Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Political Notebook: Former ethics commissioner expresses regrets


Former Ethics Commissioner Eileen Hansen. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Having recently finished a six-year term on the city's Ethics Commission, Eileen Hansen regrets that she was unable to accomplish more in reforming how money influences local politics.

Hansen, 59, an out lesbian who is a nonprofit coach and consultant, was appointed to the five-person oversight body as the Board of Supervisors' pick in 2005. Her selection was opposed by the San Francisco Chronicle, which in an editorial at the time denounced her nomination as being a "power-play by the board's progressive political wing."

Yet during her tenure Hansen routinely found herself casting the sole dissenting vote. The other four commissioners are each appointed by the city attorney, the mayor, the district attorney, and the assessor.

"I have mixed feelings about the six years. I wish that I could have accomplished more. I much too often was in a 4-1 vote where I was the one vote, that was frustrating and disappointing," said Hansen during a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I could not always put together three votes to be able to accomplish something I thought was important or to stop something I thought needed to be stopped."

Her biggest disappointments, said Hansen, was in not being able to block the commission's softening of the city's lobbyist, campaign consultant, and campaign finance reform ordinances.

"All three were weakened instead of strengthened," said Hansen, who was recently honored by the current Board of Supervisors during Women's History Month.

She also said little has been done to regulate the amount of independent expenditures spent on local races. And with the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing companies to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, Hansen said there doesn't appear to be much of an appetite locally to regulate such spending and corporate lobbying.

"I am very concerned we can't get a handle on independent expenditures. It is appalling to me the amount of money we spend on campaigns," said Hansen. "The way money is flowing into campaigns now is really out of control and that is not okay to me. But the response is we can't do anything about that because our hands are tied because of the direction the federal courts have taken."

Hansen demurred when asked if she would have supported the commission's recent unanimous vote to grant interim Mayor Ed Lee an exemption to a city rule that otherwise bars him for a year from returning to his old job as city administrator once his term as mayor expires.

Lee has said he does not intend to seek a full-term as mayor and prefers to be given his old job back. With several supervisors and fellow city officials running to be mayor, it was expected that Lee would be given the waiver.

"I haven't really given it any thought. I haven't looked at the law and whether it is an appropriate thing to do or not," she said. "Because I knew I wasn't going to vote on it, I didn't look at it."

As for her own days as a political candidate, Hansen said they are over. She twice ran unsuccessfully for supervisor in District 8, where she still lives with her partner of 28 years, Denise Wells .

"I don't have any plans to run for office," she said. "I feel many other folks are considering that route. I am not considering that at the moment."

Gay former deputy enters sheriff's race

Jon Gray, 47, an openly gay former sheriff's deputy who endured anti-gay harassment by fellow officers who posted homophobic comments on an unofficial website, has pulled papers to run for sheriff this fall.

After three decades as the city's sheriff, Michael Hennessey announced earlier this year that he had decided to retire when his current term ends. So far the candidate with the highest name recognition in the race is District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

A decade ago Gray was the subject of anti-gay comments co-workers posted online outside of work. He sued the city and the sheriff's department, and in 2007, won a $50,000 ruling from an administrative law judge overseeing the matter.

He was less successful in his legal battle against the city's fire department in a case where he alleged its entrance exam included several anti-gay questions meant to weed out gay applicants. His attempts to force the company that created the test to disclose it failed, and a judge eventually dismissed the lawsuit.

A longtime critic of Hennessey – he opposed his re-election four years ago – Gray was terminated from his job in September 2008. He in turn filed a worker's compensation complaint alleging his firing was retaliation for his earlier litigation. The case is scheduled to be heard this June. 

In an email to the B.A.R. this week, Gray wrote that he is running for sheriff in order "to change attitude of documented homophobia that exists in dept and better serve our community."

Dufty hires campaign manager

Out mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty welcomed a new campaign manager this week, David Feighan. The 32-year-old political consultant last spring served as the campaign manager for Sonoma Councilwoman Joanne Sanders, who lost her state Senate primary bid against former Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D).

Feighan's father, Edward Feighan , represented the Cleveland area in the United States House of Representatives from 1983 to 1993. The elder Feighan came out as gay after leaving Congress.

He currently sits on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which gave Dufty an early endorsement in the mayoral race.


Last week's column misstated the starting time for a May 21 Cruisin' the Castro Walking Tour that will raise funds for the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. It will begin that Saturday at 10 a.m. The online version has been corrected.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on the District 8 Town Hall with Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.

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