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A Jewelle for the City

Newsom’s Commission Appointments

By Sue Cauthen

Family, friends, and assorted pols turned out last Friday for Mayor Gavin Newsom's first big commission-appointments bash of 2005. The 10 new commissioners say as much about him as about the kind of people who get his attention.

He picked a writer for the Library Commission. A logical choice? Well, yeah. Except that prior mayors' picks, and most especially Willie Brown's, were obviously made to satisfy various constituencies and agendas (including his own). The result is that only a few of the present panel appear to have the appreciation for literature and education that should be the hallmark of a policy body that oversees 27 libraries and 2.3 million books.

At first glance, Jewelle Gomez looks like the real deal. An African-American lesbian activist, she has published several books, including a tome on vampires. She's also a poet. How she does as a politician is another matter. She's on the Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center board. She belongs to Friends of he Library. She knows the drill.

Newsom picked an architect for the Landmarks Preservation Board. Well, duh. But the difference here is that Alan Martinez was recommended by Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, an avid historic preservationist. Does this signal a new rapport between Room 200 and the supervisors? Insiders say the two savvy politicians maintain a healthy if guarded mutual respect. Each appreciates the other's ability to get things done. Peskin's intensity and deal-making skill match Newsom's laid-back bonhomie and a penchant for risk-taking and plain-speaking that surprises even his detractors.

Speaking of whom… Newsom must have been thinking of them when he appointed recently deposed Ethics Commission chair Michael Garcia to the Board of Appeals. All but the mayor’s stalwarts on the Board of Supervisors favored Eileen Hanson for Ethics. She’s a Castro district activist identified with progressive causes and easily got the nod for the vacant seat. The liberals hope Hanson's influence will alter the mindset of the existing body, which has been conspicuous for its reluctance to puncture establishment poohbahs. And Garcia's impact on the BOA? He's a securities expert and has worked as an industry arbitrator.


Among those schmoozing with the new library commissioner were Commissioner Steve Coulter, who serves with Gomez on the Hormel board, and a contingent from Friends of the Library. San Francisco Public Library's grassroots support group was conspicuous by its absence. SFPL didn't invite them.

Where does the new library commissioner stand on the books vs. computers debate? "I lean more toward books," she said. "But we need technology, too. You can't do one without the other."

Jewelle Gomez also thinks it's important to keep library facilities open as much as possible. Recent citywide hearings on SFPL's hours of operation resulted in a continuation of the status quo. In contrast to most other departments, SFPL gets a set-aside (from property taxes). This produced a $61 million budget for 2005-2006, an increase of about $2 million over the last year.

Gomez has a master's degree from the Columbia School of Journalism, which she attended on a Ford Foundation fellowship. Her first novel, a tale of vampires called The Gilda Stories, won two awards. She has published two volumes of poetry and headed the Poetry Center at San Francisco State.