I have this problem where it’s really important to me to keep my word and do what I say I’m going to do. I know it’s not a “problem” problem. But when it’s Saturday morning, and I’m hungover and have already promised some people I’d help them do a merchant walk for their political campaign, I wake up muttering to myself, “dammit, Stuart.”
Still, I refuse to be a flake.
That’s how I found myself in the Tenderloin at 11 a.m. last Saturday. I promised my friends, Matt Haney and Lateefah Simon, that I’d walk the district with them, helping get their campaign posters up in storefront windows. As president of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, Haney is running for re-election; Simon is a candidate for the BART Board of Directors, representing District 7.
(Full disclosure: They are both friends of mine, but I promise that my ass wouldn’t be out there hanging signs on Saturday morning if these weren’t both people who I greatly admire and respect.)
The world will be a better place when we get more people like Matt and Lateefah in office …
It was a hot afternoon in the Tenderloin, which meant lots of people in the streets. The Blue Angels screamed bombastically across the sky above us with implied violence, while on the sidewalks around us, people with mental illness did mostly the same. There was a certain ironic poeticism to it: How much money was wasted showing off our military might for Fleet Week instead of helping out street people who’d gone off to war and came home with PTSD?
There were numerous volunteers and campaign staff out that morning, so we split off into groups to get the most ground covered. Madeline Franklin, Simon’s campaign manager, and I would pop into a store and tell the merchant that the candidates were a couple minutes away and ask if the merchant would like to meet them. Most of the store owners were immigrants, and it was wonderful to see how excited they were that candidates cared enough to meet them and hear them out.
The same went for the dope dealers. It was incredible to see the same cats who had stoically solicited me for drugs earlier in the afternoon shift into concerned citizens after Lateefah and Matt approached them. Lateefah asked them about their experiences on BART and what could be improved, while Matt discussed the issues surrounding the particular school one of the dealers’ sons attended.
Before leaving, Matt gave the man his card and told him to personally reach out if his son was having any problems. You could tell how much it meant to the folks who hold down the corner all day that anyone had stopped to hear what they think. I don’t imagine it’s a very common thing.
Given both of their backgrounds, this all makes sense. Lateefah is the youngest woman to win the MacArthur “Genius Grant” and she earned it for her work with troubled youth. Matt is the second youngest person elected as president of the Board of Education and authored the landmark Safe and Supportive Schools policy, which reduces school suspensions. Being able to talk compassionately with people who don’t normally get heard is what made me get out of bed to support these candidates in the first place.
As we stopped on Market Street to discuss our next move, there was sickening thud behind us: A man who’d been standing, talking to a friend, had a sudden seizure that caused him to go stiff and fall face-first onto the sidewalk. His knees hadn’t buckled, so his face took the brunt of the fall. After a second, we all realized what was happening, and Lateefah ran over to help the man while Matt pulled out his phone and called 911. The man’s friend took off; the Blue Angels continued to screech overhead.
After the man regained consciousness, Lateefah held his hand until the ambulance finally arrived. Matt and another woman stayed on the phone with 911 until emergency responders arrived. After the man was put in the ambulance, I left the crew because I had some other work to attend to. But all I thought about the rest of the day was, “These are exactly the people who need to be in office.” I think you see why.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.