To get a sense of the legacy left behind by Ted Gullicksen, the longtime executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union who died Tuesday, one only needs to visit the Capp Street office of the advocacy group . His is a legacy that adorns every wall of the old Victorian rooms turned offices.
Above Gullicksen’s desk posters for dozens of political campaigns for tenants rights line every inch of available wall space. “No on E: Save Rent Control,” “Yes on I,” they read in bright, though faded, letters. In one corner of the room, a collection of Gullicksen’s arrest citations stretching back to the 1980s curls down to the floor.
“He was arrested countless times,” said Rebecca Gourevitch, who worked at the Tenants Union under Gullicksen for three years, and spoke of his unswerving commitment for tenants rights—a commitment that often landed him in handcuffs. Though currently in graduate school at UC Santa Cruz, Gourevitch said that when she heard the news Tuesday, that the 61-year-old Gullicksen was found dead by a friend, she immediately came north to mourn a man she considered a close mentor. On Wednesday, in the office in which she used to work with Gullicksen, she reflected on his impact on her.
“Ted was life-changing, for me,” she said. “From the day I first met him, he brought me into his world, introduced me to City Hall. He taught us all how to be organizers.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Gullicksen moved to San Francisco in the 1980s and started working for the Tenants Union in 1988. Since then, he’s been one of the city’s chief architects and promoter of legislation to help protect tenants’ rights. The cause of his death has yet to be released.
On Wednesday morning, a day after hearing news of their executive director’s death, the Tenants Union had many logistics to deal with. Andrew Szeto, a volunteer coordinator who was working that day, had to spend much of the morning on the phone. The organization had plans to send out its election mailer with endorsements for the November ballot this week, material Gullicksen had been crucial to creating. With Gullicksen gone, some one needed to figure out how to pay the printer, among other unfinished business.
“There was a lot of things Ted was working on,” said Szeto. Chief among them was the campaign for Proposition G, a measure that the Tenants Union hopes will curb evictions by levying a tax on real estate speculators who sell a building shortly after purchasing it.
Szeto said that though the the Tenants Union is cooperatively run, Gullicksen undoubtedly “called the shots” and was head scribe when it came to writing campaign material. “He’d write everything,” said Szeto.
Despite the many things that needed doing to make sure the Tenants Union continued its campaign work, the office’s front room was filled with people seeking tenants rights counseling, and a volunteer counselor was on hand to provide guidance for dealing with evictions, rent increases, and more.
“The clinic will have to go on. There’s no way we can stop it,” Szeto said. “Ted wouldn’t want it to stop for any reason.”
Without Gullicksen, some tenants’ more complicated questions might be harder to answer. He was known for his detailed and expansive understanding of San Francisco often byzantine housing law.
“Whenever I had questions, Ted always had answers” said Szeto. “Even counselors who have been here for many years went to Ted for guidance. He was always able to answer questions.”
“We’d walk by buildings in the Mission and he’d share the whole history of that building,” said Gourevitch, adding: “Whatever his opinion was on something, you knew it was the right thing.”
In addition to sharing his knowledge of housing law with countless tenants seeking information, Gullicksen was mentor to many who worked in housing activism. At an informal memorial service held Tuesday night in the San Francisco Tenants Union’s office, in which dozens of people gathered to eat donuts (one of Gullicksen’s favorite foods) and share memories, Gourevitch said the room was filled with people who Gullicksen had helped inspire.
“I’ve always thought of him as a mentor, but I saw so many people who felt the same way,” said Gourevitch. “Everyone in the room had used the Tenants Union for some housing issue of their own. People talked about how the Tenants Union had helped them fight for their rights and become organizers themselves.”
Despite his work as a staunch advocate for tenants rights, and often polarizing ideology, Gullicksen was a mild-mannered presence that could work with an array of people from a wide political spectrum. Both Mayor Ed Lee and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu released statements expressing their sense of loss with Gullicksen’s death. In a statement in the Chronicle, Chiu described Gullicksen as “an amazingly gentle, kind and decent human being.”
Jeremey Graham, who met Gullicksen in the 1990s as an activist with Homes not Jails, had come into the Tenants Union Office Wednesday to remember a man he described as having “an enormous influence.”
“He was able to connect with a broad range of political people,” said Graham. “He worked very closely with City Hall and the Board of Supervisors, yet he kept fullness of his embrace in radical street politics.”
For those who worked with Gullicksen, they know he dedicated almost every day of the week to advocating for tenants rights. At any given hour of the day a volunteer or employee of the Tenants Union could expect to find Gullicksen working at his computer—with his shaggy dog Falcor curled up on the floor beside him.
“He said he liked to do data entry on Sunday,” said Gourevitch with a smile.
With that ever-present, always-working leader gone, the Tenant Union will certainly have a big absence to fill but his influence has clearly inspired many others.
“I know for myself, everything I do will be in his honor,” said Gourevitch. “He did so much for everyone in this city.”
A full memorial service for Gullicksen has yet to be organized but will be announced in the coming days.