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Using Arnold to Get Gavin 

After watching the mind games of Pumping Iron, mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez talks of turning slick political marketing against itself

Wednesday, Oct 8 2003
Though the pageant of the recall race that ended Tuesday was wildly entertaining, it also represented a quandary for public-service-oriented publications such as SF Weekly. The recall's shadow obscured a San Francisco mayor's race that promises to be one of the more important in recent memory. Two alumni from the 1999 S.F. progressive revolution, Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez, are competing against millionaire political progeny Angela Alioto for a chance at entering a runoff with Getty Oil Fortune artifact Gavin Newsom. Whoever wins will lead the struggle to pull San Francisco out of a series of fiscal, economic, and bureaucratic crises with no clear road map.

At SF Weekly, we take our obligations to the community seriously. In the spirit of providing news-you-can-use, this column begins a series aimed at drawing San Francisco voter attention away from the pump-you-up theatrics of the recall and back to the mayor's race, where it belongs. I'll spend quality time with mayoral candidates, pushing beyond the recall hype to examine issues San Francisco voters care about.

We'll begin with a figure of statewide political stature. As the Green Party president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Matt Gonzalez is California's highest-ranking politician affiliated with a political party other than the big two. His candidacy has been billed as a progressive-left insurgency, filling a space many radical San Francisco voters believe has been vacated by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, whom they see as having moved toward the center.

More to the point, Gonzalez called me last week after reading a column in which I said he'd make a lousy mayor. Wishing to get back on his good side I invited him to join me for a movie and drinks. He graciously accepted. (I swear I didn't know G-man was the subject of this week's cover story until after my deadline. Swear.)

After catching the movie Pumping Iron -- a documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger's use of psychological warfare in winning the 1975 Mr. Olympia title -- at the Roxie Cinema, Gonzalez, his campaign treasurer, Randy Knox, and I looked for a place to drink and chat, on the record. In keeping with the surreal 2003 campaign season mood, we jaywalked across Valencia Street directly in front of a stopped police car. The officer in the passenger seat suggested we might have taken the crosswalk. Gonzalez said, "Yeah, whatever," and the officer, bald as a kitchen floor, stepped out of the car with his ticket book, rose to his full 4-foot-11-inch height, and said he'd write us all $110 tickets.

Gonzalez, a former public defender apparently accustomed to jiving cops, said, "Whatever, man. If you want to write a ticket, just write it. But I don't want to hear your lecture."

I froze with bemusement. Gonzalez stood with his shoulders thrown back in the classic "fuck this fuckin' shit" stance. Knox, a local attorney, was forced to do the work of three men in sucking up to the cop. We were eventually sent on our way sans citations. We found a lonely bar, Knox bought a round of beers, I replaced the batteries in my tape recorder, and we had a debate on issues important to San Franciscans until nearly 2 a.m., an edited version of which follows.

SF Weekly: This thing's voice activated. Oh, there you go. Did you like the movie?

Matt Gonzalez: Yeah.

SFW: Really? You liked it?

MG: I actually enjoyed it. I expected it would show a side of Arnold that would reveal him for who he really is and all that. I had that anticipation based on what was said to me about the film. This kind of psychological stuff he engages in and all that, and I didn't think that was so prevalent. I thought he was likable. What did you think of it?

SFW: He actually seemed less fucked up than most really, really top-level athletes.

MG: I was interested in how the judging in that competition was so subjective. It's not how fast you're going to reach the finish line. It's not how strong you are. It's really subjective rather in terms of aesthetic ... in terms of somebody's appearance. I think that can be true of politics. I think this governor's race has underscored that. The clichés you hear, the appeal to the public, the winning over of public confidence with something that's done in a subjective way.

I think that there's certainly a corollary to the type of marketing that's been presented to San Francisco voters. I think that at election time it's effective to promise a lot. To speak in clichés, and to, you know, get your package together. Newsom, when I first got into the debate, I went to about three forums with him, and he gave the same speech every time, either at the beginning or the end. He wanted to be a unifier. He didn't want to be a mayor for the left or the right. He wanted to be a mayor for everyone.

SFW: Can we correspond the characters we saw in the movie with people in the mayor's race?

MG: ... I'm not sure I could be projecting myself into the world of bodybuilders competing with Arnold.

SFW: What about another role. Say you're the director, or producer, of this film?

MG: Let me just say this. I don't think I get psyched out.

(Editor's note: In the film Pumping Iron, bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a friendly-seeming breakfast with the family of challenger Louis Ferrigno to smilingly taunt his opponent, leaving him a psychological wreck.)

MG: If I lose the race, it's because I'm going to get beat, it's not going to be because I thought someone was stronger than me, or something like that. But I'd been told about that part of the film, so I was waiting to see the level of psychological manipulation there was. But the truth is I thought it was fairly tame. I thought it was playful.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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