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Thursday, January 08, 2004

"The Usual Suspects is a Star Wars Cantina, a Galactic Crossroads of Bay Area news"

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GRASSROOTS INTERVIEWS AND OTHER POLITICAL NEWS WILL CONTINUE

In fact, there is a new "GrassRoots Interview" of a homeless man just below the "Star Wars Cantina" Homage to Alex Clemens' "Usual Suspects."

This interview was done on Wednesday, March 17, 2004, partly in honor of the newly convened homeless task force, called "the Ten-Year Plan Council." During the initial meeting Friday, March 12, 2004, Council members were encouraged to go out and talk to homeless folks.

I am not a member of the Council. Nevertheless, as media, I took my tape recorder in hand as I have done many times before, found Surya Rose sitting on the Seawall at Ghirardelli Square and asked him some questions.

Mr. Rose was a former Salvation Army soldier with several years' sobriety. A polite, well-mannered Viet Nam Vet, he allowed me to use his name, hoping, I think, to get some help with a very long-term alcohol addiction.

He summed up his problem: "See, when I went to the VA, I told them, I says, ‘Listen. I need a long-time serious program.’ So, they put me in a ten-day program."


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INCLUDING THE INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA ALIOTO,
CHAIRWOMAN OF THE NEW HOMELESS TASK FORCE (Below)
NEWS OF THE TASK FORCE WILL BE UPDATED PERIODICALLY
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WHAT FOLLOWS IS A NEW FEATURE OF THIS POLITICAL BLOG

THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF PROFILES OF BAY AREA NEWSPAPERS

WE BEGIN WITH THE QUINTESSENTIAL CLEARING HOUSE OF BAY AREA NEWS

ALEX CLEMENS' WEBSITE

"THE USUAL SUSPECTS"


San Francisco’s premier news website, The Usual Suspects, is a sort of Star Wars Cantina, a Galactic crossroads where a multitude of Bay Area newspapers meet. Many political wonks have remarked on how much invaluable information they get --- especially during periods leading up to elections --- by clicking their way through this media website, which gets an enormous amount of internet traffic.

Several of these same cognoscenti have commented that Alex Clemens, creator of “Suspects,” and President of Barbary Coast Consulting, is a decent, honest, person who does nice things for people without fanfare.

When I asked Alex recently whether I could interview him by e-mail, he adamantly denied this compliment. “I’m a complete ass,” he insisted. He urged me to interview others who might be “more relevant.”

I met Alex over poetry. He loves Japanese haiku. For reasons I can’t recall, one year he composed and e-mailed Christmas haiku. Thinking this funny, I e-mailed back a haiku in response.

I asked him for his last personally created haiku.

As a Board Member of CarShare, in anticipation of their coming retreat, he wrote:

“CarShare board and staff,
Which paths will we choose to take?
No guns are allowed.”

I teased him that his response time to e-mails seems instantaneous. Is he umbilically connected to his computer? Is there an ongoing addictive process? Will he enter rehab soon?

His response was serious:

“I place a very, very high premium on working and acting quickly. My clients expect it of my staff and me. My staff knows I expect it of them. If this spreads as my reputation, people who have immediate needs and want to hire someone who they know to be responsive and alert will hire me. That, in my opinion, is a good thing.”

Concocting dumb questions for the interview, I asked him to name his major pet peeve. Again, he answered seriously:

1. Meetings to discuss what we’re going to discuss in the next meeting.
2. Make-work.
3. Failure to break one’s neck meeting a deadline when one is drawing near.

Alex is a great MC who has spiced up many a political party and event. Among many other gigs, he MC’d at Supervisor Chris Daly and Sarah Lowe’s wedding.

I asked him where he got his M.C. training? “I just made it up as I went along,” he said. “Having some vocal inflexion, and enthusiasm for lots of things, and a sense of humor helps.”

What was his favorite recent MC gig?

”My favorite recent appearance was as a roaster of Dianne Easton, Ex-Director of Leadership San Francisco. Dianne is such a perfect, lovely, proper lady that nobody else dared roast her, and I managed to plug in a couple PG-13 jokes about grownup things like sex without getting booed off the stage or embarrassing her too badly.

“Riding the razor’s edge is fun,” he added.

Alex was born in New York City. He came to San Francisco in 1971, at the age of four.

He was a 1989 graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz, majoring in politics.

Alex works “as a contract lobbyist for those who want to hire me. Lots of land use. Some issue development. Some writing.”

Asked to describe his “favorite people in any particular group,” he answered, “frequently the most interesting folks around” are “politicians, reporters, political aides, and people who choose to work in government.” People “drawn to the give and take of making policy and running things are excellent and fun.”

I asked what makes him such a political junkie? Why do you like the “wheels within wheels” of San Francisco politics?

Political twists and turns are “better than soap operas, less predictable, more unbelievable,” he said.

Who were your political mentors?

“I was fortunate enough to work for Nancy Walker, Roberta Achtenberg, Kevin Shelley, and Louse Renne, four talented, integrity-prone pols.”

What was your first political experience?

“Nancy G. Walker ran for the Board of Supervisors when I was 12. I volunteered in her district office. Answered phones, licked envelopes. Thought it was a blast. Didn't understand much about policy, but I knew that I wanted to learn.”

Supervisor Walker taught him “how to identify when it is tactically wise to hold your ground and not compromise.”

He went with Roberta Actenberg, now Senior Vice President at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, to Washington, D.C. to help her serve at HUD during the Clinton Administration. From her he learned “how to bring differing viewpoints to a common table, and the importance of basing good politics in sound policy.”

Kevin Shelley, current California Secretary of State, showed him, “How to line up the essential political tools to accomplish your goals.”

During his tenure as a “private eye” investigator in former City Attorney, Louise Renne’s administration, she revealed, “Why success is always based in hiring the best possible people, and giving them sufficient rope to hang themselves.”

Alex seems to have woven together skillfully the expertise he developed from these four mentors into the three arenas of politics, communications, and IT. He learned politics “from 15 years of volunteering on campaigns.” Among many other things, he did community organizing in SOMA. During 10 years in government, he “tried to learn how things work,” and honed his considerable consulting skills. He was also national community relations director for a dot.com broadband company.

At what point did you weave these three skills together?

“Just happenstance. I haven't planned a trajectory.”

Alex teaches communications to Masters candidates at Golden Gate University.

I observed that communication has been called THE most difficult human problem. True communication doesn’t seem to happen all that often.

Why did you specialize in communication? I asked.

”Theoretically, I’m good at it,” he mused, but, “most days I wonder.”

I asked what he felt was the most important thing his students should learn about human communication?

The course is “less about communication; more about advocacy,” he said, offering three guidelines.

1. “Believe in your message.
2. Know your best three arguments.
3. Know your opponent’s best three arguments, and know how to respond to them.”

On your Barbary Coast website, you advise future clients that you believe business entrepreneurs do well by making community contributions. Why do you believe businesses should do pro bono work?”

I believe it shouldn’t even have to be explained,” he stated. Such giving comes from a spirit of “noblesse oblige,” the principled conviction that “much is expected from those to whom much is given,” in addition to “karma, etc.”

Barbary Coast has participated in developing and maintaining a mapping and statistical tool found on the San Francisco City Government ’s website. It aids businesses thinking of relocating to San Francisco by offering them an overview of sections of the City and business statistics about those areas. This is an amazing contribution. How did Barbary Coast become part of the official San Francisco government website?”

Barbary Coast works on the Prospector database, which can be found on SFGov,” he explained.

However, he gives full credit for this database to his employee, Deborah Lao. “It was her baby when she was at the Mayor’s office. She helped bring it up to speed and get it online. When she came to Barbary Coast, we volunteered some time to keep it running. We’re on a small contract to make it stronger and more robust right now. We’ll continue to baby sit it when the contract runs out. Deborah is proud of it, and she should be.”

What are the specialties of his attractive Barbary Coast partners, Deborah Lao and Benjamin Gettleman (colorful mug shots of whom can be found, along with Alex’ photo, on the Barbary Coast website)?

“They are multifaceted; they do project work on everything I ask them to. They're extraordinary utility infielders, and can handle just about everything.”

On his "Suspects" home page he explains that the site’s name comes from Claude Raines’ immortal line from ‘Casablanca,” ‘Round up the usual suspects.’ The ‘wheels within wheels’ of San Francisco’s political intrigues are reminiscent of the “complex and mysterious world “of the movie.

Through "The Usual Suspects" website, he puts a lot of effort into encouraging and facilitating people to read the news every day. Why is this so important to him?

Alex named two reasons: Selfless and Selfish.

“Selfless: A more informed populace creates benefits for the body politic.

“Selfish. People show up and visit MY site to read about politics and current events, and some may associate me with What’s Happening. That’s not bad for business. He noted, “I started Suspects in ’95, long long long before starting work in public affairs in 2001. So maybe it’s not completely selfish.”

"The Usual Suspects is a public service," I observed. You make it simple to click to your favorite newspaper without a lot of hassle. You focus on specific articles, and you have issues and links organized under subject matter.

Is it a huge daily task reading all the news in order to stay current?

“We read everything anyway,” he answered. We just have to grab URLs. We link what’s relevant."

Your partners help maintain the Suspects website. Is it free-for-all maintenance, or do you divvy up your roles?

“We share in the responsibility. Errors are my fault.”

What is your vision for Suspect’s role in San Francisco politics? Do you see the website contributing to getting information out there so that people can resolve San Francisco’s problems?

“I doubt it,” he asserted. “The Internet is just another tool to communicate. Resolving problems requires people sitting down and hashing things out between each other. Suspects is just a website.”

And yet, I once pointed out to Alex that an ad for Barbary Coast Consulting came up while Googling for this BLOG. “Google is God,” he proclaimed.


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GRASSROOTS INTERVIEWS AND OTHER POLITICAL NEWS WILL CONTINUE


FOREWORD:

The following interview with Surya Rose was done on Wednesday, March 17, 2004, partly in honor of the newly convened homeless task force, The 10-Year Plan Council. During the initial meeting Friday, March 12, 2004, Council members were encouraged to go out and talk to homeless folks.

I am not a member of the Council. Nevertheless, as media, I took my tape recorder in hand as I have done many times before, found Surya Rose sitting on the Seawall at Ghirardelli Square and asked him some questions.

Mr. Rose was a former Salvation Army soldier with several years' sobriety. A polite, well-mannered Viet Nam Vet, he allowed me to use his name, hoping, I think, to get some help with a very long-term alcohol addiction.

He summed up his problem: "See, when I went to the VA, I told them, I says, ‘Listen. I need a long-time serious program.’ So, they put me in a ten-day program."



INTERVIEW WITH SURYA ROSE

Walking down from the lookout above Fort Mason, Fisherman’s Wharf spread out before me, pink and white in the hot evening sun. A three-masted ship sat elegantly next to Pier 41. In the distance the Bay Bridge strung itself up behind the Hill with Coit Tower on top.

I met Surya Rose sitting on the wall next to the sidewalk below the huge Ghirardelli Square sign. Neatly dressed in a blue jacket and cap, he appeared somewhat shrunk into himself and depressed. He was friendly and extremely polite throughout our conversation.

Surya Rose: Can you spare some change?

Carol Harvey: Sure. Can I interview you?

SR: I’m not a very nice person.

CH: Can I interview you anyway? You can remain anonymous.

SR: It doesn’t matter to me.

CH: Okay.

SR: Because maybe I’d be able to tell somebody something. I don’t know.

CH: Yes. You’ll be able to share your ideas and your thoughts, which would be good.

Do you live in San Francisco?

SR: Yes. I do that. Well, I’ve been here about six months.

CH: Are you traveling?

SR: I don’t want to be. I want to stay here, really.

CH: Do you?

SR: Oh, I love it. It’s a beautiful city! I mean a lot of people don’t see all this stuff. Just come over here and sit, you know? (Looking wistfully out at the Bay in the rose of the setting sun. The very hot day was cooling down, and a breeze came over the water).

CH: This is beautiful.

So, are you telling me that you are living on the street?

SR: I certainly am. I didn’t have to. I was in a place called Golden Gate for Seniors. One night I decided that --- since I had a couple of extra dollars --- to gamble.

CH: Where would you go and gamble?

SR: Indian casinos. You can go for a dollar, and they give you $15 dollars when you get there.

CH: So did that mean that you had to leave San Francisco to get there?

SR: Kinda.

CH: Like on a bus.

SR: You get the bus at 16th and Mission, and when I came back --- of course, I hadn’t signed out for the night. You can do that, but I didn’t do that.

CH: Did you forget?

SR: I don’t know if I cared.

See, that’s what my real problem is. I make decisions and just do them, don’t care about consequences.

I’ve been drinking for a lot of years --- since 1985 since my wife died. I get four dollars in my pocket, or I get $10 in my pocket, and so, ‘Let’s go to the casino,’ knowing that I’m going to get in trouble. I don’t care.

CH: Are you telling me that you have a gambling addiction?

SR: Oh, Big Time! AND drinking!

CH: Is that what you meant when we first started talking and you said …..

SR: That I’m not a nice person. Yes. Yes.

If I get into a program and they let me, like, work in the kitchen, or cook, or something, I’m okay.

CH: What do you mean, ‘You’re okay?’ You mean you stop drinking?

SR: Yes. I’ll stop drinking. I’ll stop gambling. I take the responsibility.

CH: If you’re working?

SR: Yes.

CH: Why does that happen? Do you know? If you have a job, you take responsibility. That’s what you’re saying.

SR: Yes.

But, if I don’t have a job, then I kind of get stupid.

CH: Do you get depressed?

SR: Oh, Big Time. Big Time!

I could take care of you --- you understand --- and never get in trouble. But, as soon as you don’t need me, anything could happen. I’ll do anything.

I was sober for 4-1/2 years. I was a Salvation Army soldier.

CH: Were you? Where was that?

SR: In Sacramento. I was manager in the Number One store, and I did real well. I would always go see my sponsor because I was an alcoholic. He said, “You, me, and my wife, we’ll go down to Reno.” Never been gambling in my life.

CH: Are you saying that your sponsor got you hooked on gambling?

SR: Well, I don’t think he realized. Because he can do that and not drink. He doesn’t realize he’s hooked on that. Okay?

CH: I see.

SR: So, I went to Reno with him, and I said, “Okay.” And I think I had thirty-forty dollars, and I got lucky, and with less than $2.00, I made over $800. I says, “Hooked.”

CH: (Into the recorder) He makes the sign of ‘Fish Hook in Mouth.’

SR: Yeah. (Laughs)

CH: Because I’m going to write this.

SR: Okay.

CH: Are you a Veteran?

SR: Yes.

CH: Do you know about Swords to Plowshares?

SR: Kinda.

CH: Because I think they provide homes to homeless Vets.

What War did you fight in?

SR: Viet Nam.

CH: Did you see action in Viet Nam?

SR: Two tours.

CH: Do you know that Swords to Plowshares could probably get you housed pretty quickly? I don’t know where they are located, but you could ask around.

SR: I’ve heard about them, but I never went over there. (I’ve heard) It’s just another one of those old ….

CH: I’ve heard this is a good one with good people.

I have to ask you some other questions. I really appreciate you’re explaining to me….

SR: Personal or not --- don’t matter. I don’t care.

CH: I truly appreciate your talking and explaining this to me.

SR: Thank you.

CH: You’re not alone as a Viet Nam Vet with an addiction. You’re not alone on that at all. That’s a personal observation of mine.

But, you’ve been in San Francisco how long --- consecutively?

SR: About six months.

CH: Six months. Can I ask where you were before that?

SR: (Laughing) Yeah, and I’ll tell you. It was a joke.

I was in Las Vegas.

CH: Were you gambling?

SR: Well, I was going from casino to casino, and I only had two quarters I found in a machine, and I went to a place called Barbary Coast, and there were three quarters in a poker machine, and I dropped them in there --- my two --- and I pushed the button, and it gave me a roll for $1,000. So, I took the bus.

CH: To San Francisco?

SR: No. First to Reno, and then I was going to Sacramento. Well, I’d been drinking, and I fell asleep on the bus, and he didn’t wake me up, and I woke up here in San Francisco.

CH: You won a thousand bucks, you hopped a bus, you fell asleep, and you ended up here.

Okay. If you were to establish permanent residence somewhere, where do you call Home? What city?

SR: I don’t know if I have one anymore.

CH: Okay. Where were you when you lost your wife?

SR: Connecticut.

CH: What city?

SR: Thomaston.

CH: What big town is that near?

SR: It would be pretty close to Waterbury.

CH: What year would that have been?

SR: 1985 --- November.

CH: Okay. Is it fair to say that you were responsible when you were married?

SR: Well, I WAS! Then --- I think it was about February --- we found out she had cancer. Well, I wouldn’t believe it. So, we went for a second opinion, and they said, “Yeah.”

CH: How long had you been married?

SR: Twenty-three years.

CH: May I ask what you used to do when you were employed?

SR: I was an interior trim carpenter. I made pretty good money.

CH: May I ask your age.

SR: I’m 59 now.

CH: You look really young. You really do!

SR: (Chuckles)

CH: For an on-the-street kinda guy, you’re amazingly young looking.

SR: (Explaining his chuckle) It’s a joke, and it isn’t.

I had an uncle who sexually abused me, but, before he did that, he was an alcoholic already. He told me, he says, “If you’re going to drink, One: drink top shelf. It’s still going to kill you, but it won’t kill you so fast.” He said, “Drink a lot of water. Keep yourself washed out, and no matter whether you want it or not, Eat! Eat! Keep that food in there.”

And I stayed pretty healthy. And I still work. I can still work. I’m still capable, but nobody wants to hire me at my age. (Starts to wipe his eyes.)

CH: Did you ever get treatment for the sexual abuse?

SR: No.

CH: Do you think that would have made a difference?

SR: I don’t know. I don’t know. (Still wiping his eyes)

CH: Some pretty heavy feelings there.

SR: My mother did, too.

CH: I’m sorry?

SR: My mother.

CH: What do you mean, your mother? (Realizing) OH!

SR: And, the worst was, he was first, and he said, ‘Don’t tell your mother. Who’s she going to believe first, her brother or you?’

CH: That’s hard.

It was her brother who did this?

SR: He was the first one. About three years later, she did kinda the same thing.

CH: It runs in families. This doesn’t surprise me.

May I ask? Was your wife --- did she have any kind of addiction or drinking problem?

SR: No. Christmas or New Years, she could have three drinks of Fra Angelico and stagger. She didn’t have a problem, and I was able to hide everything from her, and my kids are pretty good.

CH: I feel so bad because this is bringing up some pretty strong feelings for you. I don’t like to make people feel bad.

SR: It’s okay.

CH: You look amazing, and I’m glad your uncle thought to tell you to eat well. “No thank you” for one thing. “Thank you” for the other thing.

SR: He was my favorite, too. He was my favorite!

A lot of people don’t believe that.

CH: I know it. I believe you completely.

SR: I’ve had the opportunity to talk to two psychiatrists, one in Dallas Hospital VA, and it worked for about three months. Then they shipped both of them to another VA Hospital, and they wanted to start it again, and I said --- just --- ‘Phooey!’ I’m not going through it again.

CH: Yes. It’s too hard. You need some stability to open up like that. It’s a major investment.

Compared to what you’ve told me, my questions seem almost silly. But, they’re not.

Homelessness has been a problem in San Francisco for many years. They’ve never been able to solve the problem. There are many people for many reasons who are living on the street. You know that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

But, recently, there’s been an effort by the Mayor---

SR: (Looks sarcastically to the side) Ah Hum! Jeez! Love HIM!

CH: Well, Willie Brown’s gone. You know that Gavin Newsom is the new Mayor.

SR: Yeah. He just wants to screw everybody. What he wants is: ‘Get the Homos in; Get the Homeless out!’

CH: Oh! What do you mean?

SR: Everybody’s getting married now!

CH: Oh, I see.

SR: But, at the same time, like, ‘Those of you who are homeless, you can’t get the money any more.’ You can’t get any help.

CH: How do you know this? Is this from talking to people on the street? Or is this from reading newspapers.

SR: Newspapers. Television. Whatever. You know.

CH: How do you know he’s getting the Homeless out?

SR: He ain’t getting rid of us!

CH: How do you know he’s trying to get rid of you? And, if he’s trying to get rid of homeless people, where is he trying to get them to go?

SR: All right. If you’re homeless, and you get into a program, which I did, you can get $410 a month. Part of that, of course, it goes towards your rent. And maybe $88 to $141 dollars a month food stamps. Well, these places take your food stamps, and that’s okay --- they feed you.

CH: Okay.

SR: But he wants to give you $50 a month, nothing else. What do you then? What do you do then? Like I do. Sit here and panhandle.

CH: Are you getting $50 a month now?

SR: I’m getting nothing. Because I don’t have an address.

CH: So, you’re not even getting the $50.

SR: I’m not getting nothing.

CH: Would you work if you could?

SR: God, yes! I’d love to work.

CH: Have you ever heard of Angela Alioto?

SR: Who?

CH: No. Okay. You haven’t heard of Angela Alioto.

Do you know about the 10-year Plan Council on Homelessness that has been formed?

SR: I don’t know nothing about this.

CH: Okay. Do you know that they have committed to getting money by the fall to get chronically homeless people such as yourself off the street in two to ten years? Do you know anything about that? Yes or No.

SR: I don’t know nothing about that.

CH: So, you didn’t read about that in the papers? It’s new. It’s just been formed.

SR: There’s not enough general information, especially for the homeless people.

CH: You haven’t heard anything about this from people on the street, then?

SR: But, I want you to understand that not everyone that’s out here would be willing to do something like that.

CH: Willing to do what?

SR: Go to work. I didn’t care if I got 40 hours a week and got $6 an hour. It didn’t mean much, just so long as I had something.

CH: To do?

SR: Yeah. Something meaningful.

CH: So, not having something meaningful to do is the thing that bothers you the most. Is that right?

SR: Yeah.

CH: Would you like to stop drinking?

SR: Oh, I could do that.

CH: Would you like to? Do you think you could?

SR: Oh, yeah!

CH: If you had a job?

SR: Oh, yeah!

CH: Could you make it permanent – stay off it permanently?

SR: Don’t ask me that, because you know an alcoholic can never tell you that.

CH: Would you want to if you could?

SR: Oh, Yeah! You bet!

CH: Have you had a drink today?

SR: Yes.

Well, you see, when you haven’t had a drink, it’s not as easy to hustle. Too, if I get enough to drink --- like if I get another half pint now, that will get me loaded, and I don’t care where I sleep --- you understand?

CH: So you could sleep anywhere.

SR: (Pointing to the grass up the berm behind us) I could sleep here. There. I could sleep anywhere. It don’t matter.

CH: So, you’d be comfortable?

SR: You’re not comfortable. You just don’t care.

It’s pretty screwed up.

CH: I don’t see it as screwed up. I think somebody like yourself needs some help.

I hope you read the papers and watch TV to find out about this task force.

SR: Let me tell you something. In Dallas, Texas, they made it against the law to live on the street because they had people living under the bridges and everything else. But, what happened is they gave these people a place to live for a year or two years. Some of them went right back because they can’t live under direction.

CH: Restrictions?

SR: Restrictions. You can’t drink in the apartment. You can’t smoke whatever you smoke – whatever that stuff is.

CH: So, are you telling me, then, that you’re not one of those people?

SR: No. I don’t have a problem with that.

CH: So, you’re saying that you can take direction?

SR: See, when I went to the VA, I told them, I says, ‘Listen. I need a long-time serious program.’ So, they put me in a ten-day program.

CH: That’s a problem.

SR: That don’t help for me. I’m one of those persons who drank for so long that it’s easy for me to go right back. I need to go to some place --- a year or two years --- maybe I’ll make it then. MAYBE!

CH: Do you know where the VA hospital is?

SR: I will do that (go to the VA). I will.

I’ve been to Miley’s. Matter of fact, they want me to have an MRI. They said there’s some problem with the alcohol and my mind.

CH: Oh, is it a brain thing?

SR: Yeah. And, you know what I did?

CH: You didn’t go!

SR: See what I mean! If I’m --- some place that’s structured. Make me go. Get me in a van. ‘Get your ass up there!’

Tonight, all that’s open (at Fort Miley) is the Emergency room, and they don’t have anything like a Detox or anything. I need the Detox because one of the reasons I have to drink is that I get DTs.

I’m going to put this interview on the website, because this is good information. Is this okay with you?

SR: Yes. I don’t care if you use my name. It’s Surya Rose. There’s a lot of people in the City who do know me.

I get pretty angry sometimes. Not violent. Verbally, I get angry when I start talking about all this stuff.

CH: I’m so sorry to stir it up for you.

SR: It’s okay. It’s okay.

Maybe I’ll go to City Hall --- if I can go and not get emotional.

NOTE: Mr. Rose indicated to me that he wanted his name used in this interview because, perhaps by doing so, he could get somebody to help him.

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GAVIN NEWSOM APPOINTS ANGELA ALIOTO CHAIR OF HOMELESS
TASK FORCE

HERE IS AN EXCLUSIVE

INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA ALIOTO


1. Her new charge as Chair of the Task Force to End Homelessness

2. Her partnership with Gavin Newsom on Public Power;
o The San Francisco Gas and Electric Company

3. Her endorsement of Newsom and resulting backlash

4. Her concerns about the loss of "core values" of the Democratic Party.




NEWSOM-ALIOTO 10-YEAR PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS

Today, Wednesday, February 4, 2003, during a surprise workday visit to the Department of Human Services, newly elected Mayor, Gavin Newsom officially announced to senior DHS management his appointment of former Supervisor Angela Alioto as Chairman of a newly created task force to construct what he termed a 10 year plan, or "roadmap" to "end chronic homelessness in San Francisco."

Mayor Newsom introduced the new Chair saying, "I think there is no one better to lead this effort," and "no one more enthusiastic or energetic on this issue than Angela Alioto."

He stated the 10-year plan is consistent with the will, desire and funding directions of HUD and the Interagency Council on Homelessness" headed by George Bush's homeless 'Czar,' Philip Mangano who visited several cities in California, including San Francisco in early January.

The Mayor stated he felt "confident that, in this effort, we can finally, in a proactive way, move this City forward and bring this City together..., recognizing that this is not going to happen overnight, and there is still going to be a tremendous amount of distrust."

However, he asserted his belief that Angela Alioto was uniquely qualified to "bridge the divide" and "bring district factions together."

Newsom termed the 10-year homeless plan "one of the most important documents that the City will put together over the next three years." It will be constructed, clarified and made "transparent" with data from Grand Jury reports, and reports from the Controller's and Budget Analyst's offices, and Departments of Human Services and Public Health. He wants a plan in which a wide range of advocates and participants feel "included and participatory" and which "delivers results."

Newsom stated he hoped, under Supervisor Alioto's direction, the plan would be completed by June of 2004.

Ms Alioto confirmed that the realization of the June deadline will open the way to new funding for services and housing available as early as fall 2004.

In her acceptance of her Chairmanship, Ms Alioto said, "This appointment means a lot to me."

She introduced her children and new grandson, Sebastiano. "Because this is a very important day, I want my children to understand that to be the Chair of this 10-year plan is a step in the direction of ending the disgrace that affects America and San Francisco in such a horrifying way."

She called Philip Mangano, Head of Bush's Interagency Council on Homelessness, "surprisingly Democratic" for a Republican, and "wonderful man," and thanked Gavin Newsom for suggesting she attend Mangano's seminar.

Two weeks earlier, when I interviewed Angela Alioto at home about her meeting with Philip Mangano and her hopes for ending homelessness in the Newsom administration, she expressed in-depth the thoughts and feelings she touched on in today's introduction of the homelessness plan to DHS senior staff.

In addition, she spoke of her dreams for realizing public power, and slicing costs by streamlining sole source contracts.

She clarified her reasons for endorsing Gavin Newsom, and described the backlash that followed. She declared plans to try to true the course of the misdirected Democratic Party to their "core values" so that it once again includes leftist progressives.


INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA ALIOTO

Thursday, January 14, 2004

I was seated with Angela Alioto, Mayor Newsom’s new partner in homelessness, public power, and competitive contracts, at her dark wood banquet table. We were regarded by a 350-year-old statue of St. Francis her mother got in Mexico standing on an urn in a Bay window overlooking the water. “Pax Et Bonum,” was inscribed above the circular niche in which it stood. Hand painted purple and blue tromp d’oeil simulations of St. Francis’ basilica covered the walls. In her setting, Angela seemed thoroughly Italian.

Her four-year-old granddaughter, Chiara Mia, dressed in pink ballet leotards, ran into the room and climbed on her lap. “Chiara Mia,” (“Light of My Life”) danced in and out of our 90-minute conversation. Named after a follower of St. Francis, Santa Chiara, for whom a pink and yellow-stoned church was built in Assisi, pink-clad Chiara, echoed Angela’s childlike enthusiasm, spirit, and ingenuous determination.

During the debates, Angela’s husky voice, rapid-fire delivery, and quirky humor riveted audiences. Up close, she was pretty and feminine, thick lashes softening dark, intense eyes, auburn hair curling around the contours of regal cheekbones.

She explained that, after my earlier article identifying her as a member of the Franciscan Order, she got comments that “St. Francis told me to run for Mayor” which made her laugh.

We briefly discussed the Oprah Winfrey special on impoverished African children, a six-year-old caring for a four-year-old sibling, with “the mother dead in the bed” from AIDS, “no government offering help.”

I noted her empathy for homeless people lying on warm grates, when many walk past, no longer seeing.

“It’s physically painful to me,” she said.

She spent the previous day with Philip Mangano, Bush’s homeless Czar, Executive Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“He is also Franciscan. He saw a movie about St. Francis in the mid-70’s, gave up everything he was doing in the TV industry, moved to Boston, started doing homeless shelters, then moved into supportive housing and permanent housing.”

In the meeting, Gavin Newsom told all the department heads, “Angela is here in my place. You are to answer all the questions she has. You are to work with her. Philip Mangano is here from Washington, D.C.”

“I’m shocked that Bush appointed him, but he’s wonderful,” she said.

Mangano told the department heads, “San Francisco has the best programs and services for supportive housing, and the irony is San Francisco has the worst homeless population.”

“He said, ‘Now that there is political will from the Mayor, and then he pointed to me, Angela, to all of you department heads, there is no doubt in my mind we can end this problem in San Francisco.’ He was forceful!

“He said something important: ‘You need to focus more on housing and less on services. You are service-heavy.’”

Privately, she told Mangano she was a civil rights lawyer “’making a lot of money, in my little law firm,’ and he’s looking at me. I said, ‘I made this partnership with Gavin where I’m going to be dealing with homelessness. It’s a Franciscan problem. It’s an absolute passion,’ I said. ‘It’s a mission to me. It’s not a job.

‘Over Christmas, I took eight people off the street. I have never met a homeless person in 15 years that wouldn’t leave the street with me.’ Do you know what he said? ‘I haven’t either.’”

She referred me to a Chronicle article describing Philip Mangano talking to homeless people on the street, something he regularly does. “I’m going to have to kid him that the one homeless guy he stops and converses with is a carpenter. I wonder if he got the symbolism?”

According to the Chronicle, Mangano was in town “to work with Gavin Newsom on the City’s ten year plan to end homelessness.” They reported during the runoff Mangano was in contact saying when the new regime got into power, he’d be in San Francisco under orders from Bush to craft a plan to end homelessness in ten years.

First, housing will be created for the 40% chronically homeless. San Francisco has a total of 8,600 to 15,000 unhoused people, the largest percentage of any U.S. City.

On Thursday, January 15, 2004, Fox TV News’ quoted Berkeley Mayor, Tom Bates, “I think they are really serious about this.”

In a January 2003 speech to the Conference of Mayors, Mangano likened homelessness to Abolition. He told the Chronicle, “People said the Abolitionists were crazy, that slavery was too woven into the American fabric to end, but…they never gave up, and that’s just what will happen to homelessness.”

Angela described department heads congratulating each other after Mangano’s kudos to the City’s best programs, despite San Francisco's homeless crisis. She cautioned that, “If we are doing the programs right, and the result is more homelessness, we are spending the money internally,” not replicating the high performance model programs for which we are the national standard.

Angela’s example was a senior Japanese program on Taylor, where a homeless person walks in the door and finds everything, even a top floor mini-hospital. A couple was interviewed saying this place “saved my life.”

She said absolutely every candidate, including Gavin, who was endorsed, supported, and a protégé of Willie Brown, confirmed ‘There is no question there’s corruption.’

“To have a stranger from out of town, say to all these department heads, ‘You’ve got the greatest programs, and the most homelessness’ --- in my opinion, he wasn’t patting anybody on the back.” He was saying, ‘Something is wrong in Denmark.’”

After scrutinizing sole source contracts in detail, Newsom gave her boxfuls of them to look over.

Angela described herself as “definitely big picture,” compared to Newsom, who is “a very detail type person.”

She said, "It is a detailed mind that congratulates itself for programs that are successful when we’ve got the biggest (homeless population in the country)," “‘Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?’ I’m sure the play was great just like the programs are great, but he’s dead.”

But she confirmed that Gavin Newsom has demonstrated he understands the big picture quite clearly.

COMPETITIVE BIDS ON SOLE SOURCE CONTRACTS

She said she is Newsom’s ‘partner’ in three areas, homelessness, public power, and competitive contracts ---contracts that went out without a competitive bid, based on sole source exemption. She bet she couldn’t get explanations from different departments as to why they got into particular contracts.

“Let’s say there’s a $50 million dollar contract to house 200 people at this one place. Why would you enter into this contract for that amount of money for this few people?”

How many competing bids were submitted? What were those bids? Were they better or worse? Out of many sources, what makes a particular bid a sole source?

HOMELESSNESS

Clearly, Angela planned to research competitive bids to expunge surplus, and save the “internal” waste that led to increased homelessness despite San Francisco’s model homeless programs.

Angela’s impatience required immediate solutions. “Everyone talks about homelessness. ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that in six months.’ What about tonight?”

She described a 62-year-old mother, a heroin addict she met at Taraval and 38th, saying, “I went in to Tom Waddell Clinic, and they told me, ‘Come back next Tuesday.’ Well, to me next Tuesday is a year away.”

“You can’t tell people like that to come back. You grab them the minute they say, ‘I’m willing to change.’”

Journalist h. brown reported in “Watching City Hall #249” that during the campaign Angela visited the Hunter’s Point projects searching sites for “slots.” She termed all the projects boarded up, while we had people sleeping on grates in the cold, “immediately available places.”

She explained, however, that these were temporary solutions “to a freezing cold winter. The majority of homeless people aren’t looking just for housing. They are looking for supportive housing.”

In her outreach to eight people over Christmas, she cited Swords to Plowshares, calling St. Anthony’s “a Godsend. No pun intended,” a fine facility deserving of more funding.

She insisted getting people off the street is easy. If funding for slots was available, “I could do ten a day.”

In the Newsom administration, she would be able to implement her homeless program, San Francisco Cares.

She reported Mangano seemed interested in talking to her about her intake concept of a thousand San Francisco Care Corps who get people off the street “two by two.”

In his speech he mentioned four or five people --- “everyone from a shrink to a social worker” --- going in a group. She was curious why he thought so many people were needed to pick up one person.

“You’re back to the internal problem of money. C’mon, how many people are you going to pick up off the street without it costing too much? Why not have the therapist, the shrink, and the fire-fighter at the triage center, so they see many, and not just the one picked up by the volunteer?”

“Are you still negative on shelters?” I asked.

“Exactly! I’ve always said --- and Barbara Taylor of KCBS has taken me to task for it --- DO AWAY WITH SHELTERS!”

I asked whether the movement was out of shelters into facilities?

“Yes,” she emphasized, “Supportive housing! Supportive housing! Supportive housing!”

Additionally, “I think this year with Gavin Newsom we are going to be able to implement Prop J to a big degree.”

Prop J, voter-approved, was a way of beginning a triage system in which, preparatory to moving seniors, families, youth, and disabled people to supportive housing, they are separated in the shelters by particular issues. “Supportive housing is organized by the diagnosis.” Once the funding is available, “we will be able to move them right into their supportive housing.”

Mangano told her, “’Supportive housing. Get me a ten year plan, we’ll get you Federal money.’ I’m all over that,” she said.

She said she is “100 percent behind an $150 million dollar bond for supportive housing. It is absolutely essential to be part of the 10-year plan so we can get federal funding, and because supportive housing is, in fact, what we need.”

PROP M - NEWSOM'S ANTI-PANHANDLING INITIATIVE

I reminded Angela she had been critical of Gavin Newsom’s anti-panhandling initiative, Prop M. As a civil rights lawyer, she cited the violation of civil rights.

“If I were to stand on Van Ness and ask for a dollar to give to St. Anthony to help homelessness, for a vote, or anything of value --- (and I said this throughout the campaign) --- I would be in violation of Prop M. I’m against Prop M, and I’ll always be against Prop M.”

Wasn’t Prop M directed at panhandlers?

“You are assuming a fact not in evidence --- that people who panhandle on the islands are homeless. If you investigated, you would not find that true in 100% percent of the cases.”

If you get to know the homeless population, you can differentiate between the true homeless and those who are “in the business,” dealing drugs. “ So, it’s not a matter of it applying to homeless people.”

Didn’t the general electorate believe Prop M targeted homeless people?

“The general electorate believes people standing on islands asking for money are homeless. Now, why is that? I guess the sign says, ‘I’m homeless.’ C’mon!”

“Channel 7 did a great expose. Guys get in their cars and drive back to the East Bay. They’re not homeless.”

Insisting that homeless people “get a bad rap,” she told Mangano if he talks to some of our homeless population, he would meet some very smart people. Notice the number of homeless people “always reading books,” in contrast to “the figure of shooting up on an every five-minute basis that we were given in all those stupid ads.”

She confirmed there is a lot of heroin use, and drug abuse. “ But, that isn’t what homelessness is about.”

CARE NOT CASH

She and Gavin Newsom disagreed on Prop M, and Care Not Cash. She endorsed Chris Daly’s Real Housing initiative, Prop N with shelters removed.

Considering past conflicts, how likely was Newsom to fulfill his promise to give her power in his administration to successfully address homelessness?

“He already has given me the power,” she said.

“If I got 200 people off the streets of San Francisco this year, it has nothing to do with Prop M or Prop N.” It’s simply a matter of “how we get it done. If Gavin Newsom wants to go get it done by enforcing M and N, that’s him. That’s not me.” Since the mutual goal is to get people off the street, Newsom would be delighted if she helped him meet that goal.

“Does Gavin Newsom want people off the streets? Of course he does! That was his promise. That’s what people were hoping for. That’s what’s going to get him further in his career.

“I think he is committed to getting poor people off the street, for compassionate reasons, for cynical reasons, for whatever reason.”

She emphasized since everyone, including the Supervisors has the same goal, if she presents them with legislation worked out with the department heads that achieves that goal, how could they vote against it?

She said Gavin has given her everything he promised. It was explicit in their agreement that the department heads answer her. “Gavin told the department heads, sitting there with Mr. Mangano, ‘When Angela calls, answer her. Treat her as though she is me.’ He went on about it for five minutes.”

She cautioned, “There’s no glory, though. The man won. I lost. I’m acutely aware of that. He’s the Mayor of the City.”

She will not surprise him in any way, or hold press conferences about conversations with department heads. Her mission is to get people off the streets, not embarrass the new Mayor.

Two people told me today, ‘You’re doing all this work without the glory.’ I said, ‘But, isn’t that great!’”

One day, at Pacific and Van Ness, she saw a man on the corner. She rolled down the window, and gave him a $5 dollar bill. “I voted for you,” he said. “I promise I won’t ever be out there again. I’m only out here for a couple of hours.”

A politician’s discomfort asking for money made her aware of the humiliation he must have felt to beg.

She told her brother, “Nothing anyone could give me would equate to the joy of getting a home and a job for that guy. You couldn’t pay me ten million dollars that would make me feel the way I feel when I help people like that.”

She wants to be able to call the department heads and say, “Where is this shelter? What does this shelter make? Who takes in this shelter? Who kicks people out?” and, if she sees something she doesn’t like, go to the Board and say, “Do a piece of legislation right now to stop them from treating people this way.”

“If I’m in the position to see the wrongs and be able to do something about them, I don’t care if it is a task force.”

The last two administrations have viciously criminalized homeless people for asking for help, sitting on benches, covering themselves up lying on the street. Did she think working with Newsom she could turn that around?

She believed that Gavin, with Mr. Mangano, with the department heads, would make a concerted effort to get people off the street in “the non-military way.”

They’re not going to have the police, like a decade ago, throwing them around in the Civic Center?

“I don’t think you’ll ever see that again. Matrix didn’t work. As President of the Board, I banned Matrix. That’s not the way you deal with this.

“Isn’t that the definition of stupid? Trying something over and over when you know it doesn’t work and think it’s going to change?”

I thought Gavin Newsom and the business community might like homeless people to solve the problem by leaving town. She said she was sure they would, but how do you do that?

By making it too expensive to live in San Francisco.

“It didn’t work! It didn’t work!” she insisted, laughing.

“You know,” she continued, “If you believe that his measures were militant and all the rest of it, we are the odd couple, Gavin and me!

“I also believe, though, that he doesn’t want to do something that doesn’t work. He does not want to fail. So there’s that going for us.”

PUBLIC POWER

She believes their area of conflict will be public power, because “I am an advocate for eminent domain NOW.” For 80 years PG&E has cheated the City of its birthright. She would not hesitate to “have the guts” to eminently domain every easement PG&E has.

She met with the City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, who has Charter standing to enforce public power, ensuring Mission Bay, Catellus, and all new buildings automatically be offered public power first.

She was excited by Herrera’s December 19, 2003, Op Ed e-mail to the Chronicle editor saying, “I can’t take this anymore. These people are stealing from us.”

“Now we are going to have our gas bills up to pay their debt, and they have the nerve to be paying $180 million dollar bonuses! If this bankruptcy bailout settlement isn’t enough incentive for anybody to be angry and take back our power, I don’t know what is.”

Immediate acquisition of power “was a pretty scary thought.” You want to make sure the City can handle it.

She thought her arrangement with Newsom upset Downtown businesses, one of which IS PG&E.

She asked Gavin, “I’m somewhat of an advocate here, and this is a very important issue? Before I die, I want there to be the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. So, are you sure you have no real ties with PGE?’

“He said, ‘Yes. I’m sure,’ or I would not have made the deal.”

She said she has no reason not to believe him because of the way he has treated her.

“He could have said, ‘I’m the Mayor of San Francisco. Get lost, Angela.’ Instead, he invites the homeless Czar, Phillip Mangano. He invites me. He invites all the department heads. He introduces me as his partner, and he tells them all that they are to act as though they are working with him. In my opinion, he has been extremely true to his word.

ENDORSEMENT BACKLASH

“I appreciate that, because, I know a helluva lot of so-called progressives that are not true to their word, nor are they honest.

“They know who they are.

“Honesty is an important virtue to me.

“I took some serious hits without fighting back. The progressives are the ones who were the most outrageous! Cruel! --- Unbelievable!”

Lashing out at her may have cost them. Bad mailers were sent calling her dishonest and unethical, antagonizing Alioto supporters.

Matt Gonzalez hugged her at the Inauguration. She appreciated his saying they would always be friends.

“That was the most difficult two months of my entire 20-year-old political career.

“I can’t tell you how tough it was!” For 25 years she fought for issues Matt supported, and against homelessness programs Gavin promoted.

“I don’t fight or believe superficially. This is not stuff that I consider unimportant. I have come to realize that a lot of people just don’t believe in the issues like I do.”

She expressed pain about disappointing supporters. She answered all 800 e-mails, asking, “Why am I torturing myself?”

The problem with the ‘ethical’ accusation was that she cared so much about homelessness, public power, and the City. “You can do almost anything to me, but don’t question my integrity!”

She doesn’t make agreements “behind closed doors? The whole thing was a press conference!

“I am endorsing him because I know I’m going to be there to make sure the things I care about actually change.”

During “an amazing two months,” her house was egged and smashed with pumpkins. She received death threats. She called the police once, when her children were threatened.

In her pre-endorsement Guardian interview she said she wouldn’t endorse Gonzalez because he is building the Green Party. She likes Greens, but enlarging their party “does nothing but elect Republicans. If Nader hadn’t run, Gore would be President. So, we end up with a guy killing babies in Iraq.

HAS THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY FORGOTTEN ITS ROOTS?

“Did the Democratic Party so ruin its core values that it created a Green Party? Yes!

If you vote Green, you end up with a Republican.”

She is a civil rights lawyer fighting in American Courtrooms under laws written by Democrats, whether for the disabled, for race, or whatever. “It is no little issue to me! For people to minimize it was very upsetting.”

She felt that the Democratic Party deserted “us progressives. They ought to actively recruit us back.”

Dean said, “Why are we not addressing the far left Democratic Party? Why are we losing them to the Green Party? ‘Why aren’t we partnering with Greens?”

Fearing Democrats have forgotten who they are, she said, “If you forget who your roots are, if you don’t have a thorough understanding of where you came from, who those people were, what they suffered so that you could sit in this gorgeous living room or dining room looking out on the Bay --- if you don’t get what those poor Sicilians went through, you don’t know where you are going tomorrow, and if you don’t know where you are going tomorrow, you are in bad shape. That’s why this means so much to me!

And, that’s the Democratic Party. I will die a Democrat no matter the Democrats do.”

She planned to help the Democrats reclaim their core values insisting elected officials understand the Democratic Party stands for the Bill of Rights, for Civil Rights, for freedom. Not the Patriot Act.

She planned on meeting with State Chair, Art Torres. “I didn’t go through those two months of pain to not have answers.

“Why should I be the sacrificial lamb? I did what I did because I’m a Democrat.

“What I did made a difference in this race. Ask David Binder if Matt Gonzalez went down 5 to 6 points the week of my endorsement. Then ask Gavin Newsom’s campaign manager, Eric Jaye, if Gavin went up four points.”

It did not make her feel good that “Matt went down,” but it made people think.

“The public sees two people, one conservative and one very liberal, actually creating a coalition government in the areas of homelessness, public power, and contracts. People said to me all the time from the street. ‘What a great idea!’”

She “will never forget” the progressives, writers, and Gay community members who have said they will always appreciate her work.

“People that I’d been in the trenches with for ten years on power issues, or on Sunshine ordinances -- it was my friends who were highly critical.”

Angela glanced at Chiara Mia. “I am so fortunate,” she said.


GRASSROOTS INTERVIEWS WILL CONTINUE IN THE FUTURE

It was a beautiful enamel blue-sky day. Tuesday, November 11, 2003, about 4:14 p.m., when I first strode out into my community, tape recorder in hand, to interview folks about their Mayoral candidate picks. I wanted to ask randomly chosen San Franciscans what special things their candidate should do to win this neck-and-neck race.

Now, the race is over, and Gavin Newsom has won.

I will continue to conduct these Grassroots Interviews asking San Franciscans whether or not Mayor Newsom is fulfilling his campaign promises, and how well he is doing it.


My very first interview appears at the bottom of this page. When you read it, you will understand why I chose to publish it first. It represents the key challenge facing Newsom, one he chose for himself two years ago.


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A COUPLE OF NOTES:

1. On a companion BLOG, carolharvey.blogspot.com, I will present articles and opinion pieces from politicians and political writers also addressing the way Newsom is keeping his campaign promises.

You can easily jump to this BLOG three ways:

O Remove the "sf" following "carolharvey," from the address field, and click.

O Cut and paste "http://www.carolharvey.blogspot.com/" into the address field.

O Google "Carol Harvey in San Francisco"

2. Please contact me by e-mail at carolharveysf@yahoo.com with comments or reactions to subject matter presented on this BLOG. I may publish thoughtful responses. "Steamy" reactions will be read with interest, and if intelligently presented, they may be included on the BLOG. (I do like creative "steam," but no flames or scorched earth, if you please.) If you wish to be interviewed for the "Grassroots" column by phone, let me know via e-mail.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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While I'm getting myself together to do a series of new interviews, here are two articles which appear on the other BLOG. Look at the bottom for my first official interchange with a very lovely man. Enjoy!

TWO VIEWS:

1. ANGELA ALIOTO ON HOMELESSNESS

Angela Alioto's Homeless Plan, parts or all of which she may try to realize in her new role in the Newsom administration (whatever that turns out to be).


2. TOMMI MECCA ON "NEWSOM'S LIES ABOUT QUEERS"

Tommi Mecca's analysis of Newsom's actual position on the LGBT community (He's not real hopeful, folks.)


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1. ANGELA ALIOTO ON HOMELESSNESS

San Francisco Chronicle, December 10, 2003

"One person sure to be visible in the new administration is attorney and former mayoral candidate Angela Alioto. Late in the runoff campaign, Alioto agreed to endorse Newsom in exchange for a say in the new mayor's plan for the homeless, as well as a chance to depoliticize city contracts and establish a public power utility.

Newsom and Alioto have vowed to work together, but the more liberal Alioto will have little patience with any efforts to go slow on her chosen interests. She's also vowed to criticize Newsom when she thinks it's necessary, a promise unlikely to thrill the new mayor."


Angela Alioto's strong commitment to the homeless is inspired by St. Francis, San Francisco's patron saint. In the interview below, printed in the San Francisco Sentinel on Thursday, October 30, 2003, she discusses her inspiration and her plan.


The Alioto Homelessness Plan: What would St. Francis do?

by carol harvey

Thursday, October 30, 2003

In a recent Mayoral Debate when asked to identify the key issue in the 2003 San Francisco mayoral race, Angela Alioto answered without hesitation: "Homelessness! Homelessness! Homelessness!"? Over the last twenty years, and during her service on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she developed a minutely detailed homeless plan that, as Mayor, she will set into motion immediately.

In her book, "Straight to the Heart, Political Cantos," Angela wrote, "I always ask myself, what would Saint Francis do?" These words illuminate Angela's spiritual focus: an adamant, sincere life commitment to Catholicism, St. Francis, and his namesake, San Francisco.

Angela Alioto really does ask herself "What would St. Francis do?" In light of her religious convictions, this assertion seems offered not with hubris, but humility. "My faith is Number One,"? she tells me. "I've been a member of St. Francis' Third Order for 30 years."

She noted that British historian, Kenneth Clarke in the TV documentary, "Civilization," declared St. Francis of Assisi "a genius of all time," only appreciated as a statue in a flower nursery with birds sitting on his shoulders.

"I am starting Francesco's novena this week," Alioto said. "It's so funny. On my calendar, I have October 3rd, the Transitus, Latin for, "The Passing" transition from one phase to another, the night Francis died, October 3rd and 4th."

"At the Shrine of St. Francis in North Beach, there is a very special ceremony, for Friars only, so, I love it. My secretary says to me: What is the Transitus on your schedule? Can we take it off?"

Angela laughed, "I said, "I've got news for you. That is the most important thing on my schedule. You can't touch it."

Each August, Alioto travels to Assisi, where, since August 2, 1212, "The Celebration of Forgiveness" has been held. There, St. Francis collected stones from the townspeople and, within the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, recently reopened after heavy earthquake damage in 1997, this friar built the small Porziuncola chapel, placing the stones with his own hands.

The strife between nobility and serfs in the late 12th and early 13th centuries parallels what Alioto calls "a basic divide" between contemporary rich and poor in San Francisco and the United States.

Because of the class conflict between the wealthy and the impoverished in Italy, St. Francis and others underwent great spiritual upheaval. Francis' preaching caused a stir, which compelled Clare, a beautiful nobly born woman, to give him money to rebuild churches and feed the poor. After a private audience, and over the objections of male family members who wanted Clare to renew dwindling fortunes by marrying well, St. Francis received her into his order in the Porziuncola Chapel.

Francis, and Clare, who he called "our sister," ministered to the poor for years. The Catholic Order of The Poor Clares, The Second Order of St. Francis, a worldwide sisterhood whose nuns serve the poor today, is named after St. Clare of Assisi, St. Francis' female counterpart.

Asking herself, "What would St. Francis do?" Angela, like St. Clare, follows in the footsteps of her Patron Saint Francis in her desire to help the most vulnerable in San Francisco, the poor and homeless, and sick.

Alioto describes St. Francis as "The Number One health care worker in the world," caring for those with the dangerous communicable disease, leprosy. As San Francisco Supervisor, and past Board President, she focused political attention on physical and mental health care services throughout the City.

Describing a spiritual leader with the political savvy of a precinct captain, St. Francis, she said, "Was THE Number One precinct operator." From 1209 to 1212, Frances sent people out preaching "two on two, and by 1212, three to five thousand people came to Assisi for his meeting. There were no telephones, no faxes, no nothing."

Alioto has other spiritual models. In her book, she wrote, "Mother Teresa was once asked how she took care of so many thousands of poor people. Her response, 'One by one,' inspired my own plan to combat homelessness, designed as a compassionate and sensible alternative to Matrix." (Matrix was a strategy developed by former Mayor Frank Jordan which devolved into criminalization and a systematic police assault on the poor.)

"One By One," which called for "long-term permanent solutions as well as strategies for preventing new homelessness," morphed into her 2003 homeless plan, "San Francisco Cares."

Alioto consults San Francisco religious leaders like Father Louis Vitale, an activist Franciscan priest with a parish in the Tenderloin. "He is my guide for 30 years." she told me.

One of the homeless experts advising Angela is Dr. Mimi Silbert of the Delancey Street Foundation, a self-help rehabilitation program that claims 14,000 successes.

Reminded of the 13th century conflict between nobles and serfs, I asked what she thought of the possibility of a class war of rich on poor in which a fundamental political dysfunction in our culture produces homeless people.

"You know," she affirmed, "There's a basic divide occurring. San Francisco is becoming very rich or very poor. There's a national census survey that came out recently that says the divide and disparities in this nation are becoming thicker and deeper. That ought to be a wake-up call."

As this divide widens, incomes dwindle. Real estate costs, taxes and rents increase. Moderate incomes become low incomes; low incomes become no incomes.

Because moderate and low-income people are at constant risk of ending up on the street, Alioto's plans include a housing component, "Housing Opportunities For Working People." She said, "There is no housing for people who make $30,000 to $80,000. Whether it's rental or ownership, there is no housing for a young family in their 30s with two children. They can't afford $800,000 homes or $3000 a month."

Angela wrote that during Mayor Frank Jordan's 1993 Matrix sweeps, after a police officer kicked a cup of Food Not Bombs-supplied soup from the hand of 83-year-old-old Cynthia Mays, "I stood before the rest of the Board of Supervisors and tried to appeal to my colleagues' sense of compassion."

Evoking their empathy, she asked, "Where are you supposed to urinate? They won't let you in restaurants because you're homeless? What are you supposed to do? Tell your body that you don't have to go? It's ten o'clock at night and you've knocked on the door asking for shelter, and the city says there's no room at the inn? How are you supposed to not sleep from ten at night until six in the morning? How are you supposed to keep awake?"

With homelessness far worse today, Angela tells me, "My God! Walking into the Library the other night, you step over three people sleeping on vents with urine all over their pants. It's a crisis."

Recently, Gavin Newsom was criticized for promising slots in SROs and subsidized housing, but not delivering the spaces. I asked Alioto how she would avoid this criticism. She responded that every homeless person has local, state, and federal money potentially available for which they may not know how to apply.

"Remember, this money is like a chit on their head," Alioto emphasized, available for grant writers, people who understand how to get the most from state and federal funding. That money will go to people working to enlarge their programs for more recipients in city programs like the Tom Waddell Clinic, or one of the 400 existing programs addressing homelessness such as Progress Foundation, Walden House, or Hamilton Center for Families. Alioto said she would fund only programs with a 65% success rate in taking people off the street.

In her proposed system, workers and volunteers go to the streets, pick up people, and bring them to a triage center. They would stay two hours with triage center experts and grant writers who identify and attend "one by one" to each individual, responding to the particular problems of veterans, the disabled, mental illness, triple diagnosis, women, children, families. The person then would be triaged out to the program that addresses their specific needs. "Tara, 62 years old on heroin, is a lot different than Sarah 20, homeless two weeks," she said.

"How much money is available to implement San Francisco Cares?" I asked. Alioto said, "According to Budget Analyst, Harvey Rose, they presently spend $200 million dollars." She affirmed that this and other monies would be available to her approximately 20 grant writers within her first Mayoral year. "All sorts of money is available for the City that isn't gotten," she said. "We miss deadlines. We don't apply for the grant applications. We are just not efficient."

Alioto said some homeless advocates do not believe in closing shelters, but she does. Shelters are a nightmare, she said, adding that homeless people should go into short-term programs, and then long-term housing.

I asked what she would do about the long waiting lists for drug recovery programs, subsidized housing, and SROs? She answered that enlarging effective existing programs, like St. Anthony's, would end long waiting lists.

When asked who is ultimately responsible for homelessness, Alioto replied, "The Federal Government. It's a dollar-making obsessed society. It's not about taking care of the poor. It's about how much money can I making doing this."

Alioto stated that politicians who scapegoat and criminalize unhoused people are "absolutely" responsible for homelessness. "Gavin Newsom is the leader," she charged. "What he is doing is unconscionable. He is trying to make his name famous."

She castigated Newsom for his unconstitutional panhandling Proposition M. It guilt-trips people, saying they kill panhandlers by giving them drug money. "It gives him an opportunity to bash homeless people again instead of doing something about taking them off the street."

What does she think of the position of the business community, that the homeless drive away tourists, causing the economic downturn in San Francisco?

She indicated that lack of tourism has to do with 911, people losing jobs, the economy, with giving 87 billion dollars to George Bush so more people can die. "Homeless people did not cause the economic downturn, but they do drive people away," she stated.

"Should the Hotel Council be doing negative advertising? No! What planet are they on? Should the Hotel Council be addressing the issue? Yes!" Instead of constantly complaining, she insisted, they should address the issue, sit down with other people and get the job done."

Alioto's platform states homelessness is a community problem only solved by cooperation between groups with radically different political agendas. As a trial lawyer, she said, her forte is coalition building, unifying, for example, 23 plaintiffs in one case. She makes them understand "there is a common enemy, and in this situation, it's homelessness."

Alioto questioned why $200 million dollars a year is spent in San Francisco to care for 8,000 people who are still on the street. "For $200 million dollars, they should be in a Suite at the Ritz Carleton," she said. "Somebody is making that money."

I asked where the $200 million is salted away. "Personal pockets, salaries," she replied. She faulted the number of special assistants to Mayor Willie Brown and unqualified people sitting on San Francisco's many commissions, including the Housing Authority.

Alioto said, elected officials "are not paying attention. They are so involved in being in politics and bureaucratic, I honestly believe they don't see it. I'll bet Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez have no idea the Housing Authority plans to sell 22 pieces of property. Thousands of homeless people put on the street, and they blatantly put out a document showing they are going to sell these properties. What are they thinking? I'm worried what this city would look like in five years if these people got to do what they wanted."

Many people question where more housing can be built, given the space limitations of San Francisco. Alioto's plan calls for building a huge amount of affordable housing. She said, "Affordable housing will be built all over the city, for everybody." Her website provides locations.

Over 42 Housing Authority properties are available citywide with additional private properties "for private production of affordable housing," she said. Alioto charged that Housing Authority officials are trying to sell boarded-up sites to private industry. She said she would overhaul the incompetents "at the top" of the Housing Authority, "where the problem is." Alioto vowed she would appoint commissioners who understand the Housing Authority is "not for profit, and they are not to be bought off."

Alioto describes herself as impatient about "the crisis." "This homeless problem could be attacked tomorrow if someone wanted to attack it."

Under the aegis of her Patron Saint Francis, Angela Alioto appears to have the heart and the political will to do it."


***********************************************


2. TOMMI AVICOLLI MECCA ON "NEWSOM'S LIES ABOUT QUEERS"


If you believe Gavin Newsom's latest mailer, aimed at queer voters in the Castro, then I have an incredible deal for you on a nice bridge (it's a pretty color, too). Or a house in Noe Valley for a mere $30,000. Newsom's mailer is one of the most imaginative works of fiction I've read in a long time. Let's look at his claims:

"He's a strong supporter of our equal benefits law." Since when? Oh, that's right, it's Politics 101: as long as you don't say or do anything about an issue (ie you don't have a record on it) then you can claim anything you want.

The truth is that this man has done absolutely nothing to support equal benefits, gay marriage or civil unions. Nada. When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling backing gay marriage came down a couple weeks ago, it was all quiet on the Newsom front. Ditto for when the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down the sodomy laws. Lots of other politicians came around to have their 15 seconds on the cameras, but Newsom was missing in action.

"Strong supporter of transgender rights." That should read: He had to be dragged kicking and screaming to vote for the last piece of transgender rights legislation that the Board of Supervisors passed.

"Always participated in our community events." Yes, like having members of Gay Shame arrested at the benefit he attended at the queer community center last February for the crime of protesting his anti-homeless policies. Not to mention the felony charges against members of this same ACT UP-like group for unraveling a banner in front of his contingent in the Gay Pride Parade in June.

Pride organizers called for charges to be dropped, as did other community leaders. They eventually were. Newsom said nothing. He has never apologized for those incidents, has never made any public statements about them at all. With participation like this, he should've stayed home.

"Leading long-overdue reform of San Francisco's homeless policies." What reform? Nothing he's done has had any effect on the number of people on the streets or the lack of services for poor and homeless folks in this city. His two initiatives have been shams--one could not be implemented because it was unworkable, and the other violates freedom of speech. That's all he has to show for eight years on the Board of Supes? Some reform. Might as well have done
nothing.

"Driving force behind improving our parks." Our parks have been improved? Could've fooled me--and the rest of the voters of this city.

One thing I'll say for the mailer: At least he didn't lie and say he's done something for tenants. His nose would've grown to the size of Mt. Diablo if he had tried that one.

But the most outrageous lie in the queer mailer is Newsom's claim that he "is always there to support" the homeless queer shelter in the Castro. This one really makes me mad. As the person who started the movement for the shelter way back in 1997 and who served on the committee to set it up in 1999, I can say without a doubt that Newsom has had NOTHING to do with that shelter, EVER. He has NEVER lifted a finger to help the shelter in any way shape or form. He has done nothing for the youth who have been, or are now, in that shelter. Besides which, many of Newsom's queer supporters in the Castro OPPOSED the shelter and did everything they could to STOP it.

In addition to doing and saying nothing about queer issues in the past eight years, Newsom committed at least one major offense against our community. As a supervisor, Newsom proposed to honor Colin Powell, a man who supports the military's anti-gay policy. He didn't back down even after Tom Ammiano challenged it. For a straight man not to get it when a queer man says, "This is offensive, Colin Powell supports discrimination against my community," shows a basic insensitivity to our issues. It's an insult plain and simple.

The mailer proves one thing: Newsom is so desperate for votes he will say or do anything. No wonder: He's in a tight race for room 200 of City Hall.

Who can blame him?

Unlike the queer politicians (Mark Leno, Bevan Dufty and Susan Leal who are pictured in the mailer) who jumped on this man's bandwagon because of his party affiliation (who's afraid of the big bad Green, the big bad Green) and without regard to whether or not he has, or will, ever help our community.

That to me is not what's best for the queer community. That is not leadership.

Be your own leader: Vote for Matt Gonzalez on Tuesday December 9.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime radical queer antiwar and social justice activist.


*************************************

FIRST GRASSROOTS INTERVIEW OF 2004

"MAN ON THE STREET"

this, after all, is what it's about

SWEET 17 BACKWARDS AND NEVER BEEN KISSED

The night of the election just after the results were televised, I walked home in a dark warm rain. The Colonel's server at Kentucky Fried had given me an extra portion of chicken and biscuits by mistake. I was looking for a homeless person who might be hungry.

On Laguna, a dim figure emerged from the mist pushing a shopping cart down the middle of Fulton straight toward City Hall, which was lit by a full moon like a Baroque wedding cake. He was a bearded elderly gentleman in a blue-hooded jacket.

“Do you want some food?” I called. “I have Kentucky fried chicken.”

“How’d you know I like fried chicken?” he kidded.

There’s a couple of thighs and a biscuit in here.”

“I’m glad it’s not raining so much. It’s supposed to rain today, Wednesday, and Thursday, too,” he offered conversationally.

“I know.”

“Do you know what ‘Feliz Navidad’ means?” he asked.

“I think it means ’Merry Christmas.’”

“Yes. And you know ‘Feliz Ano Nuevo?’”

“Happy New Year!”

“Well,” he asked. “How do you say ‘Happy Birthday?’”

I confessed I did not know. He had hit the outer limits of my Spanish.

“On the 21st, I’ll be another year older. I’m sweet 17 backwards right now and never been kissed. I’ll be 27 backwards on December 21!”

“Happy Birthday!” I laughed, enjoying his good humor.

“It’s close to the Lord’s Day, too. I was born almost on His day. But, they just took that day. They don’t know for sure.”

“Yes.”

“How many years did Christ live on earth? Do you know?”

“About Thirty?”

“Thirty-three!” He said, “I’ve lived over twice that much. God must love me. I must have done something right. What I did right I do not know.”

“Well, Happy Birthday,” I said again.

He pushed off into the night down the street toward City Hall.

How does one bring up the news about a Mayoral election with a 72-year-old homeless man?

And why is any 72-year-old person homeless on the Streets of an American City as wealthy as San Francisco?

And will this election change anything?

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