"He won't be kicking them in the teeth like Brown."

Coalition on Homelessness, SF (coh@sfo.com)
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 13:59:39 -0800

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Low-key Ammiano campaign gears up
Oct. 24, 1999
1999 San Francisco Examiner


Gay voters embrace progressive's write-in bid for S.F. mayor

Matt Pipes and his boyfriend had no idea whom they would vote for in the
upcoming San Francisco mayor's race until Board of Supervisors President
Tom Ammiano decided to confound the political status quo and launch an
uphill write-in campaign.

"At first we thought it was a joke," said Pipes, a 29-year-old Mission
District resident who works at a bank. "But now the whole write-in
campaign is gaining momentum. I don't think Tom's a panacea for
redemption of The City's woes, but I'm also tired of Willie Brown."

Drew Dirschell isn't giving his pick a second thought.

Dirschell, a 28-year-old computer specialist who lives in the Castro,
said, "No. 1, I like what Ammiano's done for the community, and I'd like
to have a gay mayor. No. 2, I don't like the other candidates."

On Saturday, Ammiano's last-minute campaign resembled a well-polished
operation, replete with a Castro District headquarters crammed with
volunteers, precinct maps pinned to the wall and stacks of campaign

Among nearly two dozen gay and lesbian voters interviewed in the Castro
and Mission on Friday night and Saturday, Ammiano was the likely choice
of all but one - not because he's openly gay, they said, but because the
quality of life in The City just isn't what it used to be.

While Mayor Willie Brown is a longtime friend to the gay community, it's
just not enough, they said, complaining that panhandlers and homeless
people haunt every block of the Castro commercial district.

"The thing with Willie Brown I don't like is that I've seen the homeless
rate increase, especially in this neighborhood (the Castro)," said
Michael Schulz, a cruise ship employee who lives in the Civic Center
area. "It doesn't seem like anything is being done, and I'm getting
tired of it. All I hear is, "Can I have a quarter? Can I have a
quarter?' Maybe Tom Ammiano can do something better."

Unlike the other top three candidates in the race, Ammiano champions a
homeless program that relies much less on law enforcement and more on
social services.

In a September Examiner / KTVU poll, homelessness was the No. 1 issue
voters said would determine their choice for mayor. The poll also found
more than three out of four voters believe Brown has not done a good job
handling the homeless problem.

Ammiano is challenging Brown, ex-Mayor Frank Jordan and former political
consultant Clint Reilly, as well as 11 other candidates.

Ammiano and Brown have long-standing ties to the gay community - a
heavily courted constituency with clout at the ballot box.

Ammiano has championed gay causes, ranging from taking on the Boy Scouts
for excluding gays to pushing for domestic partner rights.

Brown, in Sacramento and San Francisco, has taken pro-gay stances such
as leading the charge to repeal California's laws governing sexual
conduct that targeted homosexuals, and backing The City's landmark
domestic partners law that Ammiano sponsored. He also has appointed gays
and lesbians to high-profile posts in his administration, to serve on
commissions and run departments.

"It's hard with Brown because he's done so much for the gay community,"
said 27-year-old Samuel Sleppy, a scientist from the Sunset. "He has
shown us support and we should show him support, too."

Still, Sleppy said he may vote for Ammiano as the most progressive of
the viable candidates.

Sky Kral, 43, a house- and pet-sitter who lives in the Mission, wasn't
certain she'd vote until Ammiano entered the race. "I think he'll
actually be taking care of the homeless and be kind about it. He won't
be kicking them in the teeth like Brown."

Kral voted for Brown four years ago. "He might be pro-gay, but I just
don't like what he's done as mayor. I think he's doing things just to
look good."

Ammiano, a gay activist, stand-up comic and the most liberal elected
official in San Francisco, announced on Oct. 13 he was running for mayor
in the Nov. 2 election. After missing the deadline two months ago to get
on the ballot, his only option was a write-in candidacy.

Robert Haaland, an Ammiano campaign organizer, acknowledges it won't be
easy. But on Saturday morning, he looked around campaign headquarters,
which shares space with Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint on 16th Street -
where Ammiano sometimes performs - and watched dozens of volunteers pick
up campaign literature and get their marching orders for walking

"I think he'll get into the run-off," said Haaland, a tenant activist.

If no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, there will be a
Dec. 14 run-off between the top two vote-getters. If Ammiano makes it
into the run-off, his name would then appear on the ballot.

The September poll showed Brown leading his challengers with the support
of 37 percent of voters, while Reilly had 16 percent and Jordan had 14

An Examiner poll conducted in May showed Ammiano would have come in
second to Brown if the race were held then.

San Francisco pollster David Binder said Ammiano "appeals to a
constituency of people that has the grass-roots energy and enthusiasm to
get people to the polls."

"There's been a vacuum in politics during this mayor's race," said
Binder, who has polled this race for the Democratic Party, which is
behind Brown. "The left, the progressive community, has felt left out,
and now with Ammiano in, they feel they can make a difference."

The gay vote is important in San Francisco, accounting for 15 to 20
percent of turnout. Binder said Ammiano doesn't have that vote locked up
because some moderate and conservative gays disagree with him on
everything from rent control to raising the minimum wage.

"But if Ammiano gets a majority, two-thirds or even half of the gay
vote, that's significant," Binder said. "And if you add on the straight
progressives, then he's definitely in play."

Don Thompson is a gay voter who won't support Ammiano. "He's too
liberal," said the 46-year-old drug and alcohol counselor from the
Castro, who will vote for Brown based on his pro-business stance and vow
to crack down on homeless lawbreakers.

Ammiano, serving his second term on the Board of Supervisors after being
on the school board, has strong support in the gay community, with union
members and among tenants.

Brown has locked up endorsements from most labor organizations and
Democratic clubs, including Alice B. Toklas, a gay Democratic club.
Ammiano, however, was endorsed by The City's other major gay Democratic
club, the Harvey Milk Club, which has worked closely with him on
legislative issues.

While Brown, Reilly and Jordan have been taking damaging potshots at
each other - in the September poll, all three received higher
unfavorable ratings than favorable ones from voters - Ammiano avoided

Schulz said that has helped Ammiano. "It's not like people don't know
already what Ammiano stands for," he said. Avoiding the nastiness "has
set him apart from the others."

Ammiano said one reason he's running is to make sure that left-leaning
voters vote and their voice is heard on several ballot measures that he
backs, including a plan to prohibit banks from double-charging ATM fees,
a measure to replace the quake-damaged Central Freeway with a
ground-level boulevard and a plan to rebuild Laguna Honda Hospital.

When Ammiano ran citywide for re-election to the Board of Supervisors
last fall, he came in first, a feat that landed him the board
presidency. He did well in the Castro, Mission, Bernal Heights, the
Haight, South of Market, Civic Center, Diamond Heights, the Western
Addition and Inner Sunset.

Brown also did well in those areas when he ran for mayor four years ago.

Ammiano campaign organizers, who include some seasoned hands in the
labor, pro-neighborhood and gay political movements, are focusing on the
precincts in which Ammiano did best. They're also sending precinct
walkers to Visitacion Valley, the Ingleside, North Beach, West Portal
and other neighborhoods where he didn't do as well. In announcing his
write-in candidacy, a low-key event in which he simply walked into the
City Hall press room to talk to reporters, Ammiano said he had no plans
to campaign or raise money.

Haaland estimates about $7,000 has been spent so far on campaign
materials. At campaign headquarters Saturday, Ammiano backers walked out
with armloads of posters, flyers, pins and pens that said, "Write in
Mayor Tom Ammiano."

On Saturday, J. Winchester, who was handing out Ammiano campaign
literature at the corner of 18th and Castro - ground zero for gay
politics in San Francisco - said money shouldn't be a factor.

Sure, he got a late start, said Winchester, a Castro resident who works
for the Friends Foundation of the San Francisco Library and who gave her
age as 60-plus. "But there are a lot of progressives in this city and a
lot of disenchanted voters in every community. I don't think Tom is a
long shot. I think he's a good shot."

1999 San Francisco Examiner   Page C 1


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