- This Week
Sup. Scott Wiener is relentless, driven, prolific — and changing San Francisco in sometimes alarming ways
01.29.13 - 5:53 pm | Steven T. Jones |
Scott Wiener follows Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, and Bevan Dufty representing a neighborhood that's changed profoundly.GUARDIAN PHOTO BY KEENEY + LAW PHOTOGRAPHY
Still, Wiener calls being gay and Jewish the "galvanizing experiences" of his formative years, particularly at a time when AIDS had devastated this new community he was joining, so his political activism focused on LGBT issues as he worked his way through Harvard Law School, choosing to settle in San Francisco in 1997.
Tall and gangly, almost obsessed with Democratic Party politics, his only real hobby or pastime is yoga, which he said "helps me stay sane." Wiener has always been less fun-loving than many of the gay men around him in the Castro, the neighborhood he represents.
"Dating has not always been my strong suit," Wiener said. He's close to family and friends but really hasn't had any serious romantic relationships to speak of. "Men are challenging."
So he works, and works, and works. He's been working the Castro with door-knocking intensity since well before his successful run for supervisor in 2010, during his long tenure on the Democratic County Central Committee and his day job as a deputy city attorney, focused mostly on defending the San Francisco Police Department.
Department heads have learned that he's always on duty. "I was at Nancy Pelosi's New Year's party on Sunday, and I saw [SF Muni head] Ed Reiskin and I started walking up to him because I had like three things to talk to him about, and the look I saw in his eye was the same look that I think I sometimes get in my eye when a particularly aggressive constituent approaches me," Wiener recalled.
It's a look that Wiener has had to adopt regularly over the last two years as he's sponsored a string of the city's most controversial pieces of legislation.
AGENT OF CHANGE
Right now, Wiener is pushing legislation that would limit people's opportunities to appeal development projects (dubbed "CEQA reform") and co-sponsoring legislation that would let owners of tenancy-in-common (TIC) housing units pay a fee to bypass the city's condo conversion lottery, which limits the removal of apartments from the rental market.
Both changes, two of the most controversial measures of this new legislative session, have been opposed by progressives for decades. And they follow Wiener's sponsorship of the two most controversial pieces of legislation from the last session: his unsuccessful attempt to remove the exemption of nonprofits from paying the city's Transit Impact Development Fee and his ban on public nudity, which passed on a 6-5 vote in November, making national headlines.
The two new bills reflect an agenda that's popular with landlords, property owners, and developers — and opposed by tenants, neighborhood activists, and just about every progressive group in town.
Yet, at the same time, Wiener is supportive of nightlife and an advocate for Muni and bike lanes — softening his image as a downtown conservative and sometimes giving him a chance to divide the progressive community. And last year he cast the crucial eighth vote needed to create the CleanPowerSF public-power program and override a threatened mayoral veto.
"I strongly believe in the capacity of government to make people's lives better," Wiener said.
Wiener told me he believes in the social safety net and rent control. He says he has supported every tax measure on the ballot in recent years, he understands that Muni and other vital city infrastructure go deeper in the hole with every new development project the city approves, and he knows that San Francisco is becoming steadily less affordable to those on the bottom half of the economic spectrum.
Yet, even when pressed on the topic at length, he doesn't have a good answer for how to maintain San Francisco's long-term socioeconomic diversity. It's almost as if that' s not part of his consciousness. Instead, he's making it easier for capitalism to have its way with San Francisco.