Wanted: A Wiener opponent
by Matthew S. Bajko
A floated recall never got off the ground. Attempts to block his nudity ban, so far, have fizzled. Even their campaign opposing his bid to be board president went bust when he took himself out of contention.
It seems the only thing gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener's opponents – from urban nudists to progressives – have achieved in the past 12 months is assisting their political nemesis in gaining a national platform, as their policy disputes with the moderate lawmaker have garnered press coverage in mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.
Behind the scenes Wiener's critics have been falling short on another effort: finding a credible candidate to run against him in 2014 when Wiener is up for re-election to his board seat.
Now at the halfway mark of Wiener's first four-year term, no one has yet formalized plans to oppose him for the seat representing the Castro, Diamond Heights, and Glen Park neighborhoods at City Hall.
The person most often mentioned by Wiener foes as an ideal candidate, newly sworn in City College trustee Rafael Mandelman , has ruled it out. Mandelman ran against Wiener in 2010 and came in second place.
He has told the Bay Area Reporter on several occasions that he has no plans to challenge Wiener again for the seat. Mandelman reaffirmed that stance this week.
"I have not been arm-twisted in to it and I don't believe I could be," said Mandelman. "I am 100 percent not going to run in 2014."
Although they often are on opposite sides in policy fights, Mandelman said he has found common ground with Wiener on a number of issues.
"I do not agree with everything Scott has done, but he is an extremely competent and effective lawmaker," said Mandelman. "He enrages a lot of people, but I think most of the district is pretty happy with him."
Another trial balloon floated as a potential contender has been that of San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano , a former mayor of Tempe. Last summer he told the B.A.R. he could foresee a return to politics, either in San Francisco or Arizona, where he maintains his residence and is registered to vote.
Asked this week about his name being mentioned as a D8 candidate, Giuliano deflated any such notion.
"Very nice of people to toss my name about, but I live in SOMA, District 6," wrote Giuliano in an emailed response.
One of Wiener's most vocal critics, Gary Virginia , also said this week that he does not see himself competing against the supervisor. The Castro resident ran for the D8 seat in 2000 when the city reverted back to district elections.
"It is not on my immediate radar," said Virginia. "It is a very stressful job. As a long-term HIV and AIDS survivor, I don't know it would be in my interest, health-wise."
Virginia said he isn't too worried at the moment about seeing Wiener be unopposed for a second term in 2014. He said there is still plenty of time to find a candidate.
"It is two years away still. I think that leaders will emerge," said Virginia.
Yet whoever does decide to take on Wiener faces formidable challenges to defeating him. Wiener proved to be a smart and competitive candidate in 2010, had significant political and financial backing, and spent countless hours knocking on doors throughout the district to secure residents' support.
Despite the constant criticisms leveled against him, he remains very popular in District 8. And in 2014 he will have the added advantage of incumbency if he does seek a second term.
"Supervisor Wiener's re-election prospects are good but by no means assured," City Hall watcher and District 8 resident Larry Bush told the B.A.R.
Bush, who publishes the online CitiReport website, said that in addition to well-financed campaign coffers Wiener will be able to run on a number of legislative successes that appeal to many D8 voters.
"So an opponent will have to have access to at least $100,000 in addition to public financing and have endorsements that signal a serious candidacy," wrote Bush in an emailed response. "The past elections have pitted candidates who ran 'against' a competitor and a candidate who focused on what they wanted to do for the district. That's how Bevan Dufty won and how Scott won."
Articulating a clear vision for how to tackle the district's issues is key for any D8 candidate, wrote Bush.
"This time an opponent will have to do more than talk about what's not working with Scott as the supervisor but also about what needs to work – and have the money and outreach to get that message across," he wrote.
Raising money may not be as important to winning the D8 seat, countered Virginia, as having support from the city's two LGBT Democratic clubs, Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk, which send out mailers to voters and enlist their members for get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of their endorsed candidates.
"Someone doesn't have to have a war chest," he said. "You need to have money, volunteers, and get endorsements. It is hard to do if you are an unknown grassroots person or not part of one of the two major clubs going into it."
No one may yet be out campaigning against Wiener, but his detractors are pressing forward with their plans to oppose him legislatively.
A new group calling itself "Wiener Watch" is forming and holding its first meeting this weekend. An email announcing the group's formation says its aim is "to plan and execute creative, public actions that target Supervisor Wiener with the goal of making him more accountable to SF residents."
Gus Feldman, with the group District 8 Democrats, who is helping to spearhead the new group, could not be reached for comment.
A separate initiative to bring voice to progressive stances in D8 debates is also being organized under the moniker Vibrant Castro Neighborhood Alliance. The group was behind an online petition opposed to Wiener being elected board president and had urged supporters to speak out against Wiener during Tuesday's board meeting.
Their plans were upended, however, when Wiener announced at the meeting that he had asked his colleagues not to nominate him for the position, and instead, endorsed District 3 Supervisor David Chiu 's nomination for a historic third term as president. It had been expected for months that Chiu had a lock on being re-elected.
Bids by District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim to be the first female president in nearly 25 years failed to gain steam. After first nominating each other, the two withdrew their names from contention leading to a unanimous vote for Chiu.
The steering committee for the Vibrant Castro Neighborhood Alliance is still formalizing a mission statement and agenda. Virginia, who is a member of the new group, said the alliance plans to hold a community meeting in the coming weeks for those interested in joining it.
It is possible that the new group could be a launching pad for one of its leaders to take on Wiener in 2014. In a press release announcing its formation, a quote from steering committee member Tommi Avicolli Mecca , a longtime LGBT activist and housing advocate, hints at such a possibility.
"Wiener represents the monied interest, the upscale folks, those who are gentrifying the neighborhood. He doesn't represent me, a long-term tenant of the Castro who doesn't make a six-figure salary," Mecca is quoted as saying.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.