San Francisco Senate race gets ugly

The Senate primary race between openly gay San Francisco Democrats Carole Migden and Mark Leno took a contentious turn last week when a longtime Migden associate labeled Leno the “King of Kiddie Porn.”

The board of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club will vote Monday on a resolution to condemn the comments by Michael Colbruno–as well as considering an early endorsement of Leno. Brian Basinger, president of the city’s other powerful gay Democratic Club, the Harvey Milk Club, said that while he was personally offended by the remarks, the Milk Club is not currently slated to vote on either a condemnation or an endorsement.

Colbruno is a longtime Bay Area media professional who currently serves as vice president of government affairs for OakPAC, which is affiliated with the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and also works for Clear Channel Outdoor. He worked on Migden’s staff when she was a San Francisco city supervisor, and has continued to be a vocal supporter of Migden as she moved into state politics.

Himself an openly gay man, Colbruno has written the MikeOpera blog, mainly covering politics and music, for the last two and half years. On March 4, two days after Leno formally announced that he was going to challenge the incumbent in the primary, he wrote a story titled “Kiddie Porn King in Senate Race.”

“The Senate is a serious legislative body and the thought of Mark Leno standing in those chambers defending child pornographers must be making our California 49er founding families roll in their graves,” Colbruno wrote. He went on to claim that Leno was praised by the infamous North American Man/Boy Love Association–something Leno denied, asking that Colbruno show proof of the claim.

These charges originated in Leno’s debates with Republicans last year over the Jessica’s Law sex offender legislation, which would have introduced new felony charges for those who possessed a single image of child pornography. Leno offered his own bill, AB 50, which included a felony charge for anyone who posessed more than 100 images of child pornography.

It was Spitzer who suggested the 100 image limit, Leno said. Leno said he also discussed a 25 image limit with colleagues. The idea, he said, was to separate out people who had inadvertently downloaded child pornography from those who actively collected it. He noted that his bill had support from the National Association to Protect Children and other national groups. After an uproar led by Republicans, he amended the bill to a single image.

“I don’t care if it’s NAMBLA or Spitzer who came to him with the amendment,” Colbruno said. “I take issue with 99 or 25 pieces of kiddie porn being smart legislation.”

Colbruno worked for Migden for about six years. He was her chief of staff on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1993 to 1995, then served as her legislative director in the Assembly until early 1999, with a stint working for then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown during that time as well.

Colbruno said he “lost respect” for Leno after he was apporinted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1998. Migden helped him get the seat that opened up with Susan Leal moved on, while he helped Leno set up his staff. Leno was “childish” and “pouty” when Migden supported “her mentor” Harry Britt in a 2002 Assembly primary.

Migden get a bad rap mainly because she’s a woman, Colbruno said, and claimed that it’s really Leno who has a temper problem. He pointed to a March 2006 San Francisco Chronicle editorial titled “Intolerant City,” which quoted Leno saying the evangelical teen group Battle Cry “should get out of San Francisco.” Leno latter apologized.

However, Colbruno said he has more dirt of Leno–and will release it as the campaign goes on.

“Mark likes to pretend he’s a goody-two-shoes nice guy,” Colbruno said. “I know him and he’s not.”

However, several in the city’s gay political community took issues with Colbruno’s charges.

“These are the same kinds of outrageous and disgusting comments that have been levied against gay men for decades,” said Toklas Club co-chair Julius Turman. “I expect it to pass very easily.”

The Toklas Board will also be voting on whether to send a Leno endorsement to the full membership for a vote, 15 months in advance of the primary. Board member Theresa Sparks said the endorsement vote would have come up at either this month’s or next month’s meeting anyway. But Sparks said the comments by Colbruno, a longtime member of the Bay Area’s gay political community, helped put the endorsement on the front-burner.

“He’s always been supportive of Mark Leno,” Sparks said. “I was very surprised.”

The Milk Club’s Basinger said they are trying to take “a more measured approach.” The issue is likely to come up for discussion at their board meeting on March 19 and their full membership meeting on March 27. But he noted that Migden is a former president of the Milk Club and still has many supporters there. Basinger also said he hopes to keep the club’s focus on local issues, such as a “queer housing plan” looking at potential discrimination citywide against gay and transgendered people.

Meanwhile, Leno has released the results of an early December poll showing him with an early lead in a state Senate primary against Migden.

Conducted by David Binder Research, the telephone poll tapped 600 likely Democratic voters in the district, which covers portions of San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties. Leno said at the time that he commissioned the poll in response to political and community leaders in the district urging him to run.

Without being given any information on the candidates, district voters chose Migden over Leno by 35 percent to 27 percent.

His campaign said that his results improved the more voters knew about both candidates. In Leno’s own district, which overlaps with Migden’s larger Senate district, voters chose him by a 2-1 margin. In the Marin and Sonoma portions of the Senate district, which Leno has never represented, he trailed.

In the first run of questions, 76 percent of respondents in Leno’s San Francisco-only district gave him a positive job rating. Across Migden’s Senate district, which is twice as large, a smaller majority, 55 percent, gave her a positive job review.

Leno says it was the findings from the poll that helped push him into the race. “We strived to be as balanced as possible,” Leno said. “I didn’t want to spend money on a poll that would just tell me what I wanted to hear.”

Migden’s campaign spokesman had not returned an email seeking comment on these poll numbers as of press time.

This race contains a huge wild card — the possibility of a third candidate entering the race. With Migden and Leno possibly splitting the San Francisco voters, the ideal third candidate would likely be a moderate from Marin with a strong environmental record.

Most of the focus has gone to two people who fit that description perfectly: Joe Nation and Kerry Mazzoni. Both held the Assembly seat occupies most of the Marin side of the Senate District.

Of the two, Nation was considered more likely to run. Mazzoni has a thriving lobbying business, and has been out of the Legislature six years instead of Nation’s few months. But Nation said that he has talked to both candidates and that he told both of them that he is “extremely unlikely” to run. He’s been teaching at the University of San Francisco, with a move to teach a full year a Stanford slated for the fall. He recently spoke after Al Gore at a global warming conference in Copenhagen.

“I like policy much more than politics,” Nation said, then joked, “Maybe that’s why I’m not a good fit for this race.”

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