Political Notebook: Young Dems' supe debates the summer's must-see events
by Matthew S. Bajko
The city's hottest political event this summer is shaping up to be the supervisorial debates hosted by the San Francisco Young Democrats chapter.
If the group's recent forum with seven of the candidates seeking the Board of Supervisors' District 6 seat is any guide, it is going to be standing-room-only for the other three debates in the even-numbered districts up for grabs this fall.
Apart from the intense interest in this year's battles for the board – the winners potentially will select the city's next mayor if Gavin Newsom is elected lieutenant governor and resigns – the debates are sure to draw packed crowds due to their unique format. To spice things up, the Young Dems are allowing each of the invited candidates to pose a question to one of their opponents, in addition to being asked a specific question by the moderator and those posed by the audience.
The result is claws coming out amongst the rivals in the races and a unique look at the candidates' strategic approaches to the opportunity to quiz a fellow office seeker.
"I didn't want this to be where you sit down and people watch these debates and after a period of time people's eyes glaze over. We wanted to do something different and engage the electorate so they are informed come November," said Maxwell Szabo, president of the political club, who noted it is the first time the group's debate format has been structured this way. "I love to see who is trying to beat up on who. It is a good indication of the dynamics of the race."
The District 6 debate Wednesday, June 23 certainly did not disappoint.
Debra Walker, an out lesbian artist, and Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman who is past president of the Police Commission, hit each other with tough queries. Right out of the box Walker used a recent newspaper report claiming the law enforcement oversight body has been lax about police misconduct to question why Sparks allowed "dirty cops" to remain on the streets.
Sparks, who said the article was factually wrong, in turn suggested Walker is not concerned with lessening the tax burden small businesses face by asking if she backed several new taxes the current board has proposed. Walker, who touts the fact as an artist she is a small business owner, said she is against any measure that "disincentizes" employers from hiring additional staff.
Next up was Jim Meko, the gay owner of a printing company, who not so subtly painted Jane Kim, president of the school board, as a carpetbagger shopping for a supervisor seat to seek.
Noting he has "been around the district" since the late 1970s, and that Kim, "just moved in a few months ago," Meko tried to trip her up by asking about a planning proposal known as the Mid-Market Plan. To which Kim shot back that she has lived in San Francisco for 11 years and has "served families and residents in District 6" for the last four years on the school board, whose members are elected citywide.
Glendon Hyde, a gay man whose drag persona is Anna Conda, threw an easier question to Kim, asking her how much more bond-related debt the city could afford. And James Keys, who worked as an aide to termed-out District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, also questioned Kim on what she would do to improve pedestrian safety in the district.
The seventh candidate at the debate, attorney Matthew Drake, also threw a relatively easy question at Kim, inquiring why she does not support a plan to make public employees pay more toward their pensions that Public Defender Jeff Adachi has proposed be on the fall ballot. It allowed Kim to offer up a very union-friendly response that she prefers seeing a deal worked out directly with labor leaders and not via the ballot box.
For her part, Kim lobbed a softball to Hyde and asked for his advice on what can be done to help the city's, and particularly District 6's, nightlife venues thrive as businesses. To some it was a shrewd move on Kim's part, allowing her to look above the fray while at the same time preventing one of her main rivals in the race more face time.
Kim's being asked the most questions signaled she is viewed as a strong frontrunner in the race. As the debate's moderator Melissa Griffin, a San Francisco Examiner political columnist, half-joked at the end of round two, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are done with the Jane Kim show."
"It really demonstrates who the frontrunners are and who is worried about who," said Szabo. "You saw that between Theresa Sparks and Debra Walker. I found it very informative. They were going right after one another. Whether or not that is the best strategy for the candidates, I don't necessarily know."
The Young Dems were criticized for picking and choosing from the nearly two dozen people who have pulled papers in the race who to invite to take part in the debate. Szabo said the club sent all the candidates a questionnaire to fill out, and based on the 16 who responded, the Young Dem board decided whom to include in the debate.
"Inviting everybody to come makes it extraordinarily difficult" to have an informative discussion within the time constraints of a 90-minute debate, said Szabo.
Next up will be the District 2 race Wednesday, July 28 at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, 1 Yacht Road in the Marina. Those candidates who have been invited to take part are Janet Reilly, Abraham Simmons, Kat Anderson, and Mark Farrell .
So far the club is not extending an invite to current District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. Because she was appointed to serve out the remainder of Newsom's term after he became mayor in 2004 and was then re-elected for another term, the city attorney ruled she is ineligible to run for re-election this year since she has served for six years, and thus under the city charter, is termed out of office.
Alioto-Pier is suing the city to overturn that decision and her case is expected to be heard by a superior court judge July 16. Szabo said unless there is a definitive answer to whether she will indeed be a candidate by the time of the District 2 debate, Alioto-Pier would not be extended an invite.
The debate with the District 10 supervisor candidates is scheduled to take place August 11 and sometime in September the club will host a debate with the District 8 contenders.
The club will announce the exact times and locations on its website at http://sfyd.org/. Videos of the debates will also be archived on the site. The District 6 taped debate, with SFGate.com columnist Beth Spotswood and drag queen Pollo Del Mar providing color commentary, is already available online.
SF Zoo Pride campaign bypasses gay press
Hi, San Francisco Zoo? It's the gay media calling.
Just wanted to let you know we loved the Pride advertising campaign you rolled out this year. The rainbow made out of various animal hides and skins was a cute visual play on the gay community's multi-colored icon.
And offering families coupons for discounted admission to the zoo is a great gesture during these uncertain economic times.
Just wanted to point out a minor quibble about the ads. It seems strange to promote that "Pride lives at" the zoo in the city's straight press and not include San Francisco's two gay papers in your media buy.
Considering how the LGBT community loves its bears and otters and studs, it would seem our readers are a perfect target audience for your pitch. Plus, if you haven't heard, having kids is all the rage in the Castro these days.
And just so you know, there are no hurt feelings on our part over the breakup of your gay penguin couple Harry and Pepper. If anyone knows how difficult it can be to maintain a relationship these days, it is same-sex couples.
We understand from your marketing and sponsorship manager, Danny Latham Jr., that by the time he started talking to the Bay Area Reporter about its advertising rates the Pride media buy was already completed and the budget depleted for this year.
He did note that this is an annual campaign, so we do hope to hear from you next Pride season!
The Bay Area Reporter
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column looks at the LGBT candidates running for Congress this year.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.