If elected, Bevan Dufty, the 56-year-old former District 8 supervisor would become the first openly gay mayor of San Francisco. In an interview with a University of San Francisco student reporter at his campaign headquarters in the Castro, Dufty said he began his run for mayor nearly two years ago. “ I’ve been running for mayor since Madonna was a teenager, he said, then amended the joke to suit a younger audience. “For you, it’d probably be more relevant to say I’ve been running for mayor since Madonna was married to Guy Ritchie.”
Throughout an interview that ended up lasting nearly twice as long as the reporter requested, Dufty blended pop culture references with political and personal history and his visions for the people of San Francisco. The campaign dog, a mutt named Astra, wandered around until finally plopping down on a dog bed.
You don’t see many gay, white, Jewish men speaking with such conviction about the dwindling black community in San Francisco. Bevan Dufty has what he calls “a black agenda” for San Francisco.
“I think most people that live and love here say that they love the diversity of San Francisco,” said Dufty. “But San Francisco’s African American population has been on the decline for probably two generations. And it has dropped to only 6% of the population, which is only a third of what it was 15 years ago. So in many ways this is a city that has become unwelcoming and unhealthy for African Americans.” For Dufty caring about the fate of African Americans in San Francisco is something that should cross class and ethnic boundaries.
“I have stood in one white [room] after another and talked about it and my message is: You don’t have to be black to have a black agenda,” he said. “Frankly I think white people care. I think the white students at USF are probably aware that they live in a city that models itself after diversity, but it’s not very black. I wonder how many of your fellow students have patronized a black business.”
Dufty talked about the importance of supporting black businesses and services in the remaining pockets of black communities in San Francisco, as well as developing meaningful work for African Americans.
“Black businesses really are an economic hub because they’re the most likely to hire individuals from the community to provide them with sort of training, mentoring you have in your early jobs,” he said. “As a city our outcomes for black and Latino young men are not very good. The rates of incarceration are much higher than the rates of going to a four-year college. And lastly, we have not, as a city, had a focus on increasing the capacity of non-profit organizations that are serving neighborhoods in the Bayview and the Western Addition.”
Dufty is concerned with community and long-term results. The Third Street Light Rail project failed to bring promised jobs to the black community. “Everybody black that worked on the construction site was waving a flag,” Dufty said. “Waving a flag, that is not a career builder, in my humble opinion.”
Growing up less than a mile from Harlem, Dufty has been immersed in diverse social groups since he was a child. The famous jazz singer Billie Holliday was his godmother. Dufty took time off from attending UC Berkeley to work as an aide for Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress and run for president of the United States.
“She was a lot of fun,” said Dufty, speaking of Chisholm. ““I did legislative work for her, but I also took her wigs to be done. She didn’t know how to drive so I drove her and that meant that I was with her from the morning till very late at night. She would have loved the advent of Internet shopping. She was a huge catalog shopper. Women in her office would always freak out when these boxes would arrive. In the parlance of Heidi Klum and ‘Project Runway,’ she was pretty ‘matchy matchy’.” Dufty spoke of Chisholm’s strength and integrity and the challenges she faced from white Congressmen who resisted having to share decision-making with a black woman.
Like Chisholm, who represented a diverse constituency, Dufty’s concerns cross many groups and issues. He was a vocal opponent of Prop. 8, the measure that banned gay marriage in California. He supports proposals to allow non-citizen immigrant parents to vote in school board elections. He is proud of the work he has done to promote more child care in the city.
Another major issue that Dufty is passionate about is improving Muni. Going to the heartbeat of Muni, the operators, Dufty plans on fixing the absentee issue. According to NBC News, 13% of Muni drivers do not show up for shifts, causing delays and over capacity buses.
He wants to address the problem by providing Muni operators with resources such as life coaching, family programs like Camp Mather, and professional development classes. “I’m a believer that if you have a relationship, and if you’re helping someone advance and be successful in life, then pushing that broom, chasing that stray dog, writing that parking ticket, driving that bus becomes bigger,” he said.
Dufty has one daughter, Sydney, who attends Rooftop Elementary School in Twin Peaks. One of the few candidates whose child attends a San Francisco public school, Dufty is genuine when he speaks about improving public education. His commercial, “Leaving” shows dozens of school children with rolling back packs walking out of the city. San Francisco is known to be a city of singles and senior citizens, with children making up only about 14% of the population.
“The reality is that we lose so many kids because everybody’s applying to the same elementary schools. Then they freak out because they don’t know how they feel about the middle schools,” Dufty said. In order to keep children in San Francisco and improve public schools Dufty plans on creating community schools, having language immersion programs, and expanding the availability of quality childcare.
“I’m a single gay man with a five-year-old child and a lesbian baby mama and I Iead a fairly fun lifestyle and I still go out,” he said. If you ever want to bump into Dufty, check out the scene at Underground SF in Lower Haight or Yank Sing, a dim sum place in SOMA, two of his favorite spots.
Dufty shared a story about the time he took some students from Immaculate Conception Academy, a Catholic girls school in the Mission District, to meet Mayor Gavin Newsom. A story about the visit landed on the front page of a weekly Catholic newspaper.
“That to me was a real victory,” he said. “Just being yourself. If you take every step and you’re open to people, I think that’s what politics is about.”