The SF Mayoral Race: Cesar Ascarrunz
In the 1960s, an immigrant from Bolivia landed in the Bay with big dreams.
Cesar Ascarrunz attended UC Berkeley and USF before he decided to try his hand at owning a business. Soon, he was running three restaurants in North Beach and eight nightclubs around the city and, including Cesar's Latin Palace, one of the city’s most famous places to hear salsa.
In 1984 and 1988 he ran, unsuccessfully, for San Francisco’s top office, and now he’s giving it another try.
KALW’s Ben Trefny has been talking with all 16 candidates for mayor in our continuing coverage of the SF mayoral race. In this interview, Ascarrunz explains why he’s running for mayor.
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BEN TREFNY: I’d like to start off by talking about your neighborhood.
CESAR ASCARRUNZ: I live in San Francisco for the last 40 years, a couple of years in the Mission District. After that they built a house for me in Bernal Heights, my very beautiful house – seven-bedroom house at the end, it was the biggest house. I moved to Diamond Heights just off Glen Park. I lived there for 25 years.
TREFNY: So tell me what you think of the Bernal Heights, Mission, and Diamond Heights neighborhoods.
ASCARRUNZ: The neighborhoods before I moved to the Mission District, my business in the ‘70s, was very dark – let me put it that way. There was a lot of crime, a lot of drugs, it was dark. At 6 o’clock, that was the end of the Mission District, including Bernal Heights and Excelsior. So when I opened Cesar’s Latin Palace in the ‘70s, I moved my business, I started bringing the light and chasing the crime out and chasing the rats away, bringing to Cesar’s Latin Palace one of the best known clubs in the world.
TREFNY: What are your top three priorities for the city of San Francisco?
ASCARRUNZ: I want to cap the corruption and the administration of the city and county of San Francisco. I want to cut corruption completely. And I’m not against the police department or fire department – I need good reinforcement. But last year in the Chronicle, front page, they put the chief of the police department made $567,000 in wages in one year. It’s there in the police records. I’m not making it up.
So the deputy chiefs, they work nine to five. They’re executives. They give to him $300,000 sick leave and $320,000. So together almost $1.2 million.
TREFNY: Now I understand that you’re saying that there are too many people in public office, they’re getting paid too much money. There are too many city employees. However with the system established as it is with so many people in political power making such decisions and being paid however much money, how would you coming in as an outsider possibly change that as dramatically as you’re talking about?
ASCARRUNZ: No, it’s very simple. When they retire, I will never get another person to replace him. Simple.
TREFNY: At best you can only have two terms as mayor.
ASCARRUNZ: That’s okay. They want to retire, they retire. Also I’m going to tell you: When one retires, I will not replace that one. I will have four security guards from the outside that are well-trained, don’t get me wrong – they are as good as the police department with guns. Fifty-thousand dollars each. I will get four for one. If they retire 10, I will have how many? Forty. If they retire 100, I will have 400 police on the streets, not on-call. We will have a fantastic city with police protection.
TREFNY: With privatized police protection.
ASCARRUNZ: Not privatizing, just contracted police protection.
TREFNY: So you talked about corruption in public office, you talked about how government is too big in San Francisco. What would be another priority of yours if you became mayor of San Francisco?
ASCARRUNZ: The money we waste on the homeless. We almost expend $800 million on homeless, on 12,000-15,000 homeless. This is the most disgraceful thing for me to even mention that. We expend almost $20 million suggesting a few people in the hospital business. Why didn’t he take care of that? Why do the guys that don’t care of that, they patronizing corruption?
TREFNY: So what’s your solution to homeless in San Francisco? Gavin Newsom had an idea of Care not Cash, which has been implemented in different ways to try to put money into services rather than giving checks to homeless people. So what would be your solution? Or would you let them fend for themselves?
ASCARRUNZ: They have been in San Francisco for the last 30-50 years. Fourteen to 15 schools have been closed – you know, safety. Excellent shape. You know what I will do? Instead of fixing the schools, I’ll petition and make room for the homeless, we don’t have to pay anything. We will save millions and millions of dollars.
TREFNY: So these would be places for them to sleep?
ASCARRUNZ: It’s a classroom. Let’s say it’s this big – that’s a beautiful housing. They have showers, water, they have everything in there in those schools. Sometimes you have to give them back their dignity, treat them like nice human beings. That’s what I did in Cesar’s Latin Palace – many benefits for homeless.
TREFNY: It’s interesting that you bring that up because a lot of homeless people are located in the Tenderloin in single-room occupancy hotels. And you’re talking about spreading perhaps the housing out around the city. There’s an issue recently in the Marina District where there was an idea to have foster kids who age out of the system live in the transitional housing in the Marina, but there’s been a lot of public outcry for bringing the possibilities of crime or lack of supervision to a different part of San Francisco. In the end, though, a lot of the Tenderloin is in a way ghetto-ized with people who are having trouble finding housing or getting on their feet. So you’re thinking about spreading this around the city more.
ASCARRUNZ: Exactly. They have those schools in nice neighborhoods. Maybe it’s not in the Marina, but there are enough capacity to put the 10,000 or 12,000 homeless. You know how much we pay for each room in the Tenderloin hotels? Eighty-five dollars a night. The best hotels in the country that are in San Francisco are for the homeless – wow, what a beautiful racket, let me put it this way.
TREFNY: So you clearly have strong opinions about ways the city should be run differently, but it’s been run the same way or similarly for quite a while. There’s a lot of political power within certain groups and a lot of elected officials, of whom there are many qualified elected officials running for mayor. How if you came into power in San Francisco would you be able to change it?
ASCARRUNZ: Oh yes, very simple. I’m a professional businessman. I used to have 200-600 employees myself. I have to know how to make money to pay the people every week.
TREFNY: This would now be tens of thousands of people.
ASCARRUNZ: This is nothing – it’s the same principle. I have the degree from college from South America studying business administration. And also I enhance my education at UC Berkeley and USF…
TREFNY: But there would be tremendous resistance.
ASCARRUNZ: I don’t think so. Because you know why? I work for the people; the people don’t work for me. That’s the difference. I made the Mission District the way it is, the Excelsior, I made myself with my money, with Cesar’s Latin Palace, 29 billboards all over the Bay Area for one year. Nobody did that and nobody will.
TREFNY: So in one minute can you tell me your pitch for why people should vote for you to be mayor.
ASCARRUNZ: I always tell people in the streets, I put 50-100 in my pocket, this flyer, and I tell them, “Do you know of the gentlemen who’s running for mayor?” They tell me, “No.” I tell them very simple: Please vote for the people you know; not the people who just want you to know, or pushing you to the media, or to whatever advertisement. You’re shaking my hand, right?” I tell the people. “Sir, I’m voting for you.” All kinds of people: black, Chinese, Latinos – the Latino vote I got it. God is giving me the Latino vote.
And you don’t have to vote for me. Vote for the people they deserve, San Francisco. Even Senator Leland Yee told me, “You are special, Cesar. You care very much for San Francisco.”
This is my town, this is my city, and I have to protect because I don’t owe nothing to nobody, and nobody doesn’t have to tell me, “You owe me something.”
TREFNY: Do you think you’ll win?
ASCARRUNZ: Yes sir.