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The Chick Factor 

He's idealistic, he's good-looking, and he's even a great listener

Wednesday, Aug 20 2003
To hear Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez tell it, his recent decision to run for mayor and infuriate left iconettes Tom Ammiano, Angela Alioto, and Susan Leal went something along the lines of Sally Field's 1984 Oscar realization that "I can't deny the fact that you like me! You like me!"

"How it went down was, there was a growing sense among progressive members of the Board of Supervisors -- Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, and myself -- that this mayor's race was looking more and more like we were just going to hand the Mayor's Office to Gavin Newsom," said Gonzalez, after I grabbed his sleeve during a campaign-volunteer organizing meeting at a Haight Street cafe Saturday. "The three of us started to examine what sorts of things might be possible," Gonzalez added, while graciously allowing my 8-month-old daughter Libby to repeatedly pull his hair.

Lefty San Franciscans, traumatized by Newsom's wildly successful "Care Not Cash" anti-homeless-persons campaign, had for months been pining after the idea that a heavyweight such as Carole Migden or John Burton might enter the race. Apparently not quite ready for small time, both have declined.

"I thought Peskin would be a great candidate. He's in a crossover district. North Beach likes him, and he could get the progressive vote," Gonzalez recalled.

No shirker, Peskin three weeks ago commissioned a random poll of 600 San Franciscans asking how various S.F. politicos would fare against the current mayoral field. A mere 18 percent of respondents supported Peskin -- about the same as Ammiano and Alioto are polling now. Daly drew 20 percent. Popular City Attorney Dennis Herrera and equally popular Public Defender Jeff Adachi -- neither of whom has expressed interest in running -- polled in the low 30s.

And sleepy-eyed Matt Gonzalez, bless his soul, polled at 36 percent, a figure that suggested his group of admirers might be wider than he'd dreamed of.

"It was the first time I'd given [a mayoral candidacy] any thought at all; I'd always said it wasn't going to happen. I mean, when I ran for district attorney I received a total of only 20,000 votes," Gonzalez said.

Judging from the turnout of campaign volunteers at the Haight cafe, it should have been clear all along that at least one group out there really, really does like him.

To politely paraphrase James Carville, leftist political gatherings don't generally draw attractive women. This one did. Of the 20 or so people at the cafe signing up to canvass for Gonzalez, about a quarter were better-than-average-looking women in their 20s and 30s. I don't mean beads 'n' patchouli good-looking, mind you; this core Gonzalez constituency wouldn't have been out of place in a liquor ad. Several of them stood around looking mildly nervous until the candidate approached, whereupon they lit up, talked enthusiastically, and gestured emphatically as if on a first date, until Gonzalez excused himself and moved on to someone else, whereupon they went back to looking downcast.

It appears that by accident the city's political left wing has happened upon a gold mine: single, straight, disenfranchised San Francisco women. Oh, sure, Willie Brown fancies himself a ladies' man, as long as the ladies' taste runs toward old, bald, squinting fops -- albeit rich and powerful ones. And, oh, yes, there's rich pretty-boy Gavin Newsom; he's the kind of guy this caucus has been disappointed by a thousand, thousand times. Attend Newsom events and you'll see lots of young, slim, fashionably dressed men; you'll see nothing like Gonzalez's 25 percent ratio of besotted women.

The city's long been alive with gay men's politics, Irish politics, Asian-American politics, businessmen's politics, etc. Has the time come for straight, single women's politics?

Had they recognized this election's sleeper constituency early on, the bourgeois bohemians on the Board of Supes needn't have squandered on a poll. Peskin certainly has charm -- he's athletic, intelligent, gregarious -- but he's also hirsute, pedantic, and married. Daly's self-confident, very, very self-confident; but he's mildly overweight, can come across as arrogant, and is likewise married.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, is a rumpled, single, socialist lawyer who holds art openings in his City Hall office as if they were affairs of state. He's a San Francisco version of François Truffaut, a guy who looks French yet has a Spanish last name. He spouts dreamy, highly impractical ideas like rescuing the city's economy with city-built tidal energy plants. He's a man of the people who'd like local government to enter the financial-services business with a new municipal bank. Another plank: blaming our current economic malaise on 1999 opponents of office-construction limits. Lately, Gonzalez has taken to defending the valor of the homeless, verbally pistol-whipping hotel owners who posted bus ads encouraging tourists to snub beggars. He's the kind of guy who leads with his heart, who's guided more by ideals than practicalities -- he's the kind of guy a girl just wants to hug.

Gonzalez is also the sort who's not averse to helping out once in a while around the house. His campaign to raise the local minimum wage is good policy, if of limited reach -- very few San Franciscans make anything near as low as minimum wage. And he told me he'd like to reform the payroll tax, a form of government fund-raising that, by definition, discourages jobs.

Most important of all for this constituency, Matt Gonzalez is a great listener. I once saw him during a board hearing beckon Residential Builders Association President Joe O'Donoghue, a political opponent who talks for hours without inhaling, back to the dais twice because Gonzalez wanted to fully understand O'Donoghue's words. Gonzalez is the only person I've ever interviewed who suffers a tic requiring him to periodically say, "So that's my view; what do you think?"

Political bookmakers take note: Matt Gonzalez is the man a certain overlooked segment of San Francisco has waited all her life for.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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