Every Friday evening, for the better part of the last three months, most of the candidates for mayor have been meeting in Civic Center Plaza for a Candidates Collaborative Debate. It's been something of a circus each week, with disruptive exhibitionists like George Davis the Nudist and Grasshopper Kaplan the Maniacal Taxi Driver vying for attention, not to mention a few planted crazies in the tiny audience.
Last Friday was to be the 11th, penultimate edition and through a convoluted series of backstabbing among the "collaborative" and just plain fate, I ended up playing the "moderator" for friend and candidate h. brown while the rest of the candidates decamped to Castro and Market for a "road" edition. For an account of that "debate," check out today's article in Fog City Journal by clicking here. For an account of why this was a crappy deal, check out SF Willie's take by clicking here. Also, you can read the questions Willie asked me to put to the candidates, which turned out to be extraordinarily helpful. My favorite was "4. What programs will you implement to give SF’s rich people something useful to do?"
I'll let h. brown tell the story of what actually happened on Friday evening:
"I was at the end of my rope. Not ready to quit, mind you. That’s not the way my family operates. But, when the entire 2007 San Francisco Mayoral Candidates Collaborative announced that they were giving up the vigil under the Mayor’s balcony, I figured my lone appearance there would go pretty much unnoticed. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
You don’t need a bulldozer when a tea spoon will do. While everyone around me screams of more people and press and gaudier presentations, my retort has always been that simple weekly portraits of the individual candidates in front of a microphone with City Hall and the Mayor’s balcony in the background was all any campaign for the office needed. That’s always been my view of the value of these Friday debates. No matter how badly the rest of your campaign was going, you could always get together with your fellow competitors for an hour and a half each Friday after work and try to entice the Mayor to join you. That, and the few pictures.
With, of course, global distribution. Which, most of the people reading this take for granted as a natural right and which I as a senior citizen am simply and totally blown away by."
h. writes of being extremely discouraged, but he decides to show up anyway, and continues:
"It was like Christmas. Since week 1 I’d been pushing the Mayor’s Office to set us up with a small stage and a sound system and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, as I lugged Eileen’s amp into Civic Center was the cutest little stage. Oh, maybe 12X15. The deck was at least a full inch of plywood and it was mounted on a heavy metal frame complete with rails around 3 sides. Stout stairs rose to the platform at the back of the left side and they too had rails. What a thing of beauty.
Tony D. and I grinned broadly and walked all around it looking for signage telling us to stay the hell off of the structure. There was none. I carried the little portable amp with its new mic and cord up and did a check. All worked perfectly. It was hard to believe that the first week the other candidates bailed from the vigil, a perfect happenstance stage appeared. I was sitting on the edge of the stage waiting for Michael Strickland when I noticed Newsom’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard standing a few yards away talking on a cell phone.
Why do officials leave City Hall and walk across the street to talk on cell phones? For two reasons. The first (we’re talking about Michael Cohen) is to smoke a cigarette. The second, believe it or not, is because it’s illegal to do campaign business in City Hall and many of them actually take that seriously. Anyway, I took the opportunity to meet the guy whom I don’t believe I’d ever actually been introduced to.
“Hey, are you Nathan Ballard?” Of course he knew who I was. Gavin’s handlers are pit bulls and they take no chances. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching his rise from a front row box seat. I asked Ballard if they’d put the stage out there for the Collaborative and he didn’t say ‘no’. Later we figured out that it must have been set up early for the next day’s huge peace march but whatever, it sure was a sweet set-up. Hell, maybe Ballard was there because he thought we’d put up the stage. He was probably phoning to have us busted when I called out to him. Tony D. said later that when he went by to walk his dogs, they had a fence up completely surrounding the whole structure. Anyway, Ballard spoke and I appreciated that."
"I told Ballard that he should get me 5 minutes of film with the Mayor just to tweak my ‘comrades’ who had deserted the siege to go to the Castro (where they drew 20 people). He looked and scratched his chin and pondered and I got Mike Farrah (Senior Adviser to the Gavster) headed out to his family on the other side of the stage and got him on film too. Farrah is probably the best balanced person working out of Room 200."
All of this was being filmed, by the way, and you can see the Google Video of all 53 minutes by clicking here. The "debate" starts at about 12:30 minutes into the Google video and it's essentially a series of monologues by h. brown that are funny, thoughtful, profane and outrageous in about equal measure. It was an unexpectedly lovely evening, and a pleasant little crowd.