Herrera's record elicits mixed reactions
by Matthew S. Bajko
To many LGBT people, he is the man whose office led the successful drive to overturn California's laws against same-sex marriage.
But now that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is running to be San Francisco's next mayor, his challenge is to educate voters in the LGBT community (and the public at large) not only about his other successes in the public office he first won in 2001 but also why that makes him qualified to occupy Room 200 at City Hall.
Herrera, the city's first Latino city attorney, and his deputy city attorneys have a long list of legal victories they have secured over the last decade. Chief among them is the closure of the Potrero power plant; a multi-million dollar judgment against CitiApartments for violating tenants' rights; a $4.5 million settlement with Office Depot for overcharges to the city; and defending the city's groundbreaking Healthy San Francisco program from legal attacks.
"One great thing about being city attorney ... we are often a clearinghouse to bring people together to solve problems," said Herrera at a campaign event last month.
At the same time Herrera has ruffled the feathers of various constituencies due to his stance on a number of issues. He upset progressives by securing the city's first gang injunctions, and more recently, in supporting the tax break the city just extended to Twitter and other companies moving to the mid-Market area.
Entertainment industry leaders have questioned his office's targeting of what it considers "violence-plagued" nightclubs for closure. And he came under withering attack from immigration rights activists for the legal advice his office gave to former Mayor Gavin Newsom over the city's sanctuary city policy.
At the recent candidate meet and greet aimed at LGBT voters, Herrera defended his pursuit of the gang injunctions.
"I took a lot of heat for instituting gang injunction programs in the Mission and Bayview. I was called all kinds of things in the press, from a racial cleanser to racial profiler. Facts don't lie ... crime is now down in those neighborhoods," he said. "Public safety is not a progressive or conservative issue. Everyone deserves safe streets."
As mayor, Herrera said his focus will be on jobs and city services.
"I want to make San Francisco a city that works," he said. "I am running for mayor to make San Francisco a city that puts people to work and works to the best of its ability to make a difference in people's lives each and every day."
Supported by many LGBT progressive leaders over the years, from lesbian lawmaker Carole Migden, a close friend, to the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Herrera is now considered more of a moderate. That was evidenced by the entrance of Supervisor John Avalos into the mayor's race this week, whom some pundits have labeled progressives' "great hope" to elect one of their own this fall.
To Herrera's longtime supporters, the attacks on his record from the left are puzzling. Former Milk Club president Jeff Sheehy, who served with Herrera on the Democratic County Central Committee, said had it not been for Herrera's leadership on the marriage case, the marriage equality movement may not have advanced as far as it had.
"We would not have had the 'Winter of Love.' We wouldn't be prosecuting this case like this were it not for a city attorney so determined to win our rights for us," said Sheehy, referring to the marriages that took place in 2004.
Prior to the same-sex marriage fight, Sheehy said Herrera was instrumental in defending the city's equal benefits ordinance. United Airlines had sued to overturn the rule that city contractors had to offer domestic partner benefits and donated money to an opponent of Herrera's.
"When Dennis got elected it was the difference between whether we concluded equal benefits or not. Dennis came in and finished the case," said Sheehy.
It is his more recent actions that have troubled other LGBT community leaders. Terrrie Frye, a longtime Milk Club member, said Herrera lost her vote when he backed former Police Chief George Gascón being named district attorney.
"I am not supporting any candidates as of now, I am just too sick over SF politics in general, especially my own D6 supervisor's actions," stated Frye.