Breaking news: Spanjian out of D8 supe race; taking job in Houston
by Cynthia Laird
The quartet of leading gay candidates in the District 8 supervisor race lost a member today, when Laura Spanjian announced she was leaving the campaign to accept a top job in the administration of out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker in Houston.
Spanjian will become the sustainability director for Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the country. She starts her new job April 19.
Spanjian, who campaigned hard for Parker in last year's mayor's race in that city, told the Bay Area Reporter Thursday, March 11 that it was a difficult decision.
"I'm leaving the race and leaving San Francisco," Spanjian said. "It was such a big decision. It was a hard decision."
Currently, Spanjian, 38, works as an assistant manager for external affairs for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where she is responsible for the agency's sustainability planning and legislative affairs. She will resign that position as well as a seat she holds on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.
Parker praised Spanjian's municipal experience in announcing her new hire.
"Laura Spanjian brings years of municipal experience in crafting innovative environmental policies that green our cities and save people money," Parker said in a statement. "Her knowledge of city government and her key role in creating and promoting major environmental projects will be invaluable assets as we strengthen our focus on making Houston one of the greenest cities in the nation."
Spanjian said she is excited about her new career move.
"I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to work directly with Mayor Annise Parker and her staff and contribute to a cleaner environment which is, of course, not just a local issue," said Spanjian in a statement. "Sadly, this also requires me to move from our wonderful city and end my campaign for District 8 supervisor. I am deeply appreciative of the hard work of the many supporters, volunteers, and donors who have contributed to my campaign."
Three major candidates remain
Spanjian's decision to accept the job in Houston leaves three major gay candidates in the District 8 race, where they are seeking to replace openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who is termed out and running for mayor in 2011.
Those candidates are Deputy City Attorney Scott Wiener, local attorney Rafael Mandelman, and Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Prozan. Spanjian's departure from the race leaves Prozan as the only woman candidate right now. The filing deadline for the supervisor races isn't until August.
Wiener told the B.A.R. that he has "tremendous respect" for Spanjian.
"It's a great opportunity for her and to live in the same city as her partner," Wiener said.
Spanjian's girlfriend, Susan Christian, lives in Houston.
Wiener said that he's worked with Spanjian in various capacities since the late 1990s when she served on the board of Community United Against Violence and Wiener did pro bono legal work for the LGBT anti-violence agency.
"I've also worked closely with Laura at the Alice Club and as members of the DCCC," he said. Wiener also serves on that elected body.
Prozan said Spanjian is a great leader for the LGBT community.
"I think she would have ran a hell of a campaign," Prozan told the B.A.R.
Mandelman said Spanjian was a "formidable rival" on the campaign trail.
"San Francisco's loss is Houston's gain," Mandelman told the B.A.R. "She is an incredibly talented individual. I've been proud to work with her. She is a formidable rival and someone I have a lot of respect for."
Reached Thursday morning, Dufty said he was incredibly happy for Spanjian.
"I think she's made a decision, a great personal decision," Dufty said. "There are a lot of decisions in politics that reflect reality and she will make an enormous contribution to a large city represented by a gay mayor."
Spanjian had trailed in fundraising for her supervisor bid and a maneuver by the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club last year left her out of the club's endorsement; Alice voted to dual endorse Prozan and Wiener. Mandelman, the more progressive of the major candidates, was endorsed by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, where he had served as president.
Dufty said that Spanjian has long advocated for the LGBT community.
"In the past 12 years there have been very few major achievements in the LGBT community that she hasn't had a hand in," Dufty said.
Spanjian began her local government career as a legislative aide for out lesbian former Supervisor Leslie Katz. In that role, Spanjian helped work on the Equal Benefit Ordinance in the late 1990s.
At the SFPUC, Spanjian oversees the legislative and public outreach efforts in support of some of the city's most important environmental and economic projects. She oversees a nearly $6 million budget and more than 45 staff members. She played an instrumental role in securing environmental, project, financial, and rate increase approvals for over 80 projects in a 10-year $4.3 billion Water System Improvement Program. She led final negotiations and approval for an urban 5-megawatt solar project, giving San Francisco the nation's largest municipal solar installation. She launched innovative environmental initiatives that help residents and businesses go green and save money, including GoSolarSF, a $10 million solar incentive program, and SFGreasecycle, a program that recycles restaurant grease into biofuel. She also directed the passage of numerous state legislative bills, including the expansion of indoor and outdoor graywater use and ensuring replacement of inefficient water fixtures in residents and businesses.
Prior to joining the SFPUC in 2004, Spanjian coordinated government and community affairs for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, where she managed and secured approvals and community support for multiple multi-million dollar projects, including the Third Street Light Rail project, Alternative Fuel Vehicle Program and numerous financial and development projects.