My first visit with SF mayoral candidate & local media personality “Broke-Ass” Stuart Schuffman, was at a “campaign rally” for him and community college board hopeful Tom Temprano at Bernal Heights favorite outdoor patio bar El Rio. Local indie bands and a headliner named Planet Booty, provided the entertainment for the day where every couple of hours, Temprano and Schuffman would address the hundred or so person crowd. The climax, saw Schuffman declaring his desire to be “Mayor of this goddamn city!” to a thunderous roar.
Never one for dull moments, day two with Schuffman had us venturing into City Hall, where he posted a letter on the ornate wooden door to Mayor Ed Lee’s office, challenging him to both a debate and a “best mustache” contest. This strategy seemed to work, as a week later, the previously reticent Lee, conceded to a debate with Schuffman and four other candidates for mayor (No mustache contest though.)
“This guy’s running for mayor?” I thought. What kind of guerilla tactics are these? I wondered whether this was just a sideshow to inflate Schuffman’s public persona, which would surely lead to more traction for his eponymous website. But it wasn’t until we sat down at a sidewalk table of a Hayes Valley cafe for a conversation, where Stuart was greeted every 15 minutes or so by a passerby or acquaintance voicing their support for his campaign, that I started to understand the type of impact in San Francisco that Schuffman seeks and achieves.
“I wanted to stick up for my city and no one else was doing it…And I love this city so much but goddamn it sometimes,” he says.
His frustrations echo those of the city’s populace, who criticize the sweetheart tax breaks Mayor Ed Lee offered to tech companies — costing San Francisco $34 million in city payroll tax — as the catalyst for the arrival of new San Franciscans, who’ve changed the makeup of the city. With a willingness to pay exorbitant rents and a lifestyle lending itself to Uber rides to and from work and daily dinners out, these people have become the face of gentrification.
“We inherit the problems that are left from tech people” Schuffman says. “If you’re gonna be here, be here and care and vote. You’re opting out of San Francisco, but you’re still affecting it.”
Schuffman fancies himself as the voice of the people who love San Francisco and he has indeed brought attention to the election, issues like homelessness, poop on the streets and political accountability, to people who wouldn’t have otherwise cared about politics. But his gregarious — and often egocentric — YOLO politics approach, doesn’t resonate with some of the people who’ve been in San Francisco longer than Schuffman’s 12-year tenure, or others who don’t feel the same quasi-entitled sense of solidarity with the city as he.
Last week, Schuffman — ever the jester — took to his “power base” of social media to fire back at Mother Jones Editor-In-Chief Clara Jefferey and SF Magazine’s EIC, Jon Steinberg, who both deemed Ed Lee’s campaign to be an “unopposed” one. After tweeting at Steinberg to “go back to making lists about the Top 10 cupcakes in SF,” he wrote an op-ed on his own site directed at Jefferey and others. It was a finish-line campaign manifesto of sorts that punctuated his efforts with “The point of opposition isn’t always necessarily to win. The point of opposition is to vocalize dissent.”
Schuffman’s propensity to say whatever he wants, unlike more traditional political candidates, makes him a lightning rod for criticism and makes it hard for him to be taken seriously at times. But this is what makes him a uniquely relevant figure, in the mold of stunt-mayoral candidates of the past like Chicken John and Jello Biafra. And like John and Biafra before him, Schuffman has succeeded in engaging more San Franciscans in the race and in local issues that matter to us all (even if the restrictive nature of political campaign contributions have it so Lee is the only candidate with enough funds to really win this thing.) He understands the power of community and shamelessly promotes his agenda through his website and social media.
Stuart posts a letter on Mayor Ed Lee’s door. Photo by Adrian Spinelli
“I love Stuart, I’m a great Stuart salesman,” he says with a big grin. He’s clad in a velvet coat, shirt designed by local artist Amos Goldbaum, a thumb ring and his signature fedora. I follow him around North Beach as he pops into storefronts to talk to business owners and ask them if they’d display one of his campaign posters. Only Schuffman knows the name of more than half of the proprietors of every store we walk into. “I’ve been street level in the city for 12 years. I know everybody,” he boasts.
At one stop, Schuffman gets challenged by a store owner: “What do you stand for?” she asks. And he reels off his bullet points; his campaign pitch in a nutshell:
“I’m not Ed Lee. Make more affordable housing. Get the homeless off the street and off of their feet. Eliminate human poop from the streets. A public advocate’s office to fight corruption.”
We walk down the street and another passerby yells: “I got your back Broke-Ass!” This happens more than once throughout our walk and it reminds me of the tongue-in-cheek moniker people assign to the alpha-friend who knows everybody on the block. “You’re like the mayor of this place!”
So what do we want in a mayor for San Francisco? A smaller town, could perhaps make do with a gonzo-public figure like Schuffman at the helm. But in reality, San Francisco is one of the world’s largest economic hubs, and will likely demand a mayor with a track record in local politics, who understands the bureaucracy of local government from decades of experience. Unfortunately for San Francisco, Ed Lee might be the only person who currently fits this bill and his recent track record as a dependable and honest person has been called into question way too many times.
But don’t take it out on Schuffman. San Francisco is a city of characters and Broke-Ass Stuart is one of its many eccentrics. Rather than knock him for his bouts of egomania, we should laud him for his audacity to challenge the complacency of one of the greatest cities in the world, when it’s identity is being compromised by corporate and political selfishness and the people that now passively call the city “home” because of it.
While becoming elected might be a futile endeavor, he’s helped in making certain issues more mainstream. And like both Chicken John and Jello Biafra, he truly loves where he lives and his heart is in a good place.
He sits back in his chair at Molinari’s Deli, and with the same devious grin from before, he says: “I know I’m obnoxious, I know I’m self-centered…I get it. But I’ve been shedding light on creativity and the wonderful things in this city for a decade.”
Find out more about the mayoral candidates here, and don’t forget to vote, election day is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015.