2005 First Place Writing Winner

In their own words…

“When I received the letter in April informing me I would be flown to California to compete in the writing championships I was ecstatic. Up to that point, my life’s most exciting moment had been winning the city-wide two-square tournament in 6th grade. This was a significant step up.

The Hearst Foundation made sure we were treated well. They also made sure we worked hard. Within hours of our arrival we were sitting around a table interviewing arguably the most-recognized mayor in the country, Gavin Newsom. Our three stories tested our different journalistic skills, whether that was whipping out a news piece on deadline or discovering the telling detail for a profile. It was exhilarating to be immersed in such a motivated journalism environment, and I felt lucky to win such an honor among what I considered a great group of writers.”

News Story

As a mayor known nationally for allowing same-sex marriages, Gavin Newsom seems to have another priority: homelessness. The portion of the 2005-06 budget released on Wednesday puts $136 million toward services for the homeless, a continuation of Newsom’s push to get the homeless off the streets and into permanent housing. He told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that the city would close down a 108-bed shelter, A Man’s Place at 339 Fremont St., and use the money for permanent housing.

“[Homelessness] is my obsession beyond anything else,” Newsom said. “It drives me every day.”

The budget directs 60 percent of the money to services and 40 percent to housing. The Plaza Hotel, a 106-unit building for homeless opening in Nov. 2005, will receive $1.5 million. The Department of Human Services will also receive a $6.2 million for its general homeless and housing fund. Care Not Cash, Newsom’s program redirecting cash grants for the homeless into a fund for permanent housing, accounts for $4million of that.

Some services receiving money include a homeless outreach team, a new one-stop employment center and a medical center for homeless transitioning into society.

While Newsom said the plan was step toward ending homelessness, Bill Hart, executive director of General Assistance Advocacy Project, said closing down a shelter is the last thing the city should be doing.

“There aren’t enough shelters as it is,” Hart said.

The move is consistent with Newsom’s homeless policies, which tend to favor money for services and permanent housing in place of cash handouts. Under the 1-year-old Care not Cash program, homeless benefits were cut from a maximum of $410 a month to $59 a month. As of Monday, however, 845 former homeless were in permanent housing, according to Trent Rhorer, executive director of the Department of Human Services.

“We understand we have a long way to go,” Rhorer said. “It’s a step in the right direction, though.”

Juan Prada, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, says getting people off the streets is a positive step but that Care Not Csh isn’t how it should be done.

“For every person housed in the program, two or three homeless people’s benefits have been cut, and that math is what we don’t like,” said Prada.

Sitting on the 200 block of Sansome Street, Michael Crane rubs his graying thick beard and holds a cardboard sign reading, “Another Victim of Care Not Cash.” He said he has been homeless since 1998. He pulls his last job search paper, a requirement for Care Not Cash, out of a binder. A box is checked next to a sentence saying there is no housing available right now. He said he doesn’t know what he would do if the shelter he stays in nearby closed down.

Rhorer said that with new funding, however, most of the displaced homeless form A Man’s Place should be able to find housing elsewhere.

The mayor will unveil his full budget on Tuesday.

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Personality/Profile Article

Alma Jones was watching her soap operas from her Hunter’s View home last year when she looked out the window. Was that Gavin Newsom, Mayor Newsom, playing basketball? She rubbed her eyes, thinking her 81 years had finally caught up to her, but her vision was clear. The leader of San Francisco, the supposed silver-spoon mayor, was in one of the most crime riddled areas of San Francisco playing ball with neighborhood kids.

“I’ve lived here 30 years, and I’ve never seen a mayor down here,” Jones said. “Definitely not playing basketball.”

Like Jones, a lot of San Francisco residents are rubbing their eyes, as if they still can’t believe this 37-year-old guy is actually a decent mayor. As of April 2005, Newsom had garnered an 80-percent approval rating, won honorable mention on Time’s magazine’s list of best mayors and had a glowing profile of him written in The New Yorker.

Even during a lull in the same-sex marriage debate, Newsom is on top of the political world in San Francisco. He sounded so idealistic throwing quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. into a conversation about health care, that some might think he’s playing too much to the crowd. The question about the youngest mayor in the city’s history is, “Is this guy for real?”

Gavin Newsom is talking about homelessness at a press conference on Wednesday. As he leans back the soles of his shoes become visible. They’re worn thin, probably from walking everywhere. The streets of Hunter’s Point, the walkways of city hall and to all his events. This press conference is his third event of the day, and he has two more to go to. The thin silver band on his right hand-not his left-ring finger is a testament to the toll his career took on his marriage. He and his wife pointed to their jobs as key reasons for their separation in January.

The mayor’s sister, Hilary Newsom Callam, can’t remember her brother taking time off since Christmas. She talks to him a few times a week but rarely sees him. When she does he’s usually getting late-night take-out at either of the two restaurants Newsom co-owns within two miles of city hall (he co-owns nine restaurants and two hotels altogether).

Trent Rhorer, executive director of the Department of Humans Services, says much of Newsom’s time goes into studying policy.

“He is what you would call a policy wonk,” Rhorer says. “He knows as much as I do, if not more, about homelessness, and that’s my specialty.”

Sitting in front of reporters at the press conference, Newsome holds no paper, has no study guide on the issues. Yet, he spouts facts on homelessness like a fountain. One fact centers on the Care Not Cash program, which redirects cash grants for the homeless into a fund for permanent housing. While most won’t argue with his work ethic or knowledge of the issues, some question his motivation for making homelessness his priority.

“There’s always a big P.R. campaign surrounding his new initiatives,” says Juan Prada, executive director of Coalition on Homelessness. “There’s a lot of spinning and a lot of numbers thrown out without much basis.”

Prada says moving 805 people into permanent housing within the first year of Care Not Cash is a positive step. But he adds that housing one person at the sake of two to three homeless people’s benefits is a mistake. Under the program, cash grants have been cut from maximum of $410 a month to $59 for the same period.

Chance Martin, the editor of Street Sheet published by the coalition, has said the mayor uses the issues as a “political springboard,” and Supervisor Chris Daly routinely writes on his blog (short for “Web log”) that Newsom focuses on the underserved for his political gain, nor for social good.

Drive 4 miles from city hall to Alma Jones’ home in Hunter’s Point and you’ll hear a different story. Jones who lost one of her 12 children to violence on the streets here says before Newsom entered the mayor’s office the neighborhood was just a place. Now it’s a place to live. There are trees and new bus shelters, fixed roads and a marble stone etched with “Hunter’s Point.” The latter seems particularly important, as if the neighborhood finally has an area worth announcing.

Almost as important as the resources Newsom has funneled into the neighborhood is the mayor’s presence, says Shawn Richard, a former gang member and now the executive director of Brothers Against Guns based in Hunter’s Point. Ask most people on the street, and they have seen the mayor, said hello to him or had a conversation with him.

“Just by showing up he lets people know that he cares,” Richard says. But why should people believe his motivation is to help urban areas not his political career? As he says at the press conference on Wednesday, too many politicians become enamored with their title and stop thinking outside the box. Trying to aid the poor urban areas however, is as in-the-box as you can get for a democrat. Has he ever done what he thought was right at the sake of losing the base that elected him?

During the run-off election in 2004 the business community supporters Newsom, and of the two candidates, he was seen as the big-business supporter. Local 2, on the other hand, was one of the few unions to campaign for Newsom’s Green Party opponent, Matt Gonzalez. When hotels locked their workers out in October 2004 and refused a plea from Newsom for a 90-day cooling period, Newsom acted.

He joined Local 2 on the picket lines.

The surprising move was noted in all the daily papers and by November the hotels had ended the lockout. Newsom said at the time he wouldn’t allow the hotels to hurt San Francisco.

Mike Casey, president of Local 2 was stunned.

“Yes, his handlers now take every opportunity to highlight his support for us,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s the motivating factor. You have to look at what’s motivating him, and I believe that’s the good of San Francisco and its people.”

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Spot News

Alioto is a big name in San Francisco. You see it on ballot cards. You hear it mentioned in the same breath as the fishing business. And you see it lit up in neon green above Alioto’s restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. Follow the Alioto name though the history books of San Francisco, into the police commissioners’ office, though the supervisor’s office, and back to the mayor’s office and soon you’ll hear another big name in San Francisco: The Great Quake. Without it, the Alioto name might not be where it is today.

At 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, the San Andreas fault just off the coast of Daly City, Calif. Shifted and sent an earthquake shuddering throughout the Bay Area. According to James Dalessandro, author of “1906,” as the fired that had subsequently broken out approached the waterline two days later, the Aliotos and the Lazios, like most Sicilian families during times of peril, picked up many of the women standing on the pier. Twenty-year-old Giuseppe Alioto was already on the boat when he caught a glimpse of 13-year-old Dominica Lazio. According to the story passed down to their now-81-year-old daughter Angelina Presti, Giuseppe nudged the guy next to him and said, “I’m going to marry that girl someday.” Eight years later, he did.

Ron Filian loves that story. As a member of the 1906 Earthquake Centennial Alliance, Filian is studying couples who married after meeting during the disaster. So far he has found record of nine that met during the aftermath, but because of the relative lack of record-keeping at the time, he thinks there are many more.

Cathernie Cohan, a professor at Penn State University, published a study in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2002 that looked at marriage rates surrounding Hurricane Hugo that devastated South Carolina in 1989. She found that marriage rates increased in 1990 in the 24 counties declared disaster sites as compared to previous years and as compared to the 22 counties not declared disaster sites. She suggests disasters can be the impetus for people to take stock of their lives and act quickly to marry. In all, four Aliotos married four Lazios following the earthquake.

Whatever the reason, Giuseppe and Dominica married, and the couple ha d a son named Joseph 10 years later. Joseph worked for the anti-trust division of the Justice Department before serving on San Francisco’s Board of Education from 1948 to 1954. Then in 1967 when the front-running mayoral candidate dropped out, Joseph entered. He won, and with that, he started the family name down the political road.

Joseph had a daughter named Angela who served tow terms on the Board of Supervisors and ran for mayor in 2003. She says the boat meeting makes for a nice story.

“But our two families knew each other,” she says. “I think they might have met anyway.” Cohan says bonding over an extreme stressor, however, can push together people who otherwise might not have married.

Angela’s niece Mickela Alioto-Pier was elected to the board of supervisors in 2004, and Angela’s son Joe Veronese was recently appointed police commissioner, which makes four Aliotos in three different generations to serve San Francisco publicly.

“The earthquake played a major role in our family,” Veronese says. He sometimes wonders what it was like on the Fant’Elia nearly 100 years ago when Giuseppe met Dominica. Maybe they would have fallen in love anyway. But maybe not.

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