Blundering in a few words

If sex sells, then slip-ups steal headlines. Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Sandra Lee Fewer have both come under fire for egregious word choices.

In Stefani’s case, she asked an architect to add new safety features to her home because of a “zombie invasion yet they are mentally ill homeless.” The ask came after someone attempted to break into her home in 2015. Though the email exchange took place before Stefani became a supervisor, its tone sounds more like something you’d hear from your proverbial crazy uncle than a soon-to-be appointed and, later, elected official. The email also included an ask to make her home more like “Fort Knox” and warned of the city becoming an “insane asylum.”

In Fewer’s case, the supervisor erased the bounds of political decency in a profane verbal assault on the Police Officers Association. The quip came during an election night rally for DA-elect Chesa Boudin. Since then, Fewer, whose husband served as a San Francisco police officer, has partially apologized. She expressed remorse to “the 2,000 officers of the San Francisco Police Department,” but stopped short of apologizing to the POA leadership.

A common thread ties these two political blunders together: concern for quality of life. But a debate of these issues will be overshadowed by the clouds cast by political missteps. It’s up to San Franciscans to refocus the conversation on the real issues while still keeping officials accountable for their words and actions.

According to Stefani’s staff, her comments, in part, were a response to her daughter’s difficult experience of being accosted on the street. In a similar way, Fewer’s adherents cite some community members’ troubling experiences with law enforcement as justification for the supervisor’s comments. In short, both were echoing concerns held deeply by many San Franciscans.

Homelessness and mental illness are too big of issues to be sidelined by an email. Ideally, San Franciscans will use Stefani’s comments as motivation to identify and stamp out prejudice against people without a place to call home and suffering from mental illness. For starters, this reminder of the poor treatment of homeless individuals should lead more residents to learn about the work done by other supervisors. A truly newsworthy story is coming out of Supervisor Matt Haney’s office. Under his leadership, the city is rightfully expanding access to public bathrooms — a step that fosters cleaner streets while concurrently advancing human dignity.

Supervisor Fewer’s comments should also be condemned while spurring a deeper conversation about how to make our city safer. In the wake of Fewer’s comments, there have been several reminders of the violence that plagues our public spaces. Case in point, another murder on BART signaled to many already-skeptical San Franciscans that certain spaces just aren’t safe. That notion will not be corrected without addressing how every resident perceives law enforcement. Of course, such a big initiative will not be achieved tomorrow, but it can start with conversations about the fears, experiences, and realities of the diverse population within city limits.

Our celebratization of politics makes it too easy to talk about what you heard through the grapevine. From the national level on down, it’s  easier to debate how to address supervisor missteps than it is to dig into thorny policy issues. The way to proceed is to not let the drama get in the way of progress. Drama shouldn’t dominate the conversation but direct it.

San Franciscans have been reminded of the city’s quality-of-life issues. That reminder can lead to Facebook comments that do nothing but divide communities and fuel the fissures. Or that reminder can crystalize the opportunities and challenges we all face in making this city a better place to call home.

Follow Kevin Frazier on Twitter @KevinTFrazier

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