San Francisco's Director of Public Works created an alternate reality of clean streets (before his arrest)

San Francisco’s Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, who goes by “MrCleanSF” on Twitter, was arrested on public corruption charges last week.

Federal authorities charged San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and high-profile restaurateur Nick Bovis with fraud Tuesday following a public corruption probe. The schemes involved an envelope of cash, fraudulent city contracts, improper gifts from a Chinese developer and a $2,000 bottle of wine, according to authorities.

FBI agents on Monday arrested Nuru, 57, and Bovis, 56, at their Bay Area homes before unsealing a federal complaint Tuesday for one charge of wire fraud. Nuru is separately charged with lying to the FBI after initially being arrested on Jan. 21 and being told to keep quiet about the investigation.

“The complaint alleges corruption pouring into San Francisco from around the world,” said David Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, at a news conference Tuesday.

One of the schemes involved trying to bribe a public official to give Nick Bovis restaurant space inside an airport. Another involved doing favors for a Chinese billionaire. Nuru faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

But another aspect of this getting attention in the wake of Nuru’s arrest is his apparent habit of cleaning the streets in advance of any public event involving the city’s mayor. As a result, the city that the mayor would see when she stepped out was always a lot cleaner than the one residents see on a daily basis. In fact, it could be described as an alternate reality:

Mayor London Breed arrived at Glide Memorial Church one day in August 2018 to find an alternate reality. The heart of the Tenderloin sparkled, and homelessness didn’t exist…

That’s because Public Works crews and police had arrived before the mayor to clear the area of homeless people and debris and install metal barricades to prevent them from entering the park across the street.

Jim Cruz-Youll, a Castro resident who works in tech, was passing by and thought the scene looked unusual. He took photos and videos of the total turn-around of the block and posted them on Twitter after last week’s corruption charges against longtime Public Works director Mohammed Nuru.

“Where you see the street is empty in those photos, there had been lots of people there previously,” he told me of the shiny images of Ellis Street. “I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘Oh, the mayor’s coming! We’re cleaning this up.’ But they weren’t cleaning. They were moving people out of sight.”

Here are some of the before and after photos of the site Mayor Breed visited that day:

According to one person who worked for public works under Nuru, this wasn’t a one-off. This is what happened every time Mayor Breed went out. “It was 100% true that wherever the mayor went, the cleaning happened before,” the anonymous staffer told the Chronicle. I suspect this sort of thing isn’t that uncommon for public figures around the country. The question is whether or not this sort of thing create a bubble that insulates public figures from what is really going on.

London Breed was elected on a promise to address the homeless crisis and clean up the streets. So it doesn’t seem possible that she didn’t have some idea how serious the problem was. But if so, that suggests she also had a pretty good idea that the sparkling streets that she saw everywhere she went outside for a public event wasn’t reality. Still, this has probably been going on for a decade or more, long before Breed was elected to clean up the mess. You have to wonder if, to some degree, “MrCleanSF” helped create and alternate reality which kept these issues on the back burner longer than they should have been.