Watching City Hall #246 (12-12-03)
Sometimes when you win, you lose.
And, sometimes when you lose, you win.
(Rosie Perez: White men cant jump)
Lifes biggest thrills to me have always been sex, drugs, rock n roll and a really slam bang sporting event. Add Matt Gonzalezs run for Mayor of the City of San Francisco to the list. Put it at the top.
It was like making love for a solid month. It was like 30 days of 2 minute drills. It was you get the idea. Now its thanks for the memory time and I want to highlight the major events and characters I encountered during my 30 day sojourn at Matt Central. First, let me layout the headquarters for you.
Matt Central 2003
The Gonzalez complex was housed within several connected sections of the first floor of Walter Wongs CitiCenter office complex at 13th & Mission. Walter has himself some building there. Four stories of offices with probably near a quarter million square feet of office space booked by mostly some kind or another of government agencies (state probation officers, various non-profits, the VA that sort of thing) I came to look at the arrangement as a kind of upper torso of a human body containing head, neck, heart, aorta & lungs. I know, the analogy sucks, but it works. The pieces of the headquarters that snaked around the previously occupied sections of the building were, in fact, kind of shaped like and did, in fact, work like the various portions of a human body.
Originally the entire campaign was housed in the 13th street section Im calling the brain of the operation. Its around 15k square feet in a horseshoe shape containing 11 small offices of a couple of hundred square feet each and a series of larger rooms suitable for wiring for various phone-banking and number crunching facilities. Matts office centered the top of the horseshoe, flanked by those of Campaign Manager, Enrique Pierce and Campaign Spokesperson, Ross Mirkarimi. Bob Coleman, Matts all-purpose Aide de Camp, floated behind his unassuming boss 24/7 serving as combination driver/bodyguard/journalist/photographer & strategist. Bob was easily the campaigns most versatile player. You could find him in any office (except mine) returning calls & the like during the rare breaks Matt took from the field work to regroup. Heading down the horseshoe left, from Enriques office, a tour would stop at Campaign Treasurer, Randy Knoxs office. While Randy maintained a successful law practice on a life-line during the campaign, the bulk of the financial accounting was done by Michelle Monogan who also worked a full-time job while doing Matts books, often until 3am.
Next down the horseshoe was David Pascal who served as a kind of Campaign Fixer. While I never figured out exactly what it was he did, he was very important (Kalish says David actually ran the campaign) he was on-site head honcho once the Matt-tourage left headquarters every morning. David was not only important, but he, his girlfriend & her two girlfriends who served as aides, were one of the visual highlights of the campaign.
Next to Pascal, was the brightest person in the campaign. That would be Marc Salomon, whom idiot mayors, supervisors and bureaucrats have been overlooking for years. What can I say? Marc Salomon is the very best political mind in the City. Marc gathered, calculated, projected and then preached. He and Bruce Wolf were the two members of the campaign (remember, this was a coalition of people who often fight, but were united to elect Matt) these two guys could stroll up and settle any argument (yes, there were a few I was always wrong in those I was involved in but, hey, whos counting?) they could settle matters in seconds because they were totally respected by all elements.
Next to Marcs kettle of computers was a room so secret that God was not allowed inside. Until, election day. And, I really dont know how to best describe it. a 10x20 room covered from top to bottom with color-coded maps of the City. Dozens of them. Like some Jackson Pollock week-long session of flinging buckets of bright colored paint around the walls. Manned by the sexiest little, mini-skirted oriental ladies who made me think immediately of a James Bond movie. (save the bitching everyone knows Im a sexist dog) As I got to calculating it, the ideas moved from Salomon, to the demographics people (thats what they were doing in the Pollock room) from them, on down to the PR/writers area where the findings were crafted into texts for phone messaging and pamphlets and mailers and airplane banners or whatever the hell it was that the campaign did to let everyone in on how great Matt is. Judy b.s office was next to there. Now, I think Judy looks just like a young Ingrid Bergman and am madly in love with her, so youll get no objective view of her from this quarter. Judy ran the network of neighborhood offices Matt established once we became serious contenders in the race. Shes the one I described in an earlier column as tossing down her papers to pause and sing a great jazz vocal.
There was an entire phone bank room for fund-raising and an adjoining room for the telephone receptionists who tracked all. Going up the other side of the horseshoe, there were rooms full of computer banks at which the campaign web-site was created and launched in a tenth the time (and, for free) in a tenth of the time a regular site would have taken. There was a site headquarters next to that (later, home of the investigators from Kalishs election fraud unit) Last at the upper right side of the horseshoe was a 20x50 foot conference room where think-tank sessions ran at least half of every day. That was the brain area. That, and the kitchen.
Ill agree with Charles Kalish that the most important person in the campaign other than the candidate was Bruce Wolf, the IT coordinator. His office, appropriately, adjoined that of the Campaign Manager. Bruce and his faithful service dog, Charlie, worked sleepless stretches of up to 72 hours guiding the 42 computer/phone technicians who volunteered for the campaign. Id be remiss in not singling out the owner/operators from MonkeyBrains.net (Alex, Rafael & Rudy and, Rudys faithful 200 lb or so puppy Slug whod do anything to get Charlie Bruces dog - off-task for play Slug & Charlie racing and barking through the place during set-up at 3am is one of my fondest memories of the entire campaign) so, I single out MonkeyBrains but cannot forget Marc Powell, of Rotten.com who assembled a serious galley type kitchen from a jumble of parts that ran through each of the various connected sections of the building. It took me awhile to appreciate the breadth of Marcs talents. Heres a guy who could assemble a kitchen overnight (actual kitchen space was maybe 6x30 lets see you feed 300 people minimum with continuous food for from 12 to 20 hours a day) He set up a kitchen capable of feeding that many people and also designed the serving area and dishwashing facilities in the Club Electorate. Tracy Hughes original kitchen was completely vegetarian. As the staff grew, Walter Wong sent down food from his third floor cafeteria and Susan Kalish (wife to the infamous dog, Charles) came to help Tracy there was an almost overnight explosion in the number of people who needed to be fed from 30 or so, to 300. Thus entered Rotten.coms Marc Powell. Combining his own extensive network of friends and the support system (food-wise) of all members of the staff, they brought in thousands of pounds of food which were prepared and served at no cost to the campaign. Marc isolated the kitchen area sos people couldnt wander in looking for a glass of milk or some munchies & disrupt an operation that would have been the envy of most of the restaurants in this 2000+ restaurant town. Early on, the kitchen and brains section of the campaign were isolated from the rest of the campaign operation. It was necessary. There were, maybe, 50 people tops at any one time in that section of the building and with the kitchen; they got interrupted lots. And, when a virus infected any of our systems, Marc would come charging from room to room in his kitchen gear and check the computers one at a time. Our own geek cook. It figured.
Food at Gonzos headquarters
Sometimes, late at night, Walter Wong brought the finest cracked crab from Chinatown. He is, after all, the President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. His offices are upstairs from the campaign headquarters & he was often about. I, personally, had a mostly liquid diet. I arose early and ate and drank everything left on my desk from the previous evening (4 hours was a long sleep) then, I started with a shave, shower and reassembly of personal parts before heading down the street for the days papers, coffee, and the most disgusting thing I could find on McDonalds menu. Back at Central, by 10am, the food was beginning to appear on the buffet line in the heart of the headquarters. The remainder of the day was one gourmet treat after another. The food moved from the kitchen, through the feng shui of the interior courtyard (which includes a fabulous koi pond the size of a small swimming pool and surrounded by an appropriate rock & shrubbery garden). The food came not just from the kitchen, but, often from without. Walter, as I said, often sent food. Volunteers cooked and delivered hundreds of trays of food that covered the gamut from sushi to cornbread. Tracy and Susan and Marc and their troops cooked thousands of pounds of donated food and moved it out to the chow-line in the Club Electorate. Dessert vendors offered ice creams and yogurts and pastries and cookies and fruit and plain old junk food all the way down to mounds and mounds of ding dongs for the late night IT freaky people crowd (one campaign exec stopping before a mound of such offerings, literally stacked in the floor in front of IT central ding dongs to cotton candy: Looks like youre building a twinkie defense.) It was a great place to get fat. But no one did.
No one did
Everyone lost weight on the campaign. We were all strung tightly for every minute of every day and night. Wolf, the IT impresario was the champion at consecutive hours (and, only by breaking his own records), but everyone worked ungodly hours. He was part of the woodwork. I lived there, but I could hardly count what I did as work in the traditional sense. Monkey Brains spent most nights working (I always have thought of these types as vampires) David Pascal was usually first of the regular staff to arrive on scene. Jonathan Fluck was first in the volunteer center which adjoined the aorta which I overlooked from my office. That would get me back to the heart of the center.
Paul Hayward, man of many talents
I built a night club once and it took me 2 years. Paul built a nighclub (Club Electorate) in Gonzos headquarters in 24 hours. He also accepted, categorized, situated and hung the dozens and dozens of pieces of art that decorated Matts walls during the last month of the campaign. Not content to work in a warehouse environment, someone had the bright idea to advertise on Craigs List for artists who might want to hang art in Matts place. Over 300 replied. Paul was our decorator and also, bouncer if need be.
This guy has done 4 CDs. He has a great band. He probably set records (if any are kept) for the amount of donated talent and art he coordinated within a months time for the Center walls and for the Club Electorates stage. We had classical flautists. Various ethnic ensembles featuring music, dance, vocals or, all of the above. Diamond Dave Whittaker brought his poetic entourage before the patrons (seated upon plush green couches in the 5k square foot room, surrounded by floor to ceiling glass walls that were decorated with childrens Matt for Mayor art and which framed the koi pond behind) poetry and music and song and dance. Art and food and passionate politics and commitment to all of the above. The club, as I mentioned, also contained the permanent buffet where dishes changed every few hours. Also, curtained to one side of the club, in the rear there was this solitary deep sink that had been converted into the campaign dishwashing station. Positioned and designed by Marc Powell, the station was fed by tubs of dishes brought in from everywhere and was manned by a variety of volunteers (some of whom were homeless) they kept the space spotless. It was some campaign. OK, lets continue the body analogy.
If the 13th street offices were the head, and, the Club Electorate was the heart (and soul) of the campaign, the Volunteer Center, was those combined, plus everything else. The Volunteer Center was the lifes blood of Matts campaign.
Most all of the money came from volunteers. Most people who wrote a check or threw money into a pail, also walked the precincts or did some dishes. (I had a Phd picking up my trash for a few days.) I was a 24/7 resident (only one) of the narrow hallway that ran between the Club Electorate and the huge (at least 25k square feet) the vast Volunteer Center. As I watched the thousands of volunteers and gawkers go through the narrow opening before the huge plate glass window that comprised most of that wall of the office, I was often heard to say: This couldnt be a better view unless it was the hallway between the pool and the womens shower. I had a good view, is what Im trying to say. So, keep the scene in your mind.
If you entered the center from the 13th street door (North) and proceeded on through the brain & on past the koi pond and the Club Electorate and made a hard right into the aorta, you passed my office. How can I explain what I did?
It began as kind of a joke between me and Gonzalez. I wanted to be a permanent fixture in the headquarters for the last month of the campaign, but I really didnt want to be a part of the staff. Matt hooked me up with the office complete with high speed access and a phone. Across the hall was a laundry room & a shower room & bath. It dont get much better. It was a de facto press office which I shared with numerous of my colleagues & in which I received and passed out information, and (best of all) got to entertain VIPs awaiting the candidate or their time on the stage just down the little hall. I met Delores Huerta. Danny Glover graced my door. Matt Gonzalez Sr. and his best buddy, Romero (a Gonzalez uncle) and I entertained one another for days. Joe ODonoghue and Calvin Welch. Randy Shaw and Randy Knox. Savannah Blackwell and Steven Jones and Matthew Hirsch of the Guardian. Adriel Hampton & J.K. Deneen & Ethan Fletcher of the Examiner. Laura Wellman was the lone Chronicle reporter with the nerve to step over my threshold. Matt cubby-holed the Washington Post & Time magazine reporters with me while he shook off the dust from the road. I gave interviews with most of the TV channels. All with no real official function. I was simply, the campaign welcome wagon/VIP overload area and you cannot do better as a reporter. Imagine, all of the characters key to the campaign come and sit in your room at all hours of the day and night and drink wine or scotch or bourbon or water & relax. I never took off my press credentials for a month. (fore-warned is fore-armed) And, people brought me information. (well leave that for another entire column)
The Volunteer Center
Theres a minimum of 25k square feet in the Mission (West Wing) of the area occupied by Gonzalez Central. There were a number of offices, mostly manned by a permanent presence of groups such as Richard Marquez & Christina Olagues People of Color Caucus and the Sierra Club and of course, Ray Guidarnos Democrats for Gonzalez self-settled, spider-web type digs built into a vacant corner. Keith Savage & Abdella Hangary parked their shopping carts behind the cartons and spent all day & often nights in the center.
The walls were lined with ironing boards (for instant tables for material dispensation and voter registration) ironing boards, a large lounge area in front with 5 or 6 full couches arranged before the floor to ceiling glass windows in front (all brightly painted with campaign ads) dozens of long folding tables replete with literature, shirts, buttons, sign-up sheets, information drop and pick-up areas all indicated by large hand-painted signs hanging from the pipes above with arrows pointing to the appropriate areas. And, the people swirled constantly before the tables. Individually. In groups. Amazing. There was a room in the area with additional refrigerators which came into play as the campaign grew. A therapeutic masseuse set up her digs but went largely ignored as the staff waded through cramps and fevers popping aspirin and lowering their shoulders. Colds and sore throats and muscle pulls and scrapes and sprains came and went, but few missed a day. When you needed a refill or to relax, you just walked on back to the Club Electorate for some food and drink and music and dance. It was all very civilized. Yep, uh huh thats the way it was.
It was some party, wasnt it Woodrow?
(Robert Duval, on deathbed in Lonesome Dove)
The fires set at Matt Central warmed and raged through the City. The energy from those who set the fires raged through the hall before my window. From volunteers to voyeurs. From respected media to the Chronicle. Saints to sinners. Homeless to affluent. Every age, color, size and orientation. Idiots to savants (sometimes occupying same bodies). Provocateurs and professors. Crocodiles and bunny rabbits, side by side. All passing from the steady hum of the volunteer center with at least one thumping boom box, on past my window and into Haywards campaign lounge to recharge, then returning to continue assembling and forwarding bundles and signs while the field office behind gathered information from every single precinct and filed it away and while 30 phone bankers worked before half of the front windows as the rain pounded in the streets. All and all, it was not unusual to have at least 300 people working the center at virtually anytime of the day or night. They all swept past my window.
Yes, it was indeed, some party, Woodrow.