For Mayor Willie Brown, the first signs that something was
amiss came late Monday when he got a call from what he
described as his airport security - - a full eight hours
before yesterday's string of terrorist attacks -- advising him
that Americans should be cautious about their air travel.
The mayor, who was booked to fly to New York yesterday
morning from San Francisco International Airport, said the
call "didn't come in any alarming fashion, which is why I'm
hesitant to make an alarming statement."
In fact, at the time, he didn't pay it much mind.
"It was not an abnormal call. I'm always concerned if my
flight is going to be on time, and they always alert me when I
ought to be careful."
Exactly where the call came from is a bit of a mystery. The
mayor would say only that it came from "my security people at
Mike McCarron, assistant deputy director at SFO, said the
Federal Aviation Administration "routinely" issues security
notices about possible threats. He said two or three such
notices have been received in the past couple of months,
but none in recent days.
Whatever the case, Brown didn't think about it again until
he was up, dressed and waiting for his ride to the airport for
an 8 a.m. flight to New York, where he was to attend a state
retirement board meeting. That was when he turned on the TV,
and like millions of other Americans, saw the twin towers of
the World Trade Center crumble and the Pentagon go up in
Before the mayor was even out the door, District Attorney
Terence Hallinan - - the man Brown said just last week should
be recalled -- was checking in and offering help.
What followed was a conversation made up of equal parts
gravity and formality.
"You know, you're the first call I've gotten on this,"
Brown said to Hallinan, as they were signing off.
With that, the mayor hung up and headed for City Hall.
Along the way, he made the call to close all city buildings
for the day and city schools as well.
He also talked with representatives of the Bank of America
building and the Transamerica Pyramid, who agreed that because
the structures were such high- profile symbols they too should
be closed for the day.
Once Brown arrived at City Hall, calls were made in quick
order to Municipal Railway director Michael Burns: "I want a
complete backup in case anything happens to the subway
tunnels," Brown said.
The Coast Guard: "To make sure the bridges were being
And to the health, police and fire departments to make sure
they were staffed for the emergency.
The last call went to Tom Ammiano, the mayor's longtime
political nemesis and president of the Board of Supervisors.
"We may have to declare a state of emergency, although it's
not something I want to do at this point because it kicks in
all sorts of things -- but we may have to be ready," the mayor
Ammiano apparently agreed, because an hour or so later --
when the two sat next to each other at a city department heads
meeting at the command center -- the call was made for only a
"limited" state of emergency. One that would allow the courts,
city offices and schools to close, but still keep the city
pretty much in working order.
"What I want," the mayor said, "is for things to be to run
as normally as possible, but sagely."
And for the most part they did. As for what comes next?
"With any luck, we'll be back to normal by tomorrow -- but
with a heightened sense of awareness," Brown said as he sipped
coffee with reporters at Citizen Cake on Grove Street.
But as for long-term safety?
"We can only do what we can," the mayor said, adding,
"Hell, if they can't protect the Pentagon from attack, what
can they protect?"
BART BLOCKS: Don't go looking for a rest room on BART --
they're all locked.
According to BART information officer Ron Rodriguez, a
memorandum went out yesterday ordering all station rest rooms
to be locked until further notice. They've also put out the
word to watch for suspicious packages.
THE OTHER BROWN: Over in Oakland, Mayor Jerry Brown was
trying his best to keep things normal as well.
"We're carrying on," Brown said. "I think the most
important thing is for people to stay calm and understand that
the power of terrorism is psychological.
"The goal is to sow disunity and to undermine our faith in
the leadership of the country."
A few blocks away, Democratic pollster Paul Maslin sat in
his office high- rise and wondered about the long-term effect
of the attacks.
"It's like one part Pearl Harbor, one part Northern Ireland
and one part I don't know what," was how Maslin summed it up.
Maslin -- who does polling for Gov. Gray Davis, among
others -- said the strangest call he got yesterday was from
one of the biggest Democratic consultants in Washington, D.C.,
who had just bolted his apartment.
"This was a grown man in his 50s, and he was scared out of
his wits because he'd heard that a second plane was headed for
the Pentagon," Maslin said.
"We can't even begin to gauge the long-term effects of this
yet, but I will say, I don't think we'll ever be the same."
Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross
appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. They can also be heard
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