[For another interview with the outgoing supervisor, see
Keith Gleason's "Matt Gonzalez Steps Away
on Jan. 8" in the San
interviews Supervisor Matt Gonzalez on his last night in office
Photos by Scott Harrison
January 7, 2005
Dir bul shchyl ubeshshchur skum vy so bu r
Matt Gonzalez: Yezz. Chorrosko kal schuzz fm pggkaw lymm!
SH: You edited Jack Micheline's book:
sixty-seven poems for downtrodden saints. Will you now have time for more
editing? Will you be able to return to the long work by Jack Hirschman?
MG: Yes, Iíd love to finally get YOD out.
Politics has been a distraction from some of the things Iíd like to do.
But a necessary distraction, I should add. YOD has been waiting 30 years.
It can wait a couple more.
SH: You were showing me some really
fascinating volumes of poetry from your own library. I think more people
should know about writers like these. Can you run over some names?
MG: Weldon Kees comes to mind. The 50th
anniversary of his disappearance is coming up this July. He left his car
near the Golden Gate Bridge and had also spoken about disappearing to
Mexico. I think I showed you something by Carl Rakosi, who was a friend,
before he died at the age of 100. And I showed you a copy of Nazim Hikmet.
A title I like very much. ďThings I Didnít Know I Loved.Ē They are poems
written while he was in prison.
SH: If someone hated politics, what two or
three books could you suggest that might turn them around?
MG: Moby Dick, The Iliad, and The Beautiful
and the Damned.
SH: Whatís your advice to an intensely
idealistic young person who just canít believe the direction this country
is going in?
MG: It has been worse. History is filled, even
in this country, with instances of great injustice. Eugene Debs was
sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for speaking against WWI. He was
said to have interfered with the draft by suggesting no one should fight
an imperialistic war. He also lost his citizenship, as did over one
thousand other people in the same situation. It was just a crazy time. The
Espionage Act makes the Patriot Act look like skim milk.
SH: If you had never dropped into politics and
never had anything to do with law, what would you have gone into?
MG: Iíd have been a tobacco salesman like my
father, maybe. I donít know.
SH: If the Supreme Court of the United States
ruled (ha! ha!) that all modern jail and prison confinement was cruel
punishment and therefore illegal, what could we replace the whole system
MG: Libraries, of course.
SH: Can you name your favorite art gallery in
MG: Well, my favorite is the Charles Campbell
Gallery & the Art Exchange Gallery operated by Claire Carlevaro, which is
on the first floor of Charlesís gallery in North Beach. And I like George
Krevskyís gallery too. But there are many others now popping up around the
Mission. I have friends at Hackett-Friedman, and they have terrific shows
SH: Whatís your position on peach ice cream?
MG: Love it.
SH: Briefly speakingÖ ok, take as long as you
pleaseÖ how are the inner workings of City Hall different than you
MG: I expected it would be more about the
merits of an issue. But itís a lot about how something will affect
someoneís ability to get reelected. Iím sorry to say that is a major
preoccupation, particularly as folks get closer to election time. I mean,
just look at Barbara Boxer. During the race she comes out in support of
the death penalty and opposed to three strikes reform.
SH: If an honest and a fireball kind of person
were elected supervisor, what are the main obstacles stopping that person
from getting things done?
MG: I donít know, Iíve never seen this happen
SH: You got pretty close to being elected
mayor. Did you think you were going to win? Was it a great disappointment?
MG: Initially my thought was that the
progressives already in the race were going to lose badly. I got in the
race believing I could mount a strong challenge, but frankly I thought it
couldnít be done. But I was certain that without a strong challenge,
Newsom would win in a landslide and move on a conservative agenda.
After getting in the runoff, literally the day after,
as I heard Mayor Brown and others start attacking me for being a communist
and racist, well, I started thinking I was going to lose in the very
landslide I had foreseen for other candidates. Naturally, I worked hard to
represent progressive ideas and win the race. By the end, we started
thinking, hey, maybe itís possible.
Disappointment? Yes and no. It would have been a
great upset and fantastic for the Green Party. But hey, the progressives
came out on the whole much stronger than they were before, and Newsom has
moved to the left in an effort to curry favor with those who were against
SH: In some ways it seems that Newsomís moving
left may be your legacy.
MG: Perhaps, but Iíd rather think of the
minimum wage and IRV and the chain store legislation as my legacy. There
were other things, of course.
SH: Name names. Of all the elected officials
in this city, including local judges, who is the most sincere, direct,
honest, and principled?
MG: I like [Superior Court Judge] Rich Kramer
a lot. He cares about doing a good job, works hard at it, and understands
that peopleís lives are at stake. Heís got the gay marriage case now and I
hope he handles it well.
SH: Can you name a few people who work for the
city of San Francisco who are all but invisible but are doing magnificent
MG: Yes, I can, but if I name people, I donít
want anyone to think theyíre whistleblowers or anything like that. Theyíd
probably prefer being left out of this question.
SH: What about Rocky Road?
MG: So so. I donít have much of a sweet tooth.
SH: Where would you like to travel? What would
you like to see there?
MG: Iíd like to go to Peru. See Machu Picchu.
SH: If some local politicians have betrayed
you and others have disillusioned you, is there anyone who has surprised
and inspired you?
MG: Chris Daly was always filled with
surprises. He kept it very interesting over there. But inspiration. I
think that is too weighty a word.
SH: Some final words on Willie Brown.
MG: Heís a giant. Smarter and more
knowledgeable than almost everyone else. Thatís why heís so effective. I
mean, do you think itís an accident some poor black kid from Mineola,
Texas got to run the state of California?
Of course my interaction with him was primarily at
the end of his political career. He favored downtown interests over those
of the poor. He leaves a mixed legacy as a result.
SH: After seeing what has happened in Asia, is
San Francisco ready for the big earthquake that we know is coming?
MG: Well, we certainly have a better chance at
getting warned, but otherwise itís really speculation.
SH: Without naming names, how bad is the
direct, indirect, subtle, not so subtle, and the institutionalized
corruption in our city?
MG: It happens mainly through the awarding of
contracts. So that even if you have a public bid process, favoritism is
SH: OK, same question from a different angle:
How intelligently and efficiently are San Francisco tax dollars being
MG: I would say not well. We have a bloated
work force and when City Hall tries to address it ó well, itís always the
little guy that is being cut. Rarely do the administrators get cut. They
often just get shifted around to create the aura of change and efficiency.
SH: The local San Francisco media seems bought
and paid for by very non-progressive corporations. Even the San Francisco
Bay Guardian has articles of public or community interest not far from
full-page tobacco advertisements that help slaughter people. So my
question is: Where can a person go, including the internet, for great,
honest, noncommercial local news?
MG: I donít know. The alternative press is
pretty good on the whole. We could really use a new paper in town though.
I wish the San Jose Mercury News would try coming back.
SH: Have we reached the threshold where
businesses are more powerful than governments?
MG: No one really has ever posed it to me
quite that way, but yes, that is in effect what has happened. Itís
interesting, no matter what is going on with the local economy, the local
business community always has spare change to throw into political
campaigns, always just by coincidence against progressive candidates.
Rather than attack Green Party School Board candidates, who are teachers,
they could gather their forces and agree to amend Prop. 13, so that
commercial real estate could be assessed accurate property taxes. But they
wonít do that. Itís not in their interest. But they will grandstand as if
they really care about our schools.
Did you see that recently a Rand study showed San
Francisco at the bottom of nearly everything related to education. We have
the lowest test scores in the country. Itís really very embarrassing.
SH: Did Barry Bonds bury himself?
MG: I havenít followed it too closely. But Iíd
say that a defense that someone gave you steroids unknowingly would be
accompanied by a desire to prosecute that person for harming you that way.
I havenít heard that from Bonds yet.
SH: If 100,000 low, low priced housing units
had to be built, could San Francisco do it if it had the will enough to do
MG: I donít think so.
SH: What was your finest day in office?
MG: My brother got married, early in my
tenure, at City Hall. So, it was nice to be able to hold a reception in my
office. Naturally, I was very happy for him.
SH: Where are the armies of peaceful change
MG: Probably not marching too much. Just
trying to hold onto ground, Iíd say. But theyíll get going again soonÖ
[SH: This interview
was completed over a couple of bowls of Ben and Jerry's strawberry ice