Theresa Sparks, running for supervisor of San Francisco’s District 6 (the Western Addition, Alamo Square, Anza Vista, North Panhandle, the Hayes Valley, and Lower Pacific Heights), describes herself as: “the transgender woman … (who) live(s) my progressive values out loud, in the open, for all to see, every single day of my life”. Frankly, when I learned of her candidacy, I wondered if this was another case of Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly gay elected official in the United States. Since then, San Francisco has become known as one of the most openly lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) city in the U.S., but is that one issue alone sufficient to impact the governing of a metropolitan city?
On visiting her website, I decided there was a lot more to Sparks’ candidacy. While Sparks has certainly “been recognized as a national leader in the fight for LGBT civil rights”, she possesses both business and social credentials. Sparks spent more than 20 years as CEO of several multi-national environmental firms, holds a U.S. patent in recycling, was CFO and later president of the Good Vibrations cooperative, served on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and was appointed to the re-constituted Police Commission, including two years as president.
Some of the issues Sparks lists on her website include affordable housing, public safety, balancing the city budget (Sparks claims her agency spent only $5 M of an allotted $6 M budget last year), and creating new, sustainable jobs. Those are fine, but everyone claims those issues as their own. However, Sparks strongly supports small business and also supports CleanPowerSF, which wants to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy. Frankly, these are both issues that are near and dear to my heart.
I teach a small business management class, and Sparks asserts: “We can’t continue to add more taxes onto small businesses or eventually there will be no more small businesses to tax”. This is a critical concern. Because big business employs so many lobbyists and obviously provides many jobs (although many are now being “outsourced”), small business has for too long been an easy target for taxation from our, um, influenced legislators. Especially within a small section of a city rather than the downtown area, small businesses constitute the heart of the economic community. Rather than piling on taxes, the city should be supporting its own small businesses.
According to Sparks: “Currently, more than 95% of the $1.85 billion that the City spends on commodities and services are purchased from vendors located outside the City (sic) and this doesn’t even include large infrastructure projects or Federal or State projects.” While she claims her agency has helped “in substantially increasing the requirement for local procurement on contracts up to four hundred thousand dollars”, she also laments that, “Unfortunately, there is institutional reluctance towards expanding that to multi-million dollar contracts”, and wants to increase larger local purchasing.
She also wants to combine clean energy with job growth, which is vitally important to the state in general. “The only way to protect our environment from further damage and to end our reliance on fossil fuels is to fully embrace the concept of clean, renewable energy,” she said. “We need to create a business environment that is not only supportive of tech growth but encourages it and provides basic infra-structure that attracts more of these creative people and companies to the City. One of my first projects as your District 6 Supervisor will be to create Tech-Business Innovation Zones in SOMA with municipal ultra-high speed web access for developers, payroll tax exemptions for start-up companies, and small business incubation services for entrepreneurs.”
Sparks is clearly no “one-trick pony”. The issues that she lists are both highly relevant to a specific city district and important in terms of overall metropolitan health. Sparks not only supports the needs of individuals and special-interest communities, but she clearly has the background to understand and address larger financial concerns. In a city that has for too long been torn apart by infighting between highly focused factions, it is encouraging to believe that someone with a more “big picture” view might actually be elected. Frankly, I hope so.