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Grumbles and Groans Greet Mayor's Race
By Jim Christie
If we had to pick one word to describe what Noe Valley voters feel about their choices in the upcoming mayoral election, it would be "disappointment."
Disappointment over the politicians' failure to crack such problems as homelessness, Muni inefficiency, the housing shortage, traffic gridlock, and rampant business growth -- all of which are lowering the quality of life in this increasingly congested city. But even more, disappointment over the candidates' lack of vision for San Francisco as it enters the new millennium.
The Voice recently polled a cross-section of Noe Valleyans, to find out if any of the frontrunners -- Willie Brown, Frank Jordan, or Clint Reilly -- had captured their enthusiasm. What we got instead was a collective sigh of resignation. Almost no one is looking forward to casting their ballots on Nov. 2.
Ruth Asawa, a children's activist and founder of the Alvarado Arts Program, said, "I'm not impressed with any of the candidates. Politicians do what is good for them. They just get in the way of making things happen."
Strongly echoing those sentiments was Miriam Blaustein, a longtime resident and former head of the Friends of Noe Valley. "I'm not happy with any of them," she said. "One of my pet peeves is the invasion of chain stores into the neighborhoods, and City Hall pays no attention. Willie Brown doesn't seem to do anything for the neighborhoods."
Nevertheless, Blaustein said, "I still have hopes for Willie Brown, but you don't want my opinion on the other two. You wouldn't be able to print it!"
Blaustein added that she was switching to the Green Party and would vote for their candidate, if they had one. However, San Francisco Green Party spokesperson Betty Traynor said there was no Green candidate for mayor. She also predicted that the party would be unable to reach a consensus on a mayoral endorsement at the group's Sept. 28 meeting.
There were plenty of anti-Brown comments to be heard around the neighborhood. Typical of them was one made by Evelyn Martin, a member of the Duncan Newburg Association: "Anybody but Willie," she said. "Not many people I've talked to are voting for him."
Josh Epple of Drewes Brothers meat market on Church Street seconded that notion: "I don't know anybody who's voting for Willie," he said.
Epple then voiced his support for Clint Reilly, who visited several outer Noe merchants in mid-September: "He came in, shook my hand, and said he was glad to meet me. That's good enough for me."
Cecilia DeLeon, who operates the video store in the same space, also said she was leaning toward Reilly.
Josh's brother Isaac Epple offered an opinion as well. "I'm voting for Cesar Ascarrunz," he said, "because I like his trucks with the lights and the big sign." Isaac then admitted he was joking and said he hadn't made a decision yet.
9 of 20 Challengers on the Web
With this mention of former nightclub owner and perennial candidate Cesar Ascarrunz, it should be noted that this year's election features the usual array of long shots and loonies running for mayor, although we won't venture an opinion as to who belongs in the latter group.
Joining Ascarrunz among the declared are Jim Reid, Lucrecia Bermudez, Mark "SuperBooty" O'Hara, Eric Beckjord, Lord Martine, Joan Jett-Blakk, Max Woods, Mark "Moshe" Hardie, Daniel Benton, Brad Bishop, Larry J. Edmond, Martin L. Eng, William Felzer, Jason Jones, Patrick Lawlor, Glenn-Allen McKeever, Eric Muller, David Parker, and Angela White. Space considerations prevent full coverage, but suffice it to say that their platforms range from thoughtful to purposely ludicrous. (The nine from Ascarrunz through Hardie maintain web sites. Go take a look.)
Despite this surfeit of candidates, the election is centered around the big three: Brown, Jordan, and Reilly -- who have web sites too, of course. Their debate at Mission High School on Sept. 8, which degenerated into a heckling and shouting match and also included the arrest of candidate Lucrecia Bermudez, drew the universal ire of residents we spoke to.
Their opinion was best summed up by Katherine Pietrycha of the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association.
"I found the spectacle at the debate disgusting," Pietrycha said. "If this is the level that San Francisco politics is willing to sink, then we will continue to get the leaders we deserve."
Demos Decline to Pick a Favorite
A more placid environment was found at the Noe Valley Democratic Club meeting on Sept. 15, held at the Noe Valley Ministry and attended by about 40 residents. Perhaps this was because only one mayoral candidate showed up.
Frank Jordan spoke for 10 minutes and then answered questions. Clint Reilly was delayed at another function and canceled at the last minute. Willie Brown had a schedule conflict, so he met with club members earlier in the month.
When asked if any other mayoral candidates had been invited to speak, Democratic Club President Dave Monks expressed his surprise that none of them had showed any interest, mentioning in particular Noe Valley resident Mark "SuperBooty" O'Hara and activist Jim Reid. "You would think that if these people wanted their candidacies taken seriously, they would want to talk to us," Monks said.
Meanwhile, former Mayor Frank Jordan was forceful and articulate while criticizing Willie Brown and also while defending his own statement from the Mission High debate, that the Mission District "looks like a bombed-out Beirut."
A common post-speech lament, however, was that Jordan did not talk about what he would do for the city, other than fire the "450 special assistants averaging $60,000 a year in salary" whom he alleges Mayor Brown hired as a reward for their political support.
So, when it came time to endorse a candidate for mayor, the club could not reach a consensus. As the Voice went to press, the Noe Valley Demos still had no recommendation.
Mild Praise for Brown, Reilly
The Voice encountered many neighborhood residents who were taking a "lesser of three evils" approach.
Lion Barnett of the Eureka Valley Promotion Association fell into this category. He was not pleased with Willie Brown's performance in office, but said that the mayor's "competition is not going to answer the problems."
However, we did locate a few people who took a positive stance toward a candidate, although no one we talked to said they would vote for Frank Jordan.
Janice Gendreau, a Noe Valley Democratic Club member and former co-chair of Upper Noe Neighbors, is firmly in Clint Reilly's camp. "I looked at his web site and was impressed by his positions," she said.
After exchanging e-mails with Reilly's campaign manager, Gendreau met with the candidate for an hour. "He's a very intelligent man," she said, "and he's interested in the neighborhoods and in local transportation and regional transportation as well."
Gendreau's experiences as a city employee at the airport during both the Jordan and Brown administrations left her with a bad taste in her mouth. "Jordan wasn't a good leader," she said, "and I would like to see Brown gone. He is really damaging our city."
She was especially discouraged by what she calls Brown's "cronyism and corruption." Gendreau took an early retirement, due in part to being "forced to hire people who don't do anything." She thinks that 450 special assistants, the number Jordan uses, is a conservative estimate. "And," she added, "with a $60,000 average salary, that's 27 million dollars. Imagine what you could do for the city with that money."
Jersey Street resident Marjorie Stern, also a Democratic Club member and a Brown appointee to the Commission on Aging, said Jordan's criticism of special assistants was "like the pot calling the kettle black." She was on the advisory council to the commission when Jordan became mayor, and said that he "swept away the people on the commission and replaced them with his own friends."
Stern believes Willie Brown has brought "flair" to San Francisco, has made it "attractive to business," and "done a great deal in Parks and Rec, children's interests, and in neighborhoods." She also feels that the newspapers have "exaggerated his slips, and many of the good things have not been reported."
Democratic Club Treasurer Diane Sidd-Champion is a staunch Brown supporter as well, adding that she was "very pleased with his record on labor issues."
Also in the mayor's corner, but with less enthusiasm, is 23rd Street resident Addie Lanier. During a phone conversation, she admitted to being "jaded on politics," but said that Brown is "a wheeler-dealer, but when you get to him, he hears you." She also said her husband, Peter Weverka, once worked with Clint Reilly, had nothing good to say about him, and strongly favors Brown. In the background, Weverka concurred.
Lots of Sizzle, Not Much Steak
A few positive comments aside, it was easy to return to the disappointment theme. Elliot Poger, a 20-something resident of Vicksburg Street, sent an e-mail with some representative comments:
"I was suckered in by Big Willie's 'Matrix stinks' and 'fix Muni' platform. Well, starting with his inaugural gala (complete with Mao Tse-Tung giant head portraits), I realized he was lots of sizzle and not much steak. Maybe good as a figurehead, but not as a city manager. Matrix pretty much continued, and Muni keeps doing its thing too. I am depressed about the mayor's race, though: Jordan is a closet Republican, and Clint Reilly embodies everything that is wrong with American politics. I'll probably end up voting for some Green Party desperado."
Since the Greens have no candidate, those with a similar outlook might consider the grassroots organization None Of The Above! (P.O. Box 421752, SF, 94142), whose name speaks for itself. In a newsletter sent to the Voice, NOTA says it wants to create "in every town and city a movement independent of the major parties ... and ultimately run independent candidates for all local elected offices."
Finally, our survey did result in some reassuring news: Whether Noe Valley residents were delighted, disappointed, or downright disgusted with the choices in the upcoming election, they still held strong opinions. Voter apathy never once reared its head.
Vicki Rosen phoned at press time to say that Clint Reilly, "hopefully Mayor Brown, too," and several other candidates will discuss their views at the next meeting of the Upper Noe Neighbors on Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., at Upper Noe Rec Center. Also, you can meet Reilly near the local Walgreen's at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 9. He'll be shaking hands and watching the Noe Valley Merchants' hayride on 24th Street.