Harvey Milk

City Desk Newshour ends long SF run


By Steven T. Jones

An era ended last night while my colleagues and I taped the final episode of the City Desk Newshour, a Comcast television program that has provided continuous weekly coverage of San Francisco City Hall for almost 30 years. It is simply the latest blow in a steady erosion of political and local government coverage by experienced journalists.

I’ve been a regular panelist on the show for a couple years now, but I was really struck by what an institution it is in November when we did a segment on the anniversary of the Harvey Milk and George Moscone assassinations. I glanced at the monitors and saw our B-roll footage of Milk, Moscone, and Dan White being interviewed in our studio for our show back in the day.

Comcast decided to slash its locally originated programming budget and fire half its Bay Area staff, something it is allowed to do because local governments have lost the legal ability to set local programming standards for cable companies as part of their franchise agreements. If you have Comcast cable, try to catch the final episode replays this weekend on Channel 11 and/or check out old episodes in the OnDemand section under hometown local programming.

But there is a silver lining to this story. Comcast officials in California successfully fought to save our show as long as we can retool it to have a more regional focus, which we’ll be working on over the next couple months. So tune in later this summer for a new show with a new name and new focus, but some of the same faces from the Guardian, Chronicle, Examiner, and KQED.

Prop. 8 protests — where to go


Sfist has a handy-dandy guide to today’s protests here.

And here’s Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s statement:

“Today’s Supreme Court opinion upholding Prop. 8 is a stark reminder that the struggle for equality and justice must and will go on. We have come a long way since the days when Harvey Milk and I fought against the discrimination of the Briggs Initiative and Proposition 8 was no different. Harvey’s message then was one of hope and we can see how that message is making progress throughout the country – five states now embrace marriage equality and several more are on the verge.

History has shown that equality cannot be denied to any group and it is only a matter of time before justice prevails. I encourage the supporters of same sex marriage to engage in peaceful, focused actions and we will transform the anger that is felt today into a successful message of political change. The decision today only strengthens my commitment and resolve to restore equality for all Californians.”

Rally this Sunday against torture and killings of gays in Iraq


By Rebecca Bowe

Gays Without Borders S.F., the Rainbow World Fund, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and others will host a rally and fundraiser Sunday to speak out against torture and slayings of gays in Iraq.

Reports in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and elsewhere have described atrocities against gay men that occurred in Iraq’s Sadr City, where victims were fatally shot and found with the word “pervert” on notes attached to their bodies.

“This news has been under the radar for the past few years due to the overall confusion and killing in Iraq,” a press statement released by the rally organizers points out. “But the heinous torture and murder of gays in Iraq has escalated.”

The groups hope to attract international media attention to the abuses, and they plan to urge the U.S. State Department to investigate, denounce the killings, and support asylum. The goal of the fundraiser is to send $10,000 to organizations aiding Iraqi gays who are fleeing the most dangerous areas.

The rally and fundraiser — featuring speeches from S.F. Police Commission President Theresa Sparks, State Senator Mark Leno, Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Ross Mirkarimi, and others — will be held Sunday, May 17 from noon to 4 p.m. at Harvey Milk Plaza, near the intersection of Castro and Market streets. Speakers are scheduled for 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Donations may be made through the Rainbow World Fund. Those interested in volunteering at the rally should email MrSFL96@aol.com.

Do the right thing, Dianne


OPINION At the end of World War II, approximately 36 percent of American workers belonged to a union. Today that number has shrunk to about 12 percent, lagging behind the world’s other industrial democracies. But now, with a Democratic president in office, we have a realistic chance of enacting the most significant piece of labor legislation in decades, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect the right of workers to organize into a union.

The opposition, of course, is well organized and well funded. Opponents will spend more than $200 million to defeat the bill in the Senate. They will argue that EFCA is just a special interest bill that helps big labor. But the truth is that the legislation should be part of the long-term economic recovery plan and is key to rebuilding the middle class.

In 1980, average CEO pay was 42 times that of the average blue-collar worker. By 2006, CEO pay had grown to 364 times the average blue collar worker’s pay. A survey of median weekly earnings in 2007 revealed that union workers make 30 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, and are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage than other workers.

The key EFCA reform, and the one that has generated the most controversy, is called “card-check.” Under EFCA, if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of employees have signed written authorization forms designating the union as their collective bargaining representative, the union is certified.

Opponents of card-check often argue, erroneously, that EFCA will deprive workers of their right to a so-called secret ballot. In fact, EFCA preserves both options, but it places the choice in the hands of workers, not employers. Moreover, the history of these “secret ballot” elections shows that they are often anything but democratic. Too often employers use their power over unorganized employees to intimidate them into voting against the union. Such documented employer tactics have included mandatory attendance at antiunion meetings, one-on-one meetings, threats to close the business if the union wins the vote, and harassing or even firing workers engaged in organizing activity.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has an 87 percent lifetime voting record from the AFL-CIO and has co-sponsored EFCA in the past. But now, with EFCA finally within reach, she has announced that she is looking for a “less divisive” option.

Say it isn’t so, Senator.

For many years progressive activists have had concerns about Feinstein, even going as far as to seek her censure at a state Democratic convention two years ago. In 2007, the party leadership reminded the activists that although she may stray occasionally, Feinstein is really a good Democrat who shares our basic values and commitments. There was no censure.

But workers’ rights is no side-issue in our Democratic Party. Economic justice is the issue. This is a moment of truth for Feinstein — and all of us who are her constituents have an obligation to help her get to the right answer.

On April 28 at 7 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, the SF Labor Council, Pride at Work, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club are sponsoring a community briefing on our campaign to urge Feinstein to support working people. Join us. *

Robert Haaland is the co-chair, SF Pride at Work. Rafael Mandelman is president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.


Pics: Last night’s anti-8 rally


Photos by Charles Russo

Alexander Sanchez waves a freedom flag

Cleve Jones addressing the crowd at Harvey Milk Plaza

Maceo Garza lets it fly


New push for Harvey Milk Day


By Steven T. Jones
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation by Mark Leno (then an Assembly member and now a Senator) to establish May 22 as “Harvey Milk Day,” honoring the late San Francisco supervisor’s birthday with a “day of special significance” marking his causes and encouraging schools to teach children about his life.
Tomorrow, Leno will try again with Senate Bill 572, and this time he’s appealing with Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood side by tapping Sean Penn, who just won the Best Actor Academy Award for his title role in “Milk.” Leno and Penn will appear at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Tosca Cafe (242 Columbus) and will be joined by Assembly member Tom Ammiano, Geoff Kors of Equality California, activist Cleve Jones (a character in Milk and consultant to the film), and Milk’s nephew Stuart MIlk.
Mindful of not pushing too far in tough fiscal times, Milk Day would not be an official holiday from work, but it would finally recognize a civil rights leader who was ahead of his time.

It’s a rainy day – today


OPINION As San Francisco’s health and human services face unprecedented loss of funding under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s glaringly disproportionate budget cuts, forcing layoffs of city and nonprofit health care workers who work on the frontlines of a strained system, now is the time when the moral implications of budget decisions mean the most.

The midyear cuts alone have eliminated HIV/AIDS services for an estimated 2,660 San Franciscans. Many core health service programs are wrestling with the reality of closing their doors entirely when the next round of cuts arrives in June. As the city scrambles to come up with any and all possible solutions, Supervisor Chris Daly has introduced an amendment to the Rainy Day Fund that would offer up a much-needed safety net for San Francisco’s vital services.

Currently, San Francisco’s Rainy Day Fund contains a provisional trigger focused on protecting the San Francisco Unified School District during tough times. When the Controller’s Office identifies the need and pulls the trigger, Rainy Day Funds can be appropriated at the discretion of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to offset the costs of maintaining education during the upcoming budget year.

Daly’s clause, which would take effect in years when the city’s deficit exceeds $250 million, would provide a similar safeguard to public health and human services, services that are no less critical than education but tend to bear the brunt of budget cuts during challenging economic times.

Some have argued that we should save this money for the (perpetual) "next year," with the timeless hypothetical that it could get worse. Yet for those who may lose their lives this year because of colossal cuts to vital services, this argument offers little consolation, and in fact begs the question of how we define a rainy day to begin with. While city workers are being asked to cut salaries and business leaders are being asked to support new revenue, now is the time to reach into our reserves to protect the programs that protect lives.

San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS services have become, in many ways, models for the rest of the country, yet the years of battling for and finessing of these services seem to be taken for granted as we brace ourselves for the possibility of losing them overnight. Strained as our safety net may be, it still provides much of the best care available for those at risk of or living with HIV/AIDS, and in these complex budget discussions, we have yet to hear a consideration of what it would cost to reconstruct such a landscape of services.

Finding solutions to this year’s budget crisis will not be easy. It will require a complex solution, and even with givebacks by city workers and even with new revenue, there will be significant cuts to programs. We need to think about all of the possibilities and understand that it will take extraordinary measures to protect a model health care system. Now is the time when San Franciscans need access to their safety net. Today is a rainy day, and baby, it’s cold outside.

Stephany Joy Ashley is on the steering committee for the Coalition to Save Public Health, an executive board member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the harm reduction coordinator of the St. James Infirmary.

Hear, here


› johnny@sfbg.com

As I walk into City Hall, I hear a horn from the street — not a car horn, but a single trumpet. Further inside, what might be a few notes from a harpsichord hover in the air, followed by the twitters and chirps of swooping birds. A man sits on the steps at the foot of the rotunda stairs, looking up in slight bewilderment, wondering where in the hell the trees and small jungle might be. The source of these sounds is above him, by the rotunda’s dome — eight transducers installed by sound artist Bill Fontana that employ echolocation as part of a site-specific sound sculpture titled Spiraling Echoes.

A few days later, I step out of the rain and onto a wet 22 Fillmore bus, with a persistent hum, drone, or whine in my ears. I’m wearing headphones and listening to Jacob Kirkegaard’s latest recording, Labyrinthitis (Touch Music/Fonik). I hear hearing: Kirkegaard produced the piece by inserting tiny microphones into his ears to record the frequencies — otoacoustic emissions — produced by hairs within the cochlea. Labyrinthitis is both a recording and a live performance, and the live version, during which the audience’s ears are transformed into an orchestra conducted by Kirkegaard, might be even more radical and inventive.

While one work might seem vast and exterior and the other almost infinitely interior in nature, these two sound projects have more than a few things in common. The CD version of Kirkegaard’s Labyrinthitis includes a short piece by the composer Anthony Moore, who conducted an extended interview with Fontana in 2005 that surveyed Fontana’s projects. Labyrinthitis comes with a more extensive essay written in San Francisco by Douglas Kahn. A deeper resonance, however, stems from audio and visual correlations between City Hall’s rotunda and the human ear. Photos of the rotunda’s dome visibly echo the images of the spiraling interior roof of the Medical Museion in Copenhagen, where Kirkegaard created Labyrinthitis, a roof that plays a central role in the recording’s material packaging. Both structures evoke the interior of an ear.

Spiraling Echoes is a more playful work. It’s in keeping with some of Fontana’s other pieces in iconic sites — through sound, he’s taken apart Big Ben’s timekeeping, replaced the traffic noise around the Arc de Triomphe with sea ambience, and brought Niagara Falls to New York City’s Whitney Museum. For more than thirty years, Fontana has made a practice of bringing the "natural" into man-made realms — there is a potent current of environmentalism within his aesthetic. This is true of Spiraling Echoes‘ quicksilver collage of bird chatter, trickling water, and streetcar and church bells, which darts up and down four public-access floors of City Hall in a manner that magnifies the beauty of the architecture and plays with historical markers, such as the smile on a statue of Harvey Milk. (One can imagine Milk enjoying this piece and, eventually, being driven batty by it.) The infusion of nature is a subtle hint to not trash monuments, and in turn the environment, in order to create newer architecture. It’s tempting to suggest prankish unauthorized versions of Fontana’s project in commercial sites such as downtown malls.

Another characteristic that Spiraling Echoes and Labyrinthitis share is the ability to produce disorientation. Fontana’s piece brought out the Scotty Ferguson in me through its combination of surprising sound and potentially dizzying height. Kirkegaard incites a similar lack of balance no matter where one is standing — the title of Labyrinthitis refers to a balance disorder that can be related to tinnitus. It’s easy to imagine a Pekingese ripping out its owner’s jugular upon encountering the recording’s relentless low-key yet high-pitched intensity, what musicologists might refer to as "Tartini tone." With Labyrinthitis, Kirkegaard has given new and revelatory meaning to the idea of a cochlear implant. I hope he performs his piece in San Francisco one day. Recombinant Media Labs, for one, would be an ideal setting.


Through May 8, free

City Hall


Dick Meister: Bolsheviks? In Seattle?


Dick Meister is a distinguished labor reporter who has spent more than 50 years covering labor and issues of workers on their jobs. There are very few real labor reporters in the mainstream press these days, so I asked Meister to put his regular Guardian column in context. B3

Dick Meister explains his labor coverage:

There’s a vibrant labor movement in this country, a source of important information that is ­ or should be ­ of great interest to most people. Most people, after all, spend at least half their lives working and, in fact, define themselves by their jobs. Yet the labor movement that has so much to do with their working lives, be they union members or not, is largely ignored by the mainstream media.

I’ve spent most of my professional life covering the labor movement as a reporter and commentator, for the Chronicle, KQED-TV and other mainstream outlets as well as a wide variety of non-mainstream outlets, including the Bay Guardian. I’ve recently begun a series of columns for the Guardian that deal with labor issues that have received but slight attention, if any, in the mainstream media.

Among other matters, they covered the extraordinary qualifications of Hilda Solis, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of labor, the extraordinary anti-labor acts of Bush’s secretary, Elaine Chao, and the legendary career of Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary, Frances Perkins.

The columns also concerned labor’s forceful anti-war demonstrations last May Day, labor’s major role in Obama’s election and its eight-year struggle with Bush, the most virulently anti-labor president in history. As another column noted, Bush was particularly harsh on the long-suffering air traffic controllers who Obama promised to help.

Other columns detailed the blatant job discrimination suffered by gay workers in Harvey Milk’s time ­ and now, the significant but ignored 40th anniversary of the faculty strike that was waged at San Francisco State at the same time as the widely celebrated student strike, and the 84-hour workweeks and 30-hour workdays that hospitals impose on young doctors-in-training.

My current column deals with a subject most mainstream outlets probably will also ignore, or at best treat very lightly. The column deals with one of the most important events in U.S. labor history, the Seattle general strike that began 90 years ago this month.


A bit of labor history the mainstream media will likely ignore: the general strike in Seattle 90 years ago this month

By Dick Meister

It’s the 90th anniversary this month of the general strike that brought the city of Seattle to a virtual standstill — one of the very few general strikes in U.S. history and certainly one of the most dramatic and disruptive.

Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson described it this way: “Street car gongs ceased their clamor. Newsboys cast their unsold papers into the streets. From the doors of mill and factory, store and workshop, streamed 65,000 working men. School children with fear in their hearts hurried homeward. The life stream of a great city stopped.”

Cafe Mystique


› paulr@sfbg.com

If you squint — hard, on a night of driving rain, and you earlier washed your contact lenses down the sink by accident, leaving yourself legally blind — you might just catch a hint of a glimpse of a shadow of the Castro Street that figures so prominently in the movie Milk. Today’s Castro Street, like its 1970s antecedent, is dominated by the Castro Theater’s gigantic sign (a colorful spectacle even to the grievously nearsighted), and it’s still just a few blocks long, a brief run from Market Street to 19th Street. In college, driven by stomach-churning curiosity, we navigated this little stretch one night and wondered what all the fuss was about. This was it? Yes, it was and still is.

Oscar Wilde is said to have said that anyone who disappeared would sooner or later be seen in San Francisco. He might have had a vision of Elvis, or perhaps a premonition about Castro Street, which remains a semi-mythical — and yet quite real — Main Street for gay America and maybe the world. Sitting in a window seat at Café Mystique recently (on an evening of no rain and with contact lenses securely in place), I noticed several familiar faces from epochs past, not seen by me for years but still quite recognizable, like a parade of Fezziwigs from my own private version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In between these sightings, with the huge "Castro" sign glowing like a beacon across the street, we discussed Milk, a movie full of saintly intentions and virtually barren of actual characters except the tortured Dan White and the gently droll Scott Smith (Harvey Milk’s onetime lover), as played by James Franco.

Franco is tasty, with mystique: if he were a café, would he be Café Mystique? The food is tasty at Cafe Mystique, which until recently was a joint called Welcome Home. If Harvey Milk might have felt vaguely at home at Welcome Home, he would almost certainly be astonished by Café Mystique, which on the one hand is still a recognizably gay restaurant from the old school and on the other is dramatically good-looking and serves a Moroccan-inflected menu that would have seemed noteworthy anywhere in the city as recently as a decade ago.

First, the good looks: they’re neither North African nor Castro-homey but faintly central European, like a Vienna hotel or a Bavarian hunting lodge. The long north wall is clad in impressive wood wainscoting, punctuated by pillars topped with sconce lamps, for a street-light effect, while the paint scheme, of butter washed with caramel, enhances the sense of woodsy warmth.

As for the Moroccan touches, they’re all over the dinner menu (there are breakfast and lunch menus too), from the flatbread triangles accompanying a warm fava bean dip ($6) — like a slightly soupy hummus — to the mint in a cup of excellent, if under-seasoned, split green pea soup ($2). (Just add salt and voilà!) There are hints of influence from elsewhere around the Mediterranean as well; a bowl of cucumber sticks bathed in yogurt and boldly charged with lemon and garlic ($4) could easily pass for the Greek condiment tzatziki (itself an obvious relative of the Indian condiment raita).

None of these flourishes seems at all pretentious, since the cooking on the whole remains earthy and friendly. You can get a grilled cheese sandwich ($9), for instance, and it comes with really good fries, and if the cheese happens to be halumi wrapped in lavash, well … that just adds to the mystique. Halumi is a not-soft white cheese typically made from a blend of goat and sheep’s milk and is most closely associated with Cyprus; its firmness means that it resists melting under heat, retaining its shape and solid texture even while taking on a smokiness.

Grilling cubes of meat on skewers is common practice around the Mediterranean — and elsewhere — and at Café Mystique the mixed grill ($15) includes chicken and beef. Beef takes easily to the simplest preparations, such as grilling, while chicken typically needs some TLC to show at its best, so if I’d been asked to bet beforehand on which of these two contestants would command the plate, I would have chosen the beef. But the beef turned out to be rather tough, gray, and flavorless, while the chicken (boneless breast meat) was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, with a nice dusting of spice. This uneven confederacy of flesh rested on a bed of couscous (which in its white coarseness resembled corn snow), and its chunks were interspersed with examples of grilled vegetables, among them onions, plum tomatoes, zucchini coins, and strips of red and green bell pepper. The bits of green and red on a carpet of white reminded me of Christmas trees and mistletoe wreaths left at snowy curbs in the Januaries of my youth.

Wilde might or might not have anticipated Elvis, but could he possibly have anticipated the Elvis crepe ($8), a gigantic dessert of bananas, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, and melted Nutella sauce, all piled, ladled, and scattered atop an actual crepe? Plowing through this mass of sugary calories was a little like eating a banana split that had been neglected for an hour or so on the hottest day of summer. And a cautionary note on Nutella, the wondrous Italian spread of chocolate and hazelnut that appeared from the ashen privations of World War II: it used to consist largely of hydrogenated vegetable oil, i.e. trans fat, which, as we now know, is a no-no. I stopped buying it even when it was on sale. Have they changed the formula? Reading ingredient labels now involves considerable squinting.


Daily, 8 a.m.–11 p.m.

464 Castro, SF

(415) 865-9810


Beer and wine


Moderate noise

Wheelchair accessible

Pop hope


› kimberly@sfbg.com

The "shoe-in" for my moving-image man of the year: Barack Obama or Iraqi journalist and footwear hurler Muntadhar al-Zaidi? Both have been well-lubed by YouTube and have been given a good, hard-soft spin from multiple angles by every news outlet, citizen blogger, and self-starter with iMovie. The vid that jump-cuts between Obama’s high school hoop shots and latter-day pickup games, the proliferating replays of George W. Bush’s duck-and-cover face-save (and the swelling parade of shoe-throwing online games) — all were duly devoured and disseminated. Al-Zaidi’s act of protest — captured with Rashomon-like variation, though the marks that might substantiate allegations of torture in his post-incident detention remain conveniently invisible and off-camera — was the perfect kicker to a year in which politics on film and video were given prime 24/7 eyeball time by viewers more accustomed to rolling their peepers or averting them in disgust from the White House and the evening news.

Oh, ’08 — the year that welcomed the ‘Tubing of the president-elect via the outpouring of readily replayable speeches, endorsements, and "Yes We Can" and Obama Girl clips as guilty-pleasure eye-candy respite from the workday grind. And oh, the withdrawal — assuaged only by grainy images of a shirtless Obama on Hawaiian holiday. Hollywood may have prepped America for a black president in the form of Dennis Haysbert on 24 and Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact (1998) — but this year the president elect’s cinematic corollary really seemed to be Milk, an adept, accessible, and inspirational bon mot that put its trust in viewers’ intelligence and ability to fix their attention on city supervisor meetings and California state politics.

Through a viewfinder, the parallels between Barack Obama and Harvey Milk were numerous: the change-centered career trajectory of a community activist, the against-all-odds and unique but tough-sell narrative, the bridge-building wherewithal, and the gotta-have-it charisma. Even the Milk trailer tagline, "You gotta give ’em hope," read like a direct pull from an Obama war-room session. Yet the differences also glared with the passing of Proposition 8 in ’08. Add to that the strange fact that likely more couch potatoes of every political persuasion around the country have glimpsed the lengthy Obama infomercial — and even the Obama commemorative coin or plate TV ads — than have seen Milk.

If Obama and Milk succored with romantic promise and possibility, the stumbling close of the Bush years and his party’s latest last-ditch follies provided the bitterest laughs, with doses of unexpected sympathy for the devil. The handful of movies that critiqued the overseas skullduggery committed in the name of the US of A — including the grim-faced Body of Lies and black-humored Burn After Reading — resembled the mutant brethren of Dubya, taking subtle and slapstick aim at the politics hatched by someone’s CIA-head pater familias. Also injecting considerable comedy into the country’s sad plight was, you betcha, the vice presidential candidate drummed up to succeed such-a-Dick Cheney. The tabloid-friendly talker from the Dubya school of gab first and let God sort it out later, Sarah Palin lent herself beautifully to self-skewering by way of Katie Couric and the genius sendup that followed by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

The politically liberal Oliver Stone’s treatment of the sitting prez himself in W. was almost kind-hearted in contrast, with Josh Brolin adding a measure of nuanced oedipal angst to the now-beyond-tiresome good-old-boy facade. You had to love the way the young W. is lensed: his mouth perpetually open and his fists full of brewskis and/or a barbecue throughout the first part of the movie. Stone’s prez is as innocent as an identity-free frat boy — even though the filmmaker does conclude with a recurring dream sequence that ends up referencing traditional horror tropes. It’s not over till the monster screams. Or is hit by a shoe.

The year closed with the ticket-clinching bookend to W., ideal for every disgraced presidential library: Frost/Nixon. Its bracing, sexy blend of meta-Medium Cool media savvy and humanizing Milk-y goodness and characterization managed to slightly sweeten the sour old manipulator, the worst US leader since our latest. Bringing more than an ounce of the creepiness cloaking his noted disco-sleaze turn in Dracula (1979), Frank Langella transformed Nixon into the most menacing and identifiable blood-sucker entangled with an all-too-human dissembler/interrogator amid this year’s Twilight and True Blood vamps. As divulged in the dark of the movie house, Frost/Nixon‘s and W.‘s rogue presidents were united in at least one thing, besides the fact that their real-life counterparts made us embarrassed to be Americans. Their backstory — their real, pathetic will to power — had little to do with public service or serving anything but their damaged, mysterious, played-out egos.


Best use of Google Earth-cam: Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA/UK/France)

Best post-Planet of the Apes Statue of Liberty desecration: Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, USA)

Most phun without pharmaceuticals: Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Best vampire-human love story: Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

Best mix of mudflaps, hair bands, and mystery flab: The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

>>More Year in Film 2008

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was out of town the day Tom Ammiano appeared at his final meeting as a San Francisco supervisor. Too bad; I would have gone, no matter how busy I was, just to be a part of history.

I know that sounds silly. The Barack Obama inauguration will be part of history. The election of Harvey Milk was part of history. Ammiano’s last day? Hey, the guy’s moving on to Sacramento. Take a bow, everyone says thanks, and another local politician takes another political job. History?

Well, yeah, actually. Because when the history of progressive politics is written in this town (and I hope some other poor sucker takes on that job so I don’t have to) Tom Ammiano will go down as a central figure in the movement that turned San Francisco around.

It’s worth noting that the movie Milk, celebrating the life of the gay pioneer, opened around the same time Ammiano was clearing out his City Hall office. The connection goes deeper than the fact that they were both queer men fighting for basic human rights and dignity at a time when that was a huge uphill struggle.

Milk was part of an urban movement that came out of the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s that sought to wrest control of San Francisco from a cadre of military and big business leaders who had been running it since World War II. The agenda of the crew that we collectively refer to as "downtown" was turning the sleepy port city of the 1930s into the financial headquarters for Pacific Rim trade. They wanted San Francisco to be another Manhattan; they laid plans, they put the machinery in place — and they never asked the people who lived here whether that was the future we wanted.

Because all that downtown development meant higher rents, more evictions, gentrification, budget deficits, too many cars, the death of small businesses … and by the mid-1970s, the activists had figured out how to fight back. It started with electing supervisors by district so that big money didn’t always carry the day.

Milk was elected supervisor as part of the progressive push that put George Moscone in the Mayor’s Office. And if Moscone and Milk had lived, it’s possible that the tide could have turned right then. But the assassinations derailed district elections, turned the city back over to downtown, and sentenced the San Francisco left to more than 20 years of tough political dark ages.

Ammiano got elected in that era, when the developers called all the shots, when tenants and environmentalists and neighborhood people were lucky to get two or three votes on the Board of Supervisors. His pro-tenant and anti-development proposals never even reached the desks of mayors who would have vetoed them anyway.

But he didn’t give up, and in 1999, in the bleak days of the dot-com boom, he took on a long-shot campaign for mayor that, in one six-week period, reenergized the San Francisco left. With his help, district elections came back; and with his leadership, a decidedly progressive board took office in 2001. Living wage, sick pay, universal health care, bike plans, real estate transfer taxes, tenant protections … these are all products of that change.

Ammiano was an odd sort of leader, someone with a sense of humor who didn’t take himself anywhere near seriously enough. He would be the first to credit the movement, not the man — and he’d be right. But when we needed him, he was there.

“The Board without Ammiano is like the Vatican without the Pope.”



“The man. The myth. The legend.”

That’s how Board President Aaron Peskin introduced Sup. Tom Ammiano, as he bid farewell to the longest serving member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at today’s Board meeting.

Headed to Sacramento to serve in the State Assembly, Ammiano has a 14-year record as SF supervisor that simply can’t be beat now that 8-year term limits have been introduced at the Board. And it will be difficult for other supes to touch his record in terms of legislation, service, attitude, wit and, of course, stark raving popularity.

Recalling Ammiano’s arrival at the Board a decade and a half ago, Peskin said, “Tom was a voice in the wilderness.”

“He managed to got living wage and domestic partnership legislation passed, long before either concept was popular. He succeeded in prevailing on district elections,” Peskin said. “He gave voice to the modern Board of Supervisors—for which I’ll never forgive you, Tom.”

“We love you, we miss you and I’ll come volunteer in your district office, now that I’m not going to have a job come December 8,” Peskin added.

Then it was the turn of Sup. Bevan Dufty, who has sat elbow to elbow with Ammiano for the past two years, to explain why he believes that he had “the best seat in the house.”

According to Dufty, this close proximity helped prevent Ammiano, who also happens to be a wickedly biting stand-up comic, from making jokes about him to the reporters that are corraled directly behind Ammiano in the press box.

Sup. Chris Daly praised Ammiano for ushering in district elections, bringing in a progressive Board and making a historic run for mayor in 1999.

“‘When you get termed out in Sacramento, we’ll be waiting for your return,” Daly promised.

Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier explained why she is going to miss Ammiano a lot.

“We never ever vote together on anything,” Alioto-Pier admitted, describing Ammiano as a “people come first” type.

“You always listen to me, and you’ve given me some of the best advice I’ve gotten since I got here,” Alioto-Pier said, further recalling how Ammiano once screamed at someone, something about, “When you walk a mile in my pumps,” an incident that inspired her to admire this famously flamboyant supervisor even more than ever.

Sup. Mirkarimi recalled how he was working as aide to Sup. Terence Hallinan, when Ammiano was first elected

“Tom really changed the entire climate of this instituion,” Mirkarimi said. “He swifty became the archangel, if you will, of the progressive movement. He is a rain maker, a king maker, a visionary.”

Acknowledging that it’ll be impossible to replace Ammiano’s wit, Mirkarimi suggested that he consider providing courses for would-be politicians.

Sup. Jake McGoldrick said “ Tom Ammiano has changed the world.”

Sup. Carmen Chu found it fitting that Ammiano is going to the State Assembly, since ” he’s such a statesman.”

The wittiest line of the afternoon belonged to Sup. Sean Elsbernd.

“The Board of Supervisors without Tom Ammiano is like the Vatican without the Pope,” Elsbernd said.

And the best warning belonged to Sup. Sophie Maxwell.

Recalling Ammiano’s grace and integrity, his ability to get testy and angry one minute, to lash out and then let matters drop the next, Maxwell said, “Look out Sacramento, they just don’t know what’s coming.”

Then it was Ammiano’s turn to say goodbye.

“It’s been a great time,” he said, recalling how district elections heralded a return to populism and admitting how he has only recently been getting in touch with how much Harvey Milk inspired the city, and how “terrifically special and strong” Milk was.

Calling San Francisco “a crazy indefinable city,” Ammiano said, “Elvis may have left the building, but never the City.” Then, turning to the press box, tears in his eyes, he said, “And thank you, press.”

And then he was gone in a blaze of bouquets and flowery accolades, leaving the running dogs of the press wondering just exactly how we are going to survive Board meetings, without those joking asides that Dufty rightly feared and that Ammiano frequently tossed out for us, like biscuits for naughty puppies that he somehow still manages to love, no matter how many times we chew on his favorite slippers.

Milk and blood: Visions of St. Harvey


By Marke B.


This week, as part of our Milk Issue, dedicated to the political memory of Harvey Milk, I take a look at some of the ways Harvey has been transformed into an icon of queer martyrdom — for good or ill. I cheekily reference the extremely moving 2004 “Saint Harvey: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Gay Martyr” show at the GLBT Historical Society, which will also open a temporary exhibit about Harvey on the Castro beginning November 26, in conjunction with the nationwide release of the Milk movie.

From “Saint Harvey: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Gay Martyr.”

I also talk about influential young photographer Leo Herrera from queer collective Homochic‘s appropriation of the suit that Harvey was shot in. He displayed his impressionistic shots of that precious relic in his 2007 “San Francisco: Sex & Icons” show at Magnet in the Castro, and also assembled them in a short film titled My Name is Harvey Milk, whose soundtrack is Harvey’s recording of his own will right before he was murdered. I asked him to share some of his thoughts via email from his temporary base in NYC about his show, about Harvey as icon, and also Harvey’s “martyrdom” status.

Harvey suit image (and all images below) by Leo Herrera

Leo Hererra: Basically I went to the Martyr exhbit at the GLBT Historical Society in ’04 and saw the suit for the first time with my brother Allan and my mother. I was completely floored not only by the way the suit was exhibited but also by the humble surroundings of the Historical Society itself. I approached them and told them that I wanted to work with them in any capacity that they needed, and they let me know that they could use a lot of help, especially from people my age. I told them I wanted to do a series of images based on gay culture and they arranged for me to shoot whatever I wanted.

Allan and I arrived and shot a lot of the relics that they have there, and I finally got the balls to ask them to shoot the suit.*

Soooo, imagine Allan and I opening up the box and there it was. The whole thing is really scary because the box had all of what he was wearing the night of his assassination, including his socks and tie. I shot some images but they weren’t coming out right, and our hands were shaking the whole time. Finally I told Allan that if we were going to do this right, we better not be afraid to touch it and we finally picked it up. And flakes of gore came off of it because it’s so bloody and gory and they fell on our arms and it went downhill from there, but I remember feeling this really intense creativity and really the spirit of gay culture in many ways.


We laid the suit on top of a light box and the bullet holes from the shots that went through his back shone through, we also put a lamp behind where his heard would be, and did all sorts of arty shit. The funny part was, I really didn’t relate to the images as I shot them and didn’t understand them because I was using a very different aesthetic. I put the images away for a couple of years and when I pulled them out, I realized that the aesthetic of the images was really something more sophisticated than I was used to at the time and that it really matched what I was working with now, they were somehow more mature. So in a way, I had shot the images to be used four years after the fact.

It was all real arty hipster shit.

Behind “the Twinkie Defense”


This month marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who wanted to decriminalize marijuana, and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual to be elected to public office in America. November also marks the release of a film about the case titled Milk. Although a former policeman, homophobic Dan White, had confessed to the murders, he pleaded not guilty. I covered his trial for the Bay Guardian.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I said “Thank you” to the sheriff’s deputy who frisked me before I could enter the courtroom. However, this was a superfluous ritual, since any journalist who wanted to shoot White was prevented from doing so by wall-to-wall bulletproof glass.

Defense attorney Douglas Schmidt did not want any pro-gay sentiment polluting the verdict, but he wasn’t allowed to ask potential jurors if they were gay, so instead he would ask if they had ever supported controversial causes–“like homosexual rights, for instance.” One juror came from a family of cops — ordinarily, Schmidt would have craved for him to be on this jury — but the man mentioned, “I live with a roommate and lover.”

Schmidt phrased his next question: “Where does he or she work?”

The answer began, “He”–and the ball game was already over–“works at Holiday Inn.”

Through it all, White simply sat there as though he had been mainlining epoxy glue. He just stared directly ahead, his eyes focused on the crack between two adjacent boxes on the clerk’s desk, Olde English type identifiying them as “Deft” and “Pltff” for defendant and plaintiff. He did not testify. Rather, he told his story to several psychiatrists hired by the defense, and they repeated those details in court.

At a press conference, Berkeley psychiatrist Lee Coleman denounced the practice of psychiatric testimony, labeling it as “a disguised form of hearsay.”

* * *

J. I. Rodale, health food and publishing magnate, once claimed in an editorial in his magazine, Prevention, that Lee Harvey Oswald had been seen holding a Coca-Cola bottle only minutes after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He concluded that Oswald was not responsible for the killing because his brain was confused. He was a “sugar drunkard.” Rodale, who died of a heart attack during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show — in the midst of explaining how good nutrition guarantees a long life — called for a full-scale investigation of crimes caused by sugar consumption.

In a surprise move, Dan White’s defense team presented a similar bio-chemical explanation of his behavior, blaming it on compulsive gobbling down of sugar-filled junk-food snacks. This was a purely accidental attack. Dale Metcalf, a former member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters who had become a lawyer, told me how he happened to be playing chess with Steven Scheer, an associate of Dan White’s attorney.

Metcalf had just read Orthomolecular Nutrition by Abram Hoffer. He questioned Scherr about White’s diet and learned that, while under stress, White would consume candy bars and soft drinka. Metcalf recommended the book to Scherr, suggesting the author as an expert witness. In his book, Hoffer revealed a personal vendetta against doughnuts, and White had once eaten five doughnuts in a row.

During the trial, one psychiatrist stated that, on the night before the murders, while White was “getting depressed about the fact he would not be reappointed [as supervisor], he just sat there in front of the TV set, bingeing on Twinkies.” In my notebook, I immediately scribbled “the Twinkie defense,” and wrote about it in my next report.

This was the first time that phrase had been used, and it was picked up by the mainstream media.

In court, White just sat there in a state of complete control bordering on catatonia, as he listened to an assembly line of psychiatrists tell the jury how out of control he had been. One even testified that, “If not for the aggravating fact of junk food, the homicides might not have taken place.”

* * *

The Twinkie was invented in 1930 by James Dewar, who described it as “the best darn-tootin’ idea I ever had.” He got the idea of injecting little cakes with sugary cream-like filling and came up with the name while on a business trip, where he saw a billboard for Twinkle Toe Shoes. “I shortened it to make it a little zippier for the kids,” he said.

In the wake of the Twinkie defense, a representative of the ITT-owned Continental Baking Company asserted that the notion that overdosing on the cream-filled goodies could lead to murderous behavior was “poppycock” and “crap” — apparently two of the artificial ingredients in Twinkies, along with sodium pyrophosphate and yellow dye — while another spokesperson for ITT couldn’t believe “that a rational jury paid serious attention to that issue.”

Nevertheless, some jurors did. One remarked after the trial that “It sounded like Dan White had hypoglycemia.”

Doug Schmidt’s closing argument became almost an apologetic parody of his own defense. He told the jury that White did not have to be “slobbering at the mouth” to be subject to diminished capacity. Nor, he said, was this simply a case of “Eat a Twinkie and go crazy.”

When Superior Court Judge Walter Calcagno presented the jury with his instructions, he assured them access to the evidence, except that they would not be allowed to have possession of White’s .38 special and his ammunition at the same time. After all, these deliberations can get pretty heated. The judge was acting like a concerned schoolteacher offering Twinkies to students but witholding the cream-fillng to avoid any possible mess.

Each juror originally had to swear devotion to the criminal justice system. It was that very system that had allowed for a shrewd defense attorney’s transmutation of a double political execution into the mere White Sugar Murders. On the walls of the city, graffiti cautioned, “Eat a Twinkie — Kill a Cop!”

* * *

On the 50th anniversary of the Twinkie, inventor Dewar said, “Some people say Twinkies are the quintessential junk food, but I believe in the things. I fed them to my four kids, and they feed them to my 15 grandchildren. Twinkies never hurt them.” A year later, the world’s largest Twinkie was unveiled in Boston. It was 10 feet long, 3 feet 6 inches high, 3 feet 8 inches wide, and weighed more than a ton.

In January 1984, Dan White was released from prison. He had served a little more than five years. The estimated shelf life of a Twinkie was seven years. That’s two years longer than White spent behind bars. When he was released, that Twinkie in his cupboard was still edible. But perhaps, instead of eating it, he would have it bronzed.

In October 1985, he committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. He taped a note to the windshield of his car, reading, “I’m sorry for all the pain and trouble I’ve caused.”

I accepted his apology. I had gotten caught in the post-verdict riot and was beaten by a couple of cops. My gait was affected, and ultimately, as a result I now walk with a cane. At the airport, I have to put the cane on the conveyor belt along with my overnight bag and my shoes, but then I’m handed another cane to go through the metal detector. You just never know what could be hidden inside a cane.

Paul Krassner is the author of Who’s to Say What’s Obscene: Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today, to be published by City Lights Books in July 2009.

Click here
to read Krassner’s original coverage of the Dan White Trial from the Guardian in 1979.

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Hot flash gallery


> johnny@sfbg.com

It was the summer of 1974, when shy, skinny, cute Daniel Nicoletta first stepped through the doors of Castro Camera into adulthood and history. His parents were snapshot enthusiasts. In his words, he had grown up "surrounded by Instamatic moments." But he was about to enter the time of his life. "I stopped in to determine where I would be developing my Super 8 film," he remembers. "I couldn’t get over how friendly the two guys [Harvey Milk and Scott Smith] were. I was 19 years old — I had no idea what cruising was at that point. Of course, within two months I was completely up to speed."

Nicoletta immediately captured the speed of life. His vérité photos of Milk, Smith, and San Francisco from the mid-1970s onward are often great and sometimes iconic. He soon sold his first photo out of Boys in the Sand (1971)and Bijou (1972), filmmaker Wakefield Poole’s hair salon-toy store-art gallery Hot Flash. A regular "Mr. Multimedia," Nicoletta was as interested in half-inch Portapak video as he was in still photography. In 1977, using Castro Camera as one of his chief meeting spots, he worked with David Waggoner and Marc Huestis to found the Gay Film Festival of Super 8 Films, an event now popularly known as the Frameline festival.

Nicoletta’s role in Milk’s life and role in queer film history provide some of the subtler facets of Gus Van Sant’s new film Milk. Those viewers familiar with Van Sant’s earlier work know of his focus on the photographic process: for example, a significant sequence within his 2003 film Elephant is spent in the darkroom, observing the efforts of a young photographer who may as well be a 21st century version of the young Nicoletta. "Even though I don’t say a lot, Lucas [Grabeel, who plays Nicoletta in the film] is a constant presence throughout Milk," Nicoletta notes, when asked about the interplay between his life and Van Sant’s moviemaking. "Gus keeps me there in the film as a cultural observer. In life, Gus has an eye for the role of still photography in culture, and he used my entity as a way of cross-referencing that."

Some of Nicoletta’s photos of Milk and Smith inform or inspire the look of particular scenes in Milk, such as a pie fight between Smith and Milk. "The art department was immersed in stills of all kinds," says Nicoletta, who switched to digital photography to document the making of the film. "I was impressed with all the things pinned up to their walls — the checkerboard analysis was lovely to look at." Nicoletta also lent his copy of the August 1974 San Francisco issue of the barely-subtextual gay culture magazine After Dark — a publication partly defined by the studio portraiture of East Coast gay photographers such as Ken Duncan and Jack Mitchell — to Milk‘s costume designer, Danny Glicker. "He [Glicker] creamed himself over that," Nicoletta says with an affectionate laugh. "There’s a postage stamp-sized photo of Victor Garber [who plays George Moscone in Milk] in it. I’d never noticed, but it took Danny Glicker a second to zero in on that. It was hilarious."

The Milk crew’s devotion to verisimilitude extended to Nicoletta’s camera — and to one of Milk’s two main cameras, one of the first Nikons ever made, which Nicoletta now owns. "They literally had me take jpgs of my camera and Harvey’s camera so they could cast those instruments to the letter," he says. "Harvey’s camera has his name engraved on the bottom. Scott’s [Smith] mom gave it to me when Scott passed away. It’s a real treasure. I never use it, but I saw him use it. Harvey and Scott also had a second Nikon that was their primary camera, and I did use that one quite a bit. We both passed film through the same camera, which was kind of cool — kind of incestuous."

This radical sense of brotherhood informed both Nicoletta and Milk’s photography. "Harvey took great joy in photographing people," Nicoletta observes, noting that a chance to take aerial photos of Christo’s Running Fence was one of Milk’s artistic and free-spirited moments as his political duties increased. "If you look at Harvey’s body of work, one thing that comes through with political potency is that a presiding aesthetic in his life was male-to-male love. You can then zoom out even further and say that the stimulus for his political activism was the sanctification and preservation of male-to-male love."

It’s characteristically modest of Nicoletta to turn an interview about his photography into a discussion of Milk’s endeavors with a camera — everything he says about Milk’s photos is true of his own work, which captures Milk and Smith’s relationship, for instance, with great warmth. He gives vivid background to some of his best-known Milk photos, such as an image of the inaugural walk to City Hall in January 1978. "We were just arriving at the steps," he remembers. "What’s great about that photo is that it’s just one of so many details of the history of the queer community that have unfolded on those very steps. I think I could do a whole book on the steps of City Hall at this point."

The prospect of a Nicoletta monograph is something to savor, even if he jokes that his friends "all roll their eyes to the back of their head and say, ‘There she goes again about her book’," whenever he mentions the prospect. As a documentarian of history, Nicoletta understands the necessity and gravity of a book of his work. He has other excellent ideas, such as an era-based collection that would bring in stylized images by Steven Arnold — like him, one of the chief people to visually capture queer artistic forces such as the Cockettes and Angels of Light. "I loved working with Reggie [of the Cockettes] because the first photo I ever saw of him was in Gilles Larrain’s [1973] Idols," Nicoletta says. "That book just rocked my world. I thought, ‘Who are these people, and where can I find them?’ And I found them."

Nicoletta found those people — the evidence is in books such as Gay by the Bay and Adrian Brooks’ new Flights of Angels (Arsenal Pulp Press, 224 pages, $24.95), and in the photo collection of the San Francisco Public Library. As a chronicler of gay life, he can be seen as a West Coast public counterpart to East Coast photographers such as Peter Hujar, Mark Morrisroe, and David Armstrong, and Nan Goldin. "In a sense I’ve sort of stayed provincial. That’s a little bit self-preservationist," he says, after mentioning the direct influence of the Bay Area studio photographer Crawford Barton on his work. "It’s so great to have a 30-year arc and be mindful of where you are and grateful for things like the mentorship of people like Harvey Milk and Scott Smith, and the inspiration of people like the Angels of Light. I’m for slow growth."

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Political Theater


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Pair an effusive and extroverted, larger-than-life politico like Harvey Milk — complete with community-forging charisma, panoramic outlook, and labyrinthine City Hall machinations — with a reserved, perpetually-outside-looking-in independent, à la director Gus Van Sant? That feature-film odd-coupling might have understandably strained some brains in Hollywood. Making the seldom-seen moments of otherwise-secret or neglected lives visible has seemingly been Van Sant’s calling, and his most memorable films — 1985’s Mala Noche, 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy, 1991’s My Own Private Idaho, 2003’s Elephant, and even the Oscar-gathering 1997 Good Will Hunting — have relied on his coolly unblinking, surprisingly cerebral yet gently empathetic eye, whether focused on Mexican immigrants, ’70s-era oblivion-seekers, Northwestern hustlers, a hidden savant, or disaffected teenagers.

Still, those leitmotifs — entwined with Van Sant’s terrible, tangible sense of romance with his outsiders, artists, and lost souls, as well as the way his camera seems to fall head over heels for his characters — made Van Sant a natural to make Milk, after Oliver Stone’s aborted feature-film attempt to tell the slain San Francisco supervisor’s story. "There is always that question: why I haven’t done a film like this earlier," Van Sant confessed, clearing his throat for the umpteenth time while agreeing that he hasn’t ever quite done a film like Milk. "Yeah, I hadn’t done a big movie, so there were people around who were like, ‘Can you handle it? Can it be done?’ They think that way. Since there was no business model, they were like, ‘No, he can’t, because he makes these scruffy, little movies. Too big a gamble, you know.’

"That’s a part of Hollywood, but it’s kind of like safe bets: it can make bad stuff happen as easily as good stuff, and it has its own closed policies like the old conservative City Hall-type policies. ‘New supervisors who haven’t handled the job before are incapable and they’re screwing things up.’"

Thankfully the gamble paid off and the tale of California’s first openly gay politician has been told with elegance, poetry, and not a little heart-stirring, inspirational grace, by the man whom biographer James Robert Parish describes as "the standard bearer of America’s ‘queer cinema’" — one who fuses extreme close-ups, handheld shots, and found footage in a collaborative, textural approach that lends a Kodachrome pop-culty feel to his films. The process makes for "beautiful pictures every time," as a windblown Sean Penn put it at a Ritz Carlton press conference after Milk‘s Oct. 28 world premiere at the Castro Theatre.

Seated at the middle of a long table between Penn and Josh Brolin, who portrays Milk’s killer Dan White, as they traded friendly jabs, Van Sant remained mostly silent — physically at the center, but an observer apart at the same time. Later in a hotel suite, face to face with a single interviewer, the director seemed equally out of place, folded uncomfortably into a plush chair, arms tightly crossed over a tan jeans jacket sporting a "No on 8" sticker, with a small, nylon, bright-blue dollar-store-style backpack by his side. He more closely resembles a 56-year-old teacher or elder-care worker than a Hollywood insider.

The latter role is evidently still alien to him. His first brush with Milk came in 1978 while he was driving across the country and heard on the radio that the supervisor was shot. Though he later saw the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, it never occurred to him to make a film about the politician. "It seemed like a very big story," Van Sant said. Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy "were stories that were devised to be made with really low budgets, like $20,000. So it was never like, ‘Oh, we can make a story about City Hall with $20,000.’ I guess I was always coming at filmmaking from not really being in the business, but knowing that I could get a hold of or save up my own money to the point where I’d have $20,000 and I could actually make a feature."

In the process of making Milk, the filmmaker admitted that he had to leave out many details that "I really like and things that sort of explain the situation. We suggest things. We explain this new law that enabled people to elect their supervisors from their districts, but we didn’t explain that the people up to that point that had to run city-wide resembled a different and maybe more antiquated type of politician. They were more, I guess, conservative. They were more business-oriented."

If San Francisco is palpable as a character in Milk, then City Hall is that elegantly shambolic figure’s brain, and Van Sant effectively used the Beaux Arts space, which harks back to classical forms, to his own dramatic ends. A down-the-rabbit-hole corridor leading to supervisors’ chambers becomes a pulsing nerve center visually rhyming with the characters’ stratagems. The sweeping staircase and balconies become the backdrop for Milk’s and White’s clashing trajectories, and the building itself becomes the spotless stage for Milk’s political birth and death.

"What I usually try and do, in general, is to connect the characters to a timeless quality, so it’s not necessarily situated in the specific time they’re in," said Van Sant. "So if they’re in City Hall and there’s a beaux-arts classical relief on the ceiling, if you frame it correctly, they can kind of look like Roman senators. You can get this timeless quality of people trading votes and betraying each other for as long as there’s been a forum and a senate.

"There were certain things in the script and in Harvey’s life — the famous line is ‘How do you like my new theater,’ which is what he says to Cleve [Jones, played by Emile Hirsch]: ‘Always take the stairs, never dress up, never blend in, make a show of it, use the whole space.’ I thought of that as a centerpiece of the whole film. That scene is one of my favorites because it was kind of like Harvey, who was a stage manager and was in theater. This was his new forum, his new theater, his new proscenium, with which to create new stuff — in this case, gay rights and other things that he thought were important, like education and help for minorities and seniors."

The question that arises so often among those who care about gay rights is: Why wasn’t Milk released before the Nov. 4 election, when it might have energized voters to shut down Proposition 8, a battle so similar to Milk’s charge against Proposition 6? As Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black said, "I didn’t know this [movie] would be about Prop. 8, but I don’t think this fight is over."

"I don’t really decide when movies should come out," said Van Sant. "The distributors came up with that." He spelled out some of the thoughts behind the Nov. 26 theatrical release: worries included "whether or not the elements of the story were so like the political moment that the film wouldn’t have a life after the election," and "whether people are too busy with the election to go see the movie. Are people overtaxed with politics to go see a political movie?" As a compromise, the late-October Castro Theatre premiere was arranged to get Milk and its overall message into the media eye, while still opening it into November through January, the Academy campaign season.

"Yeah, I didn’t make the call," repeats Van Sant, somewhat regretfully and shedding perhaps a smidge of that cherished detachment. "Harvey would have opened it in October."

Milk opens Wed/26 at the Castro Theatre, with additional Bay Area openings Fri/28 and Dec. 5.

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Where’s Harry?


History is written by the winners, the survivors — and sometimes the people who try the hardest. And while Milk hews pretty closely to reality, some of the people who lived through the story say a few key pieces are missing.

On the night Sup. Harvey Milk was assassinated, for example, a crowd gathered in the Castro for a march to City Hall. In the movie, the key protagonists — Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg — pull the spontaneous event together. Sup. Tom Ammiano, who was there, remembers it a bit differently.

"The whole thing started at Harry Britt’s house," Ammiano told us.

Britt, who was appointed as Milk’s successor on the board, "lived at 16th and Castro, and we were all gathered there on his steps" Ammiano said. "I asked what I could do, and he told me to run out and get some black ribbons. So I went to Cliff’s Hardware and bought out every black ribbon in the place.

"Harry was the focal point. It all started with him."

But Britt — one of Milk’s confidants and by any standard one of the most important gay politicians in the city’s history — isn’t mentioned in the movie.

There are, of course, plenty of events and people left out of what could only be, at best, a snapshot of history. Milk isn’t a documentary; it’s a feature film. Jones, who served as a script consultant, told us that "the hardest decision was what to cut…. There were a lot of people close to Harvey who didn’t make it."

It’s no secret that Jones and Britt are not close, and that the former supervisor has been out of the political limelight for years. He told me this week that he doesn’t want to talk about the film. ("I had the privilege to know Harvey myself, and I don’t want to see him through someone else’s eyes," he said.) But still, the absence of Britt, who picked up and carried Milk’s torch for many long years, is striking.

Ammiano, who loved the movie overall, agreed that it was odd not to see Britt depicted in any of the key scenes. "It’s funny when you live through history, when you were there, and then to see how it’s reported," he said. "History is written by he or she who tells it."

And while, to a certain extent, the movie feels like the Cleve Jones Show (and Jones happily told me he feels like he’s becoming "the most famous homosexual you know"), Ammiano credited Jones with pushing to make the film happen.

"Cleve wanted the story told, and for 15 years he’s been pushing it," Ammiano said. "It’s a huge personal accomplishment for him, and this is his reward."

Past, present, future


> johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW As a programming move, the Roxie Theater’s decision to screen Rob Epstein’s classic 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk is both a no-brainer and a bit of casual brilliance. It’s a no-brainer because of Milk mania. It’s a little stroke of genius because this great documentary’s return, one week before the theatrical premiere of Gus Van Sant’s feature at the Castro, provides plentiful compare-and-contrast opportunities for all those wise enough to know that they need to see both. This isn’t the first time that the Roxie — which presented Tsai Ming-liang’s homage to movie theaters Goodbye, Dragon Inn during the Castro’s days of turmoil in 2004 — has chimed in like a smart kid brother.

Epstein’s movie is a classic partly because of its historical contents, but there’s a definite mastery to the way in which he assembles and presents that material — if today’s makers of stylized docs haven’t learned from his command, that command has at least influenced Van Sant. The Times of Harvey Milk doesn’t dig into day-to-day San Francisco politics with the same relish or perhaps even specificity of the Van Sant movie (which recalls Barbet Schroeder’s 1990 Reversal of Fortune in its affection for scenes of creative, energetic groupthink). But journeying through candlelight vigil and through riot, it remains the most dramatically powerful response to Harvey Milk. His life and death were the stuff of great drama as well as of history.

The time for The Times of Harvey Milk is now, once again: more than a number connects and separates Proposition 6 of Milk’s era with Proposition 8 today. Thanks to Epstein’s compassionate documentary eye, his talking heads are fully realized human characters, with a range of personalities: the fervor of Tom Ammiano, the gruff candor of union machinist Jim Elliot (who thought the police raids on gay bars were fine until he met Milk), the contemplative sadness and strength of Sally M. Gearhart. Other touches, such as Harvey Fierstein’s uncharacteristically stoic voice-over, are surprising. And Epstein doesn’t glorify or beatify Milk when presenting the relationship between Milk and Dan White — his look at their interactions shows the sharp, competitive edges of Milk’s humanism.

The 2004 anniversary edition of the Times of Harvey Milk DVD is a treasure trove of material providing greater insight into Dan White. But it’s important to revisit this movie outside of the isolated home box office. There are generations of people who, if they’ve seen it, have only seen The Times of Harvey Milk on video at home. Like the man at the core of its subject, Epstein’s documentary thrives in a public, theatrical setting. The events it collects and captures are still relevant to all the random people who will find themselves united by a decision to watch this movie in a cinema — people who will step outside of the Roxie into a city and a world not that different from the one where Harvey Milk died and lived, one that is demanding collective action, and his spirit, once again.


Opens Fri/21, $5–$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 431-3611


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The apathy and the ecstacy


› marke@sfbg.com

“OMG! Marriage is the new AIDS!” a friend screeched to me through her cell phone after witnessing West Hollywood’s cop-clashing response to the passage of Proposition 8. She meant, of course, the unexpected, exhilarating, and somewhat clumsy reemergence of queer protest energy that has overtaken many a civic center and public park since the November election and its attendant LGBT letdown.

Folks are dusting off their framed ACT-UP poster collections, those old-time “When do we want it? Now!” chants are filling gay air space, and former Queer Nation, Gran Fury, and Boy with Arms Akimbo enthusiasts like myself are feeling nostalgic sensations in their radical nether regions that have suddenly freed us, however temporarily, from the tyranny of approaching middle age. The spirit is back! Let’s tear some shit up.

Much has been made of this “Great Gay Awakening” in the homoblogosphere. Is it heading toward long-overdue political organization or a White Night Riots reprise? How can it be effectively harnessed? What the heck should one wear? And some interesting things have already resulted from it. Gay issues have once again taken the national stage, and everyone’s looking for leadership. The “great national conversation on race” has exploded in the gay community, with some prominent hotheads blaming the African American community for Proposition 8’s win, and many queers of color finding their own voice in response.

But let’s hit the snooze on the “awakening” for quick drag minute and consider one of the thorniest questions floating around. Where was all that energy when it could have done some freaking good? “I felt totally apathetic about gay marriage until it was taken away,” another friend said. And at a recent rally I overheard “Why did it take losing something to get us out on the streets? Haven’t we learned anything from the past?”

In terms of past-learning, it’s not as if Harvey Milk and the Milk movie haven’t been the omnipresent topic on everyone’s cocktail-pickled lips all year. Were we too busy ogling Milk actor James Franco’s hip knit neckwear to co-opt Harvey’s winning strategy of inclusivity, outreach, and preemptive rallying against the infamous Briggs Initiative? People have pointed fingers until they’re blue in the wrist at the various perceived missteps of the No on 8 campaign. But a campaign is only as good as its participants — if the queer community can organize a 300-city mass protest around a viral e-mail, as we did Nov. 15, then why didn’t Harvey’s lessons on how to effect political change sink in earlier?

Of course I have a theory. I think we’re obsessed with Harvey’s martyrdom, paralyzing him in the glistening amber of legend rather than the actively engaging him in the now. His tragic mortification makes a great story, an epic drama for us eager drama queens. It sells screenplays in Hollywood. Milk, for all the good that may come of its release, would never have been green-lighted without Dan White. Harvey Milk the haloed icon — the beatified victim whose presence can only be summoned in times of gay grief — has been elevated in queer culture above Harvey Milk the canny tactician, the voluble freak, the erring human with restless hands and solid instincts.

Reflecting on Harvey’s sacrifice is important. “Saint Harvey: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Gay Martyr” was the title of an extremely moving 2004 display at the GLBT Historical Society, one that presented the supervisor’s personal effects in various reliquaries, the bullet-riddled suit in which he was murdered suspended as if from a crucifix. Inspired by “Saint Harvey,” artist Leo Herrera displayed graphic, impressionistic photographs of the suit in 2007 as part of his “San Francisco: Sex & Icons” series, recontemporizing Harvey the martyr for San Francisco’s young alternaqueer population.

Both those shows were beautiful — and helped keep Harvey’s story in play. Milk, however hagiographic, will probably do the same. That’s great, and if it inspires the community to finally fund the Historical Society enough to establish a queer history museum here — a sickening absence in San Francisco, of all places — we may be able to at last live and learn from the past rather than just light a candle to it.

For most queers now, though, the thought of Harvey Milk brings only grave tears and intimations of tragedy. Maybe the current emergency will finally break the glass around St. Harvey and inspire us to take the practical examples he left us seriously.

>>Read an interview with artist Leo Herrera and view images of Harvey as icon

>>Back to the Milk Issue

Politics behind the picture


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The new Harvey Milk movie, which opens later this month, begins as a love story, a sweet love story about two guys who meet in a subway station and wind up fleeing New York for San Francisco. But after that, the movie gets political — in fact, by Hollywood standards, it’s remarkably political.

The movie raises a lot of issues that are alive and part of San Francisco politics today. The history isn’t perfect (see sidebar), but it is compelling. And while we mourn Milk and watch Milk, we shouldn’t forget what the queer hero stood for.

Milk started out as something of a pot-smoking hippie. “The ’70s were a hotbed of everything,” Sup. Tom Ammiano remembered. “Feminism, civil rights, antiwar.” Milk’s early campaigns grew out of that foment. “Sure, he wanted to be elected,” Ammiano told us. “But the main ingredient was courage. He was fighting with the cops when they raided the bars … what he did was dangerous.”

Milk never would have been elected supervisor without district elections — and the story of district elections, and community power, ran parallel to Milk’s own story, for better and for worse.

Milk tried twice to win a seat on the at-large Board of Supervisors and never made the final cut. But in the mid-1970s, a coalition of community leaders, frustrated that big money controlled city policy, began organizing to change the way supervisors were elected. The shift from an at-large system to a district one in 1976 was a transformational moment for the city.

“I think that San Francisco doesn’t always appreciate the sea change that district elections brought,” Cleve Jones, a queer activist and friend of Milk who helped Dustin Black write the script for Milk, told us. “It wasn’t just important to the various communities that had been locked out of power at City Hall — it was the glue that began to grow the coalitions.”

Milk was elected as part of what became the most diverse board in the city’s history, with Asian, black, and gay representatives who came out of community organizations. The board, of course, also included Dan White, a conservative Irish Catholic and former cop. And it was the assassination of Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Sup. White — and the civic heartbreak, chaos, and confusion that followed — that allowed downtown forces to repeal district elections in 1980. That gave big money and big business control of the board for another 20 years, a reign that ended only when district elections returned in 2000.

Milk was a gay leader, but he was also a tenant activist, public power supporter, advocate for police reform, supporter of commuter taxes on downtown workers, and coalition-builder who helped bring together the labor movement and the queer community. It started, ironically, with the Teamsters.

“Those of us who came out of the antiwar movement remembered that the Teamsters supported Richard Nixon until the very last moment,” Jones said. “And they were seen as one of the most homophobic of all the unions.”

But in the 1970s, the Teamsters were at war with the Coors Brewing Company, and trying to get San Francisco bars to stop serving Coors beer. Allan Baird, a Teamsters leader who lived in the Castro District, saw an opportunity and contacted Milk, who agreed to help — if the Teamsters would start hiring gay truck drivers.

“It wasn’t just San Francisco and California,” Jones recalled. “We got Coors beer out of every gay bar in North America.” And gays started driving beer trucks.

Today, the queer-labor alliance is one of the most powerful, effective, and lasting political forces in San Francisco.

Milk was never popular among the wealthier and more established sectors of the gay community; he believed in a populist brand of politics that wasn’t afraid to take the fight to the streets — and beyond San Francisco. A central theme of the film is the fight against Proposition 6, a 1978 measure by conservative state Sen. John Briggs that would have barred homosexuals from teaching the public schools.

Milk, defying the mainstream political strategists, insisted on debating Briggs in some of the most right-wing parts of the state. He refused to downplay the gay-rights issues. And when Prop. 6 went down, it was the end of that particular homophobic crusade.

Milk was always an outsider, and he ran for office as a foe of the Democratic Party machine. “His campaign for state Assembly was all about Harvey vs. the machine,” former Sup. Harry Britt told us. “His main supporter was [Sup.] Quentin Kopp. He didn’t run as the liberal in the race; he ran against the machine.” And for much of the next 20 years, progressives in San Francisco found themselves fighting what became the Brown-Burton machine, controlled by Willie Brown and John Burton.

It’s too bad the movie wasn’t released early enough to have had an impact on Prop. 8, the anti same-sex marriage measure that just passed in California. Some critics of the No on 8 campaign say the message was far too soft, and that a little Harvey-Milk-style campaigning might have helped.

But for us, one of the most striking things about the movie is the fact that Milk and his lover, Scott Smith, were able to leave New York with very little money, arrive in San Francisco, rent an apartment on their unemployment checks, and open a camera store. That wouldn’t be possible today; the Harvey Milks of 2008 can’t live in the Castro — and many can’t live anywhere in San Francisco. The city is too expensive.

In fact, for all the victories Milk won, for all the successes of the movement he helped to build, much of his agenda is still unfulfilled, even in his hometown.

The first time Harvey Milk gives a public speech in the film, he’s standing on a soapbox … literally. He brings out a box with “soap” written on the side; a funny gag, but a serious and telling moment for him and San Francisco.

The issues that Milk spoke so passionately about in that speech included police reform, ending the war on drugs, protecting tenants and controlling rents, and improving parks and protecting people’s rights to use them liberally — all issues with as much resonance today as they had back then.

The movie leaves us with a painful question. For all the celebration of Milk’s legacy by San Franciscans of various political stripes, why have we made so little progress on some of his signature issues? We celebrate the martyr — but often forget what the man really advocated.

Support for gay rights is de rigueur for anyone who aspires to public office in San Francisco. But a quarter of city residents still voted to take away same-sex marriage rights in this election. Many older gay men today are barely able afford their AIDS medication and rent. And transgender people and other nontraditional types are still ostracized, unable to get good jobs, and sometimes treated contemptuously when they seek help from their government.

Sure, marijuana is supposedly legal for medical uses in California and pot clubs proliferate around San Francisco. But even these sick patients are still targeted by the federal government and its long arms in San Francisco, including former US Attorney Kevin Ryan, whom Mayor Gavin Newsom named his top crime advisor and who is now seeking to crackdown on the pot clubs. Why, 30 years after Milk was shot, does one have to claim an ailment or illness to smoke a joint in this town?

Two-thirds of city residents are renters, a group Milk championed with gusto, but we barely beat a state initiative in June that would have abolished rent control. Housing is getting steadily more expensive. And in this election, Newsom and his downtown allies opposed Proposition B, an affordable housing measure, and Proposition M, a common sense measure to prohibit landlords from harassing their tenants. Such harassment is a common tactic to force tenants from rent-controlled units, even though the City Attorney’s Office is currently suing the city’s biggest landlord, Skyline Realty, for its well-documented history of harassment. Newsom may be the champion of same-sex marriage, but when it comes to issues like tenants’ rights, we suspect that Milk would be appalled at Newsom’s gall.

Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union noted that in the wake of Milk’s death and before the repeal of district elections, San Francisco established rent control and limits on condo conversions. The tenant movement has grown steadily stronger and more sophisticated, he said, as it had to in order to counter increasing economic and political pressures and creative gambits by landlords.

“The city has gentrified phenomenally since that time, and that’s put tremendous pressure on tenants and on condo conversions,” Gullicksen told us. “It continues to be a real struggle.”

Police reform was also a huge issue for Milk and his gay contemporaries, who suffered more than most groups from the behavior of thuggish cops protected by weak oversight rules and a powerful union. And today, the Police Officers Association is stronger and meaner than ever, but the oversight has improved little, as both the Guardian and San Francisco Chronicle have explored with investigations in recent years.

And in our public parks, San Francisco officials in recent years have banned smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, playing amplified music, and even gathering in large numbers without expensive, restrictive permits. Even in the Castro, where Milk and his allies took it as a basic right to gather in the streets, Newsom and the NIMBYs unilaterally cancelled Halloween celebrations and used police to chase away citizens with water trucks.

Is this really the city Harvey Milk was trying to create? In the film, he talks about transforming San Francisco into a vibrant, tolerant beacon that would set an example for the rest of the country, telling his compatriots, “We have got to give them hope.”

Well, with hope now making a comeback, perhaps San Francisco can finally follow Milk’s lead on the issues he cared about most.

>>Back to the Milk Issue

Fighting Newsom’s mid-year cuts


EDITORIAL If Mayor Gavin Newsom moves forward aggressively with mid-year cuts to the city budget, a lame duck Board of Supervisors with four veterans — including the board president and chair of the Budget Committee — on their way out the door could be voting on harsh reductions in city spending on health care, parks, and other services. That’s not the best way to make policy; we’d rather the cuts go to the new board, which will be dealing with next year’s budget anyway. But if the mayor is pushing reductions now, the current board needs to act aggressively and quickly to be sure that the mayor’s wrongheaded priorities don’t carry the day.

We recognize that the city has money problems. Like every other taxpayer-financed entity in America, San Francisco is getting hit hard by the recession. When retail sales drop, so do local sales taxes. When real estate values plummet, so do property taxes receipts. And while some prominent economists are urging President-elect Barack Obama to pour federal money into cities this spring, nobody can count on that happening.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield is projecting that the city will be around $100 million short of cash by the end of the fiscal year. And since California cities (unlike the federal government) can’t run a deficit, that money has to come from somewhere. (Fortunately, the red ink won’t be as bad as it might have been — with little help from the mayor, Sup. Aaron Peskin got two new revenue measures passed in November that will bring some $50 million more into city coffers).

Newsom’s chief target at this point is the Department of Public Health, which is facing more than $256 million in cuts. That’s on top of all the cuts the department has had to absorb over the past two years — and it will cut deeply into the city’s ability to maintain its landmark Healthy San Francisco program. The Recreation and Park Department, libraries, and Muni will face cutbacks too, and there’s almost certainly a Muni fare hike (essentially a tax on the poor) on the horizon.

But there’s no talk of reducing or eliminating any of the mayor’s pet programs — like the 311 call center, which is a fine service but perhaps not as important as medical staff at SF General — or cutting significantly into his own office spending.

And, as always, the mayor has failed to look at any additional sources of revenue (with the possible exception of new parking meters in Golden Gate Park and at Marina Green). It’s particularly frustrating that Newsom and his hired gun, Eric Jaye, pushed so hard to help Pacific Gas and Electric Co. defeat the Clean Energy Act when public power would be the source of hundreds of millions in annual revenue. (PG&E killed 10 other ballot measures that would have brought cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to San Francisco, the largest source of potential new revenue for the city, and the private monopoly yanks more than $650 million a year out of the city in high rates, according to a Guardian study.)

The supervisors don’t have to wait for the mayor to propose cuts and then react. They can begin to move now. They can begin to identify their own set of cuts and revenue enhancements — and can begin establishing an alternative set of priorities. Is it better to cut 311 and the mayor’s special global warming deputy than to cut nurses at General? Is it better to close some redundant fire stations than cut hours at libraries? Should parking meters and garage fees go up downtown before city parks get meters? Back in 1973, in his first run for supervisor, Harvey Milk proposed eliminating the police vice squad (see "I remember Harvey"). That’s an idea whose time may have come again.

The point is that the mayor, who is weak and more focused on running for governor than on running the city, shouldn’t be driving the fiscal agenda alone. The supervisors need to either agree that they won’t act on cuts until the new board takes office or offer some alternative plans today.

I remember Harvey


Toward the end of the supervisorial campaign in 1973, I got an intercom call from Nancy Destefanis, our advertising representative handling political ads. Hey, she said, I got a guy here by the name of Harvey Milk who is running for supervisor and I think you ought to talk to him.

Milk? I replied. How can anybody run for supervisor with the name of Milk?

Nancy laughed and said that wasn’t his big problem, it was that he was running as an openly gay candidate, but he had strong progressive positions and potential. Nancy, a former organizer for Cesar Chavez’ farm workers, was tough and savvy, and I always took her advice seriously. "Send him in," I said.

And so Harvey Milk came into my office, at the start of his political career, looking like a well-meaning amateur. He had a ponytail and mustache, wore Levi’s and a T-shirt, and talked breathlessly about his issues without a word about how he intended to win. His arguments were impressive, but he clearly was not ready for prime time. We gave him our "romantic" endorsement. He got 17,000 votes.

I also advised him, as diplomatically as I could, that if he wanted to be a serious candidate, he needed to clean up his act.

Two years later, Milk strode into the Guardian in a suit and tie as a serious candidate ready to win and lead. As our strong endorsement put it, "Now he’s playing politics for real: he’s shaved his mustache, is running hard in the voting areas of the Sunset, and has picked up a flock of seemingly disparate endorsements from SF Tomorrow, the Building and Trades Council, Teamsters (for his work on the Coors beer boycott) and the National Women’s Caucus." On policy, we said he "would put his business acumen to work dissecting the budget" and "would fight for higher parking taxes, no new downtown garages, a graduated real estate transfer tax, an end to tax exemptions for banks and insurance companies, dropping the vice squad from the police budget, and improved mental health care facilities." He couldn’t get enough votes citywide to win, but he came closer.

In 1976, Milk decided to run for a state Assembly seat against Art Agnos. We decided to go with Agnos, largely because he was familiar with Sacramento as an aide to former assemblyman Leo McCarthy and also because our political reporter covering the race, Jerry Roberts, said that Agnos was much better on Sacramento issues during the campaign. We decided that Agnos was right for Sacramento and that we needed Milk in San Francisco. I have often wondered if we had endorsed Milk, and he had won, if he would still be alive.

The next year, when the city shifted to district supervisorial elections, Milk won and became the first openly gay elected official in the country. He would always say, "I am not a gay supervisor, I am a supervisor who happens to be gay."

On the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 24, 1978, Milk dropped by to see me at the Guardian. He was a bit dejected. Things were getting tougher for him on the board. He was getting hassled by his friends and allies who were telling him, as he put it, "if you don’t vote for me on this one, I’m going to stop supporting you." He said he was going to press on, but from then on he was going to work more closely with the Guardian on legislation and on giving us information.

Then he smiled the famous Harvey Milk smile and said as he left my room, "I want to be your Deep Throat at City Hall."

Those were the last words I ever heard from Harvey Milk. He was assassinated three days later.

The Milk Issue


It took Hollywood 30 years to make a feature film about the life of Harvey Milk, and when Gus Van Sant finally got the gig, and Sean Penn agreed to play the title role, it came out too late to have an impact on the California election. Would Milk, the movie, have helped defeat Prop. 8? Nobody knows. But the movie is inspirational, and with any luck will carry the message of Milk’s life to the masses. Milk always said that the more straight Americans got to know gay and lesbian people, the more they would be open to equal rights.

The Guardian covered Milk’s career as it was happening, devoted a special issue to him when he was assassinated, covered the trial of Dan White and the infamous Twinkie Defense and the riots afterward. And with the movie hitting theaters this month, we’re taking a look not just as the movie but the political legacy of Harvey Milk.

>>Political theater
Gus Van Sant gives Harvey Milk his close-up
By Kimberly Chun

>>Politics behind the picture
Would Harvey Milk be happy with San Francisco today?
By Steven T. Jones and Tim Redmond

>>I remember Harvey
Guardian memories of the long-haired young hopeful
By Bruce B. Brugmann

>>The apathy and the ecstacy
St. Harvey inflames, but does he inspire?
By Marke B.

>>Hot flash gallery
Now and then in the photography of Daniel Nicoletta
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Behind the “Twinkie Defense”
The reporter who coined the infamous phrase looks back at the White trial
By Paul Krassner

>>Past, present, future
The time is now for The Times of Harvey Milk
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Where’s Harry?
Harvey Milk’s political torchbearer gets written out of film history
By Tim Redmond

From the archives (PDF)
How the District Attorney Joe Freitas’s office blew the Dan White murder case, May 23, 1979
By Robert Levering and David Johnston