In response to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s January 15, 2015 “State of the City Address," I pondered two sayings. One is the universal mother’s favorite--“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” The second one, I heard while sitting on a church pew learning Christian virtues-- “You can’t always be nice.”
Mayor Lee’s policies, which are reminiscent of past administrations, are causing too many Black San Franciscans-- men mostly-- to feel disenfranchised. And unless voters are willing to send this mayor a stern November 2015 warning, it will be one stark reminder that, in San Francisco, Black lives do not matter.
Though the name of the mayor’s address was titled “Shared Prosperity Agenda,” it subconsciously and ironically became a solid punch to the gut for the majority of The City’s Black community.
The stage for Mayor Lee’s address was the new Wholesale Produce Market in the Bayview district of the city. This new collaboration is said to be a promising new area for jobs in the coming years, but for whom?
Let's be honest...not only would Blacks rather work in construction than in produce--even if they were to land a job moving vegetables and fruit--they can still expect to be the last ones hired, and the first ones fired. And though the mayor has pounced on the city’s low unemployment rate of 4.5%, many Black males hearing the word, “jobs” in San Francisco know better than to get too excited.
The mayor’s handlers for this event wisely did not select the small, but well-kept South of Market "Victoria Manoloa Drake Park" as the location to pitch his plan. One summer day in 2014, I counted 17 homeless Black men and women milling about in Manoloa Park with all of their possessions in tow.
These homeless, though down on their luck, were all sharp enough to heckle the mayor if any of them heard him announce, “As long as I’m mayor, we won’t leave anyone behind.” However, his assembled guests and dignitaries, which included those from the tech industry, who have yet to deliver on their promise to hire Blacks in the technology industry applauded the mayor's unrealistic promise.
Did City Hall handlers use San Francisco resident Nicole Banks; a single Black mother of four, to introduce the mayor? This educated mother seemed more than nervous as she read of her true story of struggle turned into triumph. It was as if she read a prepared speech, not of her doing, before handing over the podium to a confident Mayor Lee.
It is racially insensitive for City Hall not to know how offensive it is to exclude Black men in the mayor’s distorted vision of a Black family. Mayor Lee stated to the crowd of hundreds that, Ms. Banks' situation should be the "norm rather than the exception."
I understood what the mayor was trying to convey. Nevertheless, on behalf of men everywhere especially fathers falsely labeled as dead beats, I reject Mayor Lee’s “norm” statement. Ms. Banks' deserves praise for her accomplishments, but using this single mother as the mayor's example of hope for the average Black family in San Francisco, is reprehensible.
The only thing that having a single mother introduce the mayor reminded me of was, what a Black man could once accomplish in an unkind civil rights era of San Francisco.
Though no longer the case, San Francisco was once a place where a single father could raise his ten children and purchase a home in the city with no city program for a first-time home buyer. In fact, Blacks were not even permitted to purchase property in the city at the time my father accomplished both, buying a home and raising his ten children, all the while as a single parent.
Black lawyers Deputy Chief of Staff and Public Safety Director Paul Henderson and Policy and Government Affairs Manager for External Affairs Theodore Miller are on the mayor’s staff. The hiring of Miller was not without its skeptics, who called it pandering to the Black demographic. But the image these two lawyers project is in my opinion a more favorable depiction of the Black community than the one chosen by the mayor’s handlers.
Please note that I don’t mean to disparage single moms; I just feel that right now, Black men should be lifted up at every opportunity. I salute Nicole Banks – along with my niece, who became a single mother at 18. Her title is now Dr. Tamarra Jones. She is the director of the Ryan White Foundation in Orange County.
The emphasis of this year’s address was the obvious affordable housing crisis facing so many San Franciscans today. Surprisingly and equally baffling, many San Franciscans still vote for a politician who just utters the empty words “affordable housing.” And though the mayor’s affordable housing pitch for this year is linked to more November 2015 Election Day question marks, Black residents see the writing on the wall... "un-affordable housing for way too many Blacks"
And as I drive by the many construction sites where massive construction is still taking place in the city, I’m concerned. Not only do I see very few, if any Blacks doing construction on these major; mostly private projects, common sense tells me that there will be even less Blacks, employed to manage, live or own these properties in the coming years. Even when Mayor Lee mentioned that the Pier 70 project has its green light made possible by the voters, I envisioned Blacks who dare apply for work will only be hired on the usual, appeasement only bases.
Adding insult to injury, instead of complying with 2009 city hiring ordinances for public projects, out of town non-minority contractors will set up a makeshift office and surreptitiously move to the front of the line, as was evident with KCK Builders, the San Rafael CA contractors tapped to build the new Bayview library that opened in 2013. Once the project was complete, their San Francisco phone line went completely dead.
Also in attendance, for this address were former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom. Ironically, former Black business owners of the city are more than likely to credit or blame the end of their business to the tenure and policies of former Mayor Willie Brown. Then his handpicked successor came into office.
In 2007, former Mayor Gavin Newsom commissioned a study completed in 2009 to address why so many Black residents are leaving the city and how to reverse the trend. As you read the first “Key Finding” of the report you will scratch your head as it declared, Blacks are leaving San Francisco. No wonder many have called the report a “Fraud” and the chairperson of the two year report wanted nothing to do with it.
One can imagine these two former mayors, Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom only consented to attend Mayor Lee’s gathering on the condition that Lee not utter the term “Black outmigration.” In the entire 40 minute speech, the words Black, outmigration nor even the term African American were never mentioned once by Mayor Lee, unless you count the time he said the word, race, once.
Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom and Mayor Ed Lee have accumulated a combined 20 consecutive years of State of the City addresses that have largely excluded Black San Franciscans. What has this continued charade done to improve the lives of the Black community in the Bay Area?
With the newly elected mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf, also in attendance, Mayor Lee offered a hint when he smiled and vowed to work with Oakland’s new mayor.
Mayor Lee wrote a letter to the owners of the Golden State Warriors. The NBA franchise has been in Oakland for more than 40 years until Mayor Lee invited them to look at a plot of land in San Francisco to call home. And though many applaud this move, it would be wise if the new mayor of Oakland held her purse with a tighter grip.
I was surprised to hear the name Audrey Cooper fondly acknowledged by Mayor Lee at his address to the city. Ms. Cooper is the new boss at the San Francisco Chronicle. For decades this main paper of the city has failed to report responsibly on issues that most concern the Black community.
In June of 2014, Ms. Cooper sited company policy against using racial slurs, as the reason the paper will no longer report any story using the term redskins in identifying the NFL franchise Washington Redskins. However, when the president of North Korea referred to President Obama as “like a monkey” on two separate occasions in 2014, the Chronicle ran a story on this racial slur. Then the Chronicle had the audacity to run a “Reader Poll” on the remark. One response to select from in the poll was, “Maybe he (Obama) deserved it.”
What has changed for the better for the Black community in and around the city? Does the City of San Francisco care about this group of disenchanted people that helped build this great city?
Mayor Ed Lee did say something I agreed with when closing his address. He declared that “The state of the city is strong and getting stronger...!” That's true, I believe. But let's be clear, the lingering stench of marginalizing Black males in San Francisco is stronger, and it's not caused by the homeless Blacks, but rather City Hall.