Noe Valley Voice October 2007

Indomitable Dufty Declares 'Best Year of My Life'

By Lorraine Sanders

This month, the Noe Valley Voice asked District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty to give us the dish (and the dirt) on his new home in the Haight, family life, civic work for the neighborhood, and all the drama at City Hall. But before we tell you what he said, here's a little background on our loyal representative. Dufty, 52, is the father and co-parent--along with close friend Rebecca Goldfader--of a daughter, Sidney, celebrating her first birthday on Oct. 2. The son of a writer and a Jewish mother who fled Europe during World War II after losing most of her family to the Nazi regime, Dufty grew up in Manhattan surrounded by the jazz musicians his mother managed. (The legendary Billie Holiday was even his godmother.) As a teenager, Dufty relocated to California with his mother following his parents' divorce. He began his political career as an intern for Representative Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress, and has been in politics ever since. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2002 and is currently serving his second term.

When we caught up with him at his City Hall office on Sept. 13, 2007, a fresh-from-vacation Dufty was buzzing with energy and ready to chat about his recent successes on the job, his Halloween (and parenting) anxiety, and why a certain fellow supervisor keeps bringing back memories of the third grade.

Voice: Over the summer, you moved into your new house in the Haight. We're not going to hold that against you, but we would like to know how your new digs are treating you.

Dufty: In my first week, my housemate's car was broken into. And then my car was in front of my house, and Sidney's car seat, stroller, jogging stroller, and teddy bear rearview mirror that allows me to see her [while driving] were all taken. I mean, they cleaned me out. I felt that I was experiencing what a lot of people in my district have experienced over the past couple of years. There's just been an increase in car theft and burglary and robbery.

Voice: How's your new house?

Dufty: I would say that I've gone through a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am not the handiest person, so the notion that I could lead a stripping-down of two units and a rebuild of them is something I never saw myself doing. I love the house.

Voice: Have you picked up any new handyman skills along the way?

Dufty: No. But I have gotten a boyfriend who's handy. Tom Gray. He is amazing.

Voice: You've been a dad for a year now. How's fatherhood?

Dufty: The mantra is, it gets better. For the first nine months, I bought into that. It did get better. I have to say that in the past week, my insecurities have risen to the fore, because Sidney is as strong-willed as she has ever been. She is not like the little beanie baby that I carried around the neighborhood to meetings. She doesn't want to sit on my lap. She wants to be entertained. She wants to walk. She wants to do what she wants to do.

Every time I get to a place where I think I've kind of mastered that phase, I get to a new phase that I am absolutely unprepared for.

But this is the best year of my life. You know, at 52, to say that I've had the most amazing year of my life in terms of having a child and making this family with Rebecca and being reelected, which gives me the chance to do this job that I love, and to find a boyfriend after being miserably single for four years, all I can ask for is a year where I would do as well.

Voice: Since being reelected last year, what civic accomplishments are you most proud of?

Dufty: A lot of my work has been around the city budget. That's where I feel some of my best efforts have been. They're not blue-ribbon pieces of legislation as such, but they're just a lot of nuts and bolts things that I've been able to effectuate through the budget process, whether it's getting Noe Courts funded or getting funding for traffic-calming on 21st Street.

I feel really proud that San Francisco has pulled together and found consensus to create the Healthy San Francisco program [the city's plan to provide health care for all its residents]. I was kind of a key catalyst in that at a time when the legislation was at a point where we wondered, are we going to have a huge fight? Is the mayor going to veto this? And I just kind of made my move. Like, oh no, we're going to do this.

Voice: What is the biggest challenge facing you this year?

Dufty: One of my biggest goals is chairing the school district committee. I think there's been public sentiment at times that there's been a lot of divisiveness on the board of education and that the focus hasn't been on the children but on the political issues that tend to polarize the board. I am not on the board, but I am trying to work in partnership with them so that the city is best delivering our services to ensure success by these schools.

Most recently, the school board came together in hiring a superintendent and there wasn't the leaking of the names and the fighting. There was a consensus in terms of hiring Carlos Garcia. I have pulled close to him and am working on a number of different issues in which the city needs to work with the school district. These include the arts, and that brings up the bigger issue of Prop. H, where the city is providing resources to the school district. Under Prop. H, there were a couple of my colleagues pushing to get credit for almost virtually anything. You know, like, if I dropped a paper clip at Everett Middle School, do we get a penny credit under Prop. H? [Prop. H, approved in March 2004, set up the Public Education Enrichment Fund, which brings additional money and in-kind services to the San Francisco Unified School District.]

The parents really fought back and said hey, wait a minute, Prop. H wasn't designed for the city to have this feel-good process and say this is everything we're providing to you. I was really clear from the beginning: Hey, wait a minute, this isn't a budget-balancing exercise. This is a recognition from the city that quality public schools are one of the most important components of a vibrant city.

Voice: How are you addressing crime in District 8?

Dufty: I maintain a very close daily conversation with Captain John Goldberg [of Mission Station] and our new captain, Denis O'Leary, at Ingleside about public safety issues in Noe Valley. By the way, everything south of 26th Street is Ingleside's [jurisdiction]. I've been involved in organizing several block watches through the San Francisco Safety Awareness for Everyone (S.A.F.E.) program.

At City Hall, I've spent a lot of time looking at the cogs in the public-safety machine, especially adult probation. I authored two supplemental appropriations that added needed staff in both adult and juvenile probation. You can't incarcerate your way to public safety. I don't think our probation departments have been adequately staffed. I call them stepchildren departments. As of a few months ago, we couldn't even tell you how many people were being supervised under adult probation. It was that bad.

Voice: Speaking of cogs, are we any closer to resolving the Real Food saga?

Dufty: I called [Nutraceutical Corporation, which has kept the Real Food building on 24th Street vacant for four years] this week in anticipation of talking to you. It's confounding. I am genuinely trying. It's one of the five nagging issues, something like Halloween for example, that are sort of misery-inducing for me. I want to try and improve the situation, and I just don't know what to do.

Eminent domain is just not going to be declared on a commercial business that is being swept and maintained at some adequate level. It's a blight on the neighborhood, but it is not a blight in the technical sense of the term. That would give us the leverage to do something. It's hard for people to understand. It's been really very damaging to the neighborhood in many ways, and I wish I could say that by date X this is going to change. But the reality is that from the time they start with a proposal, it will be two years until the market opens.

I said to them, clearly we're going to need to have a community process, but you should go ahead and submit planning proposals because it takes at least six months to get those heard, and let's just get going on this.

Voice: Have they done that?

Dufty: They have submitted an environmental proposal to demolish the building and replace it with a two-story mixed-use commercial and residential space. I have suggested to them that they could hire someone to do the community facilitation and represent them. I don't know if they're going to do that.

Voice: You mentioned Halloween. What is going to happen on Oct. 31 this year?

Dufty: I'm definitely planning to be on 24th Street. Halloween on 24th Street is the only solace that I have.

As much as everyone perceives Halloween as kind of a gay holiday, for me it is kind of an unending nightmare. I dream about it probably three or four times a week. I dream for rain and cold weather.

It's an event that has devolved to be out of control no matter how many police we have [patrolling the Castro District].

I am working diligently with the mayor and city departments to put a plan in place to ratchet it down this year. There was a plan to create an alternative entertainment event, but the private promoter became very sick. We lost her and then we had no backup.

[At press time, the city had not publicly announced a plan for Halloween 2007, though one is reportedly expected in early October. Currently, the official stance is that there is no plan for Halloween 2007.]

Voice: On a lighter note, what are you and your family going to be?

Dufty: We talked about being Teletubbies. Rebecca thought, given the gay context around the Teletubbies in the past that we might just honor the late Jerry Falwell and be Teletubbies.

Voice: Okay, we're dying to know. What really happened between you and Supervisor Chris Daly in July? Did you almost come to blows?

Dufty: I didn't do it to grandstand. I really had had enough. I felt kind of complicit when he made the insinuation about [Mayor Newsom and] cocaine use. That day, the chambers were packed, and people thundered and applauded [Daly], and I was disgusted at the time. I was mad at myself for not saying something then, that that was wrong. I sat there and said to myself, I cannot believe he is saying this.

[Later] we go to this hearing where first Chris trashes the board president. Then he goes on another tirade against the mayor--this is after the drug allegation insinuation thing--and then he walked out of the hearing because he was having a temper fit.

Later that night, [Daly] presented this half-baked affordable housing plan that the voters would never pass but which would allow him to say he tried to do something, and I just stood up and said, you know, this isn't going to work. The mayor doesn't support it, and he's supported by 70 percent of the people in the city. You're going to have to figure out a way to work with him, and you know what? For all this self-styling that you do, saying that you're the only person with the courage to stand up to [Newsom], you've done more to reelect him than anybody in this chamber.

[Daly] came over and said some things to me. And I just kind of had had enough. I told him, you haven't talked to me in five weeks, so take your blank back to your chair. I have no interest in anything you have to say. I used to get beaten up all the time by this bully in the third grade, and I just kind of snapped. I said, you're just like that bully in the third grade, and I am not intimidated by you. I said, you know all you really want to do is punch me in the face. I'm not going to even get up from my chair. Just punch me. Just go ahead.

He was blowing up, and two of my colleagues were pushing him back. Michela [Alioto-Pier] is sitting next to me doing an in-memoriam. Aaron [Peskin] shouts, show some respect for the dead! That's the last thing I remember. And it was a rumble. And that was, in fact, the last time Supervisor Daly has spoken to me.

The morning after the paper reported it, I went to Gold's Gym. It was if I was a Roman warrior returning from battle. My gay guys at the gym were all, like, done with Chris [Daly] and done with the lack of civility and the anger and the rancor that at times characterizes how he plays in this political sandbox. It was an amazing experience for me to see how turned off people were to the way he conducted his business.