D8 candidates mingle at LGBT brunch
by Matt Baume
Professional networking and hors d'oeuvres drew an estimated 210 LGBT professionals to a political brunch at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 24, including several candidates for District 8 supervisor. The event, organized by dot429 and Equality California, was a chance to provide local LGBT politicians an opportunity to meet and mingle with their community.
Founded approximately a year ago, dot429 facilitates face-to-face networking among LGBT professionals, CEO Richard Klein told the Bay Area Reporter.
"People have become so reliant on technology and their computers, and are forgetting about the good old-fashioned ways to communicate," he said.
To that end, dot429 hosts regular informal brunches through its branches in San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York. Although its founding membership tend toward entrepreneurial celebrity, including Joie de Vivre CEO Chip Conley and former Olivia CEO Amy Errett, dot429 strives to maintain a diverse membership. All are welcome, said Klein: "Our members are anybody within the community."
At Saturday's brunch, attendees expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to meet fellow professionals.
"Four twenty-nine is my lucky number," joked attorney Robert Michitarian, referring to the number's significance as text-messaging code for "gay." He added, more seriously, "It's an innovative idea, to bring LGBT business people together."
Although numerous LGBT politicians around the Bay Area face election battles this year, according to Equality California development director Eric Harrison, "probably the most talked-about race is District 8."
District 8 supervisor candidates Rebecca Prozan, Rafael Mandelman, and Bill Hemenger attended Saturday's brunch, fielding questions and chatting informally.
In conversation with the B.A.R. , all three candidates placed heavy emphasis on job creation and business development.
"We want to support new small businesses as much as we can," said Mandelman, while Hemenger expressed support for expanding exemptions to payroll tax in order to lure major corporate employers to the city.
Hemenger is also eager to reduce storefront vacancy in District 8, which he said now hovers around 18 percent. One solution, he said, is to invite more chain stores to open in District 8 – but selectively.
"They're going to be good corporate neighbors. We're going to make sure of that," he said, citing Levi's, Diesel, and Pottery Barn as examples.
Prozan is currently exploring options for converting the district's foreclosed properties into affordable housing, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. She also expressed support for potential chain store openings.
"The chain store issue has to be case by case," she said. "I thought Levi's did a great job." Regarding the proposed Trader Joe's in the former Tower Records building, she said, "I'm for Trader Joe's. ... I'm confident that we can find ways to deal with the traffic concern."
Mandelman took a more cautious stance on Trader Joe's.
"The jury's still out," he said. "I want to see what the traffic study has to say."
Both Prozan and Mandelman brought up the need for Muni reform. "Muni needs a significant overhaul," said Mandelman, and Prozan described her desire to redistribute Muni resources and to restore the underground Castro shuttle line.
One area in which all three candidates are in agreement: nostalgia for Halloween in the Castro. The unofficial street party has been canceled in recent years, after a spate of violent incidents.
Prozan plans to convene a task force to investigate future Halloween options, including a march from the LGBT Community Center to the Castro.
"I will not compromise on public safety," she said.
"It's pretty clear it was out of control," said Mandelman. "We have to be very careful. If we ever do it again, we cannot get it wrong."
He advocated community meetings where neighbors could discuss the impact of the event.
Hemenger said he has been approached by retailers who miss the event.
"I would love to see it come back," he said. "But we've got to do it so it's not a military zone."
Another prominent political leader in attendance was San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, who is running for state Assembly. Endorsed by EQCA's political action committee, the openly gay 13-year supervisor is motivated to maintain a strong LGBT caucus in Sacramento. Gordon also intends to work toward transferring authority from the state to local school boards, and warned of coming educational cuts in 2011.
"The fiscal crisis in California was softened by the stimulus money," he said. "But all of that was one-time money. We haven't turned the fiscal corner in California yet."
EQCA staff members talked about the importance of turning out voters both in the upcoming June 8 primary, where Gordon is on the ballot, and in November when San Francisco voters will decide on the supervisor races.
"Getting the vote out in 2010 is very critical," said EQCA's Eric Harrison, referring not just to local and Assembly candidates but to the gubernatorial and attorney general races as well. Were state leadership to turn against LGBT interests, he warned, "it could really change the landscape of what we do." He cited Saturday's event as an example of connecting the LGBT community directly to its leaders.
Meanwhile, dot429 is bolstering its infrastructure to promote similar events. The organization just launched a new website featuring profiles of members and, soon, mentorships.
"I'm really exited about the mentorship program," said co-founder Donald Spradlin. Expected to launch in six months, the program will connect well-established professionals with LGBTs who are just entering the workforce.
Between the upcoming election and the nascent mentorship program, dot429 is taking a long-term view of its future. Klein is already enthusiastic about his young organization's successes. It's not unusual to leave a brunch with new investors and clients, he said, citing examples of members who found new work or internships through dot429 connections.
"It's all about helping one another," he explained, "and coming together as a community."
For more information, visit www.dot429.com or www.eqca.org. Equality California is holding another event to support LGBT candidates on Friday, May 21, at 5:30 p.m. at Catch Restaurant, 2362 Market Street. Guests include Stuart Milk, EQCA's Geoff Kors, and state Senator Mark Leno. Visit http://bit.ly/sf-milk-celebration to purchase tickets.