Breaking: Ex-AIDS czar lashes out at Lee, Chiu at mayoral forum
by Matthew S. Bajko
Interim San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu came under withering attack at Wednesday night's mayoral forum on HIV and AIDS issues.
Lee, who was appointed as mayor in January, had been scheduled to take part in the debate. Posters for the October 19 event included the mayor's name along with seven other confirmed attendees.
But Lee was a no show at the forum, sponsored by a number of AIDS community groups. Organizer Brian Basinger told the Bay Area Reporter that he was told just hours prior to the 5:30 p.m. start time that the mayor would not attend, but he did not say what reason was given.
"I was told this afternoon the mayor wouldn't show up," said Basinger following the two-hour debate that attracted 100 people.
The mayor's absence did not go unnoticed. About halfway into the program, moderator Donna Sachet asked panelist Jeff Sheehy, who volunteered to be AIDS czar for former Mayor Gavin Newsom, to ask a question to the candidates who did take part.
Instead, Sheehy first lambasted Lee for skipping out on the mayoral forum.
"Mayor Lee is a dick for not showing up," said Sheehy, who is backing City Attorney Dennis Herrera in the race. "I haven't heard HIV or AIDS come out of his mouth once. I guess this is what we can expect if he is elected mayor."
Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for Lee's campaign, did not immediately respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment Thursday.
UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon Winnicker sent the B.A.R. a message saying that despite the posters for the event naming Lee as a confirmed participant, "we didn't. The mayor's schedule is usually not set until late and that's when we notify people and we'd been trying to work in the forum."
Lee opted instead to attend the AIDS Legal Referral Panel's annual gala. The event took place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the San Francisco War Memorial Building Green Room.
As for Sheehy's comments, Winnicker called him Herrera's "out of control attack dog whose vulgar name-calling doesn't deserve a response."
He noted that the mayor protected HIV and AIDS funding in this year's budget and recently attended the groundbreaking for the renovation of the San Francisco Office of AIDS.
Basinger said Thursday morning that the mayor did turn in a questionnaire on AIDS issues that he had asked all the candidates to fill out.
Another panelist who had confirmed but didn't show up went unmentioned during the forum. Venture capitalist Joanna Rees had also been advertised as accepting an invite to the debate but was a no show.
Campaign spokesman Nick Panagopoulos told the B.A.R. that Rees had an "unanticipated scheduling conflict" crop up at the last minute.
"We alerted the organizers of the debate and apologized for the short notice yesterday afternoon," Panagopoulos said.
After haranguing Lee for being absent, Sheehy then turned his sights on Chiu, lambasting him and city leaders for handing over "city property on the waterfront" to wealthy tech titan Larry Ellison in order to bring the America's Cup boating race to San Francisco.
Yet as evidenced by the discussion during the forum, Sheehy complained that the city has not acted as swiftly to deal with the fiscal problems AIDS agencies face and the diminishing care people living with HIV and AIDS receive.
"Why haven't you done anything? You are the board president, what have you done for us?" asked Sheehy of Chiu, prompting many in the audience to cheer and clap in approval.
Chiu, who arrived late to the forum, responded that bringing the international sporting event to San Francisco would pump $1.4 billion into the city over the course of the two years of related America's Cup events starting in 2012. He added that the event would translate into jobs for people working in the city's restaurants and hotels.
"I know it is easy to take pot shots at me because I am the board president," said Chiu. "We are doing the best we can with the money we don't have."
His response about jobs did not go over well with the audience, considering half of the city's AIDS population is over the age of 50 and many are disabled and no longer working. Some audience members were audibly annoyed with Chiu's response, interrupting him as he tried to address the question.
Sheehy again criticized him with a follow-up question.
"What meetings have you had with Mayor Lee on AIDS or the mayor's agenda?" asked Sheehy. "So posh restaurants are full; I don't give a shit."
Chiu divulged that he has not had "many meetings with the mayor on substantive issues" this year. And he dismissed suggestions that the city had granted Ellison a sweetheart deal.
"We are not turning our land rights to him," said Chiu, noting that he has supported a number of revenue-generating measures since being elected to office.
And Chiu noted he worked with Lee this year on the city's budget cuts so that they minimally impacted the city's social safety net.
"We've protected people who have HIV and AIDS as part of every year's budget negotiations," said Chiu. "I've been with you ... and will continue to be."
Supervisor John Avalos, who also voted to support the America's Cup deal, likely would have come under the same line of questioning from Sheehy. But he announced early on that he had two other events scheduled that night and quietly left before the other candidates had finished giving their introductory remarks.
In his opening statement Avalos noted not only his work at a clinic in the Mission for Latinos living with HIV and AIDS but also his time as a legislative aide to former Supervisor Chris Daly. The bulk of his focus was on budget issues, he said, and one of the priorities was "minimizing cuts to HIV and AIDS services here in San Francisco."
As chair of the board's budget committee, he said he has maintained that goal.
"I want to make sure we have a diverse approach in HIV services," said Avalos.
The hard line of questioning for Chiu may have helped him in the end. Jason Villalobos, an HIV-positive gay man, told the B.A.R. after the debate that Chiu had "floated up" into consideration as his third choice under the city's ranked-choice voting system.
"I am debating between Avalos and him," said Villalobos, whose top two choices are Herrera and gay former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, though he would not disclose in which order. "I think it was unfair the bashing he took in today's debate. Overall, he has done a good job as board president. He gets it."
Villalobos later sent the B.A.R. a message to say he had decided his picks would be Dufty, Herrera and Chiu in that order.
Both Herrera and Dufty also took part in the debate. The other participants were former Supervisor Tony Hall; lesbian playwright and Green Party candidate Terry Joan Baum; and state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).
Of the other serious contenders for mayor, Basinger said Public Defender Jeff Adachi had a scheduling conflict and could not take part. Former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and city Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting did not respond to their invites, he said.
The B.A.R. will have more coverage of last night's AIDS mayoral forum in its Thursday, October 27 issue.