Noe Valley Voice December-January 2010

A Supervisor to Remember

Bevan Dufty Says Farewell to District 8

By Corrie M. Anders

Supervisor Bevan Dufty has enjoyed his eight years in the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco politics, so much so that he’s set his sights on the mayor’s office.    Photo by Beverly Tharp 

In early January, Bevan Dufty will walk out of City Hall Room 268 for the last time as Noe Valley’s representative on the Board of Supervisors.

He has served the maximum two terms as District 8 supervisor, and he has a new political goal: to become mayor of San Francisco.

Wearing a pea coat, jeans, and a blue plaid shirt with open collar, Dufty was casual and relaxed the day before Thanksgiving as he talked with the Voice about his eight years in office.

Occasionally interrupted by his precocious aide-de-camp, 4-year-old daughter Sidney, Dufty spoke for more than an hour about the highs and lows of his tenure and his hopes to succeed Gavin Newsom (or Newsom’s stand-in) in November.

The 55-year-old political moderate displayed both humor and gravitas during the wide-ranging Q&A. His comments have been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.


NVV: You seem so relaxed. Are you happy to be passing on the baton after eight years? 

Dufty: (Laughter) I think I’ve been prepared for this transition. Consistently I’ve said that this has been the job of a lifetime, having worked behind the scenes in politics all my life. So I’ve enjoyed it. But I’ve really been at peace that this is an eight-year deal. I think part of it is the fact that I’m running for mayor and I’m looking to the future.


NVV: After two terms in office, what do you consider your biggest accomplishments?

Dufty: From a neighborhood standpoint, I’m especially proud of the creation of the Noe Valley Community Benefit District [a special tax district supplementing city services, established in 2006]. I feel it has transformed how 24th Street feels to people. The look and feel of it are very different. I beam when I hear people going down 24th Street saying they think it’s the nicest neighborhood commercial district in the city. And I hear that a lot. It’s the envy of a lot of neighborhoods. I think the CBD has been very important.

The other aspect has been shepherding renovation projects. The Noe Valley Library, the Upper Noe Rec Center, and Noe Courts are three projects that I really wrapped my hands around. They were all very challenging in their own way. Those are the things from a neighborhood standpoint that I’m the most proud of.

Probably the biggest big-picture thing would be the health-care legislation, the health-care access program [Healthy San Francisco]. I’m very proud of that. I was the eighth vote that put it over the top and made it a reality. Also working with Tom Ammiano on Prop. H, which is putting city money, about $30 million this year, into our public schools.


Supervisor Bevan Dufty and 4-year-old daughter Sidney go over their final agenda as they pack up their toys and legislative mementos at City Hall.    Photo by Beverly Tharp

NVV: What were your happiest moments as supervisor?

Dufty: I’m happy every day. I’m happy to wake up, and my responsibility has been to make the city a better place for people. I’ve loved it. I just love people complaining. I love people yelling at me and telling me that I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve loved all aspects of it. I’ve had a really, really good time.


NVV: What were your biggest challenges?

Dufty: I think the division on the board, that for my entire eight years there’s been a seven-four split. I’ve kind of been the mover on the board. There’s been a strong three moderate members on the board, seven sort of progressive members, and generally if it’s a controversial issue, I’ve got to look at it and figure out, am I going to be part of sustaining the mayor’s veto on a piece of legislation or am I going to be part of overriding the veto. Sometimes there are issues I feel passionately about, no question about it. Sometimes there are issues I’m drawn into, and just by virtue of the fact I’ve become the deciding vote it’s a bigger deal.

If I’m blocking the alcohol tax, I’m going to get beat up by it. If I’m going to go with the incentive for healthier meals with “happier meals” [requiring more nutritional content], I’m going to have to explain that as well.

From a neighborhood standpoint, I would say the thing that is most troubling to me has been the inability to move Nutraceutical and Real Food to do something [about their vacant storefront on 24th Street]. So that has been really confounding to me. It’ll be eight years next August. I call all the time. It’s not a legacy that I really want, but I think it speaks more to them than it does to me.


NVV: Every politician has goals that may not be met. What did you fail to achieve?

Dufty: My theme when I ran for supervisor was all about the neighborhood. I think I have really tried to be that person. I haven’t succeeded every time a constituent brought me something. I recently finished at the top of a poll by the Chamber of Commerce, of the 11 supervisors. They polled our respective districts, and I had the highest favorability, 64 percent, and I am pleased. I’m pleased that as I leave this office my constituents still appreciate and seem to understand and support the approach I’ve taken.

There are a lot of great laws on the books in San Francisco. The problem isn’t putting good laws on the books. The problem is in them being real for people. You can say you’re a transit-first city, but if you’re waiting 25 minutes for the J, it’s not a transit-first experience. For me, it’s been about rationalizing what that experience is, and recognizing how expensive San Francisco is to live in, and how much I want families to stay here. I want people who have faced disadvantagement, whether through personal challenges like substance abuse or homelessness, or whether they’re coming up from poverty, to have opportunity in this city and for it to be meaningful. That’s where my focus is—making this real and making it work for as many people as possible.


NVV: What were your worst moments as supervisor?

Dufty: I’ve had a few circumstances. There was the death of a police officer, Jon Cook, who died [in June 2002] when they were responding to an assailant who was stabbing a woman and they lost control of their vehicle and crashed into 17th and Dolores and the officer died. That was very tragic to me. There’s another police officer at Mission Station, and he was hit and lost his leg. So I visited with him and was involved in enabling him to come back to active duty with a prosthesis. I was proud of my relationship with him.

Certainly the shooting of nine people [who were wounded when a gunman opened fire during the 2006 Halloween Party in the Castro]. I’m reasonably well known at the emergency room at General Hospital. I go there more often than not when circumstances happen. We had a fatal shooting at Gay Pride [in June] and two people were injured. So I was at the emergency room there. Those were tough circumstances.


NVV: What will you miss most about your time as supervisor?

Dufty: The connection I feel to the city, but especially to my district, and just the way I can walk down the street and I can talk about the things I’ve done with different businesses. People will approach me on the street and talk about things we’ve done together or places we’ve been together. I love that feeling of connectiveness. I think Noe Valley is a neighborhood about relationships.

There’s a very strong community around St. Philip’s, for example, and I’ve been blessed to be really embraced, whether I’m at the St. Philip’s festival or at the school dinner or going to services. I really have felt so fortunate that that community embraced me, as has the younger, high–tech crowd. There’s the young family crowd. There are the Yennes, for example [Carol and Bill Yenne], to whom I’m extremely close.

People in Noe Valley really embraced me around having a child. I think it was something I’ve always wanted to have happen in my life. And it came very late in my life. I was 51.

There are so many businesses in Noe Valley. For many years my manicurist had a business, Rolling Nails on 24th Street. The first restaurant that Sidney ever went to was Joe’s on 24th Street. My pediatrician, Dr. [James] Schwanke, is there.


NVV: You purchased a multi-unit flat on Waller Street in the lower Haight.

Dufty: I’ve been happy there.


NVV: Do you regret not moving into family-friendly Noe Valley?

Dufty: Oh, I bid as many times as I could! I probably lost six bids on places in Noe Valley. The irony is, and people would probably tell me not to be honest about this, but the first week [in the Haight] my car was broken into. Her stroller and car seat were gone. I said okay, I grew up in New York City. I can handle anythingÉ. So the school district this past year totally changed its enrollment criteria. It has been maddening for so many families—they have no idea where they are going to go. I live in a census tract that is so underperforming that Sidney has an excellent chance of being able to go to McKinley, Milk, or Rooftop [better-quality schools], for example— nothing that I could ever have envisioned three years ago when this was the only place I could not get outbid on. I had to strip it down and build it back up. But three years later I could not be happier to live on that corner, because I’m in pretty good standing that she is going to be able to go to a good public school.


NVV: What did you learn about Noe Valley that surprised you?

Dufty: There are real differences between the Castro and Noe Valley. In the Castro, no matter what miracle I could perform, the next week I could be the goat. It’s just, what have you done for me lately. It’s a very volatile, very combustible environment, and I came to accept that.

And in Noe Valley over a period of time I just felt like part of a family, even when I had rough spots, and certainly the proposed trial closure of 24th and Noe was a rough spot. Initially, when I did my first walk-through and I saw all these thumbs-down signs, I looked around and said, Oh, I don’t know about this one. I don’t think [the Noe Street closure] is going to work. And the advocacy neighbors said you can’t stop the process, we want to have the opportunity to try and do our public process.

[In the Castro] you could throw a Molotov cocktail in the middle of Market and Castro and I would say, “Oh, it’s fireworks.” I was used to it. But here it was Noe Valley. I was not used to that level of acrimony. So I was very protective, and I think in a way [the plaza advocates] were right. But then we got into the process, and it was not going to go well. And so some of the advocates, they’re angry at me, and some of the meetings were a little more raucous than they needed to be.


NVV: You even threatened to call the ­police.

Dufty: I’m on YouTube saying, “You don’t really want me to have to call the police in Noe Valley.” (laughter)

But one of the great things that came out of the first meeting was that someone said, “Hey, what about the [Noe Valley Ministry] parking lot? What can we do with the parking lot?” To me, that’s a silver lining. And if you do a good job, even in the most contentious situations, there are kernels of opportunity, there are kernels of truth on all sides of an issue. And if you can piece that together and go forward and do something, I think you can make things happen.

And I’m very committed to the [proposed Noe Valley] Town Square.


NVV: Is the neighborhood becoming more moderate or more progressive?

Dufty: People step up to the plate. What I love about Peter Gabel is he took this real untenable situation with Real Food, and people came together and created the Farmers Market. And in this world in which we’re so disconnected because we’re connected online, here is something that people just go to on Saturdays. And they love it. So many people during the campaign for my successor would tell about meeting different candidates at the town square, at the market. I thought that was great. I thought that is community building, and to them I take my hat off.

I think there is a lot of progressive sentiment. But I think it is tempered by practicality. And I think that is what I really appreciate. It’s not just to say we’re for these things, but it’s to say we’re for things and we want it to actually happen. And I think there is a pragmatism around Noe Valley that I appreciate, because I think there are things that fly out of city government that aren’t realistic.

You need business. You just can’t rail against downtown and say how awful downtown is.

That’s Noe Valley to me. They want the shuttle buses for Google and Apple because they realize how many cars are being taken off the street, how improved people’s quality of life is when they aren’t spending three hours a day driving but can be working and doing other constructive things. And that’s what I’ve always appreciated about the neighborhood.


NVV: What’s your advice for your successor, Scott Wiener?

Dufty: I don’t think Scott needs a lot of advice. He ran a very strong campaign. He clearly touched people throughout the district. He had a very compelling and convincing victory in that race.

I mostly have told him how much he’ll enjoy the job and how much fun he can have. I’m going to have detailed advice about who the people are in city government who can really make magic. I’ve always acknowledged that while I’m credited as being a magician, I’m not always the one who’s making the magic happen. So when graffiti needs to be painted out or there’s a problem tree that needs to be addressed, it’s my colleagues in the city family [who make it work].


NVV: Who would you like to see as interim mayor?

Dufty: Mike Hennessey, the sheriff. He’d be my number one choice. Mike Hennessey has been our elected sheriff for 30 years. He’s been elected eight times citywide. He’s planning on retiring next year in 2012. I think it’d be a great capstone on his career. I respect the sentiment on the part of the progressive majority on the board. They’d like to have someone progressive in this job. I view Mike that way. I don’t think there is any sheriff in the country that runs a more diverse department than he does. Or a department that’s really more about helping people transform their lives and less about just incarcerating people. And from an emergency public safety standpoint, he’d be stellar. He could walk into the job and absolutely know what to do if something were to unfortunately happen to our city. And I think that’s a reality you have to face.

I think Ed Harrington of the PUC also would be excellent. I’m looking to see someone come in that maybe can help us make changes because they’re not looking to run for the job.


NVV: You’ve announced your candidacy for next fall. Why would you want to be mayor at a time when the city is in financial distress that may last several years?

Dufty: The magic is in growing the economy. Where I think Gavin has done well is in bringing corporate headquarters here. He has tried to balance out pushing back on new taxes. I opposed most of the revenue measures that were on the ballot. I was opposed to the increase in the hotel tax. There have been a number of those types of increases that I did see as job killers. I thought the alcohol tax was just going to immediately result in a number of people either losing their employment or losing shifts at restaurants and bars and other establishments.

In looking at the big picture and trying to make our city as business-friendly as possible, both for larger businesses and small business, where the bulk of the jobs are, Gavin’s done a good job. One of the fun things about running for mayor is it’s easy to be critical, but the more you delve into it, to figure out what you would do, it’s helped me appreciate [Newsom’s position], and part of that has changed our relationship where I can go and say, “Wow, I really like what you’ve done with this.” I’ve co-sponsored a number of his stimulus measures that have sought to accelerate development projects, [by having] developers pay fees at the end of a project when they have a certificate of occupancy. In other things, I’ve had a meeting of the minds, so to speak, with him.


NVV: What would be your goals as mayor?

Dufty: The most important goal is that people want someone who is going to run the city. I have no ambition to ever seek office other than the mayorship. Bevan is done at that point.

The Bay Area is home to some of the most vibrant and vital businesses in the world. These are startups of less than a dozen people, and these are large companies such as Apple and Google and Kaiser. I think Kaiser is a very forward-thinking company. Wells Fargo is a company that is tremendous in terms of its corporate citizenship. We have great examples out there, and I believe the city can be like that. We can be an organization that’s on message, on mission, and deliver quality service and still be open to criticism from the public. It’s not going to be nirvana. But for me, I believe the solutions to the city’s problems lie within our city.

I really want to manage and lead this city. That’s what my objective is, and to be a cheerleader for the great things that are happening in this city. To leverage our international presence and to have vibrant sister city relationships, whether it’s with Barcelona or Sydney, that are staking our role in the world in terms of what we represent culturally, what we represent politically, and what we represent as a model of diversity and inclusion.


NVV: If you win, you’d become San Francisco’s first “out” gay mayor.

Dufty: Unless somebody surprises me (laughter). I hope they don’t.

I do feel that I need to earn this. I need to go everywhere from the Outer Sunset to Russian Hill to China Basin to the Cliff House, and I need to demonstrate to people that as a gay man in San Francisco I’m about everything in the city. I don’t want to be a great gay mayor.  I want to be a great mayor.


NVV: Politics can be extremely stressful. What do you do to relax?

Dufty: I still run with the Front Runners on Saturday morning. Front Runners is an LGBT running club, and I’ve been a member since 1982, and most Saturdays I have Sidney in a jog stroller. So it’s one of my mainstays. I’m not as good about going to the gym as I used to be. I still go out dancing. I love to go outÉ.


NVV: Do you currently have a partner?

Dufty: No. People say, how do you have room to date? I say Bill Cosby taught me you’re never too full for Jell-O. I’m never too busy to pay attention to a handsome man.I’ve dated a bit. It’s funny because for so much of my life I was in a very stable relationship. That really defined me a lotÉit was one of the things I was proudest of. It’s not so much right now. I’ve been more single than not. But I have fun.


NVV: How do you plan to pay the bills now that you’ll no longer have your supervisor’s salary? Do you have a job lined up?

Dufty: Actually, I’m going to retire from the city. I’ve worked for 18 years, and some years ago I purchased back my congressional years. So I have 28 years in the retirement system. (Dufty worked for Dem­ocratic Reps. Shirley Chisholm of New York and Julian Dixon of Los Angeles.)


NVV: In leaving office, what would you like to say to your constituents?

Dufty: Thanks. It’s been an incredible ride. I’ve enjoyed this job every minute. I will always be grateful. No matter what, my cell phone number is still the same. You can stop me on the street and I’ll promise to do my best to make the city work for you. No matter whether I’m citizen Dufty or Mayor Bevan, I’m yours.