In a media age, San Francisco seems to have a perfect candidate.
Warren Hinckle, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, has decided to run for mayor. His editors, some of whom are not certain he is serious, are trying to decide whether he should go on leave or continue his column -- maybe even writing about the experience.
"One possibility is that we could allow all the other candidates to write a column at the same time," was the tongue-in-cheek reaction of Examiner Executive Editor Larry Kramer. Kramer said he does not have to make a decision on Hinckle's column for about a month; that's when would-be candidate Hinckle has to present petitions from real, live voters.
However, the looming predicament has distressed political reporters at the newspaper, who are wondering how they are going to cover their colleague. The mayoral race is serious, with both the Examiner and the rival San Francisco Chronicle launching in-depth reporting on candidates seeking to replace Dianne Feinstein, who cannot run for another term.
And Hinckle, a large man with an eye patch who writes a lot about his dog and the bar society of San Francisco, told reporters Friday that he was serious about the race -- at least up to a point.
Hinckle, who could not be reached for comment (not a good sign for an ambitious politician), drew some chuckles from political experts after he staged his press conference at 4 p.m. Friday. That meant news of his race went into the slim Saturday papers.
At the Chronicle, political editor Jerry Roberts noted Hinckle's announcement by writing: "The mayoral field, meanwhile, gained several hundred pounds yesterday when media hound Warren Hinckle filed papers to run. The entry into the race of the former Chronicle columnist raises the unhappy specter of a tiresome series of Yuk, Yuk TV reports on Hinckle's dog and unfunny observations on the virtues of overdrinking."
But at least one fellow columnist, Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News, thinks it's not such a bad idea. Breslin, who plans to move to New York Newsday, ran for City Council president in New York in 1969.
"I know one thing you see is the newspaper and television reporters -- the stupidity of the people asking you questions," Breslin offered in his usual diplomatic way. "As you see it unfold, the ignorance is unbelievable. They fawn, they're gullible, they jump to conclusions. It's a tremendous lesson in reporting -- from the other side."
Nobody really expected it to be easy in Atlanta after former New York Times Washington bureau chief Bill Kovach became editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in December.
He took over a paper that some critics thought arrived on Atlanta doorsteps with the impact of a bedroom slipper. Within days, it became clear that the age of easy news was over.
Kovach banned fuzzy color photographs of peach blossoms and ducks from the front page and sent out word that he didn't want so many features that were so feathery that the story flow seemed uninterrupted by facts.
Many on the staff celebrated. Others thought he was out to drastically amend Atlanta's Constitution and destroy its personality.
For example, the pages of the weekend Journal-Constitution were thick with columnists -- 30 or more on Sunday. In his first days, Kovach let it be known that he wouldn't mind seeing some of them working elsewhere -- at the paper, of course.
It wasn't an order exactly, but by this summer, the columnists had begun taking it personally and filing out the door. Political writers Frederick Allen and Bill Shipp led the pack of those saying goodbye to the paper.
Then there was Sunday magazine editor Lee Walburn, who also wrote a column for a while, decided to cancel it as part of the new order and then took a job elsewhere in Atlanta. Ron Hudspeth, who wrote a column of tidbits about people, restaurants and drinking establishments, left Saturday after an argument with the paper's editors about a newsletter he was starting.
Hudspeth's departure tilted the scales for Atlanta's most famous good old boy, Lewis Grizzard, who decided to quit on Saturday and then announced his reconsideration on Monday.
The problem, Grizzard told friends, was that Kovach, a Times man, had hired two former Times reporters as editors. According to one friend, Grizzard put it this way: "If people in Atlanta want to read The New York Times, they can go buy it at the street corner."
By Monday there was an uneasy peace.
"I don't expect it to last," said Tom Houck, a talk show host in Atlanta for WGST News Radio. Houck, who described Grizzard's employment plans as being the top local news story over the weekend, said the new editors were "walking around with bags on their heads and couldn't find the corner store."
At the paper, some took that line but others were energized by the Kovach team. One said: "The turmoil has all been outside the building."
Grizzard was quoted in the Constitution yesterday as saying that he had worked out his return with newspaper publisher Jay Smith and had been assured the paper was not going to lose its local flavor.
Lending perspective, Grizzard said: "I've quit four times and this is the fourth time I've come back."