By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
District 6 Supervisor candidate Rob Black's dress, demeanor, life-trajectory, political ideology, even mode of transport combine to send a powerful message: "I'm inoffensive!"
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.
"I think that cussing in public for politicians, it increases at least the humor or excitement around them for a brief second. It pricks people's ears up, they pay attention for longer. They remember it. Who can really remember a politician's speeches? But you can certainly remember when they say "fuck," notes Alan Black.
Rob Black, the supervisor candidate, claims the idea that he'll ban obscenity in District 6 stems from a misunderstanding.
For one thing, Randlett, a professional operative who stands to make money off the perception that his actions sway important political events, got the story wrong on Rob Black's initiation into politics.
It's just not true that Black began talking to people about the idea of facing Daly in the District 6 race last summer, back when Randlett was doing his best to make an issue of Daly's swearing.
It wasn't until this spring when "I talked with the mayor. And I talked with Wade and other stakeholders," Black says.
More to the point, Black says, he isn't out to ban swearing or obscenity in San Francisco. Black merely wishes to make a campaign issue of Chris Daly's coarse style of politics.
"To me, swearing is not the issue. I'm not going to try to outlaw particular words. I don't think that's appropriate. The issue is trying to intimidate people either physically or verbally," Black says.
Fine then. Let's hear you swear.
"Hell yeah," Black says.
"I do swear. But I try to ... " Black says.
Let's hear you swear for real.
"I'm just trying to understand what we're doing here," Black says.
You claim you're not anti-swearing. Prove it.
"Shit. Damn. Hell," Black says, sportingly, which leaves one more matter to attend to.
By campaigning on a platform of decorum, under the name "Rob Black," Black the candidate for supervisor stands to undermine the efforts of porn entrepreneur Rob Zicari, who performs under the name "Rob Black," and has made extreme pornography a free-speech issue.
This stance has subjected Zicari/Black to the most important federal obscenity prosecution of the past 10 years, thanks to a dare Zicari/Black made to prosecutors in a 2002 PBS Frontline episode.
The idea seemed to be that the First Amendment would protect Zicari/Black, owner of Extreme Associates, which serves customers with a fetish for the grotesque, such as watching people swallow booger and semen cocktails. A federal appeals court recently ordered that Van NuysÐbased Zicari/Black stand trial for violating federal obscenity laws when he produced movies such as Ass Clowns 3 and 1001 Ways to Eat My Jizz.
So just as Rob "Black" Zicari faces prison in defense of obscenity, a milquetoast politico dilutes the raunchy Rob Black name with a decorum platform.
"I would love to hear a debate between the two Blacks," says Social Grace. "I wonder if the local Black would be able to refrain from swears in that situation."
Multiple e-mails and phone calls to a dozen or so Zicari-related phone numbers and addresses didn't manage to roust the great man.
So I challenged our local Rob Black to the next best thing: If you're not a prude, prove it by watching a "Rob Black" film.
It turns out San Francisco's Black knew all about Extreme Associates.
"They have titles like Asses of Goop and all kinds of stuff," San Francisco's Rob Black notes.
Even more horrifyingly, he says: "If you want to watch one with me, I would view it as an honor."
Having spent the afternoon shopping at porn stores, buying pretzels, popcorn, beer, and what must be the least offensive Extreme Associates title in existence, I find myself in the SF Weekly conference room watching Violence on Violence in the VCR, while Rob Black whoops as his namesake cowers before giantess Bass, while she gives Black swats, headlocks, and razor cuts.
"When I would watch this stuff as a kid on TBS or whatever it was, they would always get cut, and get all bloody or whatever," Black says, loud enough so I can hear him above the other Black's recorded moans. "It was great."
After 10 or so minutes of watching Bass and Zicari/Black move about the hotel room, I begin mentioning the possibility we turn it off, a suggestion San Francisco's Rob Black brushes off until I insist.
Hoping to pull ahead in the final stretch, I take out a notepad and ask San Francisco's Black how it feels to see Rob Black get the pretend shit beat out of him by a steroid-enhanced giantess.
"Well, I wasn't having an out-of body experience, if that's what you're asking. For one thing, the other Rob Black is a lot fatter than I am," Black notes, adding that the movie was a lot like watching pro wrestling, of which Black reminded me he's a fan.
As the evening draws to a close at near 11 p.m., and I escort Black to the elevator, the candidate says, "Did I ever tell you Chris Daly and I used to play poker together?"
"Yeah, us and some other City Hall officials and staffers would get together and play," he explained.
Did Daly swear?
"Oh, yeah," Black said, as the elevator begins to close. "But I probably swore a lot more."
Isn't Daly the vulgar jerk who threatens democratic process?
What about the gentility-in-public-life rap Black's been giving SOMA condo dwellers?
Black is gone. I don't feel like chasing after him with my facile questions.
Alone in SF Weekly's offices, beer on my breath, an awful soft-porn video in the VCR, I realize I've been seduced by the poses of two political hacks.