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
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
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 the
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 smoke.
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
"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 protected."
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 said.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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