Saturday, February 10, 2007

Queer Democrats Endorse Black for Port Commission

Break with their Usual Environmentalist and Labor Allies


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Breaking with their usual allies in the labor and environmental movements — including their endorsed candidate for mayor in 2004 and 2005, City Councilmember Donna Frye — the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club overwhelmingly endorsed Laurie Black, community activist and wife of developer Bob Lawrence, for appointment to the San Diego Port Commission. If appointed, Black would replace Republican Steve Cushman, who has been on the Port Commission for two terms and would ordinarily have to relinquish the seat this year — but an unusual coalition of local business leaders, conservative Republicans and environmental and labor activists is mounting a full-court press to get the San Diego City Council to waive the term limit and appoint Cushman to a third term.

“Being a mother of four never stopped me from advocating for issues of right and wrong,” said Black, who has been a member of the San Diego Democratic Club for 17 years. “I haven’t ever supported a Republican. I got involved in 1977 with the defeat of Evonne Schulze [who lost a City Council race she was favored to win because a radical-Right publication called The Church News Queer-baited her for accepting the San Diego Democratic Club’s endorsement] and I remember [former San Diego Democratic Club president] Brad Truax because he knocked me out of being a delegate to the 1980 Democratic convention. I also remember when Brad died of AIDS. I was at the mike with the club before the City Council on the Boy Scouts’ lease in Balboa Park, and I am proud to say none of my three boys ever were or wanted to be a Boy Scout. I went to San Diego State University rather than some more prestigious colleges because they offered a women’s studies minor — and now it’s a major and a masters’ degree program.”

The strange-bedfellows aspect of the Port Commission battle was underscored when Black named the pair of City Councilmembers who are nominating her — moderate Democrat Scott Peters, the Council president, and conservative Republican Jim Madaffer — and also the ones who are nominating Cushman: conservative Republican Brian Maienschein and progressive Democrat Donna Frye. Most of the questions from the audience dealt with the controversial Broadway Pier development proposal by Doug Manchester, which the City Council recently approved by a 5-3 vote, along with downtown’s homeless population, her position on privatizing city services and whether the wife of a developer could really take environmental issues seriously.

Black said that once Petco Park became such a successful economic driver — “It brought in $1.5 billion of redevelopment money, five times the $300 million we expected during the campaign for Proposition C in 2002,” she explained — the city should have renegotiated the development agreement with Manchester for Broadway Pier and implemented a master plan for the entire waterfront instead of parceling it out piece by piece to individual developers. “Lane Field and the Broadway complex should be married to each other as a gathering place for art and music, a Hollywood Bowl for San Diego,” Black said. “The Tidelands property is our land. We’ve made a lot of money but we haven’t served the public.” She added that her own children don’t want to settle in San Diego because they’d rather live in cities like Boston that respect art and culture and give it prime waterfront space; according to Black, her kids call these “adult cities” and tell her that, by comparison, “San Diego is still in puberty.”

Asked how she felt about the more recent Proposition C — Mayor Jerry Sanders’ successful drive last year to get city voters to authorize the privatization of city services — Black said, “I believe in prevailing wages and living wages, and for that reason I opposed the proposition. I’m a strong supporter of labor, which is difficult because labor is not supporting me.” She boasted that she donated her office for the meetings that settled the downtown janitors’ strike in 1998.

Regarding the large number of homeless people downtown, Black said the issue was personal for her because “I have a schizophrenic brother who is on the streets of San Diego. I led the program to help the police, the city and the county deal with dually diagnosed homeless people. We got 321 people off the streets, but the county stopped their $4 million share of the funding for this program in 2003.”

Black also questioned the born-again environmentalist credentials of Steve Cushman. She said she never saw him appear before the Regional Water Quality Board once she joined it in 1998. “My environmental credentials speak for themselves,” Black said, “and if it costs my husband a little more money to use a unionized workforce and have storm drain mitigation, so be it.”

“I strongly support Laurie Black,” said club member Ann Wilson. “I develop affordable housing in San Diego. Laurie Black is a good person and the Port is one of the most corrupt parts of the San Diego old-boys’ network. It’s important to put someone like Laurie on that board.”

“Besides Laurie’s qualities, Cushman has served two terms and he is now looking for loopholes to continue,” said former San Diego Democratic Party chair Maureen Steiner. “This is about breaking up the Republican power bloc on the Port Commission board and putting on a good, strong Democratic woman.”

But activist and former City Council candidate Lorena Gonzalez defended Cushman and said that San Diego’s labor and environmental communities had “unanimously” endorsed keeping him on the Port Commission because “he has donated more money to Democrats than Laurie has. He has every single environmental organization in San Diego, and there are 100 hotel maids who are supporting him personally because he has always worked only with union hotels. That isn’t true of Laurie’s busness. Steve Cushman has created jobs for people who work 40 hours a week.”

“When Laure Black was head of the Downtown Enhancement Corporation, she hired city employees and then fired them and contracted out,” said Ed Leamon, who had asked her the question about privatization and had been disappointed with her answer. “I’m not a cheerleader for Cushman, but he shouldn’t be painted as part of the white boys’ network. He serves on the board of Sharp Hospital and shamed them into giving the janitors health insurance.”

“I applaud the comments Lorena and Ed made about Cushman’s support of working people, and that’s commendable for a Republican,” said Alex Sachs, the club’s legislative director. “But Cushman is there because he was a crony of [former mayor] Susan Golding, and if we want a fresh face and some new ideas, and someone who has stood with this club since the 1970’s, someone who made sure her husband provided affordable housing in Mission Hills and someone who’s hosted events for Chris Kehoe and Toni Atkins in her home, we need to endorse Laurie Black.”

Eventually, a solid majority of club members agreed. Black won the endorsement with 41 votes out of 60 cast, well above the 36 she needed, with 18 opposed and one abstention.

The club also elected new officers January 25 and had a contested race for vice-president for political action. Michelle Krug challenged veteran club activist and former club president Jeri Dilno, making the point that the San Diego Democratic Club should be reaching past its base in the heavily Queer areas of Hillcrest and North Park and organizing in South Bay. Thanks to club members voting absentee before the meeting began, Dilno beat Krug by an overwhelming margin of 97 to 27, but according to the statement from Dilno read at the meeting (she couldn’t attend due to a family emergency), Krug made her point: Dilno pledged a major outreach drive to the South Bay.

The other candidates for club office proposed by its nominating committee all won election by acclamation: Andrea Villa, president; Larry Baza, executive vice-president; Mike Kirkeby, vice-president for development (fundraising); Brad Jacobsen, secretary; and Christopher Ward, treasurer.

In addition, the club endorsed a slate of five for the board of National Stonewall Democrats, the nationwide federation of Queer-oriented Democratic clubs to which the San Diego Democratic Club belongs. The slate included club members Gloria Johnson, Craig Roberts and Mark Kvare, veteran Sacramento Queer lobbyist and organizer Laurie McBride and Nevada activist Bill Jacobs. The club also heard from Peter Zschiesche and Marty Block of the San Diego Community College District Board.