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






Gonzalez revisted: Poetry in Emotion
by Hank Donat

Sometimes great San Francisco stories bloom in front of your eyes like roses. Gavin Newsom and Angela Alioto have harvested the garden of the bizarre with a scenario in which Alioto would potentially be made "vice mayor" in exchange for Alioto's endorsement of Newsom for regular mayor.

Even if this was news to him, as it has appeared since and, at times, during the announcement last week, Newsom initially affirmed Alioto's vision of a "historic partnership" with "legal ramifications" that would allow Alioto to "administer" homeless policy, public power, and some city contracts. Newsom has not had an easy time explaining what role Alioto would have in his administration. At press time on Thanksgiving Day it seemed as though they had both been had.

And then there's Matt Gonzalez.

Friday, November 21: Gonzalez arranges a private poetry reading, a mid-afternoon soiree on Fillmore Street near his campaign office on Haight.

The apartment that poet Micah Ballard shares with photographer Sunnylyn Thibodeax is the kind of flat one is likely to find in Bohemian San Francisco. Furnishings consist of shelf cubes and some vintage cast-offs. The art on the walls is decidedly Dada, including an abstract painting by Gonzalez titled "Portrait of Felix McNee." A poem Gonzalez wrote in honor of Ballard hangs on a wall in a black frame from Walgreen's. The verse is a lilting benediction.

In 1997 Gonzalez published a book of poetry by Jack Micheline, the San Francisco poet and Bohemian icon who would die of a heart attack on a BART train the following year. Micheline wrote, "Genius is a ragged lion holding sunlight in his hand."

Among the group of seven assembled at Ballard's place is Gonzalez' brother Chuck. Chuck Gonzalez performs two songs he arranged from Ballard's poems, "A Long Long Time," and "Sweet Sue Pennsylvania." Ballard reads from his own work, a reflection on the Metarie Cemetery in New Orleans.

Matt Gonzalez believes that along with Cedar Sigo's, Ballard's is an essential emerging voice in the city's literary pantheon.

Gonzalez lounges, relaxing in the warmth of his friends and a glass of Pellegrini cabernet. He says if he had to have an anthem he would choose "Spanish Bombs" by The Clash. "They're one of the great political bands," Gonzalez says.

Over a wedge of smooth brie and a baguette, topics range from Bob Dylan to Baudelaire. Our group discusses the campaign, the pitfalls of Gonzalez's new-found celebrity as a populist candidate, and the on-again off-again Alioto endorsement.

Long before Alioto's endorsement of Newsom, many journalists knew that the former president of the Board of Supervisors, who came in third behind Gonzalez in the November 4 general election, was shopping an unprecedented "vice mayor" arrangement. Reliable sources were informed that Gonzalez had turned Alioto down. (Alioto says Gonzales initially turned her down but then accepted after a later meeting.)

Saturday: Since I had arranged with a Gonzalez campaign scheduler to attend a press conference in the Marina followed by a barbecue in the Sunset, I am not surprised to discover that both events are in the Bayview. Like the candidate himself, the campaign has earned a reputation for some grassroots-style disorder.

At Gonzalez' Third Street headquarters the candidate's voting record as a member of the Board of Supervisors is celebrated by environmental leaders. Next, we head over to a barbeque that Public Defender Jeff Adachi is holding at 1800 Oakdale Avenue to promote Clean Slate. Adachi's program will help people with certain non-violent convictions to have their records expunged.

Gonzalez congratulates his friend and former colleague Adachi. I observe the manner in which both Gonzalez and District Attorney Terrence Hallinan address this community. Both are able to meet these San Franciscans where they are in a natural way, acknowledging the stigma of these convictions. An opportunity to have them expunged offers an important second chance.

It's also nice to see that "Quintronic Embezzlements" demonstrator Frank Chu gets out of the Financial District and Union Square once in a while.

Our Q&A session is brief and straight-forward. Is Gonzalez anti-business?

Gonzalez claims that defending small business against big business doesn't make him anti-business.

He defends Adam Werbach as an "excellent choice" for the Public Utilities Commission, but not Chris Daly's stealth tactics that got Werbach the job.

Have Democrats failed as the party of the people?

Gonzalez says the current electoral system forces both political parties away from their fundamental values at the expense of the public interest. "Major corporations basically funnel money into both sides of this battle without worrying about who wins," he says, "because they have influence either way."

Sunday: While attending a rally at Collingwood Park following the candle light vigil in honor of the 25th anniversary of the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, I run into Gonzalez. This is because there are nine people in San Francisco. "Plus 15 press agents," my pal Bruce Bellingham likes to add.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano's endorsement of Gonzalez comes from left field following Ammiano's remembrance for the slain leaders. His brief statement consists only of, "I have endorsed Matt Gonzalez for mayor."

Gonzalez is unaware that Ammiano planned to endorse him at the rally. "He told me he was going to announce it soon," Gonzalez says, "but no, I didn't know."

Monday: Arriving early on the cold morning of Alioto's press conference, I stand alone in the lobby of her Montgomery Street law office. I'm absorbed in a framed press clipping titled, "Winning by making pain very clear to the jury," when someone tickles my elbow. It's Gavin Newsom. He scoots up the stairs, emerging twenty minutes later, along with Alioto, in front of at least a dozen members of the press.

For the good of the Democratic Party, the attorney issues an anguished endorsement for a man she has said for months was an exploiter of the poor. The Newsom/Alioto partnership press conference sends shock waves through the city. The following day, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board, Newsom struggles to explain his alliance with Alioto.

Epilogue: It is a cornerstone of San Francisco politics that Angela Alioto is deeply committed to meaningfully serve the people of San Francisco, preferably from the mayor's office. Her mythic passion for this, her mission, is something on the order of Captain Ahab. The likelihood of that coming to fruition with Alioto as a homelessness czar for a Newsom administration appears less likely every time Newsom answers questionson the subject.

In what may be the defining moment of the campaign, Gonzalez has shown his true character by possessing not only the political acumen, but also the kindness, to decline Alioto's offer

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