Noe Valley Voice March 2003

Dufty Hits the Ground Running

By Erin O'Briant

Supervisor Bevan Dufty has just about settled into his offices at City Hall--the chambers that once belonged to the previous District 8 supervisor, Mark Leno. Dufty has hung paintings by Noe Valley artist Tom Mogensen on the walls and a few mementos over his desk, including a recent letter of congratulations from Representative Nancy Pelosi. As Dufty talks, he walks in and out of his aides' office, checks appointments on his online calendar, and waves to passersby in the hall.

"I'm like Liza Minelli­I'm staying on tour," Dufty says of his approach to public life.

He keeps his office door open most of the time. When he can, he roams the streets of his district talking to constituents. He's even putting together a mobile stand that he can use as a place to talk with neighbors anywhere, anytime.

Dufty doesn't hesitate to toot his own horn, frequently mentioning his degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and his early internship with groundbreaking U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. He's still in campaign mode, he says, and he doesn't want that to change. "I'm very extroverted right now."

As accessible as Dufty may want to be, it has taken me two months to gain an audience with him. He's cancelled four interviews so far, and waiting for him to call me back has begun to feel like a hobby. He interrupts our long-awaited interview frequently to chat with members of the parade of lawyers, planners, activists, and bureaucrats marching in and out of his office. Dufty, it seems, is being pulled in a few dozen directions at once.

After a hard-won victory--which Dufty credits to his decision not to "go negative" during his campaign--anyone would want a few hours to bask in the glow of winning a tight race.

Dufty didn't get that chance. He sustained a terrible blow to his personal life on the night he was elected to the Board of Supervisors. That evening, Dufty's partner of 18 years announced that he was moving to London to be with a new love interest.

"It's been tough, but I think I'm starting to bounce back," Dufty says. "It's been very humbling."

Despite his own disappointments, Dufty does seem genuinely concerned about the people of San Francisco and his district, which includes Noe Valley.

"I really feel connected to the neighborhood," he says.

One issue he's starting to grapple with is the proliferation of so-called "monster" homes--houses so big that they dwarf the surrounding structures. In some cases, modest Victorians have been turned into incredible hulks, thanks to a drastic addition. In others, developers have demolished two-story cottages to build four-story behemoths. Over the past five years, the problem has occurred with increasing regularity in Noe Valley and the Castro, and led to sharp clashes among residents and builders.

Dufty doesn't want to call the mansions monsters--he prefers the more euphemistic "oversize homes"--but he says he's working to address the issue. He wrote a letter to the Planning Commission in mid-February, asking its members to look into the matter and give their opinion on the legislation crafted last year by Supervisor Leno.

"I want to approach this in a thoughtful way," he says. "I want people to understand what designs are appropriate to a neighborhood, and I also understand that people need to make adjustments to their homes."

Dufty adds that he doesn't want to "paint [him]self into a corner" by advocating specific height limits or taking one side or the other at this time.

While the rich build enormous homes priced well into the millions, many Noe Valley merchants are struggling to stay afloat. The future seems shaky on 24th Street after the recent closings of Tom and Dave's Juice It, the pet store Tropical Island, and clothing retailer Getups.

"These are definitely tough times for our city," Dufty admits. "My focus has been to promote tourism and conventions in order to jumpstart the economy. I've tried to spend four hours a week with the Convention Bureau doing things around tourism."

Dufty offered to host an event at any restaurant in Noe Valley, and said he'd be happy to spend a few hours chatting with locals at neighborhood businesses if that would help bring in customers. "I try to always eat and hold meetings in District 8," he adds.

He also says he'll be glad to help out local nonprofits by connecting them with potential donors when possible. His recent efforts included facilitating donations to James Lick Middle School and Rooftop Alternative School.

Will his schedule slow down anytime soon? Dufty seems doubtful. "I love my new job," he says. "There's a lot to do." h

Facts About Bevan Dufty

Did you know these tidbits about our newly elected District 8 supervisor?

* His godmother is the legendary musician Billie Holiday, who was his late mother's best friend. Jazz icon Duke Ellington was also a friend of the family.

* His late father, William F. Dufty, was married to film star Gloria Swanson. William Dufty authored the book Sugar Blues, which details the evils of refined sugar, and co-authored Lady Sings the Blues, a biography of Holiday.

* Bevan Dufty's father was gay during the last 20 years of his life.

* His mother, Maely Dufty, narrowly escaped Hitler's concentration camps.

* Bevan Dufty, 48, grew up near Harlem in New York City, surrounded by many of the jazz greats of the time.

* The proper pronunciation of his first name is "BEV-un."