Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, October 29, 2010

Only In S.F.: Gay, Rabbinical School Dropout Deemed Too Conservative

Posted By on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 3:20 PM

Does Mark Leno pass the progressive litmus test?
  • Does Mark Leno pass the progressive litmus test?

In recent weeks, we've pointed out that people are largely free to fornicate on the streets of San Francisco -- but dogs cannot. Prosecutors struggle to convict vandals -- as juries state that graffiti is not vandalism, but "art."

So, along those lines, only in San Francisco could a gay, rabbinical school dropout be deemed not progressive enough -- and subjected to political attack as a closet conservative.

There are legions of gay, rabbinical school dropouts. But the only one representing San Francisco in the state senate is Mark Leno. Entertainingly, Leno wasn't even studying to be a Conservative rabbi. He dropped out of the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College in the 1970s and headed to San Francisco.

Fast-forwarding to 2008, then-Assemblyman Leno did the unthinkable -- and ran against sitting Democratic state Senator Carole Migden. Trying to unseat a fellow party member is frowned upon. But Migden -- well, we can't say she was a train wreck. You can blame someone else for a train wreck.

click to enlarge Does Mark Leno pass the progressive litmus test?
  • Does Mark Leno pass the progressive litmus test?
Migden had gained notoriety for a bizarre, high-speed road rampage in which she terrorized a number of drivers into calling 911, and eventually came to rest up against the bumper of a woman named Ellen Butawan -- costing the state $335,000 in settlement money. Add to the Mad Max driving the fact that Migden racked up a massive fine for campaign fundraising violations, and was well-known for high-decibel outbursts at her underlings.

If nothing else, this set up another only-in-San Francisco dynamic: Two gay Jews duking it out for the Democratic nomination. And, in this town, the Democratic nomination is akin to the Niners-Cowboys NFC Championship Game during the glory years. The other conference -- be it the AFC or the Republicans -- doesn't factor in.

In any event, the editors of the San Francisco Bay Guardian -- essentially, the self-anointed popes of the "progressive movement" -- deigned to endorse Leno. To Chris Daly -- the Martin Luther of the "progressive movement" -- this would not do.

Rather than nail up 95 theses on a cathedral door, Daly instead printed up thousands of misleading placards implying the Guardian actually endorsed Migden -- and had them hung on San Franciscans' doors.

Daly justified his chicanery when called on it: "I'm unhappy too. You endorsed Mark Leno, who is not a progressive."

Silly Daly: In this town, the notion of progressivism is tautological. You must be a progressive to get the Guardian endorsement, but only getting the Guardian endorsement qualifies you as a progressive. And the Guardian's definition of a progressive? Agreeing with the Guardian.

"I don't put much weight in these labels, but I can tell you my colleagues in Sacramento get a kick out of the fact this is debatable in San Francisco," Leno says. "Someone wanted to know if my politics changed when I got to Sacramento. I said the landscape changed. Put me on an 11-member Board in San Francisco, half are to my left and half are to my right. But among 80 assembly members or even 120 legislators, I'm going to be tipping off the left edge. These terms are all relative."

In any event, Leno won. Now, only in San Francisco can citizens say they're led by a gay, rabbinical school dropout state senator -- and gripe about his progressive credentials.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF

and @SFWeekly  

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

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.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"