Matt Gonzalez Interview: Races for Mayor,
District Attorney and Sheriff Discussed

Written by Harold Brown. Posted in News, Politics

Published on August 07, 2011 with 8 Comments

h. Brown. Photo by Luke Thomas.

By h. “Bulldog” Brown, special to Fog City Journal.

August 7, 2011

Noonish Saturday at Gonzo’s apartment on Hayes, a few doors down from Alamo Square Park.

The weather is great and the tourists are out in droves. There are at least a half-dozen different languages distinguishable in the conversations on the 5 Fulton on the way over from the Tenderloin. And, lots of maps. The big political conversation in the City is the inevitability of Interim Mayor Ed Lee’s election in his own right to the post in November. From Daly’s bar to the deputies at City Hall, everyone thinks the little guy with the stache can’t be stopped, by anyone.

Bulldog: So, what do you think, Matt?

Matt: The Kurt Schwitters exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum is excellent.

Bulldog: So’s the strong coffee with bourbon and the great Cuban cigar and the weather. But, put succinctly, they’re saying that Lee is 25 points up on all of the other candidates in the race. You had a similar situation in 2003 when you entered on the last day and ended up ‘losing’ by a few thousand votes. If you or Adachi, or both, entered this week, could you beat him?

Matt: In my contest, (Gavin) Newsom had 42 percent in the first round. So 35 percent is very strong, but I wouldn’t say the race is over. And that’s assuming it was a valid poll.

Bulldog: Yeah, I think he’s a paper dragon who’ll fall apart in the campaign winds and we’ll end up with Yee or Herrera. I also don’t believe the polls. You up for a run?

Matt: I served one four-year term in office and left nearly 7 years ago. I don’t think anyone is on the edge of their seats waiting for me to jump into a contest. And more importantly, it isn’t something I want now. If I had wanted to stay in politics, I’d have run for reelection. The Nader run in ‘08 was an unexpected return to politics for me, rather than some indication I was eager to be in office. In effect, I was a stand-in for Peter Camejo who was dying of cancer.

Bulldog: It isn’t about whether you want to run. You didn’t want to run in 2003. You have more positive name recognition than anyone in the race now. I’m again, guessing that in mid-October, after Stearns and his crew have made stew of Chiu, and Alioto-Pier’s done the same to Yee, and they turn on Herrera (Lee will have been destroyed by October 1st) … voters will be saying, “Thank God Matt got in to give us a choice.” It’s a public service and the creative core of San Francisco needs you. You’ll be the only major candidate in the race not trying to make yourself or your friends rich. Talk to me about that and John Avalos and Terrie Baum.

Matt: If you have polling data to support your claims, show me. But honestly, and I don’t mean this flippantly, I spend more time thinking about the Kurt Schwitters show I just saw then the mayor’s race.

I like Terrie and John fine. I just don’t believe in them. Perhaps I’m cynical, or maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but I don’t think that if he were elected, John is going to transform City Hall in any meaningful way.

Bulldog: You mean you don’t believe they can be elected? I think Baum’s a pure Green and you’ve backed her before. On Avalos, I like the guy, too, but I’ve seen him join too many bad 11-0 votes to think he’s gonna be the next Ataturk. So, what about Jeff Adachi? Any chance he’ll enter now that his Pension Reform signatures have passed muster with the elections department?

Matt: I’ve seen two separate polls that say Adachi would be a formidable candidate. I told this to someone recently and they replied, saying, “Well, you would be the next public defender.” And I said, “Public defender? No, if Adachi were elected mayor I’d be the city administrator.”

Bulldog: Ok, down to brass tacks. An honest pollster (like there is such a thing) phones and asks you, “If the election were held tomorrow, give me your IRV choices and why?” … what would you say?

Matt: I haven’t decided yet, although I would pick Ed Lee over Dennis Herrera, Leland Yee, David Chiu and Michela Alioto-Pier. I’m going to keep an open mind about John Avalos. And of course, I’m friends with Tony Hall. I’m not endorsing him because our politics are different, but I do respect him.

Bulldog: How about the sheriff’s race? Describe a bit how that department impacts your cases in the public defender’s office? Who you leaning toward in that one?

Matt: I like all three candidates. Frankly, all of them are progressive for law enforcement. I don’t believe we have anything to be concerned about in terms of losing the sheriff’s seat to a reactionary or anything like that.

I like Ross (Mirkarimi) obviously. I supported him in his race to replace me as District 5 supervisor, but I will not be supporting him in this race. I don’t like the idea that the mayor would get to appoint a replacement to his seat. And if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be someone who would get elected in an open race. No progressives are talking about this. If Ross is elected sheriff, we will likely have a moderate in the Dist. 5 seat and will lose what should be the most progressive seat in San Francisco. So, I believe Ross should serve out his term. He should run for assembly or some other post, but not sheriff. Not now. And as someone who was once the District 5 supervisor, I believe I am allowed to say this. Incumbency is powerful, as Ed Lee is demonstrating, and Mirkarimi’s appointed replacement could end up serving for the next 9 years.

I like Paul Miyamoto. He’s risen up in the ranks of the sheriff’s office and is the natural choice. I’ve worked with deputy sheriffs for the last two decades and many have asked me to endorse him. He’s the guy they want. And I will respect that. He is as progressive as Hennessey is on all issues.

Chris Cunnie is alright. We’ve never been close politically and he’s aligned with people I don’t care for, but he would be a progressive sheriff.

But from a public defender point of view, we’ll work with whoever wins.

Bulldog: Wow! Put bluntly, this is gonna piss Ross off. Hey, I can see other reasons not to back him, like his support of the DROP program … lemme rephrase … your campaign manager in 2003 was Enrique Pearce who’s now supporting a Downtown stooge and now you have Ross going over to the cops. Comment on that?

Matt: Ross’ vote to support the DROP program was as bad as it gets. It was pure pandering. I feel sorry for him, honestly, because he knows better. But he should be judged on his whole record, not one thing. And by that measure he’s still an important member of the progressive core, if there still is one.

As for Enrique, I think people are just upset that Ed Lee’s entry into the race disrupts everything. What has Enrique done? Run a campaign to encourage him to enter the race, that’s all. This is a democracy. I think we should be very careful before we prohibit this kind of thing. The campaign spent under $100,000. Herrera has made a lot worse deals than this. Yee has spent more from his state senate campaign than this. At the end of the day, it’s an unusual situation and doesn’t fit exactly into the rules we have. But Enrique is not anybody’s stooge, believe me. Ed Lee is a superior candidate from a purely ethical point of view than Herrera or Yee. It isn’t even close.

Bulldog: Now to another race that will impact you every day as Chief Attorney in the Public Defender’s office. The race for district attorney. Who do you like so far and why? Spread your wings on this one. How’s working with George Gascón compare to working with Hallinan for instance?

Matt: I was a vocal critic of Gascón when he was appointed to be district attorney. I thought an insider should have gotten the appointment. That being said, I’ve been impressed with his command of the law and his understanding of the relationship between law enforcement and prosecution. Sure he’s got his issues. But he’s been stand-up on the prosecution of cops who engage in misconduct. He’s been an advocate of progressive reforms. He listens to his deputies. He’s a very engaged and hands on district attorney.

And because he’s got a law enforcement background, they all trust him. He can move this office in any direction he sees fit, because he knows as much as anyone there about fighting crime. This is a big deal.

Bulldog: You’re backing Gascón? I thought his stand on the death penalty made him a non-starter?

Matt: He’s opposed to the death penalty. And he’s supporting Lonnie Hancock’s bill to abolish the death penalty in California. He has refused to categorically say he wouldn’t consider it, because it’s on the books in California, but he has said everything he can to let people know he has no intention whatsoever of ever bringing a death penalty case. This whole issue is being used as a wedge issue to make people think they’ve got to oppose him. Or to suggest he isn’t progressive. The death penalty is an issue I believe strongly about, so I don’t make these remarks lightly.

I like David Onek and he has taken progressive positions on issues. But what do we know about him? When he was on the Police Commission, he was an establishment vote. He was not a reformer. He has never prosecuted a case. He has never tried a case as a defense lawyer. He has never made an arrest. If elected, he would not command the respect of his staff or be able to make any progressive reforms. I’m sorry, but that is just the honest truth. Most of the reforms he supports are already in place in San Francisco.

He’s a think-tank guy who should keep trying to reform issues from the Ivory Tower.

Bulldog: How about Sharmin Bock, and this Vu Trinh guy has the radar signature of a young Gonzalez at the PD’s office. He was there in fact as an intern. You remember him? Bock first.

Matt: I don’t know anything about Trinh. Bock is a pretty conservative prosecutor in Alameda, from everything I hear. She’s reinventing herself as a progressive.

Bulldog: This is rich. You gonna be doing a fundraiser for Gascón with you and Newsom (who appointed him) singing kumbaya?

Matt: Everyone thinks because I ran against Newsom that there is some kind of life long enmity between us. There isn’t. But to answer your question, yes, I’d appear at a fundraiser for Gascón if he asks me.

Bulldog: Well shiver my timbers! Hard to imagine you rubbing shoulders with Dede Wilsey and the Getty’s. What would you talk about?

Matt: h, by any measure, I was the most progressive vote on the board of supervisors when I was there. I ran with Ralph Nader. I’ve prosecuted civil rights cases against cops and elected district attorneys. I’ve filed suit against Clear Channel, grand juries, and in defense of the minimum wage. I don’t make decisions based on which crowd is the biggest, or which line is the shortest. But I am only a single vote. Anyone who doesn’t agree can vote how they want to. Like I said, the Kurt Schwitters show at the Berkley Art Museum is excellent.

Bulldog: OK, let’s shift again. You were Ralph Nader’s running mate in 2008. He gonna run again? You run with him if he asks you?

Matt: If Ralph runs he has my vote. But no, I wouldn’t join him again.

Bulldog: You’re involved with a whole lexicon of artists and have been for years. What are your thoughts on Burning Man?

Matt: I think Burning Man is excellent. If you haven’t been, you should go. It’s hard to explain. But basically everything there is disorientating and in a way it challenges assumptions you make routinely, about human relationships and art and the lack of permanence things have.

Bulldog: You’re the only figure with any gravitas on the left who’s come out in support of Adachi’s ‘Son of B’ pension reform effort. Comment on that?

Matt: Adachi deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to address this issue. There wouldn’t even be a compromise measure if Jeff hadn’t started this thing last year.

Bulldog: I can see you’re getting tired. Let’s wrap it up for now. Any last thoughts?

Matt: No. Thanks, h. Say hello to Luke for me.

Harold Brown

Harold Brown

h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of, an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. His other FCJ articles can be found here. here.

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