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After 13 years guiding Chamber of Commerce, Jim Lazarus bound for Feinstein’s office — again

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Jim Lazarus. (Mike Koozmin/2013 The S.F. Examiner)

On Guard column header Joe 

San Francisco is losing a local titan to federal public service: Jim Lazarus is leaving the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce after thirteen years.

Lazarus will leap into public service as Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director at the end of this year, a position he previously held from 1999 to 2001. Lazarus replaces outgoing state director Sean Eslbernd, who just started as Mayor London Breed’s new chief of staff.

“It’s a great honor,” Lazarus told me Wednesday after Feinstein announced the hire.

Feinstein praised Lazarus in a press statement. “Jim has an excellent grasp of policy and politics in San Francisco and has deep roots in the Bay Area. I’ve always valued Jim’s judgment and his professionalism,” she said.

San Franciscans may not know Lazarus’ name, but they’ll certainly know his work as vice president of public policy at the Chamber of Commerce — most recently he led the No on C effort against Our City Our Home, the business tax that won last night’s election to fund homeless services. Lazarus lost, but that recent political tussle is perhaps a footnote in his ongoing legacy in The City.

Lazarus is interwoven into the fabric of San Francisco.

A fourth-generation SF native, Lazarus first dipped into public service during Governor Jerry Brown’s first electoral run, later served as deputy city attorney (advising then-Board of Supervisors President Feinstein), served in then-Mayor Feinstein’s office leading finance and administration, ran for the City Attorney’s Office, led the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and, in a departure, served as chief operating officer of the San Francisco Zoological Society.

“I was the board’s legal counsel during the period of the assassinations” of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, he told me while recounting his lengthy resume. He’s seen San Francisco at its worst, and at its best.

He also spearheaded a bond to rebuild the San Francisco Zoo and served as point man on effort to shift San Francisco to a gross receipts tax, much to the delight of downtown businesses. And in that great San Franciscan tradition, all of his kids went to Lowell High School.

Lazarus said he was particularly proud of the tax measure, calling it one of his most notable accomplishments at the chamber.

Kevin Caroll, director of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, said its Lazarus’ wealth of experience in both business and civic duty that made him such a formidable force at the Chamber of Commerce when either helping to craft new city law or tempering upcoming laws that might harm the business community. 

“He really has a great way of framing the issue, talking about what the history has been, and helping people come together on the policy side,” Caroll said. 

Janis MacKenzie, board chair of the chamber, said “Jim is a San Francisco treasure and his historical knowledge, passion and commitment to the city are truly one-of-a-kind. 

And I’ll add on a personal note, while I may not always agree with Lazarus’ positions — his opposition to Prop. C is evidence of that — he’s someone who knows how to debate civic life respectfully. That’s probably because my fellow San Francisco native knows we’re a big city that’s really just a small town, and at the end of the day, we’re all working to make it better.

* * *

It was the Twitter blunder heard around The City. So it went at the annual John’s Grill election day luncheon, hosted by media impresario Lee Houskeeper, political strategist Alex Clemens and Da Mayor Willie Brown, where I did my usual rounds pumping insiders for information just before the ballots were counted. I did hear a particularly juicy tidbit from one source, and quickly I wrote on Twitter that one poll showed District 6 candidate Sonja Trauss neck-and-neck with candidate Matt Haney.

Haney, the polished, respectable candidate backed in a former race by President Barack Obama. Trauss, the BARF-founder who makes a regular habit of flaming SF natives and shoving her foot in her mouth, daily.

Well, the latest returns show Haney winning over his opponent Christine Johnson by 32 percentage points, and over Trauss by a solid 38 percentage points. So much for neck-and-neck!

Of course, my former colleague and friend Joe Eskenazi could not help tweaking me in his election day column, and even a colleague at our sister paper, SF Weekly, included my blunderously bad Tweet in her roundup. Journalists love Twitter, to a fault.

Well, readers, I will always cop to getting bad info. But in this case, apparently Trauss had seen the same polls — they existed, they were just wrong. Still, the best response to my initial Tweet came just after midnight, from Haney himself.

“Your Tweet didn’t age well,” he texted me, followed by a simple smiley face emoji.

Oy. Zinged by a candidate on his election night! Can I just quit Twitter? Is that a thing?

* * *

Prop. C’s influence is spreading, and it hasn’t even been enacted yet. After the business tax to fund homeless services to the tune of $300 million annually won last night, a Dallas, Texas city councilmember, Philip Kingston, tweeted “I’m not sure SF has a perfect plan here, but I do like the compassion behind it, and I think we should watch them to see if we can improve on their experience.”

Wouldn’t it be something if our little City by the Bay helped curb homelessness across the country?

And we’ll have the leadership from everyday San Franciscans and one scrappy little nonprofit to thank for it.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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