Achtenberg's Third Act

Roberta Achtenberg bristles when anyone dares say that Williw Brown is the one who gets things done. "I have gotten things done my entire life, right?" she says, citing when her accomplishments as a law school dean, her 800-page book on sexual orientatio

Perhaps a bigger problem for Achtenberg, says Binder, is the fact that she departed midway through two political posts -- leaving for Washington after two years as a supervisor, leaving Washington after two years at HUD.

All that aside, a recent poll of 600 voters conducted by Decision Research of Washington, D.C., for the Achtenberg campaign showed the candidate's ratings are healthy, and growing. Jordan won 30 percent of the vote, Brown had 27 percent, and Achtenberg won 20 percent -- up six points from a 14 percent showing in a Binder poll this April. (Alioto won 7 percent, the other candidates 3 percent, and 15 percent were undecided.) When respondents were "educated" -- given info on what Achtenberg stood for -- she beat Brown, 26 percent to 24 percent.

"She's successfully coalesced a majority of the gay and lesbian voter base, and given that several candidates in the race have long roots in the gay community, she's done a good job," says San Francisco political strategist John Whitehurst. "I think the critical question now is, 'Can she get beyond the base?' "

The most likely place to go fishing, Whitehurst says, is among Democratic, straight women, which, like the gay and lesbian community, comprises about 20 percent of the electorate, he estimates. "Frank Jordan is too conservative for that group. In Alioto, maybe they agree on the issues, but she's not what they're looking for in a mayor. And then Willie Brown's ethical questions make it difficult for some Democratic women to vote for him," Whitehurst says. Trouble is, he adds, "if Roberta's going to affect the race, the notion of why have a policy-oriented, an ideology-oriented mayor, has to be brought out in a way that makes her the primary choice for the voters, and that hasn't happened yet.

"Most of the insiders have already assumed this is a Jordan-Brown runoff," Whitehurst says. He pauses. "I think the real message is, it ain't over till the votes are counted."

Aug. 20. The ring-kissing rolls on. Already navigated, among just some of the events, is the Harvey Milk Progressive Democratic Club appearance, the San Francisco Arts Democratic Club interview, the Local 87 Service Employees International Union interview (they were cordial to Achtenberg, but ate out of Brown's hand), and the Richmond District Democratic Club forum (this time both Brown and Alioto showed up late).

Today, Andy Wong drives Achtenberg in his Ford Festiva to Chrissy Field, in honor of health service workers marching across the Golden Gate Bridge behind grand marshal the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Health-care workers have endorsed Alioto, who gets to stand on the sound stage next to the reverend. Brown is not around.

"It's indicative of Roberta's character that she wants to come here and show support whether or not they've endorsed her," Achtenberg field director Cohen says.

Foghorns blow, and Achtenberg, wearing only a T-shirt and sleeveless vest in the cold wind, does not hunch or shiver. She stands quietly applauding, largely ignored in the milling crowd. She looks small and somehow vulnerable.

"Let us move forward by hope, and not backwards by fear!" Jackson shouts. Golden retrievers pad by with soggy tennis balls in their mouths. "We need a fix in '96!" Jackson preaches, and the rapt audience chants with him: "Jobs! Health care! Housing! Jobs! Health care! A fix! A fix!"

Here, at least, the Brown vs. Achtenberg issue is nowhere to be seen. And it wasn't present on Saturday, the day before -- volunteer day at the Achtenberg campaign -- when more than a dozen exuberant Roberta fans gathered strips of paper to hang on doors citywide. With more than 300 active volunteers, Achtenberg won 16,500 petition-signers to get her name on the ballot. Brown won 17,210.

Outside of Achtenberg's headquarters, people will tell you Brown has won elsewhere, too, raking in endorsements that include the San Francisco Labor Council, representing 140 local unions and more than 80,000 workers (Brown won 40,837 votes; Achtenberg won 73). Brown has won the thumbs up from Lesbians & Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action, the Democratic Women's Forum, and, not surprisingly, the long-supportive Alice B. Toklas Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club (the Harvey Milk Club didn't endorse anyone because no candidate won 60 percent approval, but Brown was the top vote-getter).

It's a clichŽ to say that Brown has cachet. He's been a friend to the gay community since Day 1, as he puts it: In 1968, long before the issue had a place on the national agenda, Brown backed the elimination of criminal penalties for private sexual acts between consenting adults. He later wrote the law that did so. He campaigned in 1977 against homophobic orange-juice flack Anita Bryant. He worked as a private lawyer for big corporate players like the Catellus Corp., Davies Medical Center, Gerald Hines Interests, and an energy firm making deals with PG&E -- the type of work that's raised continual questions about his potential for conflicts of interest. But he's also won state funding for AIDS research at San Francisco General Hospital, a national first; he's supported local gay candidates; and he's raised millions to keep Democrats in Sacramento.

How to choose, how to choose?
I decide to go to Castro Street to conduct my own private poll.
"I'm for Roberta," says the first woman I see. "I've seen Brown speak, and I've yet to see him give a straight answer to a question."

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