The SF Mayoral Race: Bevan Dufty
San Franciscans will see a fierce competition come to a head in less than two months. There are 16 contenders in the race to be San Francisco’s next mayor, and here at KALW News, we’re talking to all of them.
We’ve already heard from a wide range of candidates, including David Chiu, Leland Yee, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting, Tony Hall, Paul Currier, and Terry Baum.
But one candidate that might be familiar to some San Franciscans is former supervisor Bevan Dufty. Dufty served for eight years representing District 8, which includes the Castro, Twin Peaks, and Glen Park. If elected, he would be the city’s first openly gay mayor.
KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down with Dufty in the KALW studios and asked him to start off by talking about his neighborhood.
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BEVAN DUFTY: I’m Bevan Dufty. I was a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for eight years, and I’m one of 16 candidates for mayor in the 2011 election. I am lucky to live in the Lower Haight, and I can walk within two blocks and touch five different streetcars, which is super cool.
BEN TREFNY: The Lower Haight is one neighborhood in San Francisco that is actually a pretty ethnically diverse population. That’s been changing a little bit with the Western Addition and that sort of thing; there’s been gentrification of the Western Addition. Tell me your impressions of that and that aspect of that neighborhood.
DUFTY: I see myself as a candidate for mayor who’s running with a black agenda. I say, you don’t have to be black to have a black agenda. But our African American community is in crisis in San Francisco. Everybody running for mayor can tell you that we’re at 4% in the Census and there’s been an out-migration task force.
But in my opinion you need a mayor that every day is working to empower and make healthy a community that’s really been neglected and marginalized. We’ve probably lost more African American businesses in the last decade than in our city’s history. And sometimes people are leaving for valid reasons. There are certainly middle-class black families that are moving out to the suburbs for bigger homes, safe neighborhoods, and better schools. And so it’s a combination of factors that has brought this about.
But I think it’s a huge issue. I grew up in a black community; I grew up near Harlem. My mom worked in the Civil Rights Movement. My godmother was Billie Holiday. I worked for Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to serve in Congress. And I worked for mayor Willie Brown. But I can tell you, having grown up in New York, lived in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, we have no black middle class and we have the weakest black community anywhere. There are only five African American elected officials in San Francisco. And guess what, three of them have endorsed me and I’m proud of that.
TREFNY: So what do you do to retain or bring back the black population?
DUFTY: Well, a couple of things. First, you focus on businesses. I think that we have to have a two-pronged strategy. From the public sector, it’s difficult. There’ve been a lot of court decisions that have complicated minority business contracting. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the ‘70s, we started with a 10% set aside in a number of federal programs. It was fairly straightforward.
Now, it’s much more nuanced and complex. With local business ordinances, minority and women business ordinances, disadvantaged business ordinances, what you’re finding oftentimes in the public sector is that black firms and other minority firms are put into teams in order to meet goals that are established for minority business participation. But guess what: The prime wins that contract, and a black firm that might have 10% of the job gets a scope-of-work change where you negotiate with the city agency. And all of a sudden you go from 10% to 2% and your work doesn’t start until the third year of the contract.
What are you doing? You’re laying people off; your business isn’t really sustainable. So I feel that from the mayor’s office, we have to be looking at everything major that we’re doing. Whether it’s Lennar, whether it’s high speed rail, whether it’s America’s Cup, we’ve got to be looking for opportunities because those black-owned businesses are the most likely to hire, mentor, and elevate people who are African American working with them.
TREFNY: So you talked about trying to represent the interests of people who are leaving San Francisco. One other group that’s doing that is families. There’s a well-documented loss of families in San Francisco. You yourself are a father and your daughter is now going to a public school in San Francisco. I’d like to hear what you think is the problem in San Francisco that is causing families to leave? And what are you going to do about it?
DUFTY: We have a contract with the school system and during my time on the Board of Supervisors, I chaired the City and School District Committee. It was a committee that hadn’t met for a couple of years because it had become kind of a battleground where city supervisors would question and browbeat school district staff about different issues. And I said, let’s start over. Let’s think about how the city should be partnering with the school district. Let’s think about: How are we providing Muni services? How are we providing mental health services?
What we realize is, there’s a reason San Francisco has the highest percentage of non-public students of any major city in this country. That’s because the private, non-public schools have been really good at giving parents certainty, advanced knowledge of where their kid’s going to go, and are just really much competitive than we are in this city.
We changed this past year how school admissions are done. Fifty percent of it is now based on your neighborhood school, and 20% of the city is what’s called a CTIP, a Census Track Integration Plot, which means that you live in a neighborhood with a lower performing school, and you can get a preference to go to a neighborhood school that you may feel better about. So, I think the thing that we’ve got to do is create a success plan for each of our schools: our elementary, middle, and high schools.
A lot of it right now is around language immersion. If you see the schools that are rising, you look at Star King, for example, you look at Fairmont – these are schools that have language immersion programs. I think the studies have shown that if you want young children to be introduced to thinking in a bilingual manner, and being taught in that manner, it’s like brain food. It just percolates their thought process and their brain development and it’s very important.
TREFNY: What is another one of your top priorities that you would focus on as mayor?
DUFTY: Well, I’ve talked about a black agenda, so that’s very important to me, but I’m going to flip the script and tell you that as an 18-year city employee and someone who’s worked in public service all my life, I’m a believer that city government can be dynamic. I believe that we can be as competitive and creative as the Googles or the 10-person startups that explode that we all know about within a year or two.
I love the people that work for the city. As much as there is an anti-public employee sentiment, let me tell you, I can tell you by name the people that chase the stray dogs, that operate the 29 bus, that write the parking tickets, that work in the libraries, and that, sadly, I’ve met in the emergency rooms when I’ve had to see constituents who’ve been stabbed or shot. I know the people who work in this city. And they are great people.
What they need is a mayor that is not a straight-up politician. A mayor that is not trying to go somewhere, a mayor that is not going to tell you that the solutions to our problems lie outside our borders, and that’s why they bring in department head after department head from other parts of the country to come here, and guess what they find when they get here? They have to get their spouse a job, they have to get their kids in school, they have to find a house in this very expensive housing market, and then what do you get? You get a commission, anywhere from five to 11 people, you get 11 of us wild ones on the Board of Supervisors, you get a mayor, and you get tons of advocacy groups. And over and over again, I’ve seen people fail because they don’t understand San Francisco. Yes, we’re a process city, but we can work through that process if you have trust with people and know how to develop policy from a bottom-up basis and not drop it down like manna from heaven.