Online Extra: Political Notes: LGBT political clubs welcome new leaders
by Matthew S. Bajko
The new year means San Francisco's LGBT political clubs will welcome a new crop of leaders as attention turns to control of the local Democratic and Republican parties, the presidential race and supervisor contests this fall in odd-numbered districts.
At its meeting tonight (Monday, January 9) the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club is set to elect Martha Knutzen as its new female co-chair. She will succeed Bentrish Satarzadeh, whose two-year term has come to an end.
Later in the month the more progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is expected to elect drag queen Anna Conda , whose given name is Glendon Hyde and serves on the Entertainment Commission, as its new president at its meeting Tuesday, January 24. The current office holder, Stephany Ashley, opted not to seek a second term.
And for the first time since it was revived three years ago the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for LGBT GOPers, is being run by a full slate of executive board members. The club elected the four officers in November, with Dan Brown re-elected as the group's president.
"I was the only one who ran, that is kind of how it worked out," joked Brown, 29, who set out to reinvigorate the San Francisco chapter in 2009. "But I am happy to still be there and continue us on a strong trajectory over the new year."
Joining him again as vice president is attorney Jason Clark. New are secretary Fred Schein, a retired Marin County resident who used to be president of the Gay Softball League and oversees summer activities for the gay ski group SAGA North; and treasurer Michael Gallardo, a long-term Log Cabin member who manages the San Francisco Symphony store.
"I am glad to see a full board in place," said Brown.
The club now has 40 dues-paying members and an email list that tops 300 people. For the first time in more than a decade it ran advertisements in the Bay Area Reporter for its endorsed candidates in local races last fall.
A successful fundraising drive allowed the club to have booths at Pride and the Castro Street Fair in 2011. With an estimated 3,000 gay Republicans living in the city, Brown wants to continue to bring on new members.
"I do see a lot of room for growth to be sure," he said. "This is a big election year and it is going to be very busy. There is so much to do, I just want to get as many volunteers in place as possible."
The first key agenda item for Brown is the upcoming June primary when GOP voters will elect members to the Republican County Central Committee. Clark already serves on it, while Brown and fellow club member Chris Bowman are alternates.
Log Cabin hopes to elect more out members to the oversight body for the local party. Brown is mulling whether to run for a seat.
Alice Club leadership changes
Electing Alice-supported candidates to the Democratic County Central Committee in June is at the top of Knutzen's list of priorities should she become the club's co-chair tonight.
Knutzen, 55, served on the DCCC in the mid-1990s. While she does not plan to seek a seat this year, she plans to work hard to elect whatever slate of candidates Alice backs.
Another top concern will be getting LGBT people appointed to commission seats in Mayor Ed Lee's administration. Lee was sworn into a full four-year term Sunday and will be looking to place his own appointees on various oversight bodies.
"I love helping run people for office and seeing how people get elected to office," said Knutzen, the legal operations manager at the district attorney's office.
From 1996 through 2004 Knutzen served on the city's Human Rights Commission, not only serving stints as chair but also co-chairing the agency's LGBT advisory group. Her leadership led to the nation's first LGBT Neighborhood Economic Development Organization being created as well as shined a spotlight on issues impacting queer youth and LGBT seniors.
She currently serves on the board of the Municipal Executives' Association, the labor union for city administrators. The group's contract expires this summer, and Knutzen will be involved in the negotiations to renew it.
For the last two years Knutzen has served as Alice's parliamentarian, and previously served in a variety of roles such as treasurer and chair of the club's political action committee. In 2005 she and her wife, Fran Kipnis, received Alice's Robert Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award.
The couple has been together 25 years, and Kipnis formerly served as an Alice co-chair and plans to remain on the club's emeritus board this year.
Knutzen was one of two people who had sought to become female co-chair this year. Under revised rules that Knutzen helped draft last year, the club's executive committee determined which candidates to put forth for the various board seats.
Several club members the B.A.R. spoke with declined to name the other candidate. The person could be nominated to run against Knutzen at the start of tonight's meeting, but the expectation is Knutzen will be unopposed.
"I hope to be elected," she said in a phone interview Friday, January 6.
She would serve alongside male co-chair Reese Aaron Isbell, whose term does not expire until next year. Several other positions are also expected to change hands tonight, with secretary Juan Cerda running to be treasurer and Curt Robinson up to succeed Cerda as secretary. Replacing Knutzen as parliamentarian would be Owen Stephens, co-chair of the club's communications committee.
Alice's political action committee would also see two new co-chairs: Kelton Finney and Ron Flynn.
The club is coming off two divisive election cycles that saw considerable upheaval among its membership. In 2010 three of its former co-chairs ran for District 8 supervisor and the club opted to do its first dual endorsement in the race.
The decision not only caused intense debate but also led to difficulties in how to support two candidates at the same time.
Last year similar issues arose with the mayoral race. In another first, the club voted to rank three candidates for mayor in alignment with the city's ranked-choice voting.
But it led to bickering among Alice members within the different mayoral camps over how resources were being spent to support the three candidates.
Knutzen has some experience dealing with bruised egos and hurt feelings stemming from heated political contests. She was the Milk Club's president during the 1995 mayoral election when then termed out Assemblyman Willie Brown ran against Roberta Achtenberg, an out lesbian who had served as a supervisor.
Neither candidate was able to secure Milk's endorsement that year. In 1996 club members opted to elect Jeff Sheehy as their president over Knutzen, who had sought another term.
"The club wanted to go in a different direction at the time. I respected that," recalled Knutzen.
She decided at the time to become more involved with the Alice Club. And she sees her past experience at Milk as a plus for now becoming Alice co-chair.
"I understand how just moving forward can really help get people back together again. It is why I felt I could play that role at Alice; I have seen it happen after almost every divisive mayoral race," said Knutzen. "I have that optimism that we can get through this."
The DCCC race, Obama's re-election campaign, and the local supervisor races will unite the club, said Knutzen.
"We can move forward together because we are talking about something else," she said.
Satarzadeh told the B.A.R. that the club would be in capable hands with Knutzen as co-chair.
"We are very lucky she is even interested in doing this," she said. "Martha has been around a long time and knows the community and community leaders really well. She has worked with Mayor Lee so she can forge relationships there with the gay community."
Looking back at her tenure, Satarzadeh acknowledged it was fraught at times. But she believes she helped the club weather the internal storms and saw several of its endorsed candidates win election.
"I had the great fortune to lead the club during a time where everything that was happening politically was new," she said.
Figuring out how to handle dual endorsements and then backing ranked choice candidates was "really difficult," she allowed, with passions running high and the multiple candidates dividing club members' loyalties.
"It caused chaos for a short amount of time," said Satarzadeh. "But to be able to lead through that and get to a point where the club is whole and people are moving on, plus the rules outlasted all that chaos, is a real pleasure."
Any Alice members who opted to leave the club or lessen their involvement due to the infighting hopefully will return, said Satarzadeh.
"If people were choosing to exit, they were doing so because of political disagreements. Looking back I hope the person would realize they didn't make the right decision. Alice is here to stay," she said. "The club has gained the respect of the community and has a great reputation and great rules in place."
The Alice Club election will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight (Monday, January 9) at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.
Due to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday next week, the Political Notes column will return Monday, January 23. It will feature an interview with Anna Conda on his plans for the Milk Club this year.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.