- 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.' "
Last November, Avalos placed a successful measure on the ballot to increase the city's real-estate transfer tax, which so far has amassed around $45 million in new revenue for city coffers, softening the blow to critical programs in the latest round of budget negotiations. "Without these measures that community groups, residents, and labor organizations worked for, Mayor Ed Lee would not have been able to balance the budget," Avalos said.
More recently, he emerged as a champion of the city's Local Hire Ordinance, designed as a tool for job creation that requires employers at new construction projects to select San Francisco residents for half their work crews, to be phased in over the next several years. That landmark legislation was a year in the making, Redondiez said, describing how union representatives, workers, contractors, unemployed residents of Chinatown and the Bayview, and others cycled through Avalos' City Hall office to provide input.
His collaborative style stems in part from his background. Avalos formerly worked for Service Employees International Union Local 1877, where he organized janitors, and served as political director for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth. He was also a legislative aide to former District 6 Sup. Chris Daly, who remains a lightning rod in the San Francisco political landscape.
Before wading into the fray of San Francisco politics, Avalos earned a masters degree in social work from San Francisco State University. But when he first arrived in the city in 1989, with few connections and barely any money to his name, he took a gig at a coffee cart. He was a Latino kid originally from Wilmington, Calif. whose dad was a longshoreman and whose mom was an office worker, and he'd endured a climate of discrimination throughout his teenage years at Andover High in Andover, Mass.
Roughly a decade ago, Avalos and a group of youth advocates were arrested in Oakland following a protest against Proposition 21, which increased criminal penalties for crimes committed by youth. Booked into custody along with him was his wife, Karen Zapata, whom he married around the same time. She is now a public school teacher in San Francisco and the mother of their two children, ages 6 and 9, both enrolled in public schools.
"John has consistently been a voice for disenfranchised populations in this city," said Sharen Hewitt, who's known Avalos for more than a decade and serves as executive director of The Community Leadership Academy & Emergency Response Project (CLAER), an organization formed to respond to a rash of homicides and alleviate violence. "He understands that San Francisco is at a major turning point in terms of its ability to keep families and low-income communities housed. With the local hiring ordinance, most of us who have been working around violence prevention agree — at the core of this horrible set of symptoms are root causes, stemming from economic disparity."
Asked about his top priorities, Avalos will invariably express his desire to keep working families rooted in San Francisco. District 11, which spans the Excelsior, Ingleside, and other southeastern neighborhoods, encompasses multiracial neighborhoods made up of single-family homes — and many have been blunted with foreclosure since the onset of the economic crisis.
"Our motto for building housing in San Francisco is we build all this luxury housing — it's a form of voodoo economics," Avalos told a small group of supporters at a recent campaign stop in Bernal Heights. "I want to have a new model for how we build housing in San Francisco. How can we help [working-class homeowners] modify their loans to make if more flexible, so they can stay here?" He's floated the idea of creating an affordable housing bond to aid in the construction of new affordable housing units as well as loan modifications to prevent foreclosures.