Mike Denny, Libertarian for mayor, on Pier 23.
Out of the box with Mike Denny
by Hank Donat
Mayoral candidate Michael Denny could be Jesse Ventura's Mini-Me. Like Ventura, Denny sees both Republicans and Democrats as part of the problem.
Denny and Ventura also share a tell-it-like-it-is attitude that appeals to very frustrated voters and those who have given up and don't vote at all.
A tour of Denny's wine distribution company at Piers 19-23 reveals a small business candidate who's fed up with what he calls the same failed City Hall policies, "reshuffled and repackaged year after year."
Denny started American Wine Distributors in 1987 with a few thousand dollars and a loan from his mother. The company employs 16.
The second-floor offices are a well organized maze of desks and filing cabinets. One wall is completely lined with fax machines and copiers. A half-dozen employees are coming in and out as I arrive. Some are smiling, none appear stressed or unhappy.
Denny has managed to stay in the top tier - albeit at the bottom of the top tier - of candidates for mayor by campaigning on unconventional ideas. Some might say he thinks outside the box, if that particular cliché weren't so inside the box.
Throughout our often startling conversation, I ask Libertarian Denny, a 52 year-old husband and father of four, if he's aware that he's on the record with views that are certain to upset many San Franciscans. Denny is resolute.
"Libertarian principals are built on old time economic concepts," he says, "The only authority the federal government is supposed to have is over currency, courts, and defense. Government should be the arbiter of last resort for quarreling parties."
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Denny says, is an "egregious example" of federal government exceeding its authority at the expense of small businesses in San Francisco.
"Here's an old town with an infrastructure that's been here for a hundred years," says Denny, "and suddenly the federal government says every place has to be wheelchair accessible - no tax credit to help you do that, nothing."
If elected to Room 200 in November, Denny says economic freedom, the principal Libertarian tenet, would also be the cornerstone of his administration.
"City Hall has become a big, self-serving institution where privileges are now rights," says Denny, "A really good example is City Hall funding public housing for poor people. It's not right for people who cannot afford to live in San Francisco to take money by force from the City, through lobbyists, jeopardizing our economy and scaring our businesses out of town."
"It's not right that we should have to fund all of these things for people who can't afford them and then tax people. Does that mean we should ignore poor people and ignore their plight? No."
Denny believes San Franciscans should support organizations that provide charitable services, and that many municipal institutions, which are historically vulnerable to fraud and waste, should be eliminated.
He cites the Little Sisters of the Poor, Rafael House, and Boys Hope Girls Hope as examples of organizations that serve society more economically because they're not hamstrung by the politics that plague the public sector.
Denny, who ran for the assembly in 2001, would like to hand over the public school system - the works, from pencils and books to the school buildings themselves - to educators.
He imagines pay-as-you-go devices for public amenities, such as turnstiles at Golden Gate Park. Oh, and no minimum wage laws, no rent control.
Midway through our conversation I begin to realize some of these ideas are not entirely scary. Basically, Denny wants to know why we continue to hand our tax dollars over to Republicans and Democrats who squander much of it and leave us worse off and deeper in the hole financially.
"The city simply won't have the budgets to continue funding social services at the level it currently does," says Denny, "and then it will be up to people who give and volunteer."
So, let's get real, I ask, will we care? If it were no longer the responsibility of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to relieve the suffering of homeless people, would we care enough to do so ourselves in the city of St. Francis?
Denny says, "When you insulate people from their responsibility for so long it's going to take a while to get people back into a mindset of authentic care. But City Hall has to take the heat for creating that situation. They've been taking that responsibility out of the hands of people for too long and they've failed."
The dockside warehouse of Denny's business retains glimmers of the City's history as a bustling port. Remnants of obsolete tracks and pulleys remain among the rows of boxes, pallets and barrels.
As we continue our tour, a flock of noisy sea gulls gathers overhead. With the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island in the distance, it's a timeless scene of San Francisco's waterfront.
The screeching gulls threaten to drown out Denny's outrage as he talks about the exclusion of a local food company from the new Ferry Building due to politics. Denny, nearly out shouted by the birds but not quite, leads the strange harmony.
If he is elevated to the mayor's office, a fate he concedes is a long shot, the shouting in the halls of power would surely make the call of these hungry birds seem like a whisper.
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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat