BEVAN DUFTY – A Conversation with The City’s Most Effective Candidate for Mayor

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Bevan Dufty was the first of the eleven Mayoral candidates to have signed-up for the job. I am very happy to know that as soon as he filed those papers, Founding Editor of SanFranciscoSentinel.com, Pat Murphy, was the first journalist to endorse him. It was my ultimate pleasure to have served as Bevan’s longest-term volunteer throughout his tenure on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. That commitment began before I was appointed as the fine arts and music critic for the Sentinel and continued up until the final weeks of December 2010 when Bevan’s aides, Alex Randolph and Todd David, brought in the trash barrels and began cleaning up his office – formerly occupied by Tom Ammiano and being readied for the newly elected Scott Wiener. I put the final touches on my personal project – archiving years of Bevan’s press coverage – and announced, “I don’t dust.”

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I became acquainted with Bevan during his first campaign for the office of Supervisor of District 8. At that time, my partner Tom Crites and I were heavily involved in Gavin Newsom’s initial run for Mayor. Following their elections, I knew I wanted to continue volunteering – but this time, for the very out Gay guy who was now in charge of overseeing our neighborhood, the Castro District. As time passed, I became the dragon at the gate and the first to pick up the phone. You had to get past me to get to Bevan. Over more than seven years, I survived nine of Bevan’s Legislative Aides, which translates to adapting to various combinations of personalities and talents throughout all the on-going demands of daily office routines; the separate agendas of constituents, community groups, and union members; the volatile energy of fellow Supervisors – specifically on their Tuesday Board meetings; the Mayor’s scandalous behavior; hoards of media reps and TV lights (Bevan is so at home in front of the camera); potholes, drag queens, parade flotillas, several wannabe boyfriends; and the occasional office fiesta. I created the cake for his daughter Sidney’s first birthday. First bite – she smiled, second bite – she applauded. I’m in forever! I miss those times very much. But I got to know the man and his ethics. I’m a native San Franciscan. Bevan Dufty has everything it takes to be a powerful and respected Mayor. His campaign slogan sums it up perfectly: “He gets the big picture”. Just recently, between his busy schedule and my critical assessments of the Opera (loved it) and the new Hugh Jackman film (hated it), we managed to find ten minutes to talk about a couple of issues important to both of us – beginning with a negative attack printed in The Bay Citizen.

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BEVAN: I think in traditional political reporting they’re always trying to report a horse race and trying to tell you who they think is in the lead and who they think is not going to win. I think horse race reporting is hard to do with ranked-choice selections where we have eleven viable candidates who are running active campaigns, ten of those candidates have held elective office in San Francisco. So, clearly, there are going to be a lot of those votes transferred. I feel confident I am as viable as anyone else in this race. I’ve raised the second largest amount right behind Dennis Herrera. I’ll be reporting 1.3 million raised. So, I don’t get it. As a Gay man running for mayor, I do feel that some of the media has marginalized me. I definitely feel The Bay Citizen has marginalized me and that they have reported I’m a second-tier candidate within the LGBT community – when, if you look at the details of the poll, I doubt they’ve even sampled thirty-five LGBT voters in their sample. And I think the margin for error is very high in that type of sample. But I’m not willing to really engage in that type of negative campaigning as it relates to media coverage. I simply accept it and I move on. As you’ve watched me do in my political career, I generally take in adversity and use it as a motivational tool – and I am very motivated. I’m dialing several hours a day. I have press commentary from John Diaz of the Chronicle who basically said “if you’re looking for a source of light and inspiration in the Mayor’s race” you should look at my candidacy – because of the commercials I’ve put up on television and the way I conduct myself at forums and at editorial meetings. People who support me tell me they’re proud to be supporting my campaign. I think, for some others, not so sure. For others, you see a lot of negative messaging, a lot hit pieces. I don’t think that’s who people give money for. I’ve not had anybody come and tell me they’ve been embarrassed by supporting my candidacy. I hope to keep it that way over the next weeks.

SEAN: After two terms as “the Gay Supervisor”, it must be painful to have these negative things – some from the Gay community – coming in your direction.

BEVAN: I don’t really see it that way. I see it that, right now, most of the candidates have polled very early. Polling serves a lot of different purposes. But a campaign’s poll understands where they stand, where there are strengths and weaknesses, and what messages or issues that are priorities and really resonate with the voters. For example, I’ve been very active around undergrounding utility wires. I think it’s something that would allow us to change the landscape in parts of the City – the west side, the southeast portions – that have a lot of utility poles. We polled on it. It was not a high priority, by no means a Top 10 issue for people in the City. So, you know to say, “OK, I think this is important, but I’m going to set this aside, it’s not an issue.” But issues around jobs, schools, Muni, homelessness – those are hot button issues for people. So, polling serves that purpose. But by and large the campaigns have not been polling within the last six weeks. And so, you have The Bay Citizen which is an insert newspaper for the New York Times – and they threw a poll. An initiative like that is about marginalizing me. It’s about telling people that I can’t win. That’s not the feel I have. I hear a lot of rumblings that there are other polls out which show me moving. I’m out in the community and across the City. I find that people are very motivated to want to support me.

BEVAN: People tell me all the time, “I love your commercial with your child. It is so refreshing that somebody talks about how parents experience this city through the eyes of their children. I like the fact that you have a commercial about kids and families leaving this city and putting yourself out there as someone who as Mayor is going to really try to change that trend.” So, I’m fine with it. The Bay Citizen called me “a Zombie” and didn’t even spell my name right in the story. You take it all with a grain of salt. I was asked for a comment and I simply said, “I take no offense at The Bay Citizen calling me a Zombie. Walking Dead is one of the biggest hits this season.” And guess what? My commercial with Sidney ran during the season premiere of Walking Dead! So, I’m confident that thousands of people who are going to be voting in this election had an opportunity to see a positive message from me. The only balloting that counts is what’s going to be counted on Election Day.

SEAN: Something that is very important to me is the Mayor’s relationship with the Board of Supervisors. I know first-hand what that atmosphere is like on Tuesdays!

BEVAN: And we’re talking on a Tuesday! Doesn’t it feel like we got a Hall Pass not to be at City Hall today? Occupy Wall Street is there today and it’s supposed to be Question Hour with Mayor Lee. He’s slated to come there. So they’re preparing to have hundreds of people from Occupy Wall Street who want to petition the Mayor about the issues they feel are important. You being a tremendous theatre critic are certainly missing a show today!

SEAN: I sensed that. For me, it’s all about the casting. So, there’s Mayor Ed Lee – who has never had to deal with the Board of Supervisors in a contentious matter and, thus, has had a free ride for the past year. If you were to become Mayor and David Chiu remains Board President, at least you would know how to communicate with each other.

BEVAN: We’ve been very cordial during the campaign. I’ve really endeavored to have a great relationship with every member of the Board of Supervisors. So, I would be honest in saying that my relationship with Chris Daly was not positive, my relationship with Ross Mirkarimi is not great – although we can be respectful with one another. But beyond that, I really think I have a good understanding of the priorities, the personalities, the personal politics of each of the members of the Board and I would look forward to working with them. I think my responsibility as Mayor is to be an asset – to help each of them be successful in their goals and not to be thin-skinned. Because, at times, they’re going to question policies or initiatives or statements that I make. In politics – and you and I have understood this – the biggest pitfall is when you don’t talk directly to people. When you read something in a newspaper – and you react to it – someone tells you another political leader has said something, questioned your motivation, questioned your ideas – and you’re off to the races. All of a sudden you see this schism. I’m going to be a very comfortable mayor – going to meetings of the Board of Supervisors, going to committee meetings, popping-in on different commissions. Because I think that kind of accessibility and that feel that I’ve got a pulse of everything that’s going on in terms of City government is really important. As you’ve seen – with us working together – I’m serious about my work. But I don’t take myself that seriously. I have the ability to take criticism, the ability to take anger from an unhappy customer – as your partner Tom does and I did for years in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. Often by the time a frustrated citizen gets to you, they are angry. And you have to let them be angry. Let them unpack whatever that baggage is they’ve brought into that situation because they’ve been frustrated with the City’s inability to be helpful to them. Sometimes you can’t be helpful. You and I have seen it! Sometimes somebody is so far off the edge there’s nothing you can do – but you’ve got to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. I definitely feel – within the City’s elected family – I have the ability to collaborate, to bring out the strengths in each of our elected officials, especially our Supervisors who are representing the districts. I want to help them succeed. I would want to help Scott Wiener succeed in the Castro. I would want to help John Avalos succeed in the Excelsior and outer Mission. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the job. Because, as you know, Supervisors have two paid staff people and it’s very difficult to keep pace with things. So, if we can buttress and help these individuals be successful, then we’re doing a service to everyone.

A morning campaign stop at Glen Park Bart
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SEAN: When I was in your office, the thing that always impressed me the most – and when I was most proud of you – were the times you addressed the Board of Supervisors during those hot button issues. You would bring in a perspective – a “third eye” – that no one else included as part of their stand. Within the past year, since you’ve been out of office, where would you have offered a different hit on a major issue? Such as, homelessness. When I ask my own circle of associates about their priorities for the City and what they need to know from you, the first thing everyone mentions is the issue of homelessness.

BEVAN: Having worked on these issues, my orientation during the eighteen years I’ve worked in City government has always involved the homeless. It’s not an issue that I think will go away or be solved per se. We can improve our response. Gavin exponentially improved what we did – getting away from treating people who were living on the street to focusing on housing first, to focusing on stabilizing our residential hotel housing stock and saying that bringing in a non-profit could provide services so that people would be able to live more complete lives. So, I feel that the first step is around wet housing. I’ve talked about what Seattle has done to create 75 units of housing for their highest users of multiple systems – the people who are chronic alcoholics, the people who wind up in jails, sobering centers, emergency rooms, on the street, in a shelter. We’re spending 13.5 million dollars on the top 225 street drunks. That’s $60,000 per person. That’s a lot of money. And the outcomes are terrible. You know that you see people all the time in the theatre district and other locations staggering around, falling on their head. The tourists see them. It’s crazy what we’re doing. Immediately, I want to develop 200 units of wet housing that will be low threshold, that will get people in if they need to drink. But, in five years, what Seattle was able to show was that people’s alcohol consumption dropped thirty percent. They saved $4 million in the first year with basically a little more than a third of the units we’re talking about. I think what we can do would be absolutely huge.

Click here for more information: BEVAN DUFTY FOR MAYOR

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