The story of Q

Pub date October 23, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan


With just a couple of weeks to go until San Franciscans elect their next mayor, Quintin Mecke, the 34-year-old program director of the Safety Network, has emerged as Gavin Newsom’s top challenger.

Since declaring his candidacy, the fresh-faced Mecke has been endorsed by almost every significant progressive entity in the city, including supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi, BART board member and Livable City director Tom Radulovich, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Guardian.

"Of all the mayoral candidates, Quintin has the longest record of working in the community and on important issues facing the city," said Daly, who was the first to publicly endorse the Pennsylvania native, shortly after Mecke declared his candidacy in August.

But despite his solid list of endorsers, Mecke hasn’t managed to raise much money. He didn’t come close to taking advantage of the mayoral public financing program created by Mirkarimi and approved by the most liberal members of the Board of Supervisors. Mecke said his late entry made it impossible to raise the required $25,000 (from at least 250 donors who could prove San Francisco residency) by the Aug. 28 deadline.

"Had I had more time, I don’t think raising the $25,000 is that much of a challenge," Mecke, a former Peace Corps volunteer, told the Guardian at the time. But two months later Mecke has only raised $11,203, with Sup. Tom Ammiano and former mayoral contender Matt Gonzalez respectively contributing $250 and $100, although neither has endorsed him yet.

With Newsom sitting on a $1.8 million war chest, Daly admits that it would take a perfect storm for Mecke to win.

"The incumbent would have to stumble between here and the finish line," said Daly, who toyed with running until Aug. 8, at which point Mecke dove into the race, challenging Newsom’s record on public safety, homelessness, and affordable housing — issues that Mecke has been intimately involved with since moving here a decade ago.

Mecke’s move to California came shortly after he survived a near-fatal climbing accident in Alaska, which shattered all of his teeth when he fell 40 feet off a glacier. The fall also saddled Mecke, who didn’t have health insurance, with $90,000 in medical bills.

"It was a humbling experience, but people have to take responsibility for the situations they find themselves in," said Mecke, who worked for Ammiano on arriving in San Francisco and has since worked on the Ammiano, Mirkarimi, and Gonzalez campaigns.

Mecke also helped found the South of Market Community Anti-Displacement Coalition, served as president of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, and helped author a report on homelessness that led him to publicly debate then-supervisor Newsom over his Care Not Cash initiative.

"Accountability without support is a form of cruelty," Mecke stated in 2002, a belief he still holds as he tries, as a member of the Homeless Shelter Monitoring committee, to get the city to implement universal shelter standards.

"If you raise the quality of life and safety standards in the city’s shelters, then more homeless people will want to enter them," Mecke said.

Mecke, a Western Addition resident, believes in community-driven responses to crime and violence. While Newsom claims that black-on-black violence has decreased under his administration, Mecke counters that African Americans make up only 7 percent of the city population but constitute 60 percent of the homicide victims. He thinks we need a real community policing program.

"We have 10 fiefdoms, 10 police districts," Mecke said. "That means that the oft-touted and talked about idea of community policing doesn’t really exist."

Newsom campaign manager Eric Jaye claims the only thing he knows about Mecke is that "he opposed Care Not Cash and he is supported by Sup. Chris Daly.

"But his own record? That’s a little bit harder," Jaye continued. "Mecke works for a city-funded nonprofit, but ironically, he’s unhappy with the violence prevention work the city is doing. Presumably he’s running because he thinks he can do a better job, but we’re proud of our progress on universal health care, our work on climate protection, our civic efforts, the fact that the eviction rate has plummeted, and that there’s more housing and affordable housing in the pipeline than [under] any other mayor in recent history."

But Mecke points out that the city’s health care initiative was Ammiano’s brainchild and that Newsom failed to deliver on his "wi-fi for all" promise by stubbornly pushing a flawed proposal and refusing to engage with its critics.

"Newsom’s only successes are initiatives proposed and led by members of the Board of Supervisors," said Mecke, who accuses Newsom of "making every decision within the framework of a national model while promoting some future candidacy."

He faults Newsom for asking for mass resignations this fall and sees the fact that Newsom is raising piles of cash to defeat Proposition E, which would require the mayor to make monthly appearances before the Board of Supervisors, as further evidence of his cowardice.

"San Francisco need to demand of this race that there’s public accountability," Mecke said. "Newsom seems to fear any form of nonscripted public interaction. When you go to his fake Question Time–town hall meetings you don’t actually get to ask the mayor your own question. He selects what he wants to hear."