Most San Franciscans won't run afoul of Wiener's anti-nudity ordinance. Yet the supervisor's passed or pending legislation touches on the city's most elemental subjects: housing, development, transportation. Wiener has emerged as the most capable legislator on the board. Even his ideological opponents funnel him material, because they know he'll work aggressively to ram it through — hastily, and with minimal compromising.

Scott Wiener, a man who has been chewed up and spit out by this city's political process, has less reverence for it than most. Those who embrace rituals meant to extract concessions while slowing (or outright halting) change have little use for Wiener's efforts at "streamlining" or, worse yet, "reform."

In Wiener's San Francisco, the lyrics to McKenzie's song may not be so ill-fitting after all: "There's a whole generation with a new explanation — people in motion, people in motion."


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.

In recent decades, San Francisco politics has been driven as much or more by what you're against as what you're for. Opposition to the runaway development and rampant cronyism of the Willie Brown era galvanized the "progressive revolution" of 2000. Brown's handpicked successor, Newsom, continued to serve as bogeyman for the city's left, while the bombastic Peskin and profane Chris Daly returned the favor for moderates. Politics became vitriolic and personal, and these embittered men had oversize personalities and vitriol to spare. Their battles were as nasty as any on the floor of the Taiwanese parliament, minus the chair-swinging (though it did get close).

As much as Wiener has become a lightning rod for controversy, he does not neatly fit this mold. It's hard to take umbrage at his personality when his personality is opaque. He is not a charismatic or dynamic figure like Brown, Newsom, Daly, or Peskin; Wiener's extended, wonky discourses are delivered in the monotone of a man dictating his name on an outgoing voicemail message. And while Wiener is, plainly, a political striver, colleagues see him as less conventionally political than most.

"Scott's real skill is, I have never seen him cave on his principles," says former moderate Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. Adds Olague, "What makes him effective is also why so many people don't like him. He's not political; people go to him with legislation, and if he likes it, he'll get it through. If you put that legislation on another supervisor's desk, they'd probably bend to political pressure. It'd still be sitting on their desk."

Wiener has managed to pick and choose issues that confound cardboard notions of what it is to be progressive or moderate — leading to deeply bizarre political battles. He targeted the insidiously connected Academy of Art University's longstanding practice of cannibalizing rent-controlled housing and converting it into lucrative, four-to-a-room dorms, yet also pushed to enable the creation of towering rabbit warrens of 220-square-foot "micro-units" to house the ascendant, moneyed, single techies permeating San Francisco. Wiener managed to pull off the mind-blowing feat of simultaneously angering the tenant-crushing Academy and every last tenants-rights group in the city (which have doubled down against him due to a pending condo conversion ordinance they portray as a means to erode rent control and evict tenants).

Depending on how one spins it, this was an act of inspired political independence, recklessness — or both. It was certainly not the behavior of someone receiving a late-night phone call telling him how to vote. "Scott is his own man," concedes Peskin. "He is not a wholly owned subsidiary of anyone."

Last year, Wiener tangled with the Academy and bucked the mayor and PG&E by siding with CleanPowerSF, providing the board with a veto-proof majority. And in a move his opponents spun as a swipe at the city's service providers, Wiener unsuccessfully attempted to force nonprofits to pay transit mitigation fees to Muni.

"What was really at issue is whether big, powerful nonprofits like the hospitals would be paying a transit impact fee," explains Rafael Mandelman, Wiener's progressive opponent in the bitterly contested 2010 race for District 8 supervisor. No city progressive would argue the California Pacific Medical Centers of the world shouldn't pay for transit impacts brought about by their massive development projects, "but they don't," Mandelman continues. "Scott was trying to change that. So who's on the left and who's on the right now? Academy of Art, PG&E, the Hospital Council — that's about as powerful as it gets."

Two years ago, Wiener was the Chamber of Commerce's preferred legislator. Last year, however, it ranked him in the middle of the pack, behind Jane Kim. But they're still thrilled to have him over for power breakfasts to talk shop. Scott Wiener is independent, but he's still Scott Wiener.

Reviewing Wiener's attempts to "streamline" or "reform" city rules, patterns emerge. His gambit to rejigger the city's ballot initiative process would have given the Board and mayor the power to undo voter-approved measures. His attempt to revamp the campaign consultant ordinance would have allowed the dysfunctional Ethics Commission and supervisors to alter rules governing their own political consultants; currently only voters can enact those changes. Wiener's ongoing attempts to modify the city's approach to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would require development critics to cede more unchecked responsibility to a Planning Department those critics feel is beholden to developers (and which let the Academy of Art brazenly flout city rules for decades). "What we have," says Larry Bush, a veteran politico who has clashed with Wiener on Ethics Commission matters, "is a repeated practice of reducing what the public can see."

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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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