One of your first encounters with San Francisco city government was when you fought against the demolition of an S.R.O. hotel. Four chains of people wrapped their arms around the block to prevent its destruction. Horses came in, nightsticks, everything. We never allowed the development to happen, by the way.
You were a housing rights advocate in a city with strong tenants' rights. I used to brag that I can hold up any eviction ? even if the landlord had legal rights, I could hold it up for a year.
And now the redevelopment of a part of downtown called Mid-Market, spurred by the so-called Twitter tax break, is a centerpiece of your mayoralty. What changed? If you looked at Mid-Market five years ago, all you saw were vacant buildings, abandoned storefronts, five or six strip joints and bars at night. All seedy, no lights, check-cashing centers, that kind of condition. Twitter wanted to move, and they told me: we're going to have to leave the city because you have this payroll tax that punishes us for growing. So we created a tax break for a certain part of the city. Now people are competing for the vacancies.
For its side of the community-benefit agreement that came with the tax break, Twitter gives out promoted tweets to local nonprofits. What I learned with tech companies is I gotta give people room to experiment, and also to make what might later on be a mistake. This is the attitude I want to build within San Francisco ? give some time to the tech community. At the end of the day, tech workers are not robots: they feel, they think, they have values.
You meet with them a lot? Every Tuesday I go out and meet a company ? most of the time it's tech, sometimes it isn't ? to just talk with them, find out what their crazy name means, like Indiegogo, Yammer. They tell me the history of the name. Half I remember, half I don't. Then I spend time meeting the employees, asking them, "What do I need to do to keep you in the city?"
The industry has sometimes shown a rather careless attitude toward the homeless ? turning them into walking Wi-Fi hot spots, for example. I'll be the first one to tell you it's not true. There are individuals that will say, "Can you get rid of the people that are pretty aggressive?" In the same meeting, another person will say: "What if they have a problem? We should be helping."
There's a concern that, because of all the in-house perks, tech companies don't help local economies that much. I feel the opposite. We have done two studies, and both verify every tech job that is created in San Francisco creates or sustains five other jobs. Yes, in the daytime, they get covered as much as they can, but at night these folks are going out, they're shopping, they're meeting people.
You were appointed interim mayor for one year and promised at the time not to run for re-election. Why did you change your mind? I was invited to the White House because the Giants won the World Series. But my name was left off the list, so I'm stuck out there, and a big S.U.V. pulls up. It's Senator Dianne Feinstein, and she says: "I'll take care of this, I got some pull around here." She tells the guards, "He really is the mayor of San Francisco." They all laugh and say, "We know that, but we have to clear it."
Even with Senator Feinstein vouching for you? Yes. She turns red and says she's going to wait with me. She was the last interim mayor after the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone; the city was in disarray, and she had to try to bring it together. She's taller than me, so she's looking down, and she says, "You can't abandon your post now."
When she was mayor, Feinstein said she was going to fix Mid-Market ? in 1979. I would say I'm pretty lucky. As soon as Twitter signed, the construction cranes started coming back.
Do you use Twitter? Yeah, but I don't have time to do everything.