Milk-inspired leadership for the 21st century
by Heather Cassell
A little more than three weeks from Election Day the District 8 supervisorial candidates continue to captivate and draw an audience.
An estimated 80 people skipped the postseason Giants game Friday, October 8, to attend the "Filling Harvey's Shoes" forum at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and listen to the four Democratic candidates – Rebecca Prozan, Scott Wiener, Rafael Mandelman, and Bill Hemenger – discuss issues affecting the city and their district.
"It is very exciting when there are so many talented people and so many people to choose from that are really good," said Cheri Mims, a 37-year-old Castro resident. Mims came out to support Prozan, but was interested in learning more about the other candidates.
Like Mims, many audience members had already chosen their candidate. Curiosity about the other candidates in the race didn't sway their decision come Election Day, said attendees who spoke to the Bay Area Reporter, but they appreciated getting to know all of the candidates.
The decision is close, in a race where three of the candidates – Mandelman, Prozan, and Wiener – have risen through the political ranks and have worked together for more than a decade and one, Hemenger, is a former business executive who is running as a political outsider.
The four share similar positions on most of the issues, though they differ on some, such as Proposition L, the civil sidewalks, or sit/lie measure. Wiener and Hemenger support it; Prozan and Mandelman do not.
Hemenger, a former Oracle manager, is the lone candidate hailing from a corporate background. He claimed he refused endorsements or financial support from special interest groups.
The three other candidates have legal backgrounds and experience working in government and public advocacy.
Wiener garnered endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Prozan has the endorsements of California attorney general candidate and current San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and mayoral candidate and current District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Mandelman received the endorsement this week from gay rights activist Cleve Jones and has the support of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).
(Jones also backed Debra Walker, the out lesbian candidate running for District 6.)
The tipping point Friday revolved around the candidates' visibility in the community and demonstration to cut through bureaucracy to improve San Franciscans quality of life.
A very Milk-type platform framed the evening at the forum moderated by B.A.R. news editor Cynthia Laird and the public school's principal, Christina Velasco. The atmosphere was cordial as it has been throughout much of the campaign.
Nuts and bolts
B.A.R.-endorsed Prozan and Wiener – Wiener is the paper's first choice, Prozan is second under rank choice voting – touted their "nuts and bolts" approach and experience to working in government.
The candidates agreed that Milk's shoes couldn't be filled, but his spirit continued to inspire each potential supervisor vying to succeed Dufty and oversee the Castro, Diamond Heights, Glen Park, and Noe Valley neighborhoods that make up District 8. Only part of the district is what Milk's domain once was.
Prozan pointed out that the district was no longer the same district it was 30 years ago. The boundaries are different as well as the composition of the neighborhood and residents' needs. Prozan resisted resting upon Milk's legacy, pointing to leaders that came from the Castro after him, such as state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Dufty, and former Supervisor Harry Britt. Elected officials she called "independent common sense leaders."
"That's the leadership that I will bring. I'm not going to be the tenants' person. I'm not going to be the homeowners' person. My allegiance is to you, the voters of this district," Prozan said.
Wiener criticized current members of the Board of Supervisors for "getting caught up in ideological crusades, international affairs, toys in Happy Meals" and other issues that bear no impact on "people's day-to-day quality of life," he said.
The basics of making the city run is the job, Wiener said. "I understand those nuts and bolts and how to get things done for this community ... my priority will be always getting things done for you," he pledged.
"Nuts and bolts things comes second nature to me," Prozan assured the audience.
Voters were interested in learning how the candidates planned to put ideas into motion, retaining the neighborhood's character, and keeping it safe and welcoming for businesses, residents and visitors. Beyond the Castro, voters' top concerns were circulated around the economy (jobs and the city budget), public safety, civil rights, health care, and education.
Hemenger was critical about the city's ability to attract businesses and to encourage entrepreneurs, pointing at the obstacles businesses encounter in the city to simply get started. He told a story about one business owner's yearlong experience obtaining permits and the $60,000 sticker shock at the end.
"That's no way to encourage entrepreneurship. That's no way to encourage people to start moving businesses into San Francisco," said Hemenger. "We have such innovation here. We are such entrepreneurs."
The other side of the coin, Hemenger admitted, is the lack of consumer spending power due to the economic crisis.
"It comes down to jobs. We have to make San Francisco more job-friendly, more business-friendly," he said, but didn't provide any specifics.
Prozan spoke about maintaining Castro traditions, such as Halloween and Pink Saturday, detailing deficiencies and strategies to keep the celebrations safe, among other community building opportunities. She said that police and other law enforcement agencies can work together on these large public events so that trouble does not occur. One person died at this year's Pink Saturday after being shot.
Adam Cohn, who is supporting Wiener, pointed to the accomplishments already visible in the Castro with the 17th Street Plaza to Wiener's work with neighborhood merchants. Cohn touted Wiener's visibility and supporting local merchants.
Mandelman's civil rights record and work around health care resonated with Patrick Sosa, 36, and his partner of 25 years, who were impressed with their candidate's "answers about important issues," he said.
Mandelman, Prozan, and Wiener spoke in detail about plans and ideas to tackle affordable housing issues, securing basic health and transportation services, and in general about building a sustainable and welcoming city.