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Magic Mascara Wand :: Powerblouse to Make Over Rafael Mandelman

by Juanita MORE!
Sunday Feb 4, 2018

On the first Saturday of every month, my drag mother Glamamore and I invite one lucky person to the stage at Powerhouse Bar in SoMa for a full-fantasy drag makeover at the club night we call Powerblouse. Over the past two and a half years we've made a very thoughtful effort to choose people that have either never done drag or have no intention of ever doing drag in the future. In other words, these future baby-queen daughters will require little or no work in the wild blue yonder, because they probably aren't going to take it on as a career and won't be needing our services on a regular basis.

Glama and I plot all month long. We go back and forth on the new queen's name, the color of the wig, and the style of the dress. Then we have to consider their features and how that will translate into a most glamorous beat. Some guys I've never seen without a beard!

The transformation happens live on the makeshift stage at Powerhouse. We paint for about an hour and then take our new baby backstage to get into costume. They are introduced and pushed onto the stage to perform for the very first time.

We've chosen our theme song "Gorgeous" from the 1966 Broadway musical The Apple Tree as their lipsync. It's sink or swim. Some of the past performances have been absolute knockouts. Regulars love to rate the top five and bottom two. There have only been a few that truly tanked.

On Saturday, February 3 we are putting District 8 Supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman into face. We started a fundraising campaign in mid-December to let the public choose which color wig he'll be wearing. Get to the Powerhouse this Saturday to see him in his drag glory.

I got the chance to sit down with Rafael and talk about some of the big issues that have been plaguing District 8, specifically the Castro area. I believe Rafael has what it takes to be a strong progressive voice on the Board and I sure can't wait to put him in face, too.

Juanita MORE!: I was in the Castro regularly for eight years with Booty Call Wednesdays. Over that time I watched the neighborhood change dramatically. There were many vacant storefronts then and now it seems there are many, many more. How do you intend to fill those spaces?

Rafael Mandelman: The Castro is a neighborhood in need of serious love and attention. The commercial vacancy rate is several times the City average, and it seems like we are hearing about another business leaving the neighborhood almost on a weekly basis. When I heard that Crepevine was closing in December, I reached out to both the business owner and the landlord (Veritas) to see if there might be a way to keep them in their Church Street location.

Unfortunately, we were not able to keep Crepevine in the neighborhood, but Veritas insists they have several new businesses coming into their vacant spaces in the next few months and they agreed to meet with neighbors and merchants on January 31. I generally try to assume the best about people until proven otherwise, and as Supervisor I will work tirelessly with landlords to help them fill their ground floor retail spaces with local neighborhood-serving uses.

But I also won't hesitate to support neighborhoods in holding property owners accountable if they push out existing viable businesses or fail to fill their vacant storefronts in a timely manner. Retail is struggling across the country, and landlords need to be realistic about the rents small businesses can afford to pay.

Considered the center of the city, the neighborhood has a long history of community. Over the years it has been a gathering place for people to come together to love, mourn and fight. More recently I've seen a huge influx of our homeless moving in, in hopes of finding the love the Castro has been known to give and share. How are you going to deal with this issue?

Homelessness is personal for me. My mother struggled with mental illness for much of her life, and when I was younger was actually homeless. When I was older I was able to get a conservatorship over her and find her stable housing and care. So at a personal level, I know something about how people can become homeless and some of what it takes to get them housed.

At a policy level, I know that homelessness reflects the intersection of two massive decades-long public policy failures: our failure to build enough affordable housing and our failure to provide adequate healthcare to folks struggling with mental illness and serious drug addiction.

Unfortunately, we cannot look to the federal government for much help with either challenge for the foreseeable future, but that makes it all the more important that San Francisco and California get our collective acts together.

We must continue to expand our capacity to bring people off the streets through navigation centers and other creative approaches and we must aggressively build more supportive housing and other kinds of affordable housing, but we also have to get serious about dealing with mental illness.

We need to have a serious conversation about how to care for people who cannot care for themselves but are not willing to accept treatment. When I was in law school I volunteered with a legal services organization working to get folks who had been institutionalized into the "least restrictive environment," as required by federal law. We need more aggressive case-management but I believe we also need to look at adjusting the legal standards for involuntary commitment and conservatorships to ensure we can care for those who may not recognize they need care.

Crime in the neighborhood is becoming a huge concern for many of my friends that go out at night in the Castro. In 2017, there were over 239 counts of assault and 195 counts of vandalism recorded. Those numbers are out of control. How do you hope to handle safety in the Castro?

I have long been an advocate of increased foot patrols and am incredibly gratified that we finally have a police chief who recognizes their importance and is willing to push for them. We also need to get serious about investigating property crime, and I was glad to learn that the Chief (working with Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Norman Yee) has agreed to assign dedicated officers at all ten stations to preventing and solving property crime.

Finally, getting a better handle on the other issues you have raised - vacant storefronts and homelessness - should have a positive impact on the crime situation in the Castro. A busier, more vibrant neighborhood will be a safer neighborhood. Likewise, if we could get more homeless folks housed and get care for those suffering from mental health and/or drug addiction challenges, we could free up more of our officers to prevent and solve property and other crimes, which would be a tremendous benefit to the neighborhood.

I have friends that have lived in the Glen Park area of the district and find their ideals to be more conservative. How do you intend to advance a progressive agenda in that area?

I am not sure I wholly agree with your premise. I don't think any part of District 8 is actually conservative. I do meet a few Republicans knocking on doors in Diamond Heights or Glen Park, but most people in all of District 8's neighborhoods are pretty liberal. Now, they are also pragmatic and they are looking to their elected officials to offer real solutions rather than just a lot of lefty rhetoric. But in general I think there is a broad consensus and much more agreement across District 8, and throughout the City actually, on a lot of the issues confronting us.

The voters I talk to want real and compassionate solutions to homelessness, they are willing to pay taxes but they want to know that City Hall isn't just throwing their hard-earned money away, they want to see more housing built in the City, and especially more housing affordable to middle class and lower income folks, but they also want to preserve the character of their neighborhoods. And by the way they really would love it if we could get our streets and sidewalks cleaner. They're mostly very blue Democrats, but honestly on these local issues they are far more interested in results than in ideological litmus tests. And I'm just fine with that.

Your campaign slogan is "the Politics of Yes." What does that mean? Because we certainly want to say "no" to policies that are causing gentrification, displacement of tenants and the closing of small businesses.

I have already talked a bit about the Politics of Yes. And let me be clear: no one will fight harder than me to keep our long-term tenants in their homes and to protect and support our small businesses. But it strikes me as a little sad that so many San Franciscans seem to believe the best we can hope for from government is to slow the loss of the things we love about San Francisco. I want more than that.

Harvey Milk told us, "You gotta give 'em hope." Cesar Chavez told us, "S' se puede!" And Barack Obama told us, "Yes We Can." These leaders understood - and I believe they were absolutely right - that you must offer people a positive vision of a better future. I have to believe that we can solve homelessness, care for the sick, build the housing we need to ensure that people of all incomes can thrive in San Francisco, build a transportation system that is truly "world class," and provide government services in a way that is user-friendly and technologically current.

I have to believe those things to motivate myself but also to motivate the people who I am trying to convince to support me. So that's what the Politics of Yes is about: setting bold goals, imagining a future that is better than the present and the past and committing to work tirelessly to make that brighter future real.

What can we do to stem the tide of gay people leaving the Castro? Do you think its time as a queer mecca has passed now that queer people from around the world can hardly afford to move into the district?

I certainly hope not. I still believe there is a need for gayborhoods, although urban economics are threatening their survival not just in San Francisco but across the country. As Supervisor I will do everything I can to keep our LGBT seniors and other longtime residents from being displaced from their rent-controlled units.

But our district also has a tremendous need for more permanently affordable housing. I love what Openhouse has done at 55 Laguna, but the truth is we need at least ten times the number of affordable senior units there to make a dent in the need. And that is just our seniors; we also have a tremendous need for more housing for queer and other youth. At City College, I have been pushing for us to build housing for our homeless students, and I would love to work with organizations like Larkin Street to build permanently affordable housing for youth in our District.

And of course I will do whatever I can to support the existing rich fabric of queer community institutions in our District. It will take work, but I believe we can brighten up our queer mecca, and preserve it and strengthen it for future generations of LGBT folks.

Powerblouse is a monthly benefit for Q Foundation /AIDS Housing Alliance/SF who believes in a world where all people have a safe, decent and affordable home. Their goal is to become the largest housing services provider and largest employer of people with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco.

Editor's note: Bay Area Reporter has not yet made any political endorsements in the upcoming elections. Opinions of our columnists are their own and do not always reflect the opinion of the BAR. Juanita MORE! is a supporter of the Mandelman campaign.

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