Matt Gonzalez & San Francisco’s Green Earthquake

Against the Current, No. 108, January/February 2004

Rich Lesnik

PERHAPS THE LABEL “upstart” isn’t quite appropriate for Matt Gonzalez, who was narrowly defeated by a Democratic Party artillery/bombing campaign late in the campaign for Mayor of San Francisco.

Gonzalez, the son of Mexican immigrant parents from Texas, became a member of the Green Party some three years ago when campaigning for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (SF’s name for city council). He’d become increasingly fed up with the ineptness and lack of will of Democrats to confront the increasing blight of corporate power in the nation’s cities, and around the world.

Over the course of three years as a Supe, his clear voice and uncompromising stand on such important issues as corruption, nepotism and cronyism in commission appointments, and the problems of the city’s homeless population, gained him popularity and ultimately the presidency of the board.

Gonzalez announced his campaign for mayor relatively late in the general election (a mere three months before the vote), and in a field of nine candidates (three of them self-proclaimed “progressives”) came in second, forcing a runoff against J. Paul Getty protegee Gavin Newsom.

Newsom had announced his intention to run for mayor a year earlier, and raised $3.8 million against Gonzalez’s $450,000, for the runoff. Late in the drive, as Gonzalez’s popularity became increasingly clear, the Democrats pulled out all the stops, with campaign visits by Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and a media blitz against Gonzalez accusing him of being a communist, a Marxist, a “radical” and, worst of all, “unwilling to cooperate with big business.”

Newsom: Remove the Homeless

A major issue of contention between the two campaigns was how to address the problems of SF’s homeless population. Newsom had earlier sponsored a ballot measure, entitled “Care Not Cash,” which would have stripped welfare benefits from homeless people, with no promise of the “care” the measure supposedly would substitute.

This was nothing more than a bald-faced move to sweep the homeless off the streets of SF, so the city’s image of “America’s most beautiful city” could be maintained or restored, and millions/billions of tourist dollars to stoke the coffers of the city’s wealthy ncreased.

Gonzalez’s approach seeks to address the problems of the homeless community, through a series of measures designed to help the helpless overcome emotional and substance dependency problems, and find permanent low-cost housing alternatives.

Newsom is a landlord. Gonzalez is a renter. Newsom is a “car freak,” Gonzalez doesn’t own a car and rides his bicycle to work. Newsom’s career and business have been bankrolled by the Getty family. Gonzalez, who graduated from Columbia University and Stanford Law School on scholarships, has had a lifetime of service in the public defenders’ office and as a member and president of the city’s board of supervisors.

Activist Groundswell

Essential to the Gonzalez campaign was a groundswell of active support from thousands of youthful (and some not so youthful) volunteers during the last month of the campaign. The Newsom campaign was virtually invisible, while the Gonzalez campaign had parties, meetings, benefits, public events, and lots of distribution of literature and information throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

This was an important element in forcing the media to cover the campaign a little more fairly, though the pro-Newsom bias was clear from the tone of most of the coverage in the city’s major corporate media.

The proof of Gonzalez’s popularity was a relatively high turnout, and a big margin at the ballot box (Gonzalez won by 10,000 at the polls). What proved insurmountable was Newsom’s early advantage in the early- and absentee-vote, where his margin was 20,000.

Gonzalez and the Green Party garnered 48% percent overall, despite the major Democratic Party onslaught, proving that a real third-party alternative to both parties of big business can capture the imagination of the electorate, and even might win an election one day soon.

The election is over, and almost all the Newsom signs have disappeared from the house windows. But all over the city, Gonzalez for Mayor signs remain posted in neighborhood homes, leading me to believe that the next four years are going to be difficult for Newsom, and an exciting time of preparation for the next Democratic-Green confrontation in San Francisco.

ATC 108, January-February 2004