Northside SF
North Beach Beat
Local Dems Disown Their Favorite Son
What does it say about a mayoral candidate when he can’t even win an endorsement from one of the key political clubs from his own party in his own district?

District 3 Supervisor David Chiu might ponder that question if he ends up losing his bid to be the City’s next mayor. The Chronicle endorsed him. But the District 3 Democratic Club (D3DC) did not, preferring to go with Dennis Herrera and Leland Yee as their ranked choices.

Paul Kohler, immediate past president and current D3DC board member, played down the significance of the vote: “David got a lot of votes, he really did. But this club has a tradition of independence. Voters don’t adhere to any one political philosophy or politician. [In the end], that’s how the chips fell.”

Maybe. But someone casting about for an explanation can find plausible reasons why Chiu’s name failed to appear on more than half the ballots cast.

The looming Central Subway project may be decisive here. Chiu is for it. Herrera is the only candidate to actively oppose it. The D3DC membership is solidly against this so-called Tunnel to Nowhere. So if you’re casting your ballot based on a single issue, as many voters do, Herrera would be the golden child. While Kohler wasn’t willing to say that Chiu’s support of the subway hurt him, he did concede “it’s on a lot of people’s minds right now.”

As for Yee, well, the club’s membership contains plenty of folks who can be described as Democratic Party stalwarts. Many are politically active and have been for years. Someone like Yee, a career politician who’s been a good Democrat, steady if unspectacular, would have his appeal.

And Chiu?

Maybe those same party stalwarts haven’t forgotten his remarkable about-face when it came time for picking an interim mayor to succeed Gavin Newsom. Originally committed to backing Sheriff Michael Hennessey for the job, Chiu disappeared into Newsom’s office for an hour of arm-twisting, only to emerge as an Ed Lee supporter.

Not that there wasn’t already bad blood between Chiu and the D3DC. The memory of Chiu trying to muscle his way into the D3DC presidency as part of his early empire building probably slipped a shiv between the third and fourth ribs of his popularity too.

Another longtime D3DC member put it more succinctly. Of Chiu he said, “They don’t like him.”

The real Mr. North Beach: Sit down for an hour or so with Alessandro Baccari Jr., and you’ll walk away wondering why the rest of the world can’t be so charitable or reasonable. Baccari, a native North Beacher, has devoted a lifetime of energy to serving the neighborhood and the city that formed him. From his activities with the Salesians (the Catholic order was introduced to the United States by his grandfather) to his longtime association with Fisherman’s Wharf to serving myriad charitable causes, there isn’t much around here Baccari hasn’t had a hand in promoting, preserving or documenting.

It is precisely those qualities of humanity and service that prompted North Beach Citizens (NBC) to select Baccari as a co-recipient of its annual Community Recognition Award. He will be honored, along with local philanthropist Carolyn Zecca Ferris, at NBC’s awards dinner and fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Italian Athletic Club.

Kristie Fairchild, the Citizens’ executive director, specifically cited Baccari’s compassion and good works through the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul as among the reasons for his selection.

(If you’re interested in attending the dinner or in supporting North Beach Citizens, give Amy Wickstrom a call at 415-772-0982 or drop her an e-mail at

It takes about two seconds to recognize Al Baccari as pure North Beach Italian. But after about five minutes of conversation it’s obvious his vision of the neighborhood is ecumenical and all encompassing.

While he speaks passionately about his Italian heritage, he’s quick to point out North Beach was never purely Italian, but an international potpourri flavored by many cultures, including the Irish, Chinese, Portuguese, Germans, French, and Basque, all of whom helped give the place its character.

“We’re an open city. That’s what makes us San Francisco. That’s what makes us great.”

Pax: It appears Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Angela Alioto, who have been locking antlers over what to call the Italianesque pedestrian plaza envisioned for the block of Vallejo Street between Grant and Columbus, have buried the hatchet. And Alioto, it seems, will get her way. That’s usually how these things work out: The one with the money wins.

According to Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte (Oct. 16), the plaza will be named for St. Francis of Assisi, whose namesake shrine occupies the north side of Vallejo. Ferlinghetti wanted to call the space Poets’ Plaza. Now the Venerable One and his decidedly secular poets, who roost across the street at the Caffe Trieste, will have to content themselves with the acknowledgement that “St. Francis was a poet, too.”

Even though the original idea for the plaza was Ferlinghetti’s, Alioto’s obsession with the Catholic saint led her to barge in. Long story short, she was able to raise the money that will get this thing built, while Ferlinghetti’s group couldn’t.

It really doesn’t matter what the plaza is called, I suppose, as long as the spirit of St. Francis actually prevails there. Whether that will happen or not remains an open question.

Mel Clay, RIP: The death on Sept. 26 of the cantankerous North Beach poet not only severs one of the few living links to the City’s Beat era, it stills one of the neighborhood’s truly iconoclastic voices.

A memorial for Clay, 79, was held in mid-October at John Perino’s Focus Gallery on Grant Avenue.

In addition to his poetry Clay was an actor, prose writer and playwright. He performed with The Living Theatre back in the day, honing skills he put to good use when he read his epic poem, The Oral History of Anal Sex, on the steps of St. Francis of Assisi during one of those North Beach festivals. Regardless of how that image sits with you, you’ve got to give him credit for sheer brass. Mel wasn’t shy about expressing an opinion, obviously, and if you didn’t like it, well, screw you. Consequently he was not universally loved. Maybe because I knew Mel only casually and our encounters were generally pleasant, I liked the guy.

The last time I saw him, a week or so before he went off to the hospital, he chided me for writing this column every month without demanding payment. I told him that this is a labor of love, that I’m doing it as a service to North Beach. If you knew Mel, you can guess how that went over.

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March 2012
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