[Hpn] Seattletimes.com: Greens may get first major mayoral win

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Tue, 9 Dec 2003 03:14:34 -0800


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Greens may get first major mayoral win
Full story: http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=greenie09&date=20031209

By Mark Sappenfield
The Christian Science Monitor

						

  SAN FRANCISCO — David Taylor makes a clear distinction: Working as a volunteer on Matt Gonzalez's campaign for mayor is the first time he has been involved in electoral politics.

 Street politics, however, are a different matter.

 The spiky-haired Webmaster by day, insurgent by night, ticks off his impressive résumé of revolt: the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, the marches against the World Bank in Washington and the San Francisco anti-war demonstrations that shut down the city.

 In the Gonzalez campaign, though, Taylor for the first time sees a way to express his disgust with the political machine and the corrupting influence of money, not through disturbance, but through the political system itself. "We're seeing an opportunity when many people can overcome their cynicism," he said.

 It is a notion that has fueled the improbable success of Gonzalez's bid to become the first Green Party mayor of a major U.S. city. Yet it also echoes far beyond California's "left coast."

Gonzalez's rise from a distant second place behind Democrat Gavin Newsom in last month's  mayoral election to a virtual dead heat in today's runoff could easily be dismissed as pure San Francisco. In this campaign, where poetry readings double as political rallies and get-out-the-vote drives involve fire engines converted into mobile dance floors, Gonzalez has cast himself as the shepherd of the disillusioned and disenfranchised.

  Newsom, 36, and Gonzalez, 38, are both on the city's Board of Supervisors, where Gonzalez also serves as president. The two are competing to succeed Mayor Willie Brown, 69, who cannot run again after eight years in office. 

 But there are deeper forces at work, too, experts said, forces that echo some of the ones reshaping national politics. There are as many differences between Gonzalez and presidential candidate Howard Dean as there are similarities. But like Dean, Gonzalez has positioned himself as  the true liberal at a time the Democratic Party, in his opinion, has strayed from its working-class ideals into moderation. And like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has wrapped himself in the mantle of the outsider beholden more to principle than to campaign pocketbook.

 "There are forces at work finding voices in all these different campaigns," said Richard DeLeon, a historian at San Francisco State University. "It has a real populist streak to it ...  and locally, it translates into a fight against a political machinery run by elites."

 The political machine is seen as the work of Brown, who many feel set up a system built on cronyism, patronage and corruption.

 Newsom, Gonzalez's Democratic challenger, has plenty of his own people, too. To his supporters, Newsom is a realist who is confronting the homeless problem and realizes San Francisco cannot alienate its business community by saddling it with taxes for costly social programs.

 That doesn't make for terribly good poetry, though, and San Francisco's grass-roots democracy can take some peculiar forms. In the past week, various San Franciscans have held "Get Lit (as in literary) for Matt" events with local authors, yoga classes where proceeds go to the Gonzalez campaign and a city motorcycle ride to support him. At a "Poets for Matt" event, beat poets broke into the staccato rhythms of anti-war invectives while New Age hippies strummed folk ballads on beat-up guitars.

 In other cities, perhaps, these might simply be events on the cultural fringe. Here, they touch the bohemian heart of the city itself, and Gonzalez has struck a chord. "It's a groovy happening with a purpose," said campaign spokesman Ross Mirkarimi.

 Much of Gonzalez's success has come by creating a stark contrast between himself and the high-society Newsom. Gonzalez is the floppy-haired, slump-shouldered champion of the counterculture. He led the charge for the city's new $8.50 minimum wage. He shares an apartment. He doesn't own a car.

 That's the essence of his campaign: a regular guy trying to take back government for regular people. When he stops by the poetry reading, he tells the standing-room-only crowd in a small college theater, "It's about who gets access and who doesn't. They're scared, not of a Green being elected mayor but of an honest person being elected mayor."

  That Gonzalez is a member of the Green Party seems secondary, at best. Part of that is because San Francisco mayoral races are, technically, nonpartisan. But it is also obvious that party affiliation doesn't mean much in San Francisco anymore. No one at the poetry reading denounces Democrats. It's the machine they rage against, and in San Francisco, Democrats happen to be the machine.

 It's the sense that "Democrats are too comfortable with power," said DeLeon, the historian. The Greens are casting "the Democratic Party back to its roots."

 Yet the race and party affiliation do mean something to national Democrats. San Francisco is the hometown of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. For years, it has been perhaps the most reliably Democratic major city in the country.  If Newsom were to lose the seat, it would be a major embarrassment to the Democrats.

 To avoid that, the party last week sent former Vice President Al Gore to bolster Newsom; last night, former President Clinton flew in to energize the campaign. But to some San Francisco liberals, Gonzalez represents a choice the Democrats haven't given them for years.

  "San Francisco has an opportunity to stand up and stem a tide of neoconservatism," said Taylor, the Gonzalez volunteer. "For a lot of us, it's a symbol of resisting." 

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.






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