This thrust contrasts neatly with Black's opponent, lefty-bully trust-fund-baby showman Chris Daly. Daly's shtick includes cursing, shouting, and stalking out the door during public meetings, meting out petty legislative punishment to his personal enemies, shaking down developers to route millions in payola to his political allies, and otherwise performing as a pudgy-faced Che Guevara for what in San Francisco passes for the left.
Black's persona, however, seems unthreateningly composed to assuage a father meeting his little pumpkin's beau for the first time. Black wears dress clothes in a way that doesn't seem dressy, suggests he'll solve S.F. problems by bringing people together and offering to help them, is a prestigious law-school graduate who never rose past City Hall legislative aide, wraps much of his political rhetoric around the need for decorum in public life, and rides a 250cc motor scooter to work. It's a role that has pushed Black into the lead in two recent polls, both taken in a newly yuppified district that just weeks ago seemed like a cakewalk for Daly.
"I don't think cursing is professional in a public hearing. I don't think it is helpful to the process," offers Black, 37, 5 feet 11 inches, 165 pounds. "I think civility and professionalism is very important."
Despite this seemingly studied innocuousness, I found my first meeting with candidate Black somewhat disturbing.
Six-foot-2-inch Nicole Bass, 230 pounds of mannish girl with no hint of body fat showing through her rubberized corset, was pretending to beat the shit out of Rob Black. Black, in red shorts and a fluffy Mohawk, whimpered and squirmed around on a hotel-room carpet.
"You're a fuck-up!" yelled Bass, the world's largest female bodybuilder and purveyor of $400-per-hour private wrestling sessions, having just cut Black on the forehead with a razor.
"Oooh! Ooooh!" whimpered Black, as he crawled around bleeding on the floor. "No! Nooo! Nooooooooh!"
The aforementioned scene, in which this reporter and 6th District candidate Rob Black drank beer, ate popcorn, and watched a VHS copy of Violence on Violence starring a much more famous "Rob Black," the nom de porn of federal obscenity suspect Robert Zicari, was the culmination of a weeklong SF Weekly journalistic investigation code named Black Prude.
The guiding question: Will San Franciscans lose their right to profanity if Black wins Daly's seat at City Hall?
This is not a trivial question. The billionaire-backed political operative who's been maneuvering in the shadows of Black's campaign told me that he first inspired San Francisco's Rob Black to run last year when Daly caused Black's then-boss, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, to cry because Daly said swear words during a hearing. The resulting flap, called Decorumgate, resulted in news headlines, proposed legislation, and miles of hoopla dedicated to the alleged awfulness of curse words.
Alioto-Pier "was deeply offended," says operative Wade Randlett, whose soft-money front group, SFSOS, channels money from a handful of civic-minded S.F. tycoons to pro-business causes and candidates. These tycoons consider Daly public enemy No. 1.
"I talked to her staffer, Rob Black. I said I'd be for anybody who could walk, talk, and tie his shoes," Randlett recalls.
Randlett has spent the past year arguing to business-friendly funders and politicos that since Daly won his eastern S.F. district race in 2002, thousands of people have moved into new condominium buildings that have been built near the southern bay shore.
"Am I supposed to find a guy named Rob, spend a bunch of money, and hope he wins? No," explains Randlett. "Instead, I said, 'Daly figured out the right thing.' First, you win on the ground. You win door-to-door. Second, there are now more doors in the door-to-door," he adds, in reference to the new condominiums.
The trick to getting inside the new doorman-guarded condo towers, Black explained, is to call real estate agents who are pro-business (all of them) and get them to cough up the names of owners of $1 million condominiums. Telephone the condo-residents with a spiel about the politics of inoffensiveness. Ask them to post notes on their hall-mates' doors inviting them to a "neighborhood party." Black attends the 20-person party, works the room with more pro-public decorum shtick, gets four more parties up and running, attends those, until when I met him last week, he'd just come from attending several of these condo-fests, this after having attended a hundred or so during the previous few months.
Seemingly, everybody wins. The condo dwellers get to meet and go on dates with their new, hot, young-professional neighbors. Black wins votes. San Francisco's body politic loses round-faced boor Daly. And the city's tycoons don't have to work as hard getting what they want from District 6's supervisor.
But what's the end effect of exporting haute condo-culture to San Francisco public life? If Black acts upon his professed core value of public decorum, inspired, allegedly, by maudlin offense taken at swear words, does this city lose something valuable? Isn't obscenity itself a San Francisco core ethos?
I consult SF Weekly's panel of public decorum experts, nationally revered etiquette columnist Social Grace (http://www.dearsocialgrace.com/), and Alan Black, (no relation) promoter of San Francisco's annual Swearing Festival (http://www.castlenews.com/ swearingfestival.html.)
If Black wins, and San Francisco cracks down on obscenity, will that make us classier?
Or will it mean true decorum dies, because there's no longer anything to compare it to?
"The elimination of swearing would have a negligible effect on the tone of public discourse in the city one can be quite effectively rude without access to a few words," Grace writes in a gracious e-mail. "If a bit of cursing prevents shoving matches at City Hall, then I'm all for it."
Alan Black has a personal stake in this issue, given that his Edinburgh Castle bar, site of February's Swearing Festival, sits in the Tenderloin portion of District 6.