- This Week
As a mayoral candidate, Sup. John Avalos casts himself as a movement builder
09.06.11 - 5:56 pm | Rebecca Bowe |
John Avalos, mayoral candidate: "There's a Johnny Cash song I really like called 'I Won't Back Down.' "
"That's what is the biggest threat to San Francisco, is losing the working-class," said community activist Giuliana Milanese, who previously worked with Avalos at Coleman Advocates for Youth and has volunteered for his campaign. "And he's the best fighter. Basically, economic justice is his bottom line."
Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen gave Avalos his seal of approval when contacted by the Guardian, saying he has "a 100 percent voting record for tenants," despite having fewer tenants in his district than some of his colleagues. "David Chiu, had he not voted for Parkmerced, could have been competitive with John," Gullicksen said. "But the Parkmerced thing was huge, so now it's very difficult to even have David in same ballpark. Dennis [Herrera] has always taken the right positions — but he's never had to vote on anything," he said. "After that, nobody comes close."
Cash poor, community rich
There's no question: The Avalos for Mayor campaign faces an uphill climb. Recent poll figures offering an early snapshot of the crowded field peg him at roughly 4 percent, trailing behind candidates with stronger citywide name recognition like City Attorney Dennis Herrera or the incumbent, Mayor Ed Lee, who hasn't accepted public financing and stands to benefit from deep-pocketed backers with ties to big business.
Yet as Assembly Member Tom Ammiano phrased it, "he's actually given progressives a place to roost. He doesn't pussy-foot around on the issues that are important," making him a natural choice for San Francisco voters who care more about stemming the tides of privatization and gentrification than, say, rolling out the red carpet for hi-tech companies.
One of Avalos' greatest challenges is that he lacks a pile of campaign cash, having received less than $90,000 in contributions as of June 30, according to an Ethics Commission filing. "He can't call in the big checks," said Julian Davis, board president of Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, "because he hasn't been doing the bidding of big business interests." A roster of financial contributions filed with the Ethics Commission shows that his donor base is comprised mainly of teachers, nonprofit employees, health-care workers, tenant advocates, and other similar groups, with almost no representatives of real-estate development interests or major corporations.
Despite being strapped for cash, he's collected endorsements ranging from the Democratic County Central Committee, to the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, to the city's largest labor union, SEIU 1021; he's also won the backing of quintessential San Francisco characters such as renowned author Rebecca Solnit; San Francisco's radical bohemian poet laureate, Diane di Prima; and countercultural icon Diamond Dave.
While some of Avalos' core supporters describe his campaign as "historic," other longtime political observers have voiced a sort of disenchantment with his candidacy, saying it doesn't measure up to the sweeping mobilizations that galvanized around Gonzalez or Ammiano. Ammiano has strongly endorsed Avalos, but Gonzalez — who now works for Public Defender (and mayoral candidate) Jeff Adachi — has remained tepid about his candidacy, stating publicly in an interview on Fog City Journal, "I like [Green Party candidate Terrie Baum] and John fine. I just don't believe in them."
Ironically, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, often Avalos' political opposite on board votes, had kinder words for him. "John is intelligent, John is honest, and John has integrity," Elsbernd told the Guardian. "I don't think he knows the city well enough to serve as chief executive ... but I've seen the good work he's done in his district."