Rename SF Airport for Harvey Milk? 3 City Supervisors Not So Sure
San Francisco’s three freshmen supervisors remain hesitant to publicly back renaming the city’s airport after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.
Supervisors London Breed (District 5) and Norman Yee (D7), elected to office last November, and Katy Tang , appointed to the District 4 seat in February, are among the six supervisors not listed as co-sponsors of the proposed charter amendment introduced earlier this year by gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos.
In separate editorial board meetings last week with the Bay Area Reporter, the trio all expressed a desire for more information about the proposal before they could agree to support it.
"I am more interested in the finances of it and what the process is in terms of how this works," said Breed.
She expressed concerns about how the city had made past naming decisions, such as the plaza along the Embarcadero named for Justin Herman, the city official responsible for redeveloping the predominantly African American Western Addition in the 1960s. For Breed, who grew up in the neighborhood, that honor "should never have happened."
In terms of the Milk SFO idea, Breed said she wants to see that there is a "fair, comprehensive process" to evaluate it.
"What I am trying to do as a supervisor - I represent over 70,000 people - I have an obligation to be responsible and not allow how I personally feel impact my decisions, especially when they impact the city financially," she said.
Tang formerly worked as an aide to her predecessor, Carmen Chu, and was tapped by Mayor Ed Lee to become supervisor after he named Chu the city’s new assessor-recorder. She plans to run in November to serve out the remaining two years of the term.
Thus, Tang could find herself competing for attention from the press and the public if her race coincides with a ballot fight over the Milk SFO proposal. She represents the Outer Sunset and Ocean Beach, neighborhoods not known to have many LGBT residents, so it is unclear if the issue would have much impact on the supervisorial contest.
Tang echoed Breed in stressing that her current lack of support for the proposal should not be read as having to do with Milk, the city’s first openly gay elected official who was gunned down at City Hall in 1978 along with then-Mayor George Moscone by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White.
"No one has anything against Milk, that is not it," said Tang.
Breed and Tang both suggested the matter should be delayed until after a committee created by the city’s airport commission tasked with reviewing naming procedures for San Francisco International Airport and its facilities completes its work. The recently formed panel is set to hold its first public hearing on the matter May 13, though details on the time and location have yet to be announced.
"Because so many different people want different things, we need guidelines or parameters on who do you honor with the airport," said Tang.
Yee said he declined Campos’s request that he sign on as a co-sponsor, thus providing the necessary sixth vote to ensure its adoption by the board, because he felt there needed to be a public process first.
"I wanted to let people weigh in on why do you support it or not support it," he said.
Yee added that he is not behind why the rules committee, which he chairs, has yet to hold a hearing on the proposal. One had been set for early April but Campos requested a postponement and a new date has yet to be announced.
"I am not one to use the process to stall anything," said Yee, adding that he had heard that the idea might be shelved.
Campos told the B.A.R. this week that the renaming of the airport to honor Milk is very much still alive, though he is short of majority support for the idea. The four supervisors who have signed on as co-sponsors are gay Supervisor Scott Wiener (D8), John Avalos (D11), Eric Mar (D1), and Jane Kim (D6).
Behind the scenes Campos has been trying to broker a compromise at City Hall in order to move forward with the up-to-now stalled proposal.
"Things are a little bit in flux," said Campos, but he stressed that "the proposal is not killed."
Asked about waiting to bring the matter before the board until after the airport commission panel completes its work, Campos said he saw no reason to do so.
"I think there will be movement very quickly, very soon," he said. "We are trying to finalize this."
Since Campos surprised many in the city with his idea, opponents have suggested putting the issue before voters could end up dividing the city, particularly along ethnic lines. Some have already asked why not honor a Chinese politician or African American civic leader by naming SFO after them.
All three freshmen board members, who happen to be people of color, dismissed such concerns. Breed, who is black, and Yee, a Chinese American, both said few of their constituents, whether LGBT or straight, have brought up the issue with them.
"Not a whole lot are reaching out from my district," said Yee, adding that the majority of people he has heard from, "75 percent are not from San Francisco."
Breed said the feedback she has seen suggests that the LGBT community itself is divided on the idea, with several gay men and lesbians telling her they do not support it. She voiced concern about seeing a fight over the airport have negative consequences for the ongoing battle to secure marriage equality.
"I would be concerned about how this plays out publicly," said Breed. "We need to be united around gay marriage. This could be incredible but you don’t want to see this divide us from getting other things done."
Tang, who is also Chinese American, said she did receive a number of calls, with many people saying there was no need to rename the airport after anyone.
"Just generally speaking, people said there are a lot of people who could be honored in this way so why create this divisive process," she said.
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