By Luke Thomas
August 10, 2011
There’s something to be said about an individual who is inspired to serve for the common good. Meet venture capitalist Joanna Rees who so far has undeservedly not garnered much attention in her bid to become the next Mayor of San Francisco.
In an interview Monday following a mayoral debate at the Castro Theater in which interim Mayor Ed Lee was booed, hissed and air horned for breaking his promise to not seek a full-term, Rees, who describes herself as a “progressive independent,” told FCJ she was inspired by the late Ann Richards, the former progressive Governor of Texas who admirably became a symbol of pride and accomplishment for the advancement of women in State and National politics.
“I always said from the beginning that this was incredibly purpose-driven for me,” Rees said, referring to her mayoral candidacy. “I had this great mentor, Ann Richards, the former Governor of Texas, and she instilled in me an obligation to go into public service when she said, ‘Achieve what you want to achieve professionally before you serve.’ So it really is about service and not about getting the job, and that’s why this campaign experience has actually been inspiring to me. I feel like I have a real opportunity to give back.”
Rees’ apparent selfless desire to serve and to give back is a quality that, regrettably, seems to have gotten lost on many politicians these days who, once in office, develop a taste for power; seemingly revel in the sycophantish props and attention they receive from their coattail dwellers; become corrupted by the legal bribes they receive – bribes that chip away at their souls while diverting their political compass – and quickly lose sight and footing for the immense honor and responsibilities attached to the privilege of public service.
Not all politicians, mind, but human nature being what it is, it takes a special individual who has everything to offer and very little to gain, who is immune to the foregoing trappings inherent in the beast of politics, someone who is willing to sacrifice themselves for a noble cause.
Could that special individual be Rees? She’s already independently wealthy and has nothing to lose by running on a platform to restore dignity to City Hall and to make San Franciscans proud of their political leadership.
As she repeatedly reminds audiences during mayoral debates, she is running against City Hall insiders. By contrast, Rees seems to be prepared to do whatever’s necessary to capture the imagination and the support of the voiceless in a bid to rid the city of the play-to-play patronage and corruption that is all too common in San Francisco, the very scourge that benefits the few over the many.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” she said when asked if she is willing to be a one-term mayor. “Because it’s about getting us back on the right trajectory and the only way we’re going to do that, is through fighting the tough battles.”
And those battles will be against entrenched interests that will do anything to maintain the status quo.
As a woman in a male-dominated world of venture capitalists, “I’ve stood alone for so long,” Rees added. “The press always says I bootstrapped myself into the old boys club of venture capital. Nobody wanted me there, but I felt like I had a purpose and I had to stand alone, a lot. But I said I am an important voice here making a contribution based on the perspective I came from.”
Knowing very little about Rees until she entered the race, I wanted to test her progressive credentials on issues that are important to some progressives, particularly the issue of reporting undocumented arrestees to Federal authorities and the city’s Sanctuary City Ordinance.
On both issues, Rees supports opting out of US Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities (S-Comm) program and fully supports the city’s Sanctuary City Ordinance.
“Absolutely not. I do not support it in anyway,” Rees said of S-Comm, “and I believe our Sheriff Michael Hennessey was right in opting out of the program.”
“One of the things I love about San Francisco is that it opens its arms to the world, and let’s not stop doing that,” she added.
When asked what she means when she says she’s a “progressive independent,” Rees said: “Independent means I’m about the best people and the best ideas and, frankly, don’t care where they came from, and I have been frustrated by the conflict-based dialogue that often exists – and that’s the way people get headlines – and I really think we have to get back to serving the community. And progressive means I am about a forward progress, open minded, and as I have said, I am about empathy – I feel like we’re losing empathy.”
After a long, two-hour mayoral debate, I didn’t have much time or energy left to delve further into Ms. Rees’ background and qualifications, but I was certainly intrigued to learn more and offered to have a sit down with her at a later date where FCJ can explore her candidacy further. So far, she comes across as straight forward, honest (a rare quality these days), and courageous.
Before we parted ways, I asked Rees why she’s running.
“I love this city and I care about people in this community,” she said. “People in this community really deserve to have the government serve them than serve itself. This is the whole reason why I am doing this – because I want to serve the community.”