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Political Notebook: Another top gay SF mayoral staffer todepart

by Matthew S. Bajko

Mayoral chief of staff Steve Kawa. Photo: Jane Philomen<br>Cleland
Mayoral chief of staff Steve Kawa. Photo: Jane Philomen

Steve Kawa, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's longtime chief of staff, will retire at the end of June, ending a 25-year career at City Hall that spanned the administrations of three mayors. A onetime supervisorial aide, Kawa also served as deputy chief of staff to former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom .

His departure follows that of Tony Winnicker , another top gay aide to Lee who left in April. Succeeding Kawa will be Jason Elliott, a straight man who has served as Lee's deputy chief of staff since 2014.

Kawa did not respond to an interview request from the Bay Area Reporter, which broke the news of his departure on its blog Thursday afternoon.

"It has been a great honor to work on behalf of the city I love for so many years," stated Kawa in a news release announcing his plans. "I am incredibly grateful to have worked alongside so many passionate and dedicated employees and to have served under Mayors Brown, Newsom and Lee, all of whom I respect deeply."

He started out as an aide to former Supervisor Tom Hsieh in 1991. Among Kawa's more high profile achievements was helping shape Newsom's pro-marriage equality stances in the early days of his first term in 2004. During the first weekend of same-sex weddings that February, Newsom married Kawa and Dan Henkle , a top executive at retailer Gap Inc., one of a few he presided over at the time.

"I have built important relationships and made countless friends," stated Kawa, who legally wed Henkle in September 2008. "Above all, I am proud of our collective efforts to make this city an inclusive, fair and just place for San Franciscans."

It marks the second time that Kawa, 55, nicknamed by some as the "shadow mayor" inside Room 200, has announced plans to leave city government. In December 2006 Kawa quit in order to focus on his family, as he and his husband have two adopted children, Michael and Katherine.

Kawa had been serving as the executive director of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at San Francisco State University when, in August 2008, he agreed to return as Newsom's top deputy on a six-month interim basis. Yet he never left, and after Newsom's election in 2010 as lieutenant governor, Kawa's name was floated as a potential pick to serve out Newsom's mayoral term.

Instead, Lee emerged as the Board of Supervisors' surprise pick for mayor in January 2011, with Kawa pegged as playing a leading role behind the scenes in scrounging up the votes for Lee, at the time the city administrator. Over the ensuing six years Kawa has played a powerful role by Lee's side, credited with being a tenacious negotiator during contract talks and legislative battles.

"He has worked tirelessly on the city's emergency disaster responses to ensure all residents are safe, led countless labor negotiations, and ensured the long-term financial stability of the city through pension reform," stated Lee. "Steve was the calm amongst many storms. We are lucky to have had such a compassionate and brave public servant."

Progressives, however, claim Kawa is Lee's puppet master and manipulator, ensuring the policies pushed by the mayor benefited his campaign backers, especially market-rate housing developers and tech industry titans.

"While serving three mayoral administrations, Steve Kawa fought hard to maintain Room 200's allegiance to the most powerful economic players and interests," former Supervisor John Avalos wrote in a Facebook post. "Serving the wealthy and powerful first, may have helped the city to become solvent in bad economic times, but the approach did not address how San Francisco could turn its resources towards a city that worked for all. In fact, Kawa worked hard to prevent the communities and leaders who sought to share justly the great wealth in our local economy."


Former Obama aide enters East Bay Assembly race

A former campaign aide and White House staffer for former President Barack Obama has entered the race for an open East Bay Assembly seat in 2018. Buffy Wicks officially announced her candidacy for the 15th Assembly District Seat Tuesday, May 30.

"California has the unique opportunity to achieve bold, progressive goals that reflect our shared values and actually help people: economic security for all women and families, equity for all people, and clean air and water for all our kids. The next Assemblywoman from our district should be leading this fight, and that's exactly what I'm going to do," stated Wicks, who lives in Oakland with her husband Peter and her 6-month-old daughter, Josephine .

A grassroots organizer for Howard Dean 's 2004 presidential campaign, Wicks went on to work for the United Food and Commercial Workers, leading the campaign to fight Wal-Mart for better wages and health care for its employees. In 2007, she was an early hire on Obama's presidential campaign and later worked for him in the White House focused on helping to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles is also seeking the seat, as the incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state's superintendent of public instruction. Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb is also running to succeed Thurmond, and lesbian Berkeley school board member Judy Appel is expected to also enter the Assembly race.

The district includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo, Tara Hills, and a portion of Oakland. If an out candidate were to win, they would be the first out state lawmaker from the East Bay.

Beckles, who is both black and Latina, would become the first out African-American state legislator should she win the race. She has moved quickly to lock up endorsements from progressive groups and leaders, with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club set to early endorse her campaign later this month.

Ahead of the San Francisco group's vote, a number of LGBT progressives in the city endorsed Beckles in the race, including gay former Supervisors Harry Britt and David Campos, as well as former Milk club president Peter Gallotta and current Milk club board member Brad Chapin.

Gay former supervisor and state lawmaker Tom Ammiano also early endorsed Beckles, stating in a release that he did so "because she has continually represented the LGBTQ community with dignity and grace, and she is the fierce legislator we need representing the diverse Assembly District 15 and all LGBTQ persons in Sacramento."


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. The column returns Monday, June 5.


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail



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