In San Francisco, a Voice of Moderation That's Often Unwelcome

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

SAN FRANCISCO -- As soon as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a ban on public nudity last month, booing filled the ornate Beaux-Arts legislative chamber in City Hall. Half a dozen opponents sprung up from the auditorium's oak benches and began casting off their clothes, hurling invectives at a figure seated up front.

"Down with Wiener! Wiener is a clone! Wiener is a Republican!" shouted a middle-aged man who had stripped down, first to a pair of white briefs with a hole in the back and then, finally, to nothing at all.

"Recall Wiener, recall the clone! C-l-o-n-e. Clone!"

That would be Scott Wiener, 42, a Harvard Law-educated first-term supervisor, archenemy of the Bay Area's radical nudists and, for the record, a lifelong Democrat.

Mr. Wiener sponsored the antinudity legislation after a public square in the Castro, which is part of his district, became a daily hangout for a group of exhibitionists called the Naked Guys. The ordinance, expected to go into effect in January, will allow nudity at the annual gay pride parade, however, as well as at an annual leather and fetish street fair.

The close vote -- 6 to 5 -- pointed to a larger tug of war between the city's left-leaning forces and its moderate bloc. It also hinted at the major role Mr. Wiener has played in pulling the Board of Supervisors toward the middle by focusing on quality-of-life issues, even as Mayor Edwin M. Lee has made emphasizing San Francisco's friendliness to business a priority.

"It's a very emotional issue for people on both sides -- people who think it's just absolutely the worst thing that they have to see in the neighborhood, and the people who just passionately believe this is what San Francisco is all about," Mr. Wiener said.

He cheerfully conceded that, at least for now, the antinudity ordinance has eclipsed his legislative record of the past two years. He is the board's second-most-prolific supervisor, having sponsored successful bills on issues ranging from housing and transportation to dog walkers and food trucks.

"He is certainly the driving force of the moderate members of the board," said Corey Cook, an associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.

Mr. Wiener, who grew up near Philadelphia and came out during his undergraduate years at Duke University, first visited San Francisco in 1993.

"As a gay man, San Francisco has a meaning in terms of a place where you can be yourself," he said, recalling his amazement at being in the Castro in 1993, even though the neighborhood was suffering under the AIDS epidemic.

After Mr. Wiener moved to San Francisco in 1997, he worked for a private law firm and then as a lawyer for the city before deciding to run for supervisor in District 8 in 2010.

By then, an increasing number of straight people, including couples with children, had moved to the Castro. Like many other neighborhoods, the Castro went through gentrification, which forced many longtime residents to move out.

Cleve Jones, a longtime Castro resident and gay rights activist who worked with Harvey Milk, a city supervisor who was killed in 1978, said he did not support Mr. Wiener in 2010 because he believed that the candidate's policies favored businesspeople and developers. Mr. Jones said that overdevelopment, not the antinudity ban, threatened the character of the Castro.

"Many people who are supporting the band of nudists who have made their beachhead here clearly believe that encouraging this behavior will somehow help keep the neighborhood gay," he said. "Now I don't understand this equation between naked and gay."

Mr. Wiener said he had taken on the nudists only reluctantly.

"For a year, I had people just pounding on me," he said. " 'Why aren't you doing something about this? If you don't get rid of this, I'm never supporting you again.' Then when I stated publicly that I was considering legislation to restrict it, other people were telling me, 'If you do this, I'm never supporting you again.'

"It got to the point where it was a lose-lose for me, so I just ended up doing what I thought was best for the neighborhood."

Whether the legislation was, in fact, a lose-lose for Mr. Wiener remains a matter of debate. It further raised his visibility, as well as the chatter surrounding his political future.

"He's well positioned to run for higher office," Mr. Cook said. "San Francisco has moved as a city in a more moderate direction in the last half-decade, and as a result there is a lot of frustration not just in his district but around the city about quality-of-life issues. So that puts him in the center of San Francisco politics."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here