Heart of the City Archives


Something old, something new in Left Coast City
by Hank Donat

San Franciscans, from earthquake survivors to dot com castaways, know that change can happen both gradually and in one fell swoop.

Watching Supervisor Tom Ammiano address supporters at the Z Space on 11th Street following his fourth place finish in the mayoral election last week was an opportunity to witness instant change in slow motion.

Written all over the forlorn faces of such die-hard gay community activists as Gwen Craig, Eileen Hansen, and Robert Haaland was the sunset of yet another mythical San Francisco.

In this one, "Left Coast City," all you needed was a good cause and a loud voice - the louder the better. In Left Coast City, where it's all about love and loyalty, the struggle is a long and painful one but it's a kind of rain dance. Rights and freedoms fall from heaven.

Of course it also takes extraordinary courage to demand rights for gays and blacks and women when it's not popular to do so, to care for friends and loved ones with a disease no one understands, to stand against war when so many hunger for revenge, to go on when you are beaten, or to pick up a sign and picket for an old woman who's being evicted on Page Street.

The Z Space is a cavern of Left Coast City survivors as Ammiano thanks the crowd of about 150. The frozen faces are of those who have outlived, outlasted, but have not outplayed a public that has grown weary of their outrage here in Left Coast City.

Nine blocks separate Ammiano's event from 111 Minna Street, where Gonzalez is celebrating the second-place finish that guarantees him a spot in the run-off against Gavin Newsom.

Earlier in the evening, I hop-scotched over the vomit and homeless people on Howard Street between the two events in time to see Susan Leal and to catch Ammiano's remarks.

At Don Ramon's restaurant, also on 11th, Leal acknowledges that she was told often during the campaign that everyone knew she was the best choice for sound fiscal stewardship but Leal wonders why people didn't vote that way.

At Angela Alioto's campaign headquarters at Howard and 3rd, Alioto's disappointment cannot be concealed.

Later, the third-place candidate tells me she's stung but resolutely hopeful for the future of San Francisco. Always frank, Alioto basically says she was robbed - a Hammett-esque expression of my own choosing but one that makes a long story short.

At the Minna gallery, the new left of the left, personified by Matt Gonzalez here in Green Coast City, is jubilant. The faces in the overflow crowd are bright with optimism. Politically, these supporters are not unlike Ammiano's - minus the nine blocks of bad road, battle scars and age.

I recently wrote that I didn't know if Gonzalez could get elected on the support of young art lovers. As I approach the entrance to the Minna gallery, a young art lover I know calls out to me. "I guess we voted," she says.

Gavin Newsom celebrated up the hill at the Regency Ballroom on Van Ness Avenue where there are also plenty of people sleeping outdoors. Luckily for them, both Gonzalez and Newsom have pledged to help these folks get off the streets.

The beat goes on... St. Francis Memorial Hospital at Hyde and Pine streets is my favorite hospital. I've been treated for food poisoning there more than once, the result of some bad late-night dining choices.

The hospital's Total Joint Center is one of the leading arthroscopic surgery centers in the country and a great local success story. Medical director Dr. Tom Sampson is currently working with the FDA to test ceramic-on-ceramic hips that are expected to last much longer than the ones used today. I'll pick mine up at Biordi's on Columbus!

The hospital's annual Hip-Hop is a dance party in honor of recovering joint surgery patients. Patients at St. Francis have an advantage because of programs that get them started on recovery regimens even before surgery.

I dropped by just in time to catch 68 year-old Martha Scott cutting a rug only one week after total knee replacement surgery. "It's all about positive attitude," says the hospital's Linda Gillespie.

Linda loves to tell stories about one of the hospital's most famous patients. Clint Eastwood was born here in 1930. It was known only as St. Francis Hospital then.

According to hospital lore, Eastwood was an 11-pound baby and such a wonder that he was shown throughout the hospital. The building in which Eastwood was born was replaced in 1968. The hospital no longer has a maternity ward.

St. Francis recently announced a new executive director for its Rally Family Visitation Program. The program, a national model, provides court-ordered visitation and monitored exchanges for children of divorcing couples in San Francisco.

Rally, the brainchild of Superior Court Judge Ina Gyemant, was implemented in 1991. The new executive director is Sonia Melara. In 1974, Melara founded La Casa de las Madres in San Francisco. It was the first battered women's shelter in California and only the second in the United States.

I asked Gyemant if it's true that a judge can become a truth detector after spending many years in the Family Law Court. She says no, but claiming "the dog ate it" doesn't fly either.

"When assessing credibility," says Judge Ina, "it's always important to look at actions and not just words." That's a good thought to keep in mind when choosing a candidate on December 9

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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