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By Corrie M. Anders
Jody Reiss, a political activist ever since she first trooped off to peace marches when she was 6, is a passionate Barack Obama supporter. She's donated money to his presidential campaign, participated in voter registration drives, handed out flyers, and worked the phones to plead Obama's cause.
On Sunday, Oct. 5, she's hosting a $25 fundraising brunch at her Day Street apartment, with bagels and cream cheese, chopped chicken liver, hummus and pita bread on the menu.
"I feel like if I haven't done every possible thing I can do to get Barack Obama elected, I will feel horrible about myself," said Reiss, 52, a licensed clinical social worker.
She's not the only one. On Oct. 2, Kristen and Bill Schwartz turned their Last Laugh coffeehouse on Dolores Street over to a night of rock music and a sale of modern art to raise money for the Democratic ticket. The rationale for getting involved was simple.
"I'm scared of [Sarah] Palin," said Kristen Schwartz about John McCain's vice presidential choice. "I just couldn't stand by and be able to look at myself on Nov. 4 if we don't win."
The chance to regain the White House after eight years of George Bush--with a charismatic Obama atop the ticket--has galvanized both seasoned party insiders and new campaigners throughout Noe Valley.
Local Democratic organizers have been highly visible at the Noe Valley Farmers' Market on 24th Street, where several hundred new volunteers have been recruited. Obama backers have made thousands of telephone calls to court potential voters, traveled to Nevada to woo prospects, and held house parties to raise money and awareness for Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden.
Obama Group Formed
Neighborhood Democrats launched their grassroots campaign over the summer. In early August, a group of approximately 15 people met at the Noe Street home of Andy Fleischman, president of the Noe Valley Democratic Club, and his wife, Molly Fleischman, the club's vice president, to create a new group that was committed to getting Obama elected.
The charter participants in the group, Noe Valley for Obama, included former city planner Alec Bash, Colbert Tse, a high-tech employee, and Cynthia Gregory, a retired Levi Strauss employee, who became a team coordinator for the group.
"This is the first time that I've done more than donate money," said Gregory, who also hosted a "Tea for Change" gathering Aug. 24 at her Duncan Street home. "After [John] Kerry was not elected [in 2004], I cried for a week. I was just heartbroken. This time I had to get involved. It's so scary to hear all this war talk that we might have to invade Russia."
Tse is among the youthful new breed that Obama has attracted. He's 30 years old, Asian American, and works as a content specialist for a San Brunobased Internet firm. Until now, his most serious foray into politics was casting his vote.
"I didn't actively participate," said the 24th Street resident. He was motivated to join Obama's campaign because "I was really tired of the last eight years. I wanted to make sure someone forward-thinking and progressive-minded got into office."
During one weekend last month, Tse and some 15 other volunteers drove to Reno, Nev., where they conducted voter registration drives at shopping centers, restaurants, and other businesses. They targeted Asian Americans and independent voters.
"It went well. It was really good to reach out to minority groups that might not be as involved in politics, to educate them and get them involved in the political process by voting," he said. The Democratic platform also found a receptive ear among independents, Tse said, who were looking for "something different."
Boots on the Ground
Clark Moscrip, a retired attorney who lives on 23rd Street, has been directing a two-table operation--one to register new voters and another to recruit Obama volunteers--at the Saturday Farmers' Market on 24th Street. Activity picked up noticeably last month, he said, and 175 people had signed on by mid-September.
"People have been stopping by because they're very motivated. They're concerned," said Moscrip.
Once on board and trained, the new recruits have been working out of office space at the Bush Street headquarters of the Fleischmans' research firm in the Financial District. Typical was a three-hour phone-bank stint at the office on Saturday, Sept. 20. Nearly 20 people showed up and made approximately 1,500 telephone calls--all to registered voters in Nevada.
"Right now, the focus is helping to get phone calls and boots on the ground in Nevada, and carry Nevada and its five electoral votes," said Bash. "We believe California is fairly secure"--allowing the volunteers to concentrate on Nevada and two other nearby battleground states, New Mexico and Colorado. In addition, Molly Fleischman will spend the last two weeks of October through Election Day volunteering in Ohio.
Palin Perks Up Republicans
Although Noe Valley is a well-known bastion of liberal politics and is overwhelmingly Democratic, a modicum of conservatism has crept into the neighborhood over the past four years.
Political consultant David Latterman, who's lived on Fair Oaks Street for six years, recently spotted the trend as he analyzed citywide voting patterns for his firm, Fall Line Analytics.
"It's just edged up a little bit," said Latterman, pushed by wealthier families and a dramatic rise in property values in the neighborhood, where the average-priced home costs well over $1 million. But the conservative tilt "doesn't mean a helluva lot" in the presidential race, he said. "It doesn't translate into new McCain votes."
According to Latterman, Republicans comprise just 7 percent of registered voters in Noe Valley, compared with a 66 percent margin for Democrats and 22 percent for "Decline to State." So far this election season, the local Republicans and independents have kept a low profile in the neighborhood. During the last two weeks of September, the Voice tried but failed to turn up any Noe Valley groups or individuals actively campaigning for McCain.
Howard Epstein, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, said the GOP would dispatch campaign workers to Noe Valley closer to Election Day. A week before the election, party volunteers will walk precincts and concentrate on absentee-ballot voting and pushing the party's position on 22 ballot initiatives.
With Palin on the ticket, Epstein said, Republicans don't concede California to Obama.
"She has brought so much enthusiasm. I've been a party activist since 1993, and I've never seen anything like this. All of the people who were sort of ho-hum are really energized. We're getting phone calls off the hook."
Demos Hold More Parties
At the same time, Palin has generated new zeal among Noe Valley Democrats, who variously called McCain's decision to pick the Alaska governor "cynical" and "hypocritical."
"She has energized the Democratic Party as well," said Andy Fleischman. "I think that her nomination is an insult to women in particular and voters in general as someone who was selected on the basis of 'anyone in a skirt' will do as a substitute for Hillary Clinton."
Bash, who works as a full-time Democratic volunteer following a 35-year career as a city planner, said Democrats who hadn't been active earlier in the campaign are "aggravated" that Palin was chosen. "That is helping bring out more activists, more people who were Obama supporters who weren't doing much before."
Indeed, the McCain-Palin ticket has aroused local Democrats. Barbara Slotnik and husband Steve Kerns threw a wine and cheese party Sept. 21 at their Vicksburg Street home. The house party, with music and political satire by the Auditorials, attracted 45 people and raised approximately $9,000 for the Obama campaign.
"One way we can help is with money," said Slotnik, an attorney and writer for a legal publisher. "I buy into the argument that we need change. Obama's intelligent. He's what we need in this point in time. I think McCain has sold his soul. To use the term 'maverick' is really abusive of the term."
To volunteer or get more information about Noe Valley for Obama, contact Cynthia Gregory at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.barackobama.com. Information about the Republican campaign can be found at www.johnmccain.com , or e-mail the local Republican Party at email@example.com.
Last month, Noe Valley Obama supporters offered these early October fundraising events. For current listings, go to www.barackobama.com.
Oct. 5: Brunch for Obama, $25. Jody Reiss hosts at 147 Day St., Apt. 2. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Oct. 9: The Obama 100: Hosts Angela Petrella, Tracie Broom, Heidi Meredith, Mara Sohn, and Michelle Quint have invited "100 friends for 100 dollars per ticket" to enjoy music and donations from local restaurants at the office of McSweeney's, 849 Valencia St. 8-11 p.m.
Oct. 10: Libby Klitsch hosts an "Obama Jazz Jam at the Noe Valley Ministry," 1021 Sanchez St., with musicians Anton Schwartz, Clairdee & Ken French, and Gerry Grosz. There will be food, wine, and soft drinks. 6-9 p.m. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oct. 11: Jon Bonanno and Kathryn Shedrick host a beer, brats, and Barack party. $100 per person. 3459 26th St. 2-7 p.m. For info, go to http://my.barackobama.com/page/event/detail/fundraising/gplwmp.