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[For another interview with the outgoing supervisor, see Keith Gleason's "Matt Gonzalez Steps Away on Jan. 8" in the San Francisco Observer.]

Gonzalezís Final Exam

Scott Harrison interviews Supervisor Matt Gonzalez on his last night in office

Photos by Scott Harrison

January 7, 2005

Scott Harrison: Dir bul shchyl ubeshshchur skum vy so bu r l ez?

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 with?

MG: Libraries, of course.

SH: Can you name your favorite art gallery in San Francisco?

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 there too.

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 expected?

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 before.

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 him before.

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 jobs?

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 still shown.

SH: OK, same question from a different angle: How intelligently and efficiently are San Francisco tax dollars being spent?

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 so?

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 marching now?

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 cream..]