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They Might Be Mayors: Susan Leal

Oct
9
2003

A lawyer, a Latina and a lesbian, Susan Leal was born and raised in San Francisco, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She served on the board of supervisors for four years beginning in 1993 where she headed the board’s finance committee and helped draft and enact the city’s domestic partnership laws.
Leal is running a moderate-lefty campaign working to appeal to the city’s business community by stressing her financial acumen and business experience in concert with her years in political office. Leal’s had some success in that arena; her backers include financier Warren Hellman.
She is finishing her second and last term as treasurer and was interviewed one morning on her way to the office after a breakfast campaign appearance.
What is this race about in your mind as a mayoral candidate?
It is a lot about the direction of the city and whether the city is really ready — and I think the city is ready — to get serious. And they’d like someone who really wants to operate as an executive. I think they want an ideology that they can at least relate to and feel that they respect, but also they’re looking for someone with financial skills, they’re looking for someone who can say how do we get these 20,000-plus employees going in the same direction.


Is that what you mean by serious, the financial skills, business acumen?
Part of the serious is financial skills and the business acumen but also the ability to take civil servants and the civil service employees of this city and challenge the culture of it. I don’t mean challenge in the way of putting down public employees because I do believe and I believe my department has proven that public servants and civil servants want to have pride in their jobs. You got to be at your desk at 8 a.m. You can’t leave before 5 p.m. Those are the things you learn in civil service: you show up and you keep your head down. You don’t cause trouble.
But, you know, with the right leadership people actually try to do some stuff, get some stuff done. Then they feel pretty excited about it. Even in the boom times where there were more city jobs, our office was a magnet, a magnet in a good way. It wasn’t because people were sitting in the office on the Internet and reading magazines. They were actually working!
You grew up in San Francisco. What is your earliest, fondest memory of the city. When you went to New York and people said San Francisco there was some memory, what is it?
It was renewed the other night when I walked in the Conservatory of Flowers and saw the giant philodendron. As a five-year-old kid, you walk in and you go “Whoa…” It was a very cool building that, over the years, became very ratty — Mother Nature did us a favor by knocking the place down. Playing on the hill behind my house — which we saved, part of it — the neighbors saved part of it as Kite Hill Park. The conservatory to a kid looked like some big magical house, a glass house, truly a glass house. Those are good memories.
What do you miss about that San Francisco? What’s gone?
There are some good things happening but…there’s this glass half-empty kind of thing. There are so many good things happening in the city…We need to revive that and bring back a lot of that.
Her priorities:
1)Jobs/Economic Recovery
2)Schools
3)City Government Reform
3b)Neighborhood Preservation/Development Issues*
4)Homelessness/Quality of Life*
5)Housing/Home Ownership
6)Muni/Public Transit
7)Police Department Oversight
[*Leal feels that City Government Reform and Development Issues, particularly Neighborhood Preservation are linked by the need for change in the city's planning department. And she prefers that Quality of Life issues should be thought of as part of Economic Recovery.]
As an elected official, what are you the most proud of?
The work I’ve done for children, particularly expanding preschool opportunities and changing the culture of civil service which is big. It’s really exciting to see people actually take pride in their work, get stuff done for the city.
What’s the biggest political mistake you’ve made?
I don’t know because I think there’re different things…Being supportive of certain candidates in the past that I shouldn’t have been supportive of.
What’s the most important change you’d like to see in San Francisco whether or not you’re mayor?
I’d like to see the mayor and the board [of Supervisors] turn down the level of arrogance at both ends of the hallway. More civility. Because I think that spreads across the city, that incivility.
What think don’t you want to change?
The spirit of the people in this city. There’s still a lot of great spirit in this city, a lot of spirit. Great spirit.
Some people have compared this mayoral race to the TV show “Survivor.” You’re on the island, Susan, who are you voting off?
Michael Denny, for sure.
Would it help if I told you [Supervisor] Newsom voted himself off?
Why’s he running then?

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