On June 5th, San Francisco voters may elect Mark Leno as their first LGBTQ mayor. Photos by Tony Taylor/Anthony O’Donnell

 

MAY 2018 ISSUE

 

The Legacy of Leno

Surrounded by kids playing in the grass as part of an after-school program, The Courier met with mayoral candidate Mark Leno in the Castro’s Duboce Park one late Monday afternoon, which seemed appropriate, as we discussed the future of our city.

 

A soft spoken man, Leno has a lot to say about policy changes for the good of San Francisco. After all, he has devoted the last 20 years of his life to that end, having served first on the county’s Board of Supervisors, and later in the State Assembly and State Senate. All the while, he’s been a resident of San Francisco, and has lived in the same Noe Valley home since 1982, which he shared with his life partner, Douglas Jackson, who passed away from AIDS related causes in 1990.

 

Mark Leno moved to our city in 1978. He’d grown up in Wisconsin, and went on to attend university in both Boulder, Colorado, and Jerusalem, where he was valedictorian of his class. When the former senator arrived on our shores, he began a small business, Budget Signs, which is still in operation today. Mark Leno had no designs on becoming a politician, yet nonetheless became very active in San Franciscan politics and community causes, volunteering and fundraising for those that mattered to him most. That’s where we began our discussion, those humble days back in 1998, when Willie Brown had appointed him to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

 

Wendy: You’ve lived in San Francisco for over 40 years. What does this city mean to you?

 

Mark: It’s been my whole life. I came here as a young man at a time of social revolution. The city was going through great change and I was a part of a wave of young, queer immigration. It was a very heady time, the disco seventies. Harvey Milk was elected the very year that I got here, which was exhilarating, and then very quickly, he was assassinated. It was a time of great change, personal growth, and liberation.

 

Wendy: After having witnessed your work supporting, advocating for, and fundraising for community causes, Willie Brown appointed you to the Board of Supervisors in 1998. You had become something of an unintentional politician, but went on to pursue a career in politics from that point forward. What convinced you to choose politics as a lifelong path?

 

“It has been an honor of a lifetime to represent San Francisco in the state legislature.”

 

Mark: When I was appointed, given that given that half of my day by 1998 was spent at my for-profit business activities, and the other half of my day was spent on my community service and volunteer activities; my community service overnight became public service, when I was appointed to the Board. You’re right, I was somewhat ambivalent. I didn’t know that I would like public life, and my life was gonna change overnight. I didn’t know that I could take the political heat, of which there is some, in San Francisco. I’m a lover not a fighter, but I learned that you don’t wanna come between me and an idea I believe in. I will fight to the end for my beliefs. I also didn’t know that my business could survive, putting in 80 hours a week at City Hall, for a job at the time that paid 30,000 dollars a year. I couldn’t afford to lose my business, but about a year into it, I realized I was a closet policy wonk; I loved public policy, and I had fallen in love with the legislative process. It’s exhilarating, and thrilling, and maddening, and frustrating, but it’s very exciting. Within a year or so, my ambivalence had become an ambition, that I wanted to run for the State Assembly. There had never been an openly gay man in the state legislature in 2002, when my colleague John Laird and I were elected. I served six years in the State Assembly, and then became the first openly gay man elected to the State Senate.

 

Wendy: You have been a San Francisco Supervisor, State Assemblyman, and State Senator. How will the experience of working at the state level influence your mayoral leadership, should you be elected?

 

Mark: It’s one of the big differences between me and the other candidates. We’ve all served on the County Board of Supervisors, but I’m the only one who has also served in the State Assembly and in the State Senate, and the experience is invaluable. We had the opportunity to work on so many broad issues at the State level that we deal with at the local level. A lot of the challenges that we’re facing here in San Francisco today: homelessness, housing affordability, all of these are regional, if not statewide issues, and the benefit of having worked with so many statewide leaders and regional leaders will benefit me as Mayor of San Francisco.

 

Mark Leno greets a future voter strolling through Duboce Park during his interview with Castro Courier.

 

Wendy: There are several key issues within this year’s race, one of them being the housing, and in particular, the affordable housing challenge. You were the first representative at the state level to amend the Ellis Act, thereby preventing SRO related owner move-ins. The what other actions do you propose in addressing this multidimensional issue?

 

Mark: Well, I was successful in amending the Ellis Act, and we protected 12,000 of San Francisco’s most vulnerably housed, those closest to homelessness, by exempting them from the Ellis Act, but there are still far too many no-cause evictions in San Francisco - tenants who paid their rent on time. They’re good tenants; they’re good neighbors, and they get a knock on the door and are told they have to leave, so I’m not done working on the Ellis Act. I think it’s being illegally abused by speculators for whom the law was not written. It was written for landlords, and I will take those speculators who are abusing the Ellis Act to court to stop them from evicting tenants for no cause. A good part of our housing challenge is keeping those who have a home in their homes, and protecting our most valuable affordable housing stock, our rent controlled units. Of course I also authored our inclusionary zoning ordinance, which is a fancy term for requiring that a percentage of all new market rate residential development be below market rate, be affordable housing. I authored that back in 2001 - 2002.

 

“I learned that you don’t wanna come between me and an idea I believe in.”

 

Wendy: We have always been the groundbreaking city, and that is certainly true now, with the ever-expanding tech industry influx. We have to look at economic growth at the same time that we ensure that San Francisco supports that growth via infrastructure, the aforementioned housing provisions, and other support services. What do you see as the mayoral role in providing this much needed balance?

 

Mark: One thing that I don’t think we focus enough on is local hiring. We’ve been creating tens of thousands of new jobs, and just presuming that they will all be taken by people from out of town who will move here, but that means that San Francisco’s not benefiting enough from all of this new wealth that is being created. There are certainly many under employed San Franciscans who could benefit from all of this wealth creation. I would be working with the new industries; just as we have a local hire mandate for the building trades, it’s something we should be considering for other industries as well. We should make sure San Francisco is benefiting from all of the success of these new industries as much as possible.

 

Wendy: A huge issue for San Franciscans is homelessness, with the adjunct problems of mental health concerns and drug addiction. You have vowed an end to street homelessness by 2020 if you are elected. What are some of the key components of your plan?

 

Mark: We’ve got a plan anyone can see on our website at markleno.com that starts with working with the owners of the 1500 or so currently vacant SROs. We should be negotiating with them to find a way for us to move 1500 people into SROs that are already available, so we don’t have to build them; we don’t have to go through the permitting process and the entitlement process; they’re there, so we should make use of them. Additionally, we’ve got a thousand people a night on a waiting list to get into a shelter bed, which are not all that inviting. You have to be in by a certain hour; you have to be out by a certain hour; you can’t bring your pets, or your partner, or your belongings. Still, a thousand people every night are on the waiting list. How is it that we have not expanded our shelter and Navigation Center system to accommodate a thousand people who want to get inside? That’s where we begin, and again, making sure that everyone who has a home stays in their home.

 

Wendy: One outcome of income disparity, homelessness, and addiction, is street crime. Within that issue is the issue of gun control, which is so strongly a part of the national discourse, especially now. Where do you stand on that, and how do you propose to address street crime in general?

 

“Part of our housing challenge is keeping those who have a home in their homes.”

 

Mark: With regard to guns, I think we should be talking about it in terms of gun safety laws, not about controlling anyone’s second amendment rights. The good news is that we have some of the strongest gun safety laws in the country here in California. Dealing with street crime, we need more police officers walking community beats. They’re best able to do their jobs and protect their communities when there are relationships built and trust built between the police and those that they serve, so I would support community policing expansion, foot patrols. Additionally, we need to have police officers who can to speak the language of communities they serve. I authored a bill, a local ordinance, when I was on the Board of Supervisors, called Equal Access to Services, and that requires translation services for departments that deal most directly with the public, and that includes the police department, the fire department, department of public health, department of social services.

Wendy: You authored 160 pieces of legislation that became law while in Sacramento, including legislation which increases the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour, effective in 2022. How else do you see our city, and state, leading the way to greater financial stability and opportunities for all?

 

Mark: We will lift 2,000,000 Californians out of poverty when it’s no longer legal to pay a sub-poverty wage. I have been a longtime supporter of workers’ rights. We need strong unions, which of course have been the foundation stone of the creation of the middle class in this country, and we’ll fight any further assaults on organized labor.

 

“If [Lyft and Uber are] going to be on our streets, they should be using zero-emission vehicles.”

 

Wendy: There are a total of 11 San Francisco supervisors, two of whom are running for Mayor alongside you. Out of the remaining nine, six current supervisors have endorsed you for Mayor. Describe your working relationship with the Board of Supervisors over the years.

 

Mark: Thank you for noticing I’m the only candidate running for Mayor who has a majority of the Board endorsing me. Again, my time in the legislature has given me a lot of experience working with the Board of Supervisors in a legislative fashion, as well as with the governor and the executive branch, and being able to work across the aisle. In San Francisco we’re all Democrats in elected office, and we probably all agree on 90 or 95 percent of the issues, and we fight wars over the remaining five percent. It’s such a challenging time for San Francisco; it’s important that we have a leader who can bridge the differences of opinion, who can bring people together, and has, not just the ability to say such, but has a 20 year history of being able to do that. I worked with actual Republicans in Sacramento, who have a very different approach to things, and a very different perspective on public policy, and was able to work with Republican colleagues in a very successful an accomplished fashion. [I was] not sacrificing my San Francisco values, but [was] looking for common ground, and finding common ground. If I was able to have a Republican as my joint author, that benefited my ability to reform the criminal justice system, or protect consumers and their privacy, as we catch up to the fact that we are communicating evermore in digital ways. The police needed a warrant to go into your mailbox and read your Valentines, but they didn’t need a warrant to go into your smartphone, to read all of your personal emails. Because of legislation I authored, with republican colleagues, we now have those privacy protections, so I have a strong history of successfully working with people with differences of opinion.

 

Wendy:While serving in the State Assembly, you authored numerous bills that were passed into law, pertaining to the environment. Do you have any San Francisco specific environmental concerns that have caught, and will have, your attention, as Mayor?

 

Mark: I want to make sure that San Francisco becomes 100 percent renewably fueled as quickly as possible, so that will become one of my environmental goals without a doubt, and working with the legislature to ensure that we have as many zero-emission vehicles on the road as quickly as possible. [I will be] incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles, and making sure that even though we have limitations on how we can regulate TNCs, these transportation network corporations, Lyft and Uber; if they’re going to be on our streets, they should be using zero-emission vehicles. I’ll add to that as well, continuing San Francisco’s success in zero waste.

 

Wendy: Of course, if elected, you will be our first openly gay Mayor. What will that mean to you, and what do you anticipate that will mean to the LGBTQ community?

 

Leno wants San Francisco to become 100 percent renewably fueled “as quickly as possible.”

 

Mark: It is a fact, should I be elected Mayor, I will be the first LGBTQ mayor in San Francisco’s history, and that’s not the reason I’m running, but at the same time, when we recognize that hate crimes against our community are on the rise because of all the vitriol and divisiveness coming out of Washington, DC, it will be a strong message that San Francisco sends to the nation, that we continue to lead the way in inclusion, and respect, and dignity for all minorities. You know, we’re still the only minority without federal protections from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. There are no federal laws protecting us. In a majority of states I can be denied housing, employment, or even a hotel room, because of who I am. There are no protections in the majority of states for our community. A majority of states do not have the fair employment and housing protections that we have here in California, and we only added sexual orientation to our Fair Employment and Housing Act as recently as 1999. I authored the state law that added gender identity to our Fair Employment and Housing Act, protecting those who are gender nonconforming, all of our transgender brothers and sisters.

 

Wendy: How will mayorship of San Francisco represent a “full circle” experience for you, after having started your political career here?

 

Mark: It has been an honor of a lifetime to be able to represent San Francisco in the state legislature. I’ve had the most remarkable constituency, probably the best educated, the most politically sophisticated district in the state, and I’ve always felt that my district gave me wings. They wanted me to be bold and to speak up, and to push the envelope. I’ve always kept that in my mind as I’ve done my legislative work, and will continue to do that should I be fortunate enough to be elected Mayor.

 

• • • Also in this Issue • • •

Charles Peoples III (left) and Rudy Guerrero star as Adam and Tick in Priscilla the Musical
Photos: Tony Taylor

 

Acclaimed Priscilla the Musical returns, rehearsals underway

Cult-classic film turned stage production, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert revives sold-out summer spectacle

 

 

With five short weeks until show time, cast members of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical met at Moon Rehearsal Space on Van Ness Avenue on a warm Friday evening in April to begin learning ensemble choreography for multiple production numbers. For many cast members, however, this rehearsal is simply a refresher.

 

After last summer’s sold-out run, this encore production is in high demand. And considering America’s political climate, the 1994 comedy-drama is more relevant than ever.

 

Castro Courier sat in during rehearsal as the cast alternated between vocal warm-ups, body stretches, and intermittent conversations. The group of 10 were comfortable together, many of them having worked on Priscilla together previously.

 

Based on a cult film of the same name, the musical follows two drag queens and a transgender woman (Tick, Adam, and Bernadette), who buy a run-down old bus they name “Priscilla” and set out on a road trip across the Australian Outback. During their journey, the trio navigate incidents of homo and transphobia, while strengthening their own friendship.

 

Tonight, the director, John Fisher, and his assistant are occupied trying to corral straggling cast members while the choreographer, AeJay Mitchell, prepares to lead the group in body movements.

 

Outside the sun is setting, and inside, the cast is prepared to spend this night — and many more over the next several weeks — perfecting the 15 ensemble dance routines.

Pricilla the Musical cast during a choreography rehearsal in April Photo Courtesy: Theater Rhinoceros

 

The group begins following Mitchell’s every sway and step. Meanwhile, Charles Peoples III and Rudy Guerrero interact with one another, perfecting their own specialized movements.

 

Eventually, Peoples, who’s reprising the role of Adam, retires to a chair, opting to observe rather than rehearse. Playing a rambunctious young troublemaker, Peoples is an appropriate fit for the role, bouncing between rehearsal and observation, from conversation to punch-line.

 

Having been an actor since high school, the 28 year old admits his hands are quite full these days. In addition to Priscilla’s demanding rehearsal schedule, Peoples also works a full-time job at California College of the Arts.

 

“I rehearse Monday through Saturday for four hours a day and that doesn’t include memorizing lines and working a full-time job,” Peoples said. “I really need to get sleep, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

 

A natural fit for the role, Peoples’ first time doing drag was during last year’s Priscilla performance. His character Adam becomes the flirty drag persona Felicia, who Peoples calls “amazing.”

 

“Adam and Felicia are both just as fabulous,” he added. “They’re the sassiest, sexiest characters I’ve ever played. Now, all of a sudden I’m getting these [drag queen] roles.”

 

After last year’s Priscilla run, Peoples was cast as a drag queen in another production directed by Fisher.

 

An award winning writer and director, Fisher said he’s been involved in theater his entire life. The 54-year-old writer, performer, director is a Bay Area native and has been in San Francisco his entire adult life.

 

“This play is very naughty,” Fisher said. “I’m happy to bring this show back, even if only for five weeks.”

 

Beginning on May 26th at Theatre Rhinoceros, the longest running LGBTQ theatre in the nation, Priscilla will play in SF through Pride weekend in June.

 

In 1994, the world premiere of the Priscilla film occurred at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival and has since gone on to become a cult phenomenon.

 

Playing the role of Tick, Rudy Guerrero is also the dance captain, which means he has to learn his own choreography as well as every ensemble dance step. The Hawaii native and SOMA dweller moved to San Francisco 15 years ago to become an actor.

 

Of Guerrero, Fisher said, “I love gay actors who can act butch. He’s the least gay of the three leads; just kinda like normal.”

 

The musical is predominately lead by the character of Tick who is invited by his ex-wife to perform his drag show at her far-away resort, hence the campy and occasionally chaotic Priscilla bus trip.

 

“The show is about accepting others and yourself and the struggles that come along with that,” said Guerrero during a needed break from dance rehearsal. “It’s something that everybody can identify with, especially in today’s political climate.”

 

The tone of the production is anything but somber. With one musical number after another, audience members will surely be dancing in their seats.

 

Fisher says the show is “ridiculously” filled with dance music from the ‘70s and ‘80s. From What’s Love Got to Do With It to I Love The Nightlife, Say a Little Prayer to the show’s theme song, I Will Survive, this production is a glowing gay disco.

 

In addition to the nearly non-stop dance numbers, the glittering costumes are show stoppers. Guerrero is constantly moving, whether on stage or backstage doing a quick-change.

 

“It’s one musical number after another,” Guerrero said. “If I’m not on stage, I run off stage to change clothes like a mad man. It’s one fantastic costume after another.”

 

Of the costumes, Peoples said it’s a stage full of the brightest colors ever.

 

“Expect, like, 20 different headpieces, beads, feathers, and at least 20 outfits,” Peoples said. His favorite? The green bodysuit and 6” stiletto heels he wears during Act II.

 

“I love drag so much and the community that I found by doing this show,” added the drag novice. “The community of being who you are, especially during these times, it’s beautiful.”

 

Fisher called Priscilla “the most relevant musical of all time,” adding, “We can’t deal with people who embrace their identities. Who cares as long as they show up to work on time.”

 

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical runs May 26 – June 30 at the Gateway Theatre (215 Jackson Street). For more information, visit therhino.org

 

• • • Also in this Issue • • •

Photo: Anthony O’Donnell

 

Mandelman’s Chance to Clean Up Castro

 

 

Tireless Supervisor candidate and affordable housing advocate Rafael Mandelman may have a lengthy list of District 8 to-dos soon. With voters heading into the booths on June 5th, Mandelman’s time may finally come to button-up the Castro.

 

“This neighborhood needs lots of love and attention,” he said. “Small businesses are suffering. They need a champion and an advocate.”

 

Speeding up permit approvals that allow the opening small businesses is a high priority on his agenda.

 

“Some are spending their entire life savings on this dream they have. [Don’t] keep them waiting for months at an empty storefront, especially in a distressed neighborhood like Castro,” he added.

 

According to the 2017 San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey, the total number of homeless individuals was 7499. The District 8 homeless count of 301 shows a decrease from the 2015 count (378).

 

“Off of the streets and into housing,” he called. “The mentally ill and those suffering from drug addiction cannot be left to fend for themselves.”

 

Mandelman has lived in Castro since 1999 when he began at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

 

Traditionally, the mayor-appointed candidate — incumbent D8 candidate Jeff Sheehy— is expected to out-raise the “scrappy upstart,” as Mandelman calls himself. But the 45 year old has put in the work to come out on top.

 

Known for his tireless campaigning, Mandelman said, “We raised more [money by] knocking on doors, talking to voters on their way to work and outside of grocery stores. They confided by voting.”

 

According to Mandelman, San Francisco adults are some of the wealthiest in the country, while many of the children are some of the poorest in the country.

 

“If you grow up in San Francisco, you should have a decent path to a middle-class life,” he said. “[Children] should be able to go to school anywhere, get free community college, and get a job at an excellent corporation like Twitter or Google.”

 

Mandelman’s first effort as D8 supervisor candidate in 2010 was shadowed by the popularity of Scott Wiener. The D8 candidate said he’s “learned a lot since then.”

 

“We need to make the city work for the people who have been here all along,” he said.

 

Elections for District 8 Supervisor are June 5th.

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© Castro Courier 2018