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Monday, July 6, 2009

What the Hell Was John Getzow, Serial Evictee and 'Tenant From Hell,' Doing Hosting a Healthcare Symposium at Glide Memorial Church?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Getzow's photo on
  • Getzow's photo on
Last week we reported on how "Dr." John Getzow -- a serial evictee profiled in an SF Weekly cover story -- successfully stiffed the eighth San Francisco landlord to sue him for nonpayment of rent. We speculated we'd see Getzow's name come up again before too long -- and we were right. But we were surprised at where he turned up -- hosting a panel discussion on health care last week held at Glide Memorial Church and featuring a high-ranking city official he'd personally convinced to attend. That's quite a nifty place to be for a man who, just earlier that month, had signed off on a deal in which he walked off owing his landlords $4,500 in back rent -- and they were thrilled just to see him go.

Speakers at the June 27 "Healthcare Reform Event" included Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide and Dr. Mitch Katz, the director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health. How does a serial evictee -- who has claimed to be a doctor yet is not licensed to practice medicine in this state -- convince the city's top doc to come and speak on his panel?

"John came into our office and said he was working in Gavin Newsom's office. He also said he'd been associated with St. Luke's," said Eileen Shields, the spokeswoman for DPH. "John was presenting himself as working with City Hall, and Mitch is the director of health. How could he say no? John Getzow gets that."

Getzow's photo on
  • Getzow's photo on
While Getzow did volunteer for Newsom's re-election campaign, mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard tersely noted that "we have no ties with Getzow or this event." As for St. Luke's Hospital, spokesman Kevin McCormack said he couldn't find a single mention of Getzow in any of his databases -- even as a volunteer. "Maybe he was a patient. Or maybe he just walked by the building one day. But there's no official connection I can find -- or even unofficial."

As for how Getzow managed to get his event housed at Glide, building manager Vicky Lee confirmed that Getzow is a member of the church's choir. Calls to Williams were not returned; staff claimed he is on vacation.

Katz downplayed any notions he was hoodwinked into attending an event conceived and hosted by a charlatan. "It is a strange dynamic being a public health official. He said he was intersted in doing a session to support federal health reform. How could I be against that?"

The DPH director and others did notice, however, that Getzow's claims to be a doctor were an on-again, off-again proposition. E-mails obtained from the DPH via a public records request indicate that Getzow repeatedly signed his name "John Getzow, M.D." Yet on the list of panelists for his event he conspicuously referred to Katz as a medical doctor -- but not himself.

In reporting last year's cover story, SF Weekly's John Geluardi discovered Getzow is not licensed in this state to practice medicine. Indeed, on Getzow's LinkedIn page, all of his career experience is in the IT field. On that page, Getzow lists two of his alma maters as the "U.S. Navy School of Health Sciences" and "Mt. Sinai School of Medicine of CUNY." There are multiple U.S. Naval Schools of Medicine -- and this is not an M.D.-granting institution; it trains naval medical officers. Officials at Mt. Sinai are checking whether Getzow ever attended that school; they have not yet given us an answer. 

Finally, the question remains, what reason did Getzow have for organizing a health care symposium? Lee says that all the money Getzow collected by passing around the hat  went to the proper place. Also, the event was sparsely attended -- roughly half of the 60-odd folks who showed up were volunteers drawn there by Getzow's posting of the event on the Obama-related Web site "Organizing for America," according to event co-organizer Malia Cohen. 

One panelist speaking on condition of anonymity speculated that "He's doing something good. This is a way of making him feel good." Perhaps. Certainly pulling together a symposium featuring Katz and Williams makes Getzow look good.

None of the folks at Glide, the DPH, or co-organizer Cohen were aware of Getzow's history; none managed to notice a cover story exposing his past in our 100,000-circulation weekly newspaper. Google "John Getzow" and see what you get.

When we called Getzow, however, he angrily barked "I'm very upset with your newspaper," and hung up on us.

At least somebody is reading our stories about him.


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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