Columns » Politics

That's all, folks
by Bill Barnes

Right now I'm out on the playa at Burning Man, but last week I promised to write a column and I want to keep my word. Here goes.

Late Friday afternoon before I left town, publisher Tom Horn and news editor Cynthia Laird informed me I would no longer be the political columnist. Although Tom, Cynthia, and I had earlier discussed my service on the Democratic County Central Committee and decided it wouldn't pose a conflict, after I cast endorsement votes, Tom said it does create a conflict. Although this view differs from our original agreement, I respect that the publisher has reached a new conclusion. My understanding is that the paper will devote more of its political space to focus on marriage equality and the looming initiative fight in California.

Twice in my short time in San Francisco, I've been asked to fill some pretty big shoes in the LGBT community. When Mayor Willie Brown named me to succeed the late Dick Pabich as the city's AIDS policy adviser, and when Tom Horn and Cynthia Laird asked me to write a column in the space that had contained Wayne Friday's words, I was honored. The LGBT community is stronger when we recognize those who have gone before us, building upon their efforts, and adding our own voices. I want to thank everyone in the Bay Area Reporter family, especially the reporters who track down stories and the unsung heroes who design and distribute the paper. I also want to thank the B.A.R. and all the readers who've given a young gay black man the opportunity to share some of my thoughts about politics. I know I see the world through a different set of eyes because of my life, and I hope people find some value in that.

One final correction

Last week, two letter writers personally attacked me because of observations I made about Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The prior week, a letter from board members of Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club took issue with some comments, but didn't level personal criticism. One signer told me that the assemblyman requested folks send the letters. Other folks have reported receiving calls from the assemblyman related to me and some items in the column.

According to Tom Horn, none of these calls or personal attacks was the basis for ending the column. I would be remiss, however, if I did not correct inaccurate statements made about me just last week. Although some publications let a writer respond to letters to the editor the same time they appear, the first time I saw the text of these letters was in print last week, so this is my first chance to respond.

One letter came from Nanette Lee Miller , (she was the treasurer for the PG&E-backed campaign to kill public power, 2001's No on I). She took issue with my comments about the Plumbers' Hall evictions, but I've already addressed that so I'm not going to revisit it. Ms. Miller also states that I personally attacked Supervisor Tom Ammiano by describing the problems his bond measure was facing and "without naming names, Mr. Barnes claims there is mounting opposition to Ammiano's measure," implying that I was simply making it up.

To name names, opponents include Supervisor Sean Elsbernd (who wrote the official opponent argument), state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) (who voted no at the Central Committee), the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, and the San Francisco Taxpayers' Union, a group of real estate interests and fiscal watchdogs. It's hard to get two-thirds without opposition – a well funded No campaign usually kills a bond. That's a political fact of life, not an attack on Supervisor Ammiano or his generally good works.

Then, Julius Turman wrote that the origins of my report about a political contribution Assemblyman Mark Leno received, and has now returned, from Badlands owner Les Natali "are similarly suspect," and continues on to say that I had "previously campaigned for Mark Leno's opponents in both the Board of Supervisors and Assembly races." That's just untrue.

In 1998, when citywide elections were in place, I supported Supervisor Leno's first election. In 2000, even when I was managing Chris Daly's campaign, I backed Leno in District 8 for re-election. For what it's worth, Leno and I endorsed the same candidate to succeed him in 2002 – BART Director Tom Radulovich . It is true that in March 2002, I supported Harry Britt over Leno, and I've got no regrets. Britt ran in 1987 for Congress, in a race that Dick Pabich managed. He was brave enough to fill Harvey Milk's shoes after Milk was assassinated and I'm sure if he won, Britt would be doing a great job in Sacramento. That doesn't mean I haven't also supported Leno, which I have in the general election in 2002 and both elections in 2004. I've supported Britt in one of one election and endorsed Leno in five of six elections.

I've known Mark Leno since before he was appointed to the Board of Supervisors. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to San Francisco in 1997, when I was 19 and he was an older person I looked up to. For a time, he was a close personal friend and that meant a lot. In 1999 he appointed me to the San Francisco Youth Commission. I still believe that he might be a decent person. During the last few weeks however, I've felt the unbridled power of a powerful state legislator calling on people in our town to attack me because I wrote things he didn't want in the paper, namely public contribution information from the secretary of state's Web site.

People associated with the assemblyman have attacked me in print and are privately saying that I crossed the Badlands picket line (simply untrue). I'm sure there are those among the political elite who will believe my departure comes as the result of some of the assemblyman's phone calls. Despite all of the other San Franciscans he's called, the assemblyman's never picked up the phone to take issue with me about any of the facts about him in the column. To me, that speaks volumes.

I'm wrapping up this run with my head held high, and I'm still young and trusting enough to believe that the reasons for my departure are completely unrelated to these efforts by a powerful politician. I just hope we get to a day in the LGBT community where all of us spend our energies building the community we envision rather than grasping for that elusive 16th minute of personal fame.

Publisher's note: While we had originally thought that Bill Barnes's participation as an elected member of the Democratic County Central Committee would not create a conflict of interest with his covering local politics for the B.A.R., we have concluded that this is not the case. A County Central Committee member publicly votes on the party's endorsements for local candidates and measures. We feel this creates an inherent conflict with his ability to then cover these elections as the political columnist for the B.A.R. We thank Bill for his contributions these last several months and wish him the best in his future endeavors.


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