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The Man Who Came to Dinner 

Wednesday, Apr 7 1999

Page 2 of 3

I decided, however, to skip the non-PlumpJack burger and instead opted for the appetizer special, potato latkes with sliced salmon, followed by the porterhouse-style pork chop. Gavin remained true to his word, juggling his menu nervously for a second before instructing the waiter, "Just ... bring me the pasta. They know how to make it work."

"What blows me away," I told Gavin, "when I consider your job, is the sheer volume of issues that you need to learn about, know about, and decide about. It scares the hell out of me."

"Let me give you the good and bad news," Gavin replied. "It scares the hell out of you because you're being thoughtful about it. We have all these issues: Ninety percent of them, no one does any research, no one understands, but we pass them because we don't have the time. That's not a criticism of the board, it's a criticism of process, as you point out, that has 60 items a week, that are incredibly intense. But by definition, with two or three staff people, we'll never understand. And that's not good. It's a fundamental flaw with government.

"You're expected to be up on every damn issue. You're expected to be proactive on those issues and understand the details and minutiae. But we don't have the resources for that, and so we fake it -- because you expect it. So we act like we know what we're doing. We just act like it. I mean, we never admit that. If we admit that, then we're admitting that we're incompetent.

"But guess what: Half the time we don't know what we're talking about. And we are incompetent, because we don't have the time."

Sitting there listening to Gavin, it suddenly occurred to me: I'm not a reporter. Sure, sure, I'll write this up for the column, but this isn't my beat. Beets are my beat. You know, chitchat and dinner.

Nonetheless, I decided to rise to the occasion.
"So what would solve the problem?" I asked. "Twenty-two supervisors instead of 11?"

"No," answered Gavin. "I think it should be six, or seven rather. We don't need 11. More staff, fewer [elected] people, with much greater accountability. Much greater."

The waiter delivered a fairly amazing plate of potato latkes with smoked salmon, greens, and a sour cream kind of a thing. It was pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Gavin dug into a traditional Caesar salad.

"So, Washington?" I moved on. "Is that in your future?"
"Honestly," admitted Gavin, "if you love politics, and you want to make a difference, if you want to add as much value as you can, then you want to continue to grow because you'll have a greater influence, so hell ..."

"Yes," I finished for him.
"Of course. Why wouldn't I? I couldn't imagine one member of our city council not saying they want to do something greater. I'd love to be in Washington. Are you kidding? Love to be a senator. Love to be president of the United States. I'd love to. I'd love to be mayor.

"If I could wake up tomorrow and be mayor, and make executive decisions, and manage the bureaucracy, I'd be the happiest guy in the city. I really would. Now I just feel like sand on the beach. A wave comes in and you know, five years from now you'd never know there was a footstep there."

"So how old are you?" I asked, thinking of the 13-business empire and the seat on the Board of Supervisors.

"Thirty-one," said Gavin. "Just turned 31. That's another thing. I feel like I'm getting old. How old are you?"

"Thirty-one," I answered.
"See. Exactly. You feel my pain," joked Gavin.
You don't know the half it, I thought, considering the alternative-weekly column and the maxed-out credit cards.

The porterhouse-style pork chop arrived with sides of apple compote and mashed potatoes. Gavin's mystery pasta was in fact a linguine with duck confit.

In lieu of dessert Gavin and I opted for a conversation about his much-publicized pieing some time ago.

"I didn't really hear about it until the mayor got hit," I admitted.
"You see!" joked Gavin. "No one cares about a lowly supervisor. Even the mayor. I'll say this only because I'm not supposed to say it, but I got hit with a pie and then I saw the mayor two days later and the mayor said, 'What the hell happened?' I said, 'They got me with a pie,' and he started laughing. He said, 'Well, what kind of suit were you wearing?'

"Then of course he gets hit a week later and all of a sudden -- a serious issue. Of course his was a little more violent. Watching it, I must say, was more violent than receiving it. And in his case, you're the mayor of the city. It was wrong. And it may have been in good fun. But I was shaking for two hours. Because it did shock the hell out of me. I mean you didn't know what hit you. And then they hit you again. And they hit you again. And you're like: Well, what is this? Is there something that's in the pie that's laced? You know, acid or something? But they didn't even know why they were attacking me, which frustrated me because they could have easily called me, made their point in my office because I don't ever refuse, I'm happy to meet with them, literally."

And just when he wasn't looking I hit Gavin with a little verbal pie of my own, my Final Jeopardy question:

"So, Gavin. Why aren't we eating at PlumpJack?"
Suffice it to say Gavin had his reasons, and I had my Balboa.
As I made my way home that night I reflected on the politician I had just met, as well as the man. Lots of liberal rhetoric and pontification, as Gavin himself would surely call it. Lots of bleeding-heart sentiment. All of which I applaud, if it's backed up with action.

About The Author

Barry Levine

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