorite of the composite character David Garrow described in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. She duly moved on to the U.S. Senate, while keeping her eyes on the prize. Willie Brown’s former girlfriend bombed out in the primaries but Joe Biden tapped her for his running mate.
As Conrad Black explains, Biden is now a “wax-works effigy of a president,” incapable of executing national office. Biden has once again referred to “President Harris,” and the White House later amended the transcript. How the process of succession will work out remains to be seen but in San Francisco Mohammed Nuru’s legacy still prevails.
“All the streets are brown,” proclaims a takeoff on the Mamas & the Popas 1965 hit “California Dreamin.’” So if you’re going to San Francisco, wear some flowers in your hair, but be sure to watch where you step.