Saturday, May 08, 2010

Tom Ammiano’s Campaign Party at the Triple Crown: Progressives Gather for Their Hero

Sal Rosselli, John Perez, Tom Ammiano and John Burton

There was an extraordinary gathering of progressives for California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s re-election campaign at the Triple Crown Lounge on May 6. A who’s who of the San Francisco Democrats showed up to enjoy stiff drinks and succulent hors d’oeuvres as they mingled with the politicos they knew and critically checked out the others.

The Triple Crown, situated just a half block away from the San Francisco LGBT Community Center at Market and Gough Streets, has hosted recent charity benefits put on by the Imperial Court and the gay erotic film industry. Last year about two dozen half-dressed porn stars caroused outside the lounge because the party, hosted by Sister Roma and Chi Chi LaRue, was such an extreme crush inside.

Ammiano is from working class New Jersey roots, growing up over a cab garage, and he has a feeling for service as an educator, civil rights activist, and legislator demanding justice and equality for the non-elite community. After moving to San Francisco he worked as a schoolteacher and his gayness was revealed after the principal of his school became ill and Ammiano served as the school’s interim principal. Lesbians and gays were not welcome by various groups within the teaching community until Ammiano allied himself with Harvey Milk and later with much-missed activist Hank Wilson and others.

The statewide No on 6 campaign that sought to save lesbian and gay teachers’ jobs by defeating the Briggs Initiative brought new awareness to the threats to LGBT rights, and Harvey Milk even succeeded in persuading then President Jimmy Carter and California Governor Ronald Reagan to join in — with the threat that if Proposition 6 passed, large numbers of teachers would sue and it would cost as much as $30,000 each to remove them. This journalist covered them as they rallied, agitated with the media, and stormed meetings until there was acceptance.

Against his wishes some lesbian friends mounted an Ammiano for School Board Campaign and he received more votes than many serious candidates. Acceding to their wishes, Ammiano ran and won a school board position on the next election cycle. Then his supporters induced him to run for a citywide supervisor seat in 1994, which he won, and he served there for 14 years, later representing District 9 when district elections were restored.

Hank Wilson led a Draft Ammiano for Mayor Campaign at street fair booths that was not endorsed by Ammiano. But after a short vacation, Ammiano returned to find a groundswell of support and he ran for mayor, putting a serious scare into Willie Brown operatives. Emily Morse’s excellent 2001 documentary “See How They Run” outlines how the Ammiano campaign not only came close to an election upset, but it also energized the progressives and later placed into power a majority of supervisors who were opposed to the status quo.

Today Ammiano serves as an energized state assemblyman, where his leadership in the campaign to legalize and tax marijuana — the state’s 14 billion dollar leading cash crop — has legislators and the national media taking notice.

While there are progressives who appreciate and admire Ammiano’s years of public service, there are others who receive almost as much pleasure experiencing theatrical rants from the radical right as they vent hysterically over the assemblyman’s supposed “socialist wrong thinking.” Imagine raised voices, stamping feet, and even a wig flopping up and down. They hate the fact that Ammiano is loved and respected for his support for the funding of health, housing, youth, seniors, and schools, and especially for middle and working class citizens.

Tom Ammiano and David Waggoner

The star attraction besides Ammiano at the Triple Crown party was gay Latino Speaker of the Assembly John Perez. The media was welcomed to the event, but they were barred by Perez from a recent San Francisco LGBT event because he supposedly did not want to hear questions about staff raises. California State Democratic Party Chair John Burton spoke about high-level business with Ammiano, Perez, and Sal Rosselli of the National Union of Healthcare Workers before the obligatory speeches.

Jane Morrison and John Perez

Former San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Jane Morrison, who just turned 90, handed out invitations to a May 23 brunch to benefit the Rafael Mandelman for District 8 Supervisor to activists Maggi Rubenstein and David Smith. Sharyn Saslavsky, the first prominent lesbian to support Harvey Milk’s election for supervisor was there, as was District 8 supervisor candidate Rebecca Prozan. Equality California’s Geoff Kors stopped by with New Conservatory Theatre’s Andrew Nance, and so did grant wizard Jeff Jones.

Tom Taylor, Tom Ammiano and Maggi Rubenstein

Tom Taylor, an expressive first-time candidate for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (SFDCCC), was celebrating a Sierra Club endorsement with his lover Larry Cohen, while in contrast lesbian activist and retired Sheriff’s Department Captain Connie O’Conner congenially discussed her 30 years on the SFDCCC.

Consultant Esther Marks coordinated the event to her usual high standards and the tight squeeze of the 100-plus guests was a testament to her efforts and Ammiano’s popularity.

Kim Alvarenga, Tom Ammiano and Linnette Peralta Haynes

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