- 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.' "
Meanwhile, Avalos is still grappling with the fallout from the spending cut he initiated against the police and fire departments in 2009. Whereas those unions sent sound trucks rolling through his neighborhood clamoring for his recall from office during that budget fight, the San Francisco Police Officers Association (SFPOA), the San Francisco Fire Fighters union, and the plumbers' union, Local 38, have teamed up now that Avalos is running for mayor to form an independent expenditure committee targeting him and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, a latecomer to the race.
"We'll make sure we do everything we can to make sure he never sees Room 200," SFPOA President Gary Delagnes told the Guardian. "I would spend as much money as I could possibly summon to make sure neither ever takes office." Delagnes added that he believes the political makeup of San Francisco is shifting in a more moderate direction, to Avalos' disadvantage. "People spend a lot of money to live here," he said, "and they don't want to be walking over 15 homeless people, or having people ask them for money."
If it's true that the flanks of the left in San Francisco have already been supplanted with wealthy residents whose primary concern is that they are annoyed by the sight of destitute people, then more has already been lost for the progressive movement than it stands to lose under the scenario of an Avalos defeat.
The great progressive hope?
Despite these looming challenges, the Avalos campaign has amassed a volunteer base that's more than 1,000 strong, in many cases drawing from grassroots networks already engaged in efforts to defend tenant rights, advance workplace protections for non-union employees, create youth programs that aim to prevent violence in low-income communities, and advance opportunities for immigrants. According to some volunteers, linking these myriad grassroots efforts is part of the point. Aside from the obvious goal of electing Avalos for mayor, his supporters say they hope his campaign will be a force to re-energize and redefine progressive politics in San Francisco.
"All the candidates that are running are trying to appeal to the progressive base," Avalos said. But what does it really mean? To him, being progressive "is a commitment to a cause that's greater," he offered. "It's about how to alter the relationship of power in San Francisco. My vision of progressivism is more inclusive, and more accountable to real concerns."
N'Tanya Lee, former executive director of Coleman Advocates, was among the people Avalos consulted when he was considering a run for mayor. "The real progressives in San Francisco are the folks on the ground every day, like the moms working for public schools ... everyday families, individual people, often people of color, who are doing the work without fanfare. They are the unsung heroes ... and the rising progressive leaders of our city," she said. "John represents the best of what's to come. It's not just about race or class. It's about people standing for solutions."
When deciding whether to run, Avalos also turned to his wife, Zapata, who has held leadership positions in the San Francisco teacher's union in the past. She suggested rounding up community leaders and talking it through. "The campaign needed to be a movement campaign," Zapata told the Guardian. "John Avalos was not running because he thought John Avalos was the most important person in the world to do this job. Our question was, if John were to do this, how would it help people most affected by economic injustice?"
Hewitt, the executive director of CLAER, also weighed in. "My concern is that he has been painted as a leftist, rooted in some outdated ideology," she said. "I think [that characterization] is one-dimensional, and I think he's broader than that. My perception of John is that he's a pragmatist — rooted in listening, and attempting to respond."