Magnet, the Castro’s medical and cultural center in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, hosted a District 8 supervisor debate on Oct. 27, 2009. There was anticipation and tension in the air in the space that Mayor Willie Brown described as beautifully designed as the W Hotel, for an election that is happening November 2010. The district’s Supervisor Bevan Dufty will be stepping down due to term limits but some intense political junkies would have you believe that it is happening next week. A party to promote marriage equality in Maine and a Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club meeting occurring at the same time as the debate did not affect the popularity of the event.
Magnet director Steve Gibson welcomed the guests who had packed the space and described the debate ground rules, and then each candidate spoke about their backgrounds and goals if elected.
Then there was a Q&A and a reception for one-on-one opportunities with the four announced candidates.
Attorney and Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club president Rafael Mandelman spoke first about who he is, why he is running, and what the district’s citizens and he can do together. He spoke about being afraid to be near gay Supervisor Harry Britt when he was a City Hall intern because he thought it would make him gay. This is a not an isolated fear. A lesbian couple with a feminist farm in the Deep South, on a fundraising tour through San Francisco, said that backward ministers told people that if women or girls rode past their farm they would become lesbians. He also spoke about his positions on the Board of Appeals and the Democratic Central Committee. And he stressed a need for a progressive coalition to better solve problems and serve citizens. He stated a need to help out children and finished by playfully calling the other three candidates “kids.”
Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Prozan started her presentation by saying that she is humbled and honored to be considered for the district supervisor seat. She spoke about working for Mayor Willie Brown as his LGBT liaison, and how she was able to obtain funding for the community that included money for Magnet. Prozan spoke about having the experience for the supervisor job and that she recognized the need to oversee and enhance funding for HIV/AIDS and childrens’ health programs. She emphasized that her day job of helping victims get justice prepares her for the public safety needs of the district.
Deputy City Attorney Scott Wiener began his presentation with a swipe at the mostly progressive board of supervisors by saying that he would not be “ideological.” That is the word that San Francisco dailies use when the board votes on international issues. Wiener’s said that his job gives him insight to how city departments operate and that he has ideas of how to improve their efficiency. He also spoke about his presidency of the Eureka Valley Improvement Association, his co-founding of the Castro Community on Patrol, and his former position as chair of the Democratic Central Committee as a source of perspective that would make him a good choice for supervisor.
PUC Assistant General Manager Laura Spanjian, the only non-attorney candidate, started her by saying that she did not need a microphone and that her loud voice is something she was known for in high school. She then complimented Magnet by letting the audience know that the medical center is one of the top 6 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Spanjian said that she learned a lot from working for lesbian Supervisor Leslie Katz, working for MUNI just as it went into a meltdown, and then on to the PUC during its multi-billion dollar water and sewer projects. She stressed that she would be a 24-hour supervisor who could be counted on to solve constituents’ problems. She also spoke about her position on the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund board and an advisory board for the newly re-opened Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Library.
During the Q&A some of the districts’ major issues were discussed. All four candidates agreed with Supervisor Dufty’s closing down of the Halloween Castro that drew hundreds of thousands of mostly non-costumed throngs and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s marijuana legislation. Except for Wiener, they agreed with Supervisor David Campos’ legislation to resist the apprehension of undocumented youth who are not convicted of a crime. Mandelman waved the progressive flag to denounce the owner of Whole Foods for his distain for workers’ guaranteed health care plans and unions during a discussion of incoming Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s outlets to District 8.
There was a congeniality among the candidates that could spread to their supporters. Ranked choice voting makes it advantageous to keep the lid down hard on conflicts, since even moderate voters could hand over one vote to a progressive and the other way around. There has been one surprise election victory because of this dynamic, and it could happen again.
Harvey Milk’s name was mentioned because the District 8 seat was mentioned as a legacy seat. This journalist knew Milk well and we discussed politics and community service over dinner at the Sausage Factory. All four candidates sounded like they understood that constituents expect attention to their needs, which is what Milk worked at day and night. But Milk did not have to deal with handheld phones that can take incriminating pictures and videos, political junkies with no life who follow the online 24-hour news frenzy, and unhappy café types and the gay far right that can pick apart and even distort altruistic civil servants’ best work and send it out instantly on blogs.