The Mission District’s supervisors run the spectrum of personalities on the new board. There’s David Campos, the proven veteran who’s built a broad base of support in the heart of the Mission. There’s Jane Kim, the fresh-faced dynamo who’s become somewhat of a City Hall cover girl, earning both friends and foes with her appetite for hardball politics.
And then there’s Scott Wiener.
Few have heard much about Dolores Park’s newest supervisor — he hasn’t yet made a name for himself with major city issues, and his face isn’t splashed across magazine cover after magazine cover. Some might think he lacks the pizzazz of someone like Supervisor Kim. And that’s OK. “That’s just not me,” he said.
But in his first six months, Wiener has been hard at work trying to build a track record on some of the city’s thorniest issues.
His first two weeks in office, Wiener met with transit officials, housing advocates and park groups. He’s taken up issues like reforming an entrenched taxi system, reining in the negative effects of historic preservation and improving service on Muni, “the 800-pound gorilla.”
His daily schedule is parsed out in 15-minute segments. He sees city officials, constituents, would-be developers and LGBT activists in back-to-back appointments.
“If people think I’m boring, that’s fine. Because I’m just working hard,” said Wiener, sitting in an office that boasts his diplomas — Duke, Harvard Law and a Fulbright — but not much else. Two small bookcases sit half-empty.
His colleagues agree. Every person interviewed about Wiener described him as “hard-working.”
During his campaign, Wiener vowed to use his position to tackle real city problems, not for political grandstanding on international affairs. He made transit a special priority, endorsing Proposition G, which demanded that the city “Fix Muni Now” by eliminating driver salary rules from the city charter.
But since taking office it’s mostly been baby steps for Wiener.
He’s passed a resolution supporting “world class taxi service in San Francisco.” He’s called for hearings on how to improve the reliability of the notorious J-Church Muni line, and to examine how efforts to mark Dolores Park and other sites as historic could hamper renovation efforts. But Wiener has yet to tackle these issues with binding ordinances.
Change at Muni, he’s discovered, “moves very slowly, and that can be frustrating.” Though Wiener credits the agency with recent improvements in infrastructure, like its overhaul of the central control system, he says the laundry list is long.
And success with Muni has eluded attempts by the best of politicians. Wiener has tried pressuring city officials to use their newfound leverage in labor negotiations with Muni to cut costs and improve service. Muni has countered by hiring a high-power PR firm to handle media relations, and the drivers’ union voted last month to authorize a strike.
Following the J-Church hearing, Wiener said he’s working with Muni to make minor improvements such as ticketing double-parkers who back up traffic flow on the line. But in the end, he said, “We need to get more trains on that line, period. It’s completely unacceptable when someone has to wait 15 or 20 minutes during rush hour.”
Wiener should know. He’s an avid transit rider, and even had a candid camera moment recently when another passenger posted a video of a train’s door malfunctioning as it barreled through a tunnel. Wiener was caught looking more like a deer in the headlights than a take-charge public servant. He looked around, seemingly unsure of what to do.
But as soon the train stopped, Wiener was on the line with Muni’s director. “When I’m riding Muni with people, I’m not just another passenger, I’m someone who can make sure the system is working well,” he said of his newfound responsibility.
Wiener holds office hours for constituents twice a month. Holding sessions in the district helps keep him from getting too caught up in City Hall, he says, and as he described a recent session in Glen Park, it was clear that he relished the exchange and basic problem-solving dynamic.
Wiener is also building a reputation as someone listens to all sides. “He’s collaborative, and he came into City Hall with a lot of knowledge already about how city government works,” said Supervisor David Chiu.
Kim, a progressive board member who doesn’t always agree with the more moderate Wiener, echoes the sentiment. “He’s smart, he came in with a lot of ideas, and he really came in with an agenda, which I respect,” she said. “Whether it’s Muni or taxicabs, whatever the issue, he brings a very basic respect to the table, and he comes with an intelligent and thoughtful approach.”
That trait helped him to broker a recent initiative between tenants and landlords. After the Castro fires hit, Wiener proposed legislation to help residents displaced by disasters. He worked with the San Francisco Tenants Union and landlord groups to successfully pass a law last month making it easier for landlords to temporarily charge lower rents to displaced tenants. The law enables landlords to help out without being bound by strict rent control rules.
“I just started talking to both sides,” Wiener said — including the Tenants Union, which had come out strongly against him during last year’s campaign. “It’s about not taking things personally, and understanding that we have a job to do.”
His is a personality that fits well with the new board. “We’re not as mired in the same public performance when there’s disagreement,” Kim told Mission Loc@l. “It’s a less flashy board and a less flashy mayor.”
Wiener says the mix-up has created a much more collegial atmosphere. “You can’t just ram things through — if you want to count the six votes, you have to go out there and work for it,” he said. “Even though Colleague X is doing something that’s really bugging me, the next week I may have to ask Colleague X for a vote, so I’m not going to go to war with this.”
Kim said Wiener’s willingness to open the door on the discussion about how historic preservation fits in with other city policies — like housing, transit development and modernizing public spaces — demonstrates his seriousness.
“It’s a conversation that needs to happen,” said Kim. “I think he’s taken on the important issues, and he has a really good sense for how he wants to address them.”
Wiener thinks the new civility at City Hall will serve residents well. “I’m not trying to be all kumbaya,” he explained. “It’s important for the public to know how many really committed people work in City Hall in an era when public employees sometimes get a bum rap.”