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Guest Opinion: Leno's experience makes him best choice for SF mayor

by Annise Parker

Annise Parker, left stumped for San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno in April. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Annise Parker, left stumped for San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno in April. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Marching with protest signs and bullhorns through the Castro of the 1980s was not for the faint of heart. It was illegal to be gay in much of the nation - and being seen at a gay rights demonstration could derail your career, sever ties with your family, or make you a target for violence and hate. This didn't deter Mark Leno. He was on those streets, demanding equality and basic fairness for San Franciscans and all Americans, when so much was at risk.

It was in San Francisco that Leno met the love of his life, Douglas Jackson, who walked into Leno's shop at 55 Brady Street to purchase signs for "Muni Madness," an event celebrating the opening of the Castro Muni station. Together they became partners and activists - living together for more than a decade in the Noe Valley house Leno still calls home. But the AIDS epidemic that shattered the lives of so many gay Americans did not spare Leno, and in 1990 he lost Jackson, along with many other friends he knew and loved.

As a lesbian activist since the 1970s, I also know the discrimination, fear, and devastation the LGBTQ activists of that era experienced. It inspired an intolerance for injustice, an unwavering commitment to a better future, and a fearlessness that guided us through the toughest of challenges. We became believers in the necessity and promise of change.

And it is change that Leno is determined to bring to City Hall this June. He will finally address the affordable housing crisis, work to end street homelessness by 2020, and combat violence through gun buy-back programs and more. His vision for the city stems from his values - "San Francisco values" - and will balance the need for a strong economy while ensuring the spirit of San Francisco never fades.

I know that delivering on change is not easy. When I became mayor of Houston, countless obstacles were thrown in my path as I worked to live up to the promises laid out in my campaign. But it was my nearly 12 years of government experience that allowed me to be successful, knowing how to navigate the political and legislative processes and understanding the realities of moving a city forward. Experience and fearlessness is what is required to be a changemaker, to take San Francisco in a new direction. And Leno is the only candidate in the race who understands the city and state level politics that deeply affect San Franciscans everyday lives.

Leno is a lifelong public servant who rose from Harvey Milk's former seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the state Assembly and then state Senate. He's authored more than 160 laws aimed at positive change for his constituents, holds a deep understanding of policy, and is known as a bridge-builder among officials of all political stripes. Essentially, he is the antithesis of our current president - both in substance and demeanor. Leno continues to seek public service because he cares for San Franciscans and seeks a position where he can best serve them.

Leno is the most capable and most qualified candidate for mayor. He will make history as the first openly LGBTQ mayor of San Francisco, much as I was the first openly LGBTQ mayor of Houston. But I assure you, neither of us ran to become history-makers. True public servants like Leno view elected office not as a destination or prize, but as a tool to do good for their communities. In San Francisco, this will require a leader with the experiences and skills learned from more than 20 years in government, from protesting on the streets, and from turning unimaginable tragedy into a life calling.

San Francisco does need a new direction, and Leno is the best candidate to deliver on it.

Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston, is president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.


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