Nathaniel Ford to D.C. Metro Story No Surprise for Muni Insiders

Ford-Newsom-Luke Thomas.jpg
Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal
Gavin Newsom and Nat Ford 'are not buds,' SF Weekly is told. This photo could be Exhibit A.
The D.C. Metro Transit Authority's placing of San Francisco Muni boss Nathaniel Ford on its list of potential leaders did not surprise several of Ford's colleagues SF Weekly spoke with. "It's happened before -- he was widely believed to be in the running for [top jobs at] Los Angeles, New York, and Houston. It's hard to run a large transit agency and not many people have done it," said one.

That being said, Ford's colleagues said this might be the right time for him to take his act elsewhere.

"It's important to point out that this is likely to be a tremendous transition time in the city coming up. It's no surprise Muni would be a part of that," says one longtime Muni employee. With Mayor Gavin Newsom aiming to head to Sacramento as lieutenant governor -- or head back to the city as a lame duck -- it figures that some of the city's higher-ups would be packing their bags. Longtime Department of Public Health Director Dr. Mitch Katz has accepted a similar -- and more lucrative -- job in Los Angeles County. He hardly figures to be the only departure.

"They are not buds," was the answer we received from a Muni source when asking about Ford and Newsom's relationship. Yet Ford and the progressive supervisors -- who may be more empowered following this year's supervisorial elections and next year's mayoral race -- are even less bud-like. "I think he's had enough challenges with other politicians and the progressives to make you wonder if that would still be a good fit."

Oily bus.jpg
Jim Herd
And say goodbye to all this?
Ford has always let it be known that top-level talent at big-city transit agencies moves around with some frequency. Yet he's been at Muni since 2006 -- and, we're told, "if he really wanted to leave, he could have left."

Our queries of Ford and Muni whether he'd take the Washington, D.C. job if it were offered to him received the following reply from agency spokesman Paul Rose: "Metro approached Mr. Ford about this position, amongst 20 other people they feel are qualified for the role. He has not had serious discussions about it and has not interviewed for the position. Mr. Ford is completely focused on running the SFMTA..."

In other words, this may be just one more list with Ford's name on it. In fact, it might be surprising if a major transit agency didn't consider the head of San Francisco Muni to be one of the 20 most desirable candidates for an opening. 

In the meantime, Ford was yesterday greeted with the results of a Muni rider survey showing more dissatisfaction with the agency now than any time since 2001. No news on how many of the riders surveyed were progressive members of the Board of Supervisors.

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