Friends face off in D8 forum
by Matthew S. Bajko
Anyone expecting fireworks or below-the-belt punches at the first town hall in the hotly contested District 8 supervisor race left sorely disappointed. The only entanglement at the policy discussion Tuesday night, October 27, between the four out candidates came in the form of a fake spider web Halloween decoration dangling overhead.
The candidates remained cordial throughout the two-hour forum at Magnet, the gay men's health center in the Castro. There was little sparring over hot button issues, such as chain stores or reviving the Castro Halloween street party, for the quartet differ little in their stances.
Attorney Rafael Mandelman, the first to speak, set the tone early on by telling the 40-person audience that, "Yes, I am running with these fine individuals" and describing the event as the four's "second date" since they appeared together last week at a Noe Valley neighborhood group.
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Prozan gushed about "how humble and honored I am to stand with these individuals," adding, "All of us are talented and capable to serve this district."
The affable exchanges between the candidates are hardly a surprise, as the four have long been friends, with some relationships stemming as far back as high school. Several worked together as co-chairs of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, while all four have served on the moderate political group's board.
Their familiarity with each other colors even their stump speeches. During his closing remarks Deputy City Attorney Scott Wiener spoke about the toll running for public office takes on a candidate's personal life. He predicted, "Rafael and I will probably still be single at this point next year" and hoped that "Laura and Rebecca have tolerant partners."
The only time anyone directly denounced another candidate for their position on a policy – and even then it was done more as a joke than a direct attack – came when the four were asked if they would have voted for legislation introduced by openly gay Supervisor David Campos that restricts city officials from turning over to federal authorities undocumented youth arrested for a crime until after they are convicted of the charges.
Only Wiener said he disagrees with the policy, which not only passed the board but garnered a mayoral-veto-proof majority due to support from termed-out District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Wiener criticized the legislation because it "goes too far," and complained it "does not adequately take into account public safety in San Francisco."
Allowing that it is "a really hard issue," Laura Spanjian, an assistant general manager at the city's Public Utilities Commission, said she would have voted for it because "people are innocent until proven guilty."
The responses prompted Mandelman to proclaim that "Laura Spanjian is completely right and Scott Wiener is completely wrong." Yet the harangue elicited laughter from the audience and smiles among the candidates.
Prozan said she favors the policy because it allows for the victims of crimes to have their day in court. She said sending those caught for crimes back to their home countries at the time of their arrest prevents victims from seeking justice.
Even behind closed doors the candidates have yet to take off the gloves. At Monday night's Alice board meeting Spanjian failed in her attempt to block a dual endorsement of Prozan and Wiener from going before the club's membership for a vote in November. [See story, page 7.]
Except for Mandelman, who did not attend the meeting, the other three candidates addressed the board. According to several people who were present, the debate was heated but never became personal and lacked any shouting matches.
"It is a difficult vote to be taking, but that having been said, I was very proud of the level of discussion last night. Once again I was impressed with all of the candidates," said Alice Co-Chair Susan B. Christian a day after the meeting.
The endorsement process at Alice has deeply disappointed Spanjian and pitted her against two people she considers to be close friends. Yet if there is any animosity between the trio, it was not visible during Tuesday night's forum. Spanjian remained all smiles throughout the night.
"Yes we are friends. It is a long campaign and hopefully we will all run positive campaigns so that our friendships can survive," Spanjian told the Bay Area Reporter in an interview.
Wiener also told the B.A.R. that he is confident that come the day after Election Day next November the four will continue to be friends.
"Obviously, when you are running against people there is a lot of stress on any relationship. Campaigns are tough, but I think that we can all keep it together," he said.
During Tuesday night's candidate forum Mandelman sounded a similar refrain. He acknowledged that the dynamics of the District 8 race over the next 12 months would be impacted by the fact that the candidates know each other so well.
"I think whoever wins next November, the district is going to be in good shape. It is an honor and a challenge to run against these extraordinary people who also happen to be my friends," he said. "I hope we do not get bogged down in lengthy discussions of internal Democratic Party bickering. I think all of us are better than that. I am looking forward to having a discussion about the things that matter."
Few issues divide the candidates
Mandelman was referring to one issue that does differentiate the candidates and could become a flashpoint in the campaign. All four served as delegates to this year's state Democratic Party convention and were divided on whom to elect as the regional director in the Bay Area.
Prozan and Wiener teamed up to help re-elect August Longo, an out gay man who has long held the post. Mandelman and Spanjian lined up behind Supervisor Chris Daly, who had tried to oust Longo. Wiener has chastised the two for not backing an openly gay person and has linked it to his ouster as chair of the local Democratic Party last summer. In that instance, Mandelman voted to replace Wiener with Aaron Peskin, while Spanjian publicly backed Wiener but has been accused of privately supporting Peskin, which she vehemently denies.
When an audience member asked about the Longo vs. Daly vote Tuesday night, Spanjian said she supported Daly because of his ability to attract younger voters to the party. She dismissed the insinuation that she does not back gay candidates, noting as a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund she helps to elect LGBT people across the country.
Mandelman questioned what relevance the intra-party fight has to do with the District 8 race.
"I cannot imagine voters of District 8 care about internal fights over who becomes regional director of the Democratic Party in the Bay Area," he said. "I am not sure about the relevance of it."
As for issues that do affect residents of the district, which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, and Glen Park, very few divide the candidates. They all support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana being pushed by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The four are in unison when it comes to seeing Trader Joe's and Whole Foods open in the Castro; they support the projects as long as impacts to the neighborhood are minimal.
They are also in agreement on the possibility of reviving the Castro's Halloween street party. As long as it is community driven, none would oppose seeing a gradual return of the outdoor celebration. Nor did any of them fault Supervisor Bevan Dufty for shutting down the annual bash in 2007 after attempts to quell the violence of years past failed.
"For me public safety comes first," said Prozan, who lives in the heart of the Castro. "It needs to be coming back from the neighborhood. It can't be about people coming from ... other cities coming here just to look at us."
Wiener, who also lives in the heart of the Castro, said Halloween "became a nightmare" and that "it needed to change." But he also said, "If something organic happens going forward that is great."
Like Wiener, Spanjian said she would want to see a revived Halloween party be modeled after how the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence run the annual Pink Saturday party in the Castro over Pride weekend. The drag nun group once hosted Halloween but dropped out as the event became unmanageable and city officials refused to acknowledge the party existed.
"Maybe Halloween can get back to that. That is the work I want to do," she said. "But it has to be fun and safe."
Even Mandelman, the most left-of-center candidate in the race, complemented Dufty for his handling of the situation. He also expressed the most doubt at seeing Halloween make a comeback in the Castro.
"I think it would be great to have Halloween back in the Castro but I am not sure we have figured out a way to do it that isn't going to be a hassle for the neighborhood," he said.