The people of my community know my heart


root - Posted on 03 January 2001

Displaced Hunter's Point Activist Keeps up the Battle.

Pt 2 in the PNN series on the SF election process

by Gretchen Hildebran/PNN Community Journalist

On the TV screen the strong, intelligent
African-American woman turns her face bravely towards
City Hall, insisting on her right to retain her job at
the top levels of government. She is flanked by
people from her community denouncing the racism of
commissioners who had recently fired her. My
co-worker Nancy had just called me into the office to
watch Tammy Haygood, the head of the SF department of
elections, fight for her job. Nancy turns from the
set and tells me in a hushed tone, "Her partner is
transgender! They don't want to give him an
operation! "

What is wrong with this picture? A scandal at the SF
Department of Elections is nothing new, but this
scandal had nothing to do with the missing ballots,
ballot box lids floating in the bay, undercounted
precincts, police harassment of voters or the general
corruption and mismanagement that has plagued the
department over the last several years. The
newscaster never mentioned the fact the SF Department
of Elections had yet to comply with CA Secretary of
State Bill Jones demand for a recanvassing of the
November 2000 vote. Nor was it brought up that the
Elections Commission, who allegedly fired Tammy
Haygood for mismanagement and overspending of city
funds, was created when voters approved Prop E in 2001
to respond to our Cityís criminally sloppy elections.
Thanks to commercial media we were instead treated to
a sensationalized version of Tammy Haygood's personal
struggles. Meanwhile at the Department of Elections,
it is business as usual. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who
is considering a run for mayor in 2003, says,"This is
a distraction from the real issue, which is to get the
election department running again and give the voters
what they voted for with Prop E."

Ammiano remembers the past several elections and
recalls, "We were very unhappy, there may have been
widespread corruption, and the whole thing could have
been wired. We were looking forward to Prop E as a
way to address electoral fraud." The proposition
created the elections commission as a means to make
reporting and investigation of electoral fraud more
accessible and effective. But when the commission
took steps to fire Haygood, an appointee of the
Mayor's, things took a turn for the ugly.

"The Mayor is unrelenting," says Ammiano, "He's not
letting the election commission do what we put them
there for." Itís no surprise that the Mayor wouldnít
be interested in enacting the reforms approved by the
voters. Willie Brownís legacy has included a string
of elections marred by disenfranchisement and fraud in
low-income communities, especially those in District
10 which encompasses the Bayview, Potrero Hill and
Hunter's Point neighborhoods.

This November, District 10, along with all other even
numbered districts in the city, will elect Supervisors
to represent their district in City Hall. And with
nothing changed in the elections department, it
remains to be seen whether voters will be too
discouraged to get to the polls. Unfortunately, while
the community can still mobilize to get out the vote,
one major factor will limit District 10 votersí
decisions at the polls. The community-based advocate
Marie Harrison won't be on November's ballot.
In a recent interview, Harrison explained that
environmental pollution and economic factors will
prevent her from entering the race this fall. High
rents made it difficult to find a place in Hunterís
Point for her whole family to live. Her five year old
grandson has developed environmental illness,
including asthma. Her family found they had to
relocate outside the district. Supervisors are
required to have their primary residence in the
district they represent, so the move disqualified
Harrison from the race.

" We can truly not afford to live here," she
explained,"to put my family through this, I had to be
assured that this will be a fair and honest race."
Harrison has reason to doubt her chances for such a
race. As a candidate for District 10 Supervisor in
the November 2000 election, she witnessed widespread
intimidation, coercion and election day violations in
the polls she visited. (See "Disappearing Votes,
Disappearing Communities") Many votes from her core
constituents also vanished once the ballots were
counted.

Many of the groups who mobilize the community to vote,
such as the A. Philip Randolph Institute, work to
ensure that their communities carry the big party
lines on election day. Not surprisingly, APRI was
also at the helm of the campaign to reinstate Tammy
Haygood after her dismissal. This kind of poor
leadership within the community, Harrison claims, has
betrayed any real chance of its representation in
government.

"In the era of Willie Brown, its all about how much
money you have. People are not out there to represent
the community, they are there for my folks, they
want to see what they can get out of it." Harrison
made clear. According to her, nearly all of the
politicians out there "owe something to somebody."
She insists that isn't a sacrifice she would be able
to make, which has meant she has had to turn down many
offers of support that arrived with strings attached.
Although she wonít be on the ballot, she insisted,
"I'm not out of the game." Harrison still works in
the community and she is advising people to write in
their choice for Supervisor if they donít like any of
the candidates." That vote is like money in the bank,"
she said, "spend it like it was your last dime.
Explore your options, take a chance and send a
message." Over and over again she stressed the
importance of continuing to vote, a sign of her own
powerful commitment to community power.

Harrison's rich and warming voice and her solid
philosophies come back to me as I watch the crowds of
politicians swarm after Haygood on the TV screen. The
media circus is yet another distraction from the real
issues that people like Marie Harrison are fighting
for. As she put it, "We are fighting for a chance to
survive, to see our children grow up healthy in
Hunterís Point." And while politicians and their
appointees scramble for money and position, leaders
like Harrison carry on beyond the ballot box and the
media frenzy. As she concluded before hanging up, "I
am still battling for my community. I will fight till
this thing is done."

For more information Read pt 1; Disappearing Votes, disappearing communities by Gretchen Hildebran

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