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

"I guess I'm for Jordan," says a business owner. "I asked Achtenberg once about how she stood on the disabled issue and told her how people have to pay $14,000 for ramps that no one uses, and she just absolutely shut me down. Totally brusque," he says.

But why Jordan?
"Better to vote for someone who doesn't do anything than vote for someone who does things and screws it all up," he says.

A man behind the counter of a coffee shop says he can't say who he's for -- his boss would get mad. "Can you do sign language?" I ask. He points to a brownie.

"I think people who fault Roberta's style are just sexist," says Kathy Kensinger, next up. "I mean, look at how people tear into Dianne Feinstein and Hillary Clinton every time they get their hair cut," she says. "I mean, you never read something like 'The president, who was wearing blue, announced at the White House today.' "

But Kensinger isn't definite yet about her allegiance.
"To have a first black mayor, or a first lesbian mayor," she says. "The choices are both so good!"

She ponders this as her bus pulls up and nearly shaves off her nose.
"Maybe we should elect both of them," she says. "Maybe we should have co-mayors."

Aug. 8. Time can be circular; flashbacks shed light on the present. Or future.

And so it is again a balmy night with a peach aureole sunset at a Noe Valley Democratic club forum. The candidates sit onstage, tapping their feet, waiting for the debate to begin. One can almost imagine Jordan singing, "I'm going to wash those bums right out of my hair."

And two fresh-faced, impassioned young voters -- as if some directorial presence hovered under the seats giving cues, as if Walt Disney were still alive and trying his hand at political heartwarmers -- stand up and produce a Hollywood ending.

The man is African-American. She is white. They face the crowd filing down the gently sloped aisles of the school auditorium, the voices pinging off the walls, the hacks giving hugs, the press fluttering, the consultants straightening their ties, the Achtenberg crew grinning through their exhaustion, the devoted waving cardboard candidate signs from along the walls and balcony.

The man stands up and holds aloft his "Willie Brown for Mayor" sign. The woman laughs, rises to her feet next to him, and shoves her "Achtenberg for Mayor" sign in front of his. The man shoves his sign back in front of hers, she nudges his aside, he flashes hers aside, and they keep at it, like dueling banjos from the movie Deliverance, though this is dueling placards -- or dueling symbols. It is male vs. female, black vs. white -- two people, like Achtenberg and Brown, sharing the same political row in life who have nevertheless faced off, determined to put their names out in front.

Achtenberg sits onstage, her gray bangs slightly parted, her smile hesitant. She surveys the crowd and nods to herself now and then. She is pumped for the battle of her life.

And the perfect-ending man and woman have their backs to her, at the moment. They keep up their cardboard flashing routine, then start to tire, smile broadly, giggle, drop their signs to their sides. The dueling isn't something they want to do all night. They toss the signs down. They drop into a warm, lingering hug.

And the debate begins.

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