Noe Valley Voice July-August 2001

Mark Leno Already Vying for Another Job

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Just five months after he took office as supervisor for District 8, Mark Leno has thrown his hat in the ring for a seat on the state Assembly. At a campaign rally June 2, Leno announced his bid to represent Assembly District 13, which spans the eastern half of San Francisco, including Noe Valley. But judging from the lukewarm reaction to the news from his Noe Valley constituents, the race won't be an easy one for the 50-year-old small-business owner.

"Leno was lucky he won the race for supervisor in this district," says Daro Inouye, a former Fair Oaks Street resident who recently moved to the Bayview. "It was so close. I wonder if he decided that he was going to run for Assembly before he ran for supervisor. It seems like we're always recycling the same people for Assembly, Senate, and Board of Supervisors. It would be nice to have some new faces."

Several people the Voice queried along 24th Street in early June seemed apathetic about Leno. "I just don't know much about him," said one 20-something woman, while reading a novel in front of Martha and Bros. Coffee.

Others wondered why Leno was already making plans to leave the District 8 job. (The Assembly election will be held in March 2002.)

"I supported his supervisor's run," says Sanchez Street resident John Preckel, "and overall, I think I would support him for Assembly. Still, as a selfish Noe Valley resident, I'd prefer that he stick around and help us. If he doesn't prove himself locally, then he's not going to have a support base statewide."

Adds longtime Douglass Street resident Paul Kantus, who is head of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, "I'm not against Leno. I think he'd do a pretty good job, but I like him where he's at, as our supervisor. I think he's doing as good a job as he can as supervisor, with all the different districts wanting their own programs to get through."

But to Ian Selden, president of the Noe Valley Democratic Club, Leno's decision to seek higher office makes perfect sense. "Term limits creates a musical-chairs environment in politics," Selden says, "and people move on more quickly as a result. I think it's a natural choice for Leno to run for the Assembly seat."

Migden Missing from Rally

Leno's kickoff rally was held in the low-ceilinged, wood-paneled hall of the Plumbers Union Building on Market Street. Fifteen minutes before the noon starting time, only a handful of people were milling about on the floor. Volunteers were hanging signs, proclaiming that "District 8 Loves Mark," "Small Businesses Support Mark," and "Asian American Political Coalition Supports Mark Leno for 13th Assembly."

When the event finally got under way at 12:45 p.m., about 175 people had gathered to watch a group of Chinese teenagers perform a Chinese dragon dance, complete with clashing cymbals and drums.

Leno was surrounded at the front of the hall by a cadre of San Francisco politicos, including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Treasurer Susan Leal, former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Jim Hormel, former Supervisor Sue Bierman, and current District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. They, along with Kate Kendall, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Theresa Sparks, the city's first transgender appointee to the Human Rights Commission, made short speeches in support of Leno.

Noticeably absent was Carole Migden, who currently holds the District 13 Assembly seat, but is being "termed out." (She's not leaving politics, though; she has her eye on the State Board of Equalization.) Leno is considered a protégé of Migden's, and Migden was instrumental in getting Leno appointed to the Board of Supervisors by Mayor Willie Brown in April 1998.

However, three days after Leno announced his candidacy, Harry Britt announced that he also was running for District 13 and that Migden had endorsed him. Gay activist Britt was an aide to former Supervisor Harvey Milk at the time of his assassination. Following Milk's death in 1979, Mayor Dianne Feinstein appointed Britt to Milk's seat on the board, where he served for 14 years. Since leaving that post in January 1993, Britt has not served in elected office. Currently, he is a professor of cultural studies at New College of California.

'Mark Is Our Jim Jeffords'

At Leno's rally, as supporters munched on egg rolls and pork buns, and chocolate chip cookies from Costco, the NCLR's Kate Kendall declared that "Mark Leno is our Jim Jeffords. He is not for sale." Kendall also noted, to the applause of the crowd, that the NCLR had made Leno an honorary lesbian. Human Rights Commissioner Theresa Sparks chimed in, "Mark's been made an honorary transgender."

"Mark is taking a giant step in politics. He is soon going to be breathing air at a higher altitude," Nancy Pelosi said as she introduced Leno. She also noted that former Mayor Art Agnos earlier that day had asked her to convey to Leno his "strongest endorsement."

When it was Leno's turn at the podium, he appeared well pressed in gray slacks, blue blazer, and pink shirt. In a calm, measured voice, he spoke in political-ese of "the importance of coalition building" and "the need to think more innovatively and find creative ways to address the state's looming problems of infrastructure." He presented a litany of issues -- housing, transportation, the environment, energy, and water -- "that are going to be very challenging" for Californians over the next decade.

He then talked briefly about his accomplishments during the three years he has served as a San Francisco supervisor. He stressed his early support of Proposition 215, the 1996 California voter initiative that legalized medical marijuana clubs. "This is a public health issue, and the Supreme Court has got to understand that," he said to loud applause.

He also noted his successful campaign to outlaw mercury thermometers, his work in providing more bike lanes and a carshare program ("this city needs more options to automobiles"), the solar revenue bond he will soon introduce to help deal with the energy crisis, and his help in creating San Francisco's first small-business coalition. He himself owns Budget Signs, a sign company on Brady Street.

He reiterated his support for the San Francisco Late Night Coalition, and for San Francisco nightlife in general. "I want to make sure late-night culture in San Francisco thrives," he said.

Leno also touted his most controversial piece of legislation, passed by the Board of Supervisors on April 30. The new law makes San Francisco the first city in the country to offer medical coverage for sex-change operations to city workers. In addition, the legislation provides benefits for such things as acupuncture, hearing aids, infertility treatments, and Viagra. "We're giving everyone access to the health care system in San Francisco," Leno said.

Monster Homes Still Lurking

For Guerrero Street resident Jeanna Eichenbaum, Leno's accomplishments on transgender rights have made him "my favorite politician right now. He's very heroic because of what he did regarding transgender rights. I would wholeheartedly support him for Assembly. I'm only sorry that we're going to lose him as supervisor. I had hoped he'd run for mayor."

Still, other Noe Valley residents, like Paul Curtis, are disappointed with Leno's work on the Board of Supervisors. Curtis expected Leno to be a stronger advocate for District 8 issues, such as crafting "monster home" legislation.

"I really like Mark," says the 20-year Fairmount Street resident, "but I'm concerned about his lack of responsiveness. A group of us met with him about the monster home issue before the election, and he sounded as if he was going to attack it head-on after the election, but it took three weeks for his aide to return my call....

"We're all a little concerned about how much time his campaigning for Assembly is going to take away from his job as supervisor," Curtis says. If Leno drops the ball on monster homes, he adds, "people in this neighborhood have already said they're not going to vote for him again."

Remember Harry Britt?

With the race just getting under way, many questions remain about both Britt and Leno, but one thing is for sure. This will be the first District 13 race in a very long time in which both candidates will have to launch a full-court-press. Both Carole Migden and Willie Brown, who previously held the post for decades, have had little, if any, competition.

Although the race is said to be neck and neck, in Noe Valley Leno has an advantage because of his name recognition.

"Who's Harry Britt?" asks 24th Street resident Jeff Smith. "I've never heard of Harry Britt."

"I haven't heard about Harry Britt in a long, long time," adds Daro Inouye. "I wonder what he's been doing all this time. Based on what I know right now, I'd vote for Leno. I think he's more in tune with his constituents. We don't know what Britt's been doing."

While Britt is a strong ally of Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and the anti-Brown contingent, Leno is considered by some voters to be part of Brown's "machine politics" -- a label he clearly dismissed at his campaign kickoff.

"Newspapers have already reported that the machine is running Leno for Assembly," he told the crowd. "But look around you. If this is a machine, we created it and I'm damn proud of it."

As for finishing as District 8 supervisor -- he was elected for a two-year term, which ends in December 2002--Leno said he remains committed to the job.

"I will serve out my elected term," he said. "I love my current job. But I plan to be in Sacramento in January 2003."