A thoughtful and outspoken public relations professional, Sam Singer of Singer Associates Public Relations cares deeply about San Francisco, the Bay Area and the country as a whole. He’s got opinions about the issues we face in today’s world, and doesn’t mince words when he talks about the corruption he sees at City Hall, the senseless violence and drug dealing on City streets, and the growing problem of sheltering our citizens.
PR Round Table’s Valentine’s Gala & Fundraiser speaker stayed to the finish, answered every one of our probing questions, and readily shared his many insights at the virtual event, held February 10 to benefit the Philip N. McCombs Scholarship Fund. Proceeds from the live and silent auctions, combined with generous donations, netted nearly $8,000 for the Round Table program benefiting outstanding Northern California college students studying public relations and allied fields. The monies will be awarded to our 2022 scholarship recipients, to be named by a committee of Round Table members.
Prior to Singer’s presentation, San Francisco drag actor and auctioneer Donna Sachet welcomed the friendly crowd of PR practitioners, entertaining us with her lilting version of “It Had to Be You” and emceeing the live auction of one-of-a-kind experiences.
Singer began by commenting on the then upcoming San Francisco School Board recall race, which resulted in three board members being recalled in a decisive vote. He termed the recall “a linchpin moment in the history of San Francisco, not driven by politics or unions or political machines, but by concerned parents. That’s a real revolution in San Francisco,” he observed, “which will send a significant message to other ‘progressive’ leftists and elected officials.”
He commented on several local corruption scandals, one of which Singer said was unearthed by his client Laborers Local 261, when members came forward with allegations and evidence that eventually led the Department of Justice to charge Mohammed Nuru, Harlan Kelly and other city officials with fraud and bribery charges. “I’ve been very disappointed in what has occurred and very proud that the labor union stood up for their members; otherwise, it would have been ‘business as usual.’” Citing an instance of the Public Utilities Commission spending $34 million on a community benefits program, he noted that for two years assorted groups have asked for data on how the funds were spent, with nothing forthcoming. “This is the town that created the Sunshine Act. [Yet] something dastardly is being kept from the public.”
A June 7 recall election has been scheduled for City Attorney Chesa Boudin, an elected official whom Singer has studied closely. He described several incidents that he believes set off the furor for the election, including charges of obstructing justice and withholding evidence. “This is not a matter of right or left; it’s a matter of right or wrong,” said Singer. “When the person who is in charge of justice in your city commits a crime or is part of a corrupt act, you have to ask yourself, does that person belong in office and how trustworthy are those DA’s.”
Often using the word “overwhelming,” Singer lamented the level of violence in the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland, including the recent fatal shooting on I-880 of Gene “The Dream” Ransom, whom Singer knew at Berkeley High School. “He was a superstar at BHS and Cal, and just an incredible human being, and for whatever reason we may never know, another driver shot him, and he’s gone.”
Commenting on the number of people in our communities with significant drug abuse and mental health issues, Singer observed, “It’s wrong in our profession not to think harder about how we label and name these people. Labeling them ‘homeless’ is an injustice and a misnomer to all those who want to solve the problem. It’s not that they need a home — they may need shelter — they need mental health and substance abuse assistance and some sort of program to get them off the streets.”
He discussed providing PR services to corporations, including client Chevron, which was accused 25 years ago of polluting the Amazon River in Ecuador. Singer explained that American attorney Steven Donziger, who brought the case against Chevron, “committed fraud, extortion and money laundering, and in fact ghostwrote the judgment against the company in Ecuador, which has been overturned by the American court and other courts in the world” (see https://theamazonpost.com/).
“I encourage all of us, including the news media, to be wary, to be thoughtful, ask difficult questions and do research. I know the world is overwhelming, and there’s not always enough time, but it’s worthwhile,” said Singer.
Later, in response to a question, he offered additional support for his client and the energy industry more broadly. “As we all make the transition to new forms of energy, it’s important to know we can’t just stop tomorrow in terms of using liquid fuels. We need to [consider] how to continue to make this transition.” He added, “It’s important to talk about tone and tenor. The hatred toward energy companies is just too much. It’s not realistic. Nobody’s going to be able to stop getting into their car and using gas tomorrow. Nobody’s going to be able to stop using plastic. What we can do is to be more responsible, we can conserve, we can use solar and wind energy. We can turn the lights off in our homes . . . I have a lot of admiration and respect for the oil companies, and for their critics when they’re not trying to shut them down but trying to raise questions to see if there’s a better way to do things.”
Singer also decried what he called the level of hatred in social media discourse. “Speaking of tone and tenor, it’s tough when you look on Twitter in particular, but Facebook and other social media as well, and see the level of hatred toward elected leaders, toward individuals, you see the doxing . . .
“As communicators, when we look at what we do for our profession and what we do for our clients, whether these are Chevron or Facebook or professional services, we need to find a way, when we have critics, not to get down in the ditches with them but to raise them up. I think the four years with Donald Trump is not only one of the worst things that’s happened to America but one of the worst things that happened in communications—because it changed the tone and tenor from what was discourse to simple ugliness.”
Singer ended on a positive note. “When I was a boy growing up in Berkeley, going to San Francisco was the most important thing in the world. They used to say, ‘Don’t come as you are; come as you want to be.’ San Francisco and the whole Bay Area is a place you can come and remake yourself in a very positive way. It’s the thing that keeps the Bay Area going and ought to push us all to preserve what we have: competence in government, confidence in the media, and a competitive landscape where we can learn new things.”
—Story by Molly A. Walker