Mayoral Candidate Profile: John Avalos

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Dressed in a pink button-down shirt, red tie and grey suit, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos began the interview by taking a bite of his ham and cheese sandwich. “Oh good, now you can record my lip smacking,” he said with a chuckle. Avalos is running for mayor of San Francisco in the November elections.

The interview with a University of San Francisco student took place in Avalos’ Market Street campaign headquarters. The place smelled of coffee cake and looked like the inside of a pumpkin: orange (orange, black and white are Avalos’ campaign colors) radiated from the walls, the tables, and even the ceiling, which is draped with Mexican papel picado banners. The dozen or so young men and women typing on their computers were welcoming, as they discussed an upcoming campaign event. Bikes, with “Vote for Avalos” signs pegged onto their wheels, were parked throughout the room.

Avalos comes from a self-proclaimed “humble background.” According to his Board of Supervisors biography page, Avalos, one of seven children, is the child of an office manager mother and a longshoreman father. He is a third-generation Mexican-American and the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university. He majored in English literature and graduated with honors from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

After living in Los Angeles, Massachusetts, and Santa Barbara, he moved to San Francisco in 1989 on a whim. “I was always inspired by the sixties, the whole, you know, hippie thing, the Beat thing. The arts and poetry, the music, that was all what kind of attracted me,” he said. “I also loved the city in itself: the beauty of it, the architecture. I came here in ‘83 for the first time. I was here one weekend, and I was like this is a great place, I wanna live here. There was a rainbow over the bay; I was like okay.”

During his early years in San Francisco, Avalos worked in a café and taught English. According to his campaign website, he got involved in community organizing and worked with nonprofits serving young people, including the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club and Coleman Advocates for Youth. He earned a masters degree in social work from San Francisco State University. In the Justice for Janitors campaign, he organized to help union workers get affordable health care and better wages.

Before becoming elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008, Avalos was an aide for Supervisor Chris Daly.

His background in social work and community organizing influence his work as supervisor of District 11, which includes the Outer Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods. In a KALW 91.7 FM interview with Ben Trefny, Avalos described his district as “one of the most diverse neighborhood[s] in San Francisco in many ways…except we’re not very diverse in terms of income–we’re all about the working class, middle class people.” These are the people Avalos is talking about when he talks about “everyday giants.”

Avalos’ theme of “Everyday Giants” is a driving force in his campaign–from the San Francisco Giants team campaign colors, to his focus on middle and working class families. Avalos described the “everyday giants” as the “every day people, raising families and doing business in San Francisco.” He added, “‘Everyday Giants’ are the 99%,” referring to the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have occurred across the country. Avalos, who is closely associated with progressive politics, said he hopes to better represent those who feel their needs are being ignored. “We are the 99% of Americans who aren’t seeing the benefits of big corporations,” he said.

Avalos’ opposition to corporations is connected to one of his goals if he is elected mayor of San Francisco: to revitalize the economy through small businesses and green collar jobs.

As budget chairman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Avalos has already worked towards supporting small business with his Local Hiring law, which requires construction sites to employ half of their workers from the San Francisco. His goal? According to his campaign website: “To bring low-income San Francisco families into the middle class.”

On a similar note, Avalos is in favor of establishing a municipal bank. At the Hastings College of the Law mayoral debate, Avalos advocated “pulling our money out of big banks, like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, so we can actually control how we are investing in local business.” On a recent appearance on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” Avalos said, “When we don’t get what we need from our financial institutions, we need to recreate them.”

Avalos argued at the Hastings mayoral debate that a lack of affordable housing has displaced families. It is a concern that the 47- year-old father of two takes seriously. “A city with no children is a city that doesn’t have much vibrancy anymore,” said Avalos in the KALW news interview with Ben Trefny.
Avalos is married to San Francisco Community School teacher Karen Zapata. The couple’s two children, Rene and Emiliano, attend Karen’s school. Avalos said he has never been tempted to leave San Francisco to raise his children. “I really feel that my work was to come to San Francisco, to find a community for myself, to build a great community, and I’ve achieved that.”

The Avalos Plan for Quality Schools intends to prepare youth for jobs, support students and teachers, and create complete funding for public schools, in hopes of keeping families in San Francisco.
Avalos is also concerned about transportation. He has promised to find funding for Muni, and avoid raising fares. He is even more involved in getting people onto bikes and is committed to creating more bike lanes throughout the city.

Avalos, who has campaigned by biking through the city, thinks making San Francisco more bike-friendly is a priority. Avalos recognizes the challenges of biking in the city — like not enough lanes and racks. This issue has fueled Avalos’ desire to create a city-wide network of biking lanes for more accessible routes, as well as a bike sharing program.
However, biking is much more to Avalos than a point on his political agenda — it is a way of life. His face brightened up when he talked about his first bike, a red Schwinn Stingray he received at age 10. He recalled doing tricks, jumps, and even learning how to fix flat tires — and then the bike was stolen. When he moved to San Francisco, he used his first tax refund to buy a bicycle. Today, he bikes to work at least three days a week. With Avalos for mayor, biking will be an everyday part of life for the “Everyday Giants.”

Supervisor John Avalos’ campaign website: http://avalosformayor.org/

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