Tail of Two Races

Matt Gonzalez should be backed in District 5 runoff; George W. Bush should be ashamed for considering a coup

I spent an hour or so the other day over at Matt Gonzalez's campaign office just off the Panhandle, and came away with about the impression I expected. He was as charming and intelligent and low-key funny as the accounts I'd read made him out to be. When discussing his strong showing in the first round of the District 5 supervisor's race -- he finished first, handily and unexpectedly outdistancing second-place finisher Juanita Owens, a former school board member who has the backing of Mayor Brown and all the money said backing brings -- Gonzalez was appropriately self-effacing, in a third-person sort of way. He noted that the district, which includes the Haight, the Inner Sunset, and the Western Addition, is young, transient, and left-leaning. "It's less that Matt Gonzalez is some great liberal politician," he said. "He happens to fit the district."

This is not to say Gonzalez, a senior public defender, is not a good politician. Amid the grad-student clutter of his storefront headquarters, I was handled from A to Z, probed for political leanings that were quickly catered to, and generally stroked and soothed. He needn't have bothered. Matt Gonzalez could be a Charlie Manson follower, and I'd support him over Juanita Owens, who a) as a school board member, was a nauseating apologist for Billy Rojas while he damn near bankrupted the San Francisco school district, and b) as a supervisor candidate, has run one of the more misleading campaigns I've come across in 20 years in journalism. (In campaign literature, she's portrayed herself, among many silly things, as an independent who would fight City Hall corruption, when she is actually a Willie Brown marionette showered with campaign money generated by those desperate to keep Brown in control of the Board of Supervisors. Also, Owens has tried to make a big deal out of Gonzalez's recent decision to become a member of the Green Party, a change of allegiances that is both understandable, given the powermongering, Godfather-esque nature of our local Democratic leadership, and utterly irrelevant to the upcoming supervisorial runoff election, which is, as a matter of fact and law, nonpartisan. And oh, here's a question for the fools on the county's Democratic Central Committee who withdrew their endorsements of Gonzalez because he went Green: Do you really want to advertise the notion that the local Democratic Party is backing a hack like Owens against a rising star of Gonzalez's magnitude?)

Although someone not named Owens was going to get my nod in the District 5 race, it still felt good to learn, firsthand, that Gonzalez has a live brain to go with his distinguished educational background (J.D., Stanford law; B.A., Columbia University), and that he can intelligently discuss (if not, to my mind, successfully defend) some of the less earthbound, Bay Guardian-esque positions he has taken during the campaign. Yes, Matt Gonzalez is so far left the words "public power" trip off his tongue as if a personal mantra. He's also courageous (as proven by his decision to take on incompetent liberal favorite Terry Hallinan in the last district attorney's race), stoically independent, and, consequently, the only choice next Tuesday for people in District 5 who want a Board of Supervisors not entirely peopled with hey-boys (of both sexes) for Willie Brown and his paymasters.

I do not usually opine in these pages on national matters, and I am acutely aware that by writing on the swiftly moving target of our unresolved presidential election, I could be creating prose that is outdated milliseconds after SF Weekly's press deadline. Even so, because I was a reporter in Houston for seven years, and have Texas friends and relatives who report goings-on there to me, I feel a special appreciation for George W. Bush and the people around him, and, therefore, a special duty to explain the sources of my esteem. It is this simple: I just cannot overstate the admiration I have for the fineness to which Bush and his associates have honed the art of the wide-eyed, injured, disingenuous denial.

In 1990, when I was still in Houston, I watched Harken Energy, a tiny, not particularly successful firm of which Bush was a director and substantial stockholder, flick aside industry giant Amoco to win an exclusive, 35-year contract to explore for oil off the Middle Eastern island nation of Bahrain. "It was a surprise," one analyst said in titanic understatement. "Harken is not traditionally a company that explores internationally." Roughly five months later, on the eve of the Persian Gulf War, Bush sold two-thirds of his Harken holdings for, according to Time magazine, a 200 percent profit, pulling in some $850,000 and raising questions about whether Securities and Exchange Commission reporting requirements had been violated.

About a month thereafter, Iraqi tanks cruised into Kuwait City, and Bush's father ordered some 500,000 U.S. troops into the desert. Several months after that, I had to absolutely marvel when Bush fils was quoted as saying, "No, I don't feel American troops in Saudi Arabia are preserving George Jr.'s drilling prospects. I think that's a little far-fetched."

More recently, my admiration of W. soared to new heights, after friends (and subsequently a masterful article in Harper'smagazine) explained to me how Bush assisted, and was assisted by, a fundamental change in the way the University of Texas system handled billions of dollars of investments.

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