Heart of the City Archives
MisterSF.com's 2003 Mayoral Candidates Series

Students Andrew Suvunnachuen, Igor Grinberg, Robbie Sugiyama, coach Rob Fung, Wyatt Lim-Tepper, and Tony Ribera at George Washington High School.

Ribera throws a curve at mayor's race
by Hank Donat

Former chief of police Tony Ribera is unique among candidates for mayor. As the only Republican in the race, he has the luxury of running against "all of the above" in a field crowded with solid lefties and/or so-called cogs in the Brown-Burton machine. More about that later.

It's Tuesday afternoon, and the chief is taking time to indulge in a couple of personal passions - baseball and his alma mater, George Washington High School in the Richmond. He graduated in 1963.

At batting practice with half a dozen 8th and 9th graders and coach Rob Fung, Ribera, 58, looks the perfect TV cop, like "The Commish" on his day off.

Since retiring from the SFPD in 1996, Ribera has hardly led the life of a retiree. A teacher and administrator for the University of San Francisco, he was appointed director of the International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership at USF in 2001.

His long and varied career also includes a tour of duty in Vietnam. And in case you thought he was all muscle, Ribera also holds a Ph. D. in public administration and other degrees from Golden Gate University.

In the batting cage, the chief asks one of the teenagers, Steve Yi, how he wants the pitch. "What do you want?" Ribera asks, "All I have is a change-up."

No one is more surprised than Ribera when his next pitch is a perfect curveball, an Uncle Charlie square in the strike zone. "My curveball is a variation of my change-up," he quips.

There's no joy in Mudville, for soon it's my turn. I hadn't picked up a baseball bat in 25 years and even that time it was only to scare an imaginary burglar. Ribera cheers me on, "When I'm in City Hall you can say, 'He couldn't get anything past me.'"

He got several past me, but I connected quite a few times - a respectable showing considering they pay you $8 million dollars to hit three out of ten for the majors.

The advice these young people get from Fung and Ribera on batting is all good. It echoes what seems to be Ribera's campaign strategy: balance, patience, and torque.

"I think the Brown-Burton machine has been entrenched in San Francisco for a long time," Ribera says, "There is an assumption out there that the Democratic Party rules. If they mention my name in the Chronicle they say 'conservative Republican.' Being a good manager is not being conservative or liberal, it's being a good manager."

The focus of Ribera's campaign is Willie Brown. He says front runner Gavin Newsom represents "a continuation of the Brown adminstration, which is the worst one we've ever had. We can look no further than homelessness to see that."

Balance: The chief continues to support Newsom's Care Not Cash and says, "Gavin is taking the most pot shots because he's the front runner. I think Care not Cash is good legislation. It's a step in the right direction."

Ribera says he represents the neighborhoods. "I represent the blue collar San Franciscans. I've been a union member my entire adult life. I'd much rather have the support of people like Rob Fung than people who call themselves corporate leaders."

In other views, Ribera says as mayor he would reach out to the business community. "They're leaving San Francisco for Oakland! Can you believe that?"

Ribera says he has "come to the conclusion that rent control is with us at least in the forseeable future." He supports medical marijuana only in a medical setting.

But it's Ribera's take on homelessess that's most unlike that of any other candidate. He is the only one to confront what I have come to call "the unwritten golden asterix" in everyone's homeless plan: *Of course there are always going to be those who refuse to participate.

Ribera says a tough D.A. - not Terrence Hallinan - and enforcement of quality of life laws are necessary.

"There have been a number of studies on quality of life crimes," Ribera says, "What the studies have proven is that if you allow minor crimes to proliferate, serious crimes will also proliferate. That was the original target of Matrix - focusing  on street crimes in the neighborhoods."

Patience: For those who would lose their minds just hearing "Matrix," Mayor Frank Jordan's controversial plan for homelessness, Ribera addresses the reader directly.

"From 1988 until 2003 homelessness has increased every year except '93, '94, '95. Those were the three years I had the Matrix program in place as chief of police. The problem with the Matrix program is it was always my goal and the goal of the mayor to involve human resources and public health in an active outreach role and that never really happened.

"It wasn't for the police chief to tell the Department of Public Health or the Department of Human Services what to do. We asked for their cooperation and participation and we got it to some degree but they were not effective and it did become primarily a police program."

If Care Not Cash is a good step, the next one, Ribera says, is to create a program that will address all homeless, "not just those on welfare. The city needs a program with specific goals and priorities, one that holds specific people accountable for accomplishing those goals and priorities."

Torque: Ribera says, "Ask Willie Brown the next time you see him, 'Who's in charge of homelessness?' I'll bet you Peter Magowen can tell you who's managing his baseball team."

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