Class of 2010: Scott Wiener

Pub date December 8, 2010
WriterRebecca Bowe

Scott Wiener, who is 40, gay, soft-spoken, and remarkably tall, seems to have made an impression on voters with his successful campaign for District 8 (the Castro, Noe Valley) supervisor. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, several patrons of a Market Street café stopped to say hello and congratulate him. “I saw millions of signs about you!” one exclaimed.

A deputy city attorney, Wiener claimed one of the most decisive victories among contenders vying for seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He’s more fiscally conservative than Rafael Mandelman, who was his progressive opponent in the race, and is more in step politically with Mayor Gavin Newsom than San Francisco progressives. Yet Wiener stressed to the Guardian that he should ultimately be viewed as an independent thinker. “For me, it’s about having mutual respect for everyone,” he said. “Even if you disagree on some issues, and even if you disagree on a lot of issues, you can always find areas of agreement.”

Asked about his priorities in office, Wiener put public transit at the top of the list. Over the next few decades, the population of San Francisco and the Bay Area will dramatically increase, he said. “And at the same time, we’ve been underfunding public transportation, and particularly our roads. It could potentially be a catastrophe if we’re not able to not just keep the system as it is, but actually expand it. That is a really big priority.” To raise money for Muni, he doesn’t support extending parking meter hours, but does support a local vehicle license fee. There’s some question surrounding that prospect since California voters approved Proposition 26, which requires a two-thirds majority vote for fees. But Wiener said he wanted to be involved in efforts to implement a VLF in San Francisco.

Another priority is finding ways to stimulate job growth. He approves of the city’s move to use a tax credit for biotech industry businesses as a means of encouraging job creation, but said that mechanism should be used sparingly since it creates a revenue hole. Instead, Wiener said he was more in favor of looking at payroll-tax reform — but only if it doesn’t result in a tax increase.

Wiener also places importance on supporting the city’s Entertainment Commission and preserving San Francisco’s vibrant nightlife. “That’s an issue that I’ve always worked on and I’ll be speaking at [the California Music and Culture Association] next Friday, which I’m hoping will become a really effective voice for that community,” Wiener noted. “It needs a really unified and strong voice. and I want to make sure that we are really prioritizing having a vibrant nightlife and outdoor festival scene, and that we’re not blaming the entertainment community for societal ills like gun violence.” He also mentioned bolstering the Entertainment Commission’s budget.

But might that pro nightlife stance place him at odds with the San Francisco Police Department? “In some ways, I’m from a public-safety background,” he said in response. “I’ve been involved in a lot of safety issues on a neighborhood level. I’ve worked closely with SFPD and I am supportive of Chief [George] Gascon. In a way, I think that gives me some credibility.”

Speaking of working closely with people, whom does Wiener see himself forming alliances with on the new board? “I definitely have a great relationship with Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu, and I will be working closely with them. But I don’t agree with them on everything,” he said. Board President David Chiu and Sup. David Campos were both his classmates at Harvard, he noted, so he feels confident in his ability to work with them even if they don’t always see eye to eye. “One thing I see about this board that I’m optimistic about is that I think it’s going to be a more collegial board,” he added.

On the question on everyone’s mind — who will succeed Mayor Gavin Newsom to serve as the interim mayor? — Wiener said he thinks the best idea is to appoint a caretaker mayor. “Next year’s going to be really hard year,” he said and a caretaker mayor could “help make some really hard choices that need to be made. I may not like all of those choices, but they can do something that someone who’s a brand new mayor seeking reelection may be timid about doing.”

Who might he support if the new board selects the successor mayor? “There are some really solid names that have been bandied about, like [San Francisco Public Utilities Director] Ed Harrington or [Sherriff] Mike Hennessey,” he replied.

Wiener’s going to be mostly a fiscal conservative when it comes to the budget. Any new revenue, he said, “should be very policy-based,” for example transit-oriented instead of raising business taxes.

And he has plenty of cuts in mind, including “the way we contract for nonprofits,” looking at shared overhead, and consolidation. He also said that “we need to continue moving forward with pension and benefit reform [and] aggressively address overtime in all departments.” And what can voters expect from Sup. Scott Wiener that’s different from Sup. Bevan Dufty, a mayoral hopeful who currently represents D8? Wiener didn’t go too far out on a limb on that one. “There have been some tenant issues that Bevan voted against and I supported,” he said. “We’ve had times where he’s been to my left, or I’ve been to his left, but I can’t speculate as to the future. It’s going to be case by case.” *