praise from LGBT leaders
by Matthew S. Bajko
Six months into his first full term, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is winning praise from LGBT leaders who backed his opponents in last year's heated mayor's race.
Since his January swearing in ceremony, the affable, no-nonsense Lee has won plaudits for backfilling $8.1 million in federal cuts to AIDS programs and naming a number of LGBT people to high-profile government posts.
His appointees include District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, the first out bisexual on the board, and mayoral opponent Bevan Dufty, a gay former supervisor, as his homelessness policy adviser. After raising alarms when he did not reaffirm two gay men to the city's health commission, Lee named HIV-positive transgender leader Cecilia Chung to the oversight panel.
Neither of the board's two gay male supervisors, Scott Wiener (D8) or David Campos (D9), backed Lee in the mayor's race. Yet both say they continue to have a good working relationship with him.
"I have been impressed with his willingness to listen and be responsive to the concerns of different communities. I have found when I go to him with concerns, he has been very responsive," Campos told the Bay Area Reporter during a brief interview Monday, June 18 at the mayor's annual rainbow flag raising ceremony at City Hall to kick off Pride Week.
The two do not always see eye-to-eye on every issue, said Campos, but that does not impede their working together.
"You can disagree without being disagreeable," he said. "I am looking forward to continuing to work with him."
Openly gay city Treasurer Jose Cisneros, who co-chaired Dufty's mayoral campaign, also told the B.A.R. that he and the mayor have maintained a cordial working relationship despite his not supporting Lee in the 2011 race.
"I think the mayor is doing a great job," said Cisneros. "We have always had a good relationship."
Transgender advocates continue to thank Lee for his addressing last year's Trans March during Pride weekend. It marked the first time a sitting mayor had spoken at the event; Lee told the B.A.R. he intends to go to this year's march.
"The significance of that can not be overstated," said transgender labor organizer Gabriel Haaland, who has been helping to raise funds for this year's march.
A vocal supporter of District 11 Supervisor John Avalos for mayor last year, Haaland said he nonetheless has been repeatedly impressed by decisions Lee has made in office.
"I don't agree with him on everything. But he has been a lot more accessible as a mayor," said Haaland. "He has made a lot of great choices. He is surprising us in all the right ways."
The most oft-heard critique about Lee is that he doesn't have the same flair and celebrity cachet as did predecessors Gavin Newsom – who memorably posed for a Vanity Fair photo spread with ex-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle and later married actress Jennifer Siebel – and Willie Brown, whose media courtship was legendary and made cameos in such movies as The Princess Diaries and George of the Jungle .
"The word boring has been used a number of times, although I wouldn't use it," said B.A.R. society columnist Donna Sachet when asked what she most often hears about Lee in LGBT circles. "
The mayor's absence at various LGBT community events is routinely remarked upon, added Sachet.
"But sometimes you need to be hard-working behind the scenes to get things done," she said.
Voters were looking for a "common sense" mayor, and that is what they have gotten in Lee, said Rebecca Prozan, a longtime lesbian Democratic Party activist.
"I knew Ed Lee was going to be focused on getting things done," said Prozan, who hopes the mayor will spend more time on helping the homeless and filling vacant storefronts in neighborhood commercial corridors.
Probably the most controversial decision Lee has made to date was suspending Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and seeking his ouster from office due to his pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. Mirkarimi has considerable support among progressive LGBT leaders who accuse the mayor of turning a marital dispute into a political attack.
Yet Haaland told the B.A.R. that the political drama "transcends" the LGBT community and how it views Lee's handling of his job.
"People will evaluate if he treated the process fairly or not," he said.
Moving beyond the 2011 campaign
Lee became interim mayor in January 2011 after being picked by the city's Board of Supervisors to fill out the remainder of his predecessor's term. Newsom resigned that month to become the state's lieutenant governor.
At the time Lee pledged not to run for a full four-year term. But he rescinded that promise last summer and jumped into the race.
While Lee had significant LGBT support, several other candidates also had major backing from LGBT leaders and groups. Both Avalos and City Attorney Dennis Herrera secured endorsements from the city's LGBT Democratic clubs and elected leaders. Dufty also courted key LGBT backers in the race.
At times during the campaign relations between LGBT supporters of Lee, Dufty, and Herrera became particularly fraught. Emotions were enflamed over questions raised about Herrera's legal advice to Newsom in 2004 concerning the city breaking state law to marry same-sex couples.
Infighting emerged within the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club over its endorsing Herrera over Dufty. And campaign mailers sent by supporters of both candidates added to the hurt feelings and generated headlines during the final weeks of the mayor's race.
At a cocktail party June 6 timed to kick off Pride month, a number of LGBT leaders who did not back Lee in the mayor's race came together to move beyond the rhetoric of the 2011 campaign.
The mayor was warmly welcomed as he circulated throughout the Noe Valley home of Sal Giambanco and his husband, Tom Perrault. The couple backed Dufty for mayor but agreed to host the get-together for LGBT leaders to meet with the mayor.
"We think he is off to a great job," said Giambanco, adding that Lee was their second choice in the race. "I think it is important to be supportive of the mayor and be of service anyway we can. It is a tough job."
Businessman Bill Hemenger, who hosted a series of forums at his Diamond Heights home last year for various mayoral candidates to meet with LGBT voters, said he agrees with "99 percent" of everything Lee has done as mayor.
"There is not much I would change. Nothing makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up," he said of Lee's agenda.
Dufty supporter Kevin Shanahan said that Lee's administrative approach to the job of mayor has turned out to be a perfect fit.
"We are at a time in the city's history where San Francisco needs an administrator as mayor and he is fulfilling that role," said Shanahan. "The most important challenge the mayor faces is finding a common ground from the empowered and very vocal neighborhood groups who do not allow advantageous things to happen in the city."
Wiener, who worked to see his former boss Herrera be elected mayor, introduced Lee to the assembled crowd. He noted how the mayor has an open-door policy for meeting with supervisors.
"He is the kind of guy you can go in and talk to him about important issues," said Wiener, adding that he was struck by how the mayor reacted to the loss in federal AIDS funds. "I went to see the mayor and said we need to do something. He didn't blink."
Braced to have Lee restore half of the AIDS funding cut and leave it up to the supervisors to find the rest, Wiener said he was pleasantly surprised when the mayor announced he had plugged the entire loss.
"Instead, he didn't play any games. He just did it," said Wiener.
Joking he didn't come prepared with "any great speech," Lee told the crowd that he happens to be "very lucky" to be mayor at a time when the city's finances are improving. He also implied that he has no intentions to pursue higher office, at least until he is termed out of the mayor's job in 2020.
"I am not going anywhere. I love this city," said Lee. "I am going to make it the best I can as long as I occupy Room 200."
His number one priority remains jobs, an issue Lee promised he is "never going to leave out of my sight."
Talking up his proposal to create a housing trust fund to build more affordable residential units in the city, Lee said it would "help aging LGBT seniors get housing."
He also pledged to find ways to assist small business owners and those couples raising children in San Francisco.
"Whether you are making a family or investing in a business, I want to make sure the city helps people realize their dream of why they came to the city," said Lee, who earlier in the day had welcomed President Barack Obama to town by thanking him for supporting same-sex marriage.
Former Alice Club co-chair Bentrish Satarzadeh credited Lee for hearing the LGBT community's pleas to backfill the AIDS cuts and make more LGBT appointments to city commissions and oversight panels.
"We are hoping to get higher positions than what we have gotten so far, but it is a good start," she said.
Steven Aronowitz, whose top pick for mayor was Dufty, whom he once worked for as an aide, also said he has been "really impressed" with how Lee has handled balancing the city's budget this year.
"His appreciation for the city came across," said Aronowitz of Lee's remarks at the house party. "He is someone who cares about what happens to San Francisco, so I was inspired."