Tag Archives: Dennis Herrera

San Francisco’s Lawyers and Marriage Equality

San Francisco has been there from day one

By Brian Leubitz

Back in 2004, Gavin Newsom was not a popular dude in Democratic circles. Well, scratch that, he was an enormously popular dude in almost all circles in San Francisco, with approval ratings over 80%. But, take a few steps out of the SF bubble, and Democrats were seething over what many saw as the reason for John Kerry’s loss in 2004. From the New York Times in 2004:

Some in the party were suggesting even before the election that Mr. Newsom had played into President Bush’s game plan by inviting a showdown on the divisive same-sex-marriage issue.

Most of the talk has been behind closed doors. But when Senator Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat and Newsom supporter, answered a question about the subject at a news conference outside her San Francisco home on Wednesday, the prickly discussion spilled into the open.

“I believe it did energize a very conservative vote,” Ms. Feinstein said of the same-sex marriages here. “I think it gave them a position to rally around. I’m not casting a value judgment. I’m just saying I do believe that’s what happened.”(NYT)

My oh my, have times changed. John Kerry had more than just one reason for his loss in 2004, but looking back, Gavin Newsom just looks like a leader who took a step that, while perhaps one step ahead of the institutional leadership of his party, was just leading where the country was already heading. To this day, Newsom’s marriage activism has given him credibility with the LGBT community, as well as the general Democratic base. It made him a national name, even if it made him a bit unpopular with some big names at the time.

But through all that, San Francisco’s work for marriage equality was about more than just the ceremonies at our beautiful City Hall. The City also directly took on the injustice in court. And for the better part of a decade, the City Attorney and his staff have been in on every legal case about California’s marriage inequality.

Nine years ago, city officials here sued to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriage. It was the first government challenge to such a law, and it set in motion a legal chain reaction that gave rise to a momentous Supreme Court case to be argued next Tuesday. …

“We’re defense lawyers,” Dennis J. Herrera, the city attorney, said in his office in San Francisco’s palatial City Hall. “We defend laws that are on the books. And we got a lot of heat at the time for stepping out of that traditional defense role.”

In the years that followed, Mr. Herrera’s office – which now includes five former Supreme Court law clerks, more than some major law firms – has been involved in every phase of the legal war over same-sex marriage in California.

Since that time, the California Attorneys General, Brown and Harris, have followed the City’s lead in calling for the reversal of Prop 8. And President Obama’s “evolution” on marriage equality has recently extended to the Solicitor General filing a brief with the Supreme Court against Prop 8. Would that have happened without the San Francisco leadership? Maybe, but SF gave the rest of the nation a kick in the pants and the motivation for the rapid change on the question of marriage equality that we are at now.

In the most recent polls, support for marriage equality hit 58%. And Republican elected leaders are jumping as far away as possible from NOM’s sinking ship. Apparently with all of the GOP introspection these days, that is supposed to make them hip, or cutting-edge or something.

But real leadership involves real risks. San Francisco’s leaders took those risks from Day one, and have been there ever since.

The San Francisco 2009 Ballot

Well, there have been more interesting years in the history of San Francisco elections, but nonetheless, ballots have hit mail boxes, and there are a few things to vote on.  So, I figured I’d take a quick stroll through the ballot. I’ll start with the unnoposed candidates and then meander down through the 5 ballot measures.

City Attorney

Dennis Herrera

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Incumbent City Attorney Dennis Herrera is running his second unnopposed election after winning in a squeaker against Jim Lazarus, currently a policy advisor for the SF Chamber of Commerce, in 2001. Herrera’s work against Prop 8 makes him very popular within the LGBT community as well as the progressive community at large.  He has also focused much of his public work on environmental issues by trying to shut down the Mirant Power plant, which emits some rather disgusting levels of pollution when it is operating.


José Cisneros

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Disclosure: I’m helping out the campaign with the web presence.

Treasurer Cisneros is also running unopposed.  Five years into a successful stint as treasurer, he has done some great work trying make San Francisco a more livable city for those of all economic conditions.  He worked with Mayor Gavin Newsom to create the Working Families Credit to spur low-income wage earners to file for taxes in order to get the earned income tax credit as well as a local match.  The Bank On San Francisco program has become a model to be emulated by muncipalities and states across the country. It encourages low-income San Franciscans to get bank accounts and avoid the high check-cashing fees. I’m helping the campaign out because I have enormous respect for Cisneros, an openly gay Latino elected official. I’ll be happy to cast my vote for him.

Proposition A: Budgeting

Prop A would put the City on a 2-year budget cycle and would require the City to adopt a five-year financial plan along with a host of other good government budgeting measures.

Originally the plan was to put a more comprehensive budget reform on the budget, but as the plan was getting drafted items kept falling out as one side or another objected.  So, we’re left with a pretty milquetoast little proposition. Is it worth voting for? PI lean towards yes. The 2-year cycle will be mildly helpful, and can’t really hurt.

The main opposition has come from those who would like to see more wholesale budget reforms, their main point being that the voters won’t want to change the budget process twice. I’m not sure I buy that argument. I’m going to vote YES.

Prop B: Eliminating Staff requirements

Why the City Charter has a requirment that each supervisor has exactly two aides is beyond me.  This measure wouldn’t affect the budget for the supervisors’ offices or really change anything of substance. But, sure, why not? I’m going to vote YES.

Prop C: Renaming Candlestick Park

There are big numbers for this being tossed about, but I can’t see that there are going to companies lining up to be the third brand name on Candlestick Park.  We’ll probably get a few million dollars, half of which is required to go to the parks system. Some people are sentimental about the name of the ‘Stick. Me, not so much. I say if somebody wants to buy it, why not? I’m voting Yes.

Prop D: Mid-Market Sign District

This is the most controversial measure on the ballot. The idea here is to create some sort of Times Square-like district on Market between 5th and 7th Streets. The area used to contain many theaters and the like, but has now gradually changed to have more porn theaters than anything else.  It’s not a very good neighborhood, and could use any sort of revenue. 20% of the revenue goes to the City, 40% if the building where the ads are going is not used  “for the arts.”

I’m just not sure that putting a bunch of “hi-tech” signs on Market street is really going to solve anything. I’m not a big fan of Times Square in New York, let alone trying to shoehorn one into place in SF.  I’m leaning No on this one, but I probably won’t make up my mind really until I mail the ballot back.

Prop E: Advertisements on City Property

In 2002, the City voted in favor of a “no new billboards” policy. This would just extend this to other street furniture. Existing contracts could be renewed, but the City couldn’t start selling new ads.  I’m with the bulk of the Board of Supes. Enough is enough. I’m voting Yes.