Body Politic: Scott Wiener Strips Down City Bureaucracy

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Photo illustration by Audrey Fukuman with photograph of Scott Wiener by Anna Latino


The wall thermometer says it's barely 55 degrees inside the Glen Canyon Recreation Center. The assembled community members wear socks with their sandals. But then, they likely would have anyway.

A hapless neighborhood association president has the piteous duty of moderating a presentation by city officials justifying the removal of aging trees to residents who liken eucalyptus groves to cathedrals. He starts by laying out ground rules for the night's festivities, beginning with the common-sense suggestion that speakers should be allowed to speak.

Those close to Scott Wiener say he's not "too uptight or too serious. ... He is very comfortable in his skin and very comfortable with other people."
J. P. Dobrin
Those close to Scott Wiener say he's not "too uptight or too serious. ... He is very comfortable in his skin and very comfortable with other people."
Upon being sworn in as a supervisor in 2011, Scott Wiener realizes he is too big 
for his desk.
Joe Eskenazi
Upon being sworn in as a supervisor in 2011, Scott Wiener realizes he is too big for his desk.

"I think we should have interruptions," interrupts a woman in the crowd. "Why," stammers the moderator, rocked back on his heels, "would you want interruptions during the presentation? The concern is —" He is interrupted again: "They'll have more time than us!"

Another audience member chimes in. "I think the questions should actually be questions." Sandals hit the floor; audience members rise in indignation. "No! I object! A lot of people want to make statements. We should be heard!" A woman peers at the door. "Is Supervisor Wiener here yet? Which one is Supervisor Wiener?"

The latter is a question asked rarely, and never twice. Scott Wiener is 6-foot-7 and has the physique of an exclamation mark. His elongated features and piercing stare give him the appearance of an Eastern Orthodox icon in the flesh, and his de facto blank expression makes him appear utterly forlorn — until he smiles, and appears even more so. This is how he spends his evenings.

Over the next several chilly hours a San Francisco ritual is acted out. Concerned community members — "stakeholders," in government-speak — express grave concerns over attempts to alter the status quo. Statements are made. People are heard. Following the familiar script, after countless similar stakeholder meetings, delicate compromises are meticulously crafted at the glacial pace befitting any alteration to the fabric of our unique city.

Or not. Within days, men with chainsaws are razing the eucalyptus cathedrals. "This isn't the proverbial tree falling in the forest when no one is there," Wiener tells an attendee at the meeting. It was high time to stop talking and start cutting.

"He'll consult people. It's not that he doesn't consult people," says former Supervisor Christina Olague, who worked both with and against Wiener during her tenure. "But when he doesn't agree ..." she laughs. "That's it, man. That's it." For those who venerate this city's political process like a cathedral, Wiener is the man with the chainsaw. "He decides what he thinks is right," continues Olague. "And he just pushes it through."

Wiener, 42, earned a place in the national limelight last year when he pushed through legislation forbidding people from exposing their "genitals, perineum, or anal region" in most of the city. For much of the nation, San Francisco still exists as the embodiment of Scott McKenzie's eponymous 1967 anthem — ours is the city of "gentle people with flowers in their hair." Now a gay technocrat with a phallic name was railing against an "almost daily ad hoc nudist colony" that fit right in with the nation's quirky image of San Francisco. Incensed nudists could be depended upon to deliver semi-coherent speeches and regularly peel off their clothing. It certainly made for good copy.

McKenzie died last year. We're living in a vastly different San Francisco, where a transformative tech boom has driven rental and property rates to obscene levels. In an increasingly affluent and self-absorbed city, there's an opening for a politician less concerned with making San Francisco a city on a hill than working on the pipes beneath it. This is Scott Wiener's time, and we're living in Scott Wiener's city.

"Scott is the median of San Francisco politics right now," says University of San Francisco political science professor Corey Cook. "He's a generally pro-development supervisor focusing on quality-of-life issues when the city is generally pro-development and focusing on quality-of-life issues. The allies he has picked up are certainly more politically powerful than the enemies he has created. Right now, Scott's on the crest of the wave."

A decade ago, when San Francisco was awash in the radically different political wave of the "progressive revolution," a wet-behind-the ears Supervisor Aaron Peskin offered a ride to a holiday party to Wiener, then a wet-behind-the-ears deputy city attorney. They were an odd couple — Peskin a short, driven man who made his bones as a preservationist; Wiener a tall, driven man who had his eyes on change. Peskin would go on to serve as board president and in large part run San Francisco when Mayor Gavin Newsom couldn't be bothered to. (Four years out of office, he is still very much a progressive shot-caller.) Wiener, meanwhile, had ambitions of his own.

"He told me right then and there he wanted to be a supervisor, then a state or federal elected official," recalls Peskin, now Wiener's most vocal clothes-wearing critic. Sizing up his passenger, Peskin didn't think much of Wiener's chances. "Let everyone have their dream." But Peskin was wrong. And now Wiener is at the legislative wheel of the entire city, with the rest of us along for the ride.

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19 comments
sebraleaves
sebraleaves topcommenter

Are the recall Wiener rumors for real? Voters don't take too kindly to someone who tries to take away their right to protest at the ballot, or someone who tries to hide information from about how to legally appeal decisions they disagree with.

Why do people who hate a place the way it is, move and try to change it? Why don't they just stay where they are, and leave those of us who love the way it is alone?

marcos
marcos

Of course the risk of having no political center of gravity is that one is constantly pissing everyone off about something.

Wiener is not crafting any new coalitions to challenge the dysfunction in government, rather fine tuning dysfunction to benefit whomever he's carrying legislation for.

The gamble, and the risks are significant, is that people remember whatever crumbs they get and forget the turds tossed their way when Wiener makes his next move.


UntoldStories
UntoldStories

“Cathedrals” seems meant to mock the regular people that dare to question the SF political machine, but it is true. The parks are our Cathedrals, built over generations and shared by all. Just like religious Cathedrals, parks are a places that people go for a sense of community, to be inspired, to relax, to meditate, to escape day-to-day pressures, and for family bonding – among other things. The wonder is these Park Cathedrals have been shared and meant for everyone no matter one’s race, age, gender, social-economic background, sexual orientation, or political persuasion.

Just like with a religious institution that is loved and financed by the masses, the parks are a gold mine and are ripe for corruption and manipulation that benefits only a select few. It is quite sad that trusted City leaders aren’t interested in the needs and desires of the majority of people that are paying millions for this unnecessary and deceptive bit-by-bit destruction and commercialization of much loved parks. Allowing people to speak but not listening or caring what is said seems far worse than not pretending to listen at all. For Sup. Wiener, these Parks Cathedrals seem to have little meaning other than as pawns in his political chess game.

Guest
Guest

The Mayor Of Castro Street 

marcos
marcos

Aside from Wiener's distinct lack of political center of gravity, what I find interesting is that someone who has no life to speak of outside of politics is making policy for the rest of us who do.

At some point, you've got to have some skin in the game along with constituents to make grounded policies.  

But when your policies don't need to be grounded, when the name of the game is putting points on an apolitical board than the guy next to you to augment your resume, then government ends up all reduced to mindless technocracy.

patnlisa
patnlisa

The antithesis of pretty much everything Harvey fought and died for.

JinCastro
JinCastro

What DOES emerge about this guy is how peculiar he really is:  obsessive, arrogant, non-human.  Banning nudists will be his only real legacy.  As a District 8 voter, I look forward to kicking him out of office in 2014.

apple123
apple123

balboa high grad here. and Castro neighborhood resident ... i can always tell the non-san franciscans.  they talk about the city being this city where anything goes, blah blah blah.  i am a native san franciscan and i support scott weiner 100%.  as for this city becoming too expensive...  it's not just san francisco, it's every major metropolitan area right now:  london, paris, new york, tokyo, beijing, singapore.  some of you want to blame weiner for the cold weather we're having.  Scott is the best thing to happen to this city in a very long time.

apple123
apple123

balboa high grad here.... i can always tell the non-san franciscans.  they talk about the city being this city where anything goes, blah blah blah.  i am a native san franciscan and i support scott weiner 100%.  as for this city becoming too expensive...  it's not just san francisco, it's every major metropolitan area right now:  london, paris, new york, tokyo, beijing, singapore.  some of you want to blame weiner for the cold weather we're having.  is it because he's gay or jewish or what?   scott weiner is doing his job, not like those two san francican wannabes from los angeles, avalos and camps.

apple123
apple123

balboa high grad here.... i can always tell the non-san franciscans.  they talk about the city being this city where anything goes, blah blah blah.  i am a native san franciscan and i support scott weiner 100%.  as for this city becoming too expensive...  it's not just san francisco, it's every major metropolitan area right now:  london, paris, new york, tokyo, beijing, singapore.  some of you want to blame weiner for the cold weather we're having.  is it because he's gay or jewish or what?   scott weiner is doing his job, not like those two san francican wannabes from los angeles, avalos and camps.

philhellene
philhellene

This guy is an ambitious train wreck.  He would do well in Orange County but his ideas are out of sync with San Francisco.  Don't encourage him by giving him publicity.

SF_Resident
SF_Resident

Wiener is such a TOTAL disaster.

He is arrogant, full of himself and a puppet for the realtors and wealthy!

He must have learned both totalitarian behavior and neoliberal ideology during his Fulbright year in Chile. 

He will do a LOT more damage to this Cty. :(

Guest
Guest

SF is moving beyond its adolescence. It's slowly becoming more serious, pragmatic, and sensible.

Blipper
Blipper

@philhellene The typical SF response to anything they are afraid of/dislike - get out of town!

Blipper
Blipper

@SF_Resident You seem to love hyperbole. Anyone who knows Scott knows that he isnt arrogrant or full of himself. Anyone who isnt virulently anti growth in this town is "in the pocket of developers"

Grow up, and get out of your provincial shell

Guest
Guest

@Guest It's becoming a carbon copy of everything that people once moved here to get away from. In the new San Francisco life is a struggle, over crowding if it means more growth is good, and life is cheep because your replaceable. If you love the struggle of life that is NYC in 2013 you will love  the new pro- big-business , 2.5 kids and a sabb, vacuous, bore-fest where MBAs have a touch base and something called "quality of life" feels prescribed from a network TV show, Its living with people for whom culture is yogurt or something to check off a list. Yes serious indeed. 

GuestyGuest
GuestyGuest

@Guest That's just a more convoluted way of saying "I've been living in my rent-controlled apartment for over 20 years, and I'm scared I'll be thrown out."  Anyone who actually owns property in SF probably doesn't think the way you do.  

Guest
Guest

@Guest Maybe it's time to move on and make room for someone who will appreciate all the opportunities SF provides. 

 
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