LGBT leaders denounce attack on Herrera by the Chronicle

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LGBT leaders gathered in Harvey Milk Plaza to denounce the attack on Herrera's support for same-sex marriage.
Steven T. Jones

Leaders of the LGBT community from across the political spectrum yesterday denounced the San Francisco Chronicle and the anonymous sources it relied on to question City Attorney Dennis Herrera's early support for legalizing same-sex marriage, calling the paper's front page article a thinly veiled political hit piece designed to hurt Herrera's mayoral campaign.

That strong showing of support in the LGBT community and the view offered by many that the attack came from supporters of Mayor Ed Lee – including top former Newsom Administration officials, some of whom now work for Lee – could not only mitigate damage from the article but further sully a Lee election effort that is already marred by allegations of vote tampering, money laundering, and deceptive campaign tactics.

“Those who are saying this now anonymously are as cowardly as Dennis and Gavin were courageous back then,” said Deputy City Attorney Theresa Stewart, the lead attorney who defended San Francisco's decision in 2004 to unilaterally issue marriage licenses to same-sax couples, in defiance of state and federal law, which eventually led to the legalizing of such unions. “We can't have our community turn on us for petty political gain.”

“WTF, Chronicle?” was how Assemblymember Tom Ammiano began his speech, going on to lay blame for the attack on surrogates for Lee. Ammiano also called out the mayor for campaign finance violations by his supporters, for undermining the Healthy San Francisco program that was created by Ammiano's legislation, and for repeatedly ordering police raids on the OccupySF encampment.

“How about some fucking leadership?!” Ammiano said.

Cleve Jones, an early gay rights leader who marched with Harvey Milk, also denounced Lee and his supporters for cronyism, vote tampering, money laundering, and the “fake grassroots” efforts of the various well-funded independent expenditure campaigns, which he said have fooled the Chronicle.

“To the Chronicle and that reporters – really? – this is what you do two weeks before the election? You should be ashamed of yourself,” Jones said. “How stupid do you think we are?”

Yet Chronicle City Editor Audrey Cooper defended the article and disputed the political motivations of its sources. “Clearly, I disagree [with the criticisms],” she told the Guardian. “I personally vetted every one of the sources and I'm confident everything we printed is true.”

Beyond criticizing the obvious political motivations behind the attack, speakers at the rally called the article bad journalism and said it was simply untrue to suggest that Herrera didn't strongly support the effort to legalize same-sex marriage from the beginning.

“I can tell you that Dennis never once shrank from this fight. I was there, I know,” Stewart said, calling Herrera “a straight ally who's devoted his heart and soul to this community.”

Sen. Mark Leno, who introduced the first bill legalizing same-sex marriage to clear the Legislature, emphasized that he isn't endorsing any candidates for mayor and that he didn't want to comment on the details of the article's allegations. But he noted that even within the LGBT community, there were differences of opinion over the right timing and tactics for pushing the issue, and that Herrera has been a leader of the fight for marriage equality since the beginning.

“I am here to speak in defense of the character and integrity of our city attorney, Dennis Herrera,” Leno said, later adding, “I do not appreciate when the battle for our civil rights is used as a political football in the waning days of an election.”

Ammiano also noted that even if Herrera raised doubts in early meetings, that was entirely appropriate given his role as city attorney. “Even if there are some questions, they're about helping, not hurting,” he said, expressing disgust at the Newsom Administration officials for turning on someone who was instrumental to defending the decision: “In my day, you valued your friendships.”

Molly McKay, one of the original plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit that followed San Francisco's actions, teared up as she described the ups and downs that the case took, working closely with Herrera throughout. “But this is one of the strangest twists I can imagine,” she said of the attack by the Chronicle and its anonymous sources. “It's ridiculous and despicable.”

Representatives for both the progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and fiscally conservative Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club also took to the microphone together, both saying they often disagree on issues, but they were each denouncing the attack and have both endorsed Herrera, largely because of his strong advocacy for the LGBT community.

Sup. Scott Wiener called Herrera, “One of the greatest straight allies we've every had as a community.”

When Herrera finally took the microphone, he thanked mayoral opponents Joanne Rees and Jeff Adachi for showing up at the event to help denounce the attack and said, “This is bigger than the mayor's race. It's bigger than me.”

He criticized those who would trivialize this issue for petty political gain and said, “It was my pleasure and honor to have been a part of this battle from the beginning – from the beginning – and I'll be there in the end.”