LGBT themes emerge at first mayoral forum
by Matthew S. Bajko
The theme of the first candidate forum in this year's San Francisco mayoral race was public service, but that didn't deter the nine leading candidates who took part from peppering their responses with references to LGBT concerns.
Taking the stage together for the first time, the seven men and two women running to be San Francisco's next mayor spent 90 minutes Thursday, May 5 pitching themselves to a packed house of college students and residents gathered inside the McLaren Conference Center at the University of San Francisco, whose Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good teamed up with the group buildOn to host the forum.
While none of the questions spoke directly about LGBT issues, several candidates' remarks included not so subtle pitches to the city's LGBT voters for their support.
One of the most blatant references came from District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who in his closing statement stole a famous line that the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk used on the campaign trail back in the 1970s.
"I am John Avalos. I am a community builder and a community organizer. I want to recruit you to help rebuild San Francisco to make it a city that works better for all of us," said Avalos, incorporating Milk's "I am here to recruit you" riff on the anti-gay belief that homosexuals recruit youth to replenish their ranks.
It wasn't the first time that Avalos has associated himself with the gay civil rights leaders' legacy. In a video interview where he discusses his mayoral bid, which he linked to on his Facebook account May 2, Avalos is seen wearing a T-shirt bearing an image of a mustached Milk.
While a new group called Queers for Avalos has formed to support his mayoral candidacy, not everyone is pleased to see him referencing Milk.
"I find it an insult. If he is running for mayor he should come up with an original line. That man couldn't shine Milk's shoes," said Wayne Friday, a former political columnist for the Bay Area Reporter who was close with Milk and who has donated to the campaigns of City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
Avalos isn't the only candidate utilizing allusions to Milk. Outside the conference center volunteers for candidate Joanna Rees, a venture capitalist, handed out a campaign flier with a cover photo showing her talking to a gentleman under signage reading "Harvey Milk Plaza."
Visible in the background is a photographic memorial to Milk that greets people entering the Castro Muni station. During her forum remarks, Rees did not directly refer to the city's LGBT residents but did allude to San Francisco's reputation as a tolerant city.
"I moved here 18 years ago to raise a family because of the diversity, inclusiveness and commitment to community in San Francisco," said Rees. "I love the fact we open our arms to the world and work hard to support all of our citizens."
Several candidates made reference to the city's diversity as being one of its strong points. Former Supervisor Tony Hall also hailed the city's cultural makeup.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
"When it comes to cultural, ethnic, and social differences in the communities we live in, we have to redefine our approach. We have to look at the strengths of each community – the African American, Asian, whatever community you want – we have to appreciate the differences they bring," said Hall. "That is what it is all about, is appreciating our differences. Every group has a little bit of something to offer."
Both District 3 Supervisor David Chiu and Herrera referred to the city's leadership in the fight to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples.
"Our greatest moment, whether standing up for marriage equality or the environment, is when we get together to get things done," said Chiu.
Herrera noted his office's successful legal fight to overturn the state's anti-gay marriage statutes as one example of how San Francisco leads the country on important issues.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
"I have seen how local government has the power to impact people's lives each and every day. On issues of national significance – marriage equality, choice, health care, guns and more – we have impacted people nationwide across this country, not just here in San Francisco," said Herrera.
Dufty, so far the only gay top-tier candidate in the race, spoke of how his sexual orientation has not been a barrier in achieving his dreams since moving to town. Being in the mayoral race, he noted he gets invited places, such as Catholic churches and other venues, he "would never get to go to as a gay Jew."
He elicited approving giggles from the crowd when he praised the fact that local drag queen Pollo del Mar was invited to be a judge at a recent fundraiser for a Gaelic football club held at a Catholic church.
"That is what makes our city great," said Dufty.