The machine

Sup. Scott Wiener is relentless, driven, prolific — and changing San Francisco in sometimes alarming ways

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Scott Wiener follows Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, and Bevan Dufty representing a neighborhood that's changed profoundly.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY KEENEY + LAW PHOTOGRAPHY

steve@sfbg.com

Scott Wiener is a political machine.

I don't mean that he's part of a political machine, although he is arguably a member of a few nascent operations in town, from the old-school Democratic Party establishment to the morphing amalgam of groups pushing what he calls a "livability" agenda. I mean that Supervisor Wiener, who represents District 8, is a machine — almost robotic in his tireless, 24/7 engagement with all things political.

In just two years on the board, he's become one of the most productive legislators in the city, courting controversy and taking on issues others had ducked. He is relentless in his quest to make government run more efficiently. He's affable, mild-mannered and accessible, often willing to work with opponents — but he has an agenda for the city that he pursues aggressively.

Perhaps more than anyone at City Hall, Wiener embodies the current political zeitgeist in San Francisco, with its emphasis on civility and private-sector job creation. He isn't the most powerful person in city government, but he's playing an outsized role in shaping the city's future — and that will only grow this week as he assumes the chair of the board's Land Use Committee.

Wiener defies easy labels. Critics who call him an uncaring conservative aren't quite right, and it's equally tough to simply accept the "urbanist" and "good liberal Democrat" labels that Wiener applies to himself. And it's hard to pin Wiener down on what sort of city he envisions, except for one with minimal bureaucracy where the trains and buses run on time.

In his City Hall office, where the walls contain little artwork, just the occasional reminder of past political episodes (like the framed Guardian butt cover from when he banned the nudists in the Castro from putting their bare asses on benches), he was happy to talk to me at length about policy. But he had less to offer on who he thinks this city is for — about who should be able to stay here, and who has to leave. He talks about preserving a safety net — but not about pushing back against gentrification and displacement with any tools up to the task.

In the end, his focus is on making government and the city's infrastructure work well for those who are able to live in a city that's become openly hostile to low-income and working-class people. He's an agent of change — but his change is disturbing to progressives. He's steadily moving legislation that makes it more difficult to counter trends that are gentrifying and sterilizing the city.

 

 

A BIT OF A NERD

 

Born in Philadelphia and raised mostly in the small, conservative New Jersey town of Turnersville, the young Scott Wiener always felt one step removed from his surroundings. So he poured himself into his studies. "I was always a bit of a nerd. I'll admit I was voted most studious in high school," Wiener said.

What social life he had centered around his synagogue in a Christian-dominated community. His parents — dad an optometrist, mom running his practice — were "very partisan Democrats" in a Republican county. Although they weren't very politically active, Wiener's earliest political memory is the 1980 presidential election that brought Ronald Reagan to power: "Our house was like a place of mourning."

Involvement in Democratic Party politics seemed to just flow from his academic life, interning with a member of Congress as a teenager and then helping form a Democratic Club when he attended Duke University, which devoted itself to campaigning against then-Sen. Jesse Helms when Wiener was a sophomore.

Coming out as a gay man at the age of 20 wasn't terribly traumatic in a family where his cousin and aunt were lesbians. His main concern was whether it might hinder his plan to run for president of his fraternity, the Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi, but he won that election anyway.

Comments

Back up your claim about him using an "obscenity at a girl during the public comment period because he didn't like her comment in support of the JROTC." I think its a bold-faced lie.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:20 am

Which is why he has now gone back to being a nobody again.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:29 am

your claim.

Noted, the Britishism, too. Bold Lying Guest is Brit Lying Guest.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:56 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

Talk about whiney and spoiled. The favored son of an all-white Fire Department who threw a snit, quit his post, then asked for it back... only to murder and maim in response to the rejection of his demands.

A perfect fucking emblem for Right Wing San Francisco.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

you should know that.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

The idea of Big Brother mandating that people wear clothing and demonizing the human body is horribly reactionary. In Kabul, Provo, Montgomery, and Tehran, the government controls what people wear. Thanks to Weiner, San Francisco has joined this illustrious list of conservative strongholds.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:03 am

lynching blacks. Good thing we have you to give us meaningful, relevant, credible analogies.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:13 am

When the totalitarian state seeks to control by regulating every aspect of one's life, then every aspect of one's life becomes a potential site for protest against totalitarianism.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:19 am

totaltarian state. You have no idea what that concept means.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:38 am

He just wants to make sure he can have wanton publicly viewable interactions with as many random strangers as possible.

Posted by Greg_the_diKC on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:46 am

He will be mayor. Eventually.

Posted by Chris McNeil on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:47 am

I think you under estimate how unpopular Scott is in the gay community. I would expect some major booing at the gay pride parade. But as he has helped to flood the Castro with straight tech employees he will be re-elected. Bland always wins.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

term expires. He's easily the most mayoral of the Supes, with only Kim a possibility in the future but I suspect she has her eye on Sacramento.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

Wiener is a disaster for anyone not in the inner circle of money in town. Most of his doing are a distraction while he is carefully dismantling the appeal process on the land-use side. This is always the bottom line for him. For example, he searched high and low and top of his priority list is how to make development project easier in SF. How to ensure that SF has the lowest level of environmental review possible. His proposed overhaul of the CEQA appeal process is understood by practically no one at all and won't be until they have a giant project next to them....then they will look up and say--"what happened?" He is supported by the downtown and landed interests because he wants to grease the skids for all development projects in SF. He is a REPUBLICAN in gay clothing. His highest priority is to serve the development community....period. He does not support the neighborhoods or the working class or the renters and anyone who is not a developer and votes for this guy is a fool

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:50 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Montgomery Burns = scott weiner

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:41 am

Montgomery Burns = scott weiner

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:49 am

Well balanced piece on Scott. I am a D 8 voter and did not vote for him. However I do find it refreshing that he is hard working and plays each issue as he sees it. And I thank him for doing something about the nudity issue. "Progressive" to me does not mean "permissive" - progressive is finding common ground in a common space and respecting each other. The progressives made a mistake in assuming everyone concerned about that issue were rich, home owning, real estate craving Republican prudes, and their vote on this and the Mirkarimi issue only made Scott Wiener seem more reasoned. Tom Rudulivich nailed it when he said about "progressives" that "if you had an original idea since 1978, you're suspect." Some of us are tired of the "us vs them" black and white didactic and stale arguments of these aging progressives. Time for their to be new thinking progressives, and until then I will look at Scott Wiener with an open mind.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

When i look at Scott Weiner and his overly ambitious and severe changes and moves he has made while in office, it makes me have to wonder... I bet that this is going to be an early move in looking towards moving into national politics. I really dont think that Mr. Weiner ever really lived in san fran for very long before chosing to run to gain position to be able to use san francisco as a profit making machine. The city has always been at risk of those that see how beautiful and quaint and small it is and how it would seem to be so easy to turn it into a cash cow. In doing this it would do just exactly what it is doing right now, which is turn it into a soulless disconnected community that is made for expensive tourism and the elitest crowd. Elitests for some reason seem to live in a delusional state of fear that manifests in stuck up attitudes that they are better than everyone else. In reality, people who have EVERYTHING that makes their lives complete and happy do not find that through things. They find that through relationships and community. I dont think Scott Weiner cares a damn thing about community so that is why he is selling it down the river. He has got to be making a killing doing all of these deals as well. If we think that there are not a lot of capital moving hands through out ALL of these deals then you would be living in a cave. I just hope he moves on fast and gets the heck out of my city before he sells it clear off to the Chinese or Saudi's!

Posted by bluepearlgirl on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

Someone up above responded to another person who said that Wiener would be mayor eventually (for some time, I've said that his goal). The person responded by saying:

"Mayor? I think you under estimate how unpopular Scott is in the gay community. I would expect some major booing at the gay pride parade. But as he has helped to flood the Castro with straight tech employees he will be re-elected. Bland always wins."

I wanted to respond to that:

"But as he has helped to flood the Castro with straight tech employees..."

FINALLY someone else has noticed. I thought I was the only one to notice this. Yes, the Castro is rather straight these days---and seems to be getting straighter by the day---and they seem to go out of their way to make it very obvious they're straight, in case others haven't noticed. This can be a problem when a gay guy approaches a straight guy (in a gay bar) and the straight guy gets offended by being approached by a gay guy (in a gay bar). Why exactly is the straight guy in a gay bar to begin with?...especially when he has "issues" with being approached by a gay guy? Don't straights already have the run of bars throughout the city? They want the Castro bars too, I guess.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

You think that there should be a gay ghetto where straights don't go?

Discrimination is such an ugly thing to behold.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

If you don't support the entities that destroy diversity, then you oppose diversity? No, I support diversity by opposing that which destroys diversity.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

Only one group in America today is as hated as gay people are - seeking out a place of refuge or a getto offers gay people a place where they can be accepted by other gay people - but there is a tipping point where due to Scotts build build build multi-bedroom ways gay people are being pushed out - But like Nixon was needed to open China Scott is on board as the gay Uncle Tom who gives away the Castro

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

i feel like screaming. i grew up in san francisco. i'm no spring chicken. i remember reading what seems like fifty years ago articles where they quoted "Ted Gullickson of the rent control board." please, please, tell this man to go away. who pays him? why has he had this job for so long? does he have a lifetime right to his job? why hasn't he done anything in the last fifty years to stem the crisis we now find ourselves in. liberals and conservatives alike need to shove this fool's butt out the door. go away ted, just go away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

You seem to be confused. You wrote:

"Ted Gullickson of the rent control board."

But the article reads, "San Francisco TENANTS UNION [emphasis added] head Ted Gullicksen."

The Tenants Union is not the same as the Rent Control Board.

Posted by International Troll Society Member #12360969212 on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:33 am

Rafael Mandelman said this about SW: "he generally leave people with good feelings."

¡A-ya-ya-yay-ya-ya-yay! Many people would disagree with your statement Rafael Mandelman. For example, I'm sure the homeless and street people have "good feelings" about him. I could give many other examples.

One can always count on Mandelman to eat ass. It’s as if someone told him years ago that when he’s asked for a comment about some politician, “Never say anything that might offend ANYONE who supports the politician you're commenting on.” Be as mealy-mouthed, guarded, passive, bent-over and ass-eating as you can. That’s Mandelman. Ugh. My respect level for him is at zero.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 3:52 am