John Rizzo's calm demeanor and steady progressivism may be the antidote to the sordid D5 supervisorial race
Rizzo is a soft-spoken family man who has lived in the same building on Waller Street in the Haight-Ashbury for the last 27 years. Originally, he and Christine, his wife of 25 years, rented their apartment in a tenancy-in-common building before they bought it in the early 1990s, although he's quick to add, "In all the years we've owned it, we never applied for condoship."
He supports the city's limits on condo conversions as important to protecting working-class housing, although he said, "The focus should be on building new affordable housing." That's an issue Rizzo has worked on since joining the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter more than 20 years ago, an early advocate for broadening the chapter's view of environmentalism.
He's a Muni rider who hasn't owned a car since 1987.
Michelle Myers, director of the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter, said Rizzo brings a wealth of experience, established relationships, and shrewd judgment to his role as the group's political chair. "We really rely on John's ability to weigh what is politically feasible, not just what's ideal in our minds," she told us.
Yet that political realism shouldn't be confused for a lack of willingness to fight for big, important goals. Rizzo has been an advocate for public power in San Francisco for many years, strategizing with then-Sup. Ammiano in 2001 to implement a community choice aggregation program, efforts that led to this year's historic passage of the CleanPowerSF program (with a key vote of support by Olague) over the objections of Mayor Lee and some business leaders.
"CleanPowerSF was carried by John Rizzo, who has been working on that issue for 10 years," Myers said.
Rizzo is a technology writer, working for prospering computer magazines in the 1990s "until they all went away with the dot.com bubble," as well as books (his 14th book, Mountain Lion Server for Dummies, comes out soon).
He sees the "positives and the negatives" of the last tech boom and this one, focusing on solving problems like the Google and Genetech buses blocking traffic or Muni bus stops. "On the one hand, these people aren't driving, but on the other hand, they're unregulated and using our bus stops," he said. "We need to find some solution to accommodate them. Charge them for it, but accommodate them."
That's typical of how Rizzo approaches issues, wanting to work with people to find solutions. As president of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, Rizzo suffered the bad timing of the district having its accreditation threatened just as his supervisorial race was getting underway, but he's steadily worked through the administrative problems that predated his tenure, starting with the criminal antics of former Chancellor Phil Day and continuing with "a management structure still in place, and it had calcified."
Despite being on the campaign trail, Rizzo called the trustees together six times in August to deal with the accreditation problems. "We now have a plan that shows all the things the district needs to do to keep it afloat. City College is back on track."
WEAKNESS BECOMES STRENGTH
Eileen Hansen — a longtime progressive activist, former D8 supervisorial candidate, and former Ethics Commissioner — gave her early endorsement to Rizzo, who never really seemed to catch fire. "There hasn't been a lot of flash and I would love for there to be more energy," she admitted.
So, like many progressive leaders, she later offered her endorsement to Davis, believing he had the energy needed to win the race. But after Davis' problems, Hansen withdrew that endorsement and sees Rizzo as the antidote to its problems.
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