Matt Gonzalez was born in McAllen, Texas. He received his B.A. at Columbia University and J.D. from Stanford Law School. After a decade as a deputy public defender in San Francisco Gonzalez served a term on the 11-member Board of Supervisors. He thereafter co-founded a civil rights law firm Gonzalez & Leigh LLP and was Ralph Nader’s running mate in 2008. In early 2011 he returned to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office as Chief Attorney.
Since 2006 he has exhibited artworks in a variety of Bay Area art venues including Park Life, Guerrero Gallery, Adobe Books, and Johansson Projects. He has shown with Dolby Chadwick Gallery since 2014.
Matt Gonzalez was born on June 4, 1965 in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, in the city of McAllen, Texas (pop. 35,000 in 1965), nine miles north of the U.S. — Mexican border and 250 miles south of San Antonio, Texas. At the time of his birth the family lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Gonzalez’s mother Oralia Martinez Rendon is a native of Jalisco, Mexico. His father Mateo Gonzalez was born in Laredo, Texas and worked for Brown & Williamson Tobacco, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco. Although Gonzalez Sr. began selling cigarettes out of his car in the late 1950s he rose to an executive position in the company, during which time the family lived in Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Louisville. When the younger Gonzalez was eleven years old, the family relocated to McAllen, Texas. Gonzalez Sr. left the tobacco company after over 20 years of employment and started an import/export medical equipment company with his wife that primarily did business with Mexico.
Gonzalez attended Milam Elementary School, Lincoln Jr. High School, and McAllen Memorial High School, all public schools in McAllen, Texas.
College and Law
At Columbia University in New York City, Gonzalez double majored in political theory and comparative literature, and graduated in 1987. He excelled in collegiate debate and in his senior year won the George William Curtis prize in Oratory, a competition open to both undergraduate and graduate students (notably famed lawyer Louis Nizer won the Curtis award twice while attending Columbia Law School).
At Stanford Law School Gonzalez worked as a research assistant to the then-Dean of the Law School Paul Brest, on constitutional law issues such as the religion clauses of the First Amendment. He is credited in the 3rd edition of Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking: Cases and Materials by Paul Brest & Sanford Levinson (Boston: Little Brown, 1992) as contributing to the research that comprises the book. While at Stanford, Gonzalez interned for the California Appellate Project, which handles or directly supervises all death penalty appeals in California. He published The Demise of Due Process: Murray against Giarratano in The Stanford Humanities Review (Fall/Winter 1990 special issue devoted to Critical Legal Studies), concerning a capital defendants right to counsel in state habeas corpus proceedings.
Gonzalez began work as an attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office in 1991. At the time Jeff Brown was the elected Public Defender and the Chief Attorney was Peter Keane. Gonzalez developed a reputation as a skilled trial attorney who routinely won difficult cases. A former colleague Doug Rappaport noted “You’d get an offer that was enticing to your client, such as two or three years instead of risking upward of 20 years by going to trial. Matt had a belief in what he was doing and wasn’t afraid to roll the dice when it was a question of a man’s innocence.” (SF Chronicle, 12/07/03). Peter Keane, Dean of Golden Gate University Law School and former Chief Attorney of the SF Public Defender’s Office, called Gonzalez a “brilliant, creative, and ethical” trial lawyer (Stanford Lawyer, Fall 1999).
On two occasions Gonzalez was jailed for contempt of court (by Superior Court judge Wallace Douglass in 1992 and Superior Court judge Perker Meeks in 2000), and ordered arrested by sheriffs a third time (by now-Court of Appeals Justice Barbara J.R. Jones in 1995) (SF Chronicle, 10/18/03). Reviewing courts overturned each of the findings and Gonzalez amicably resolved his differences with each of the judges. “Retired Superior Court Judge David Garcia, who used to play chess with Gonzalez during breaks in courtroom proceedings, said of Gonzalez: “He’s a man of honor, you don’t have to agree with him to respect him.”” (SF Chronicle, 10/18/03).
Addressing the incident in 2000, the SF Bay Guardian wrote an editorial “Free Matt Gonzalez!” stating “Gonzalez continued to raise objections about the issue, and eventually his frustrations got the best of him. “I don’t know what side of the bed you got out of this morning,” he told Meeks — and the angry jurist cited him for contempt of court and ordered a five-day sentence. Local lawyers say it’s by far the harshest contempt sentence meted out in the San Francisco courts in as long as anyone can remember.” (SF Bay Guardian, 01/26/00).
Friendship with poet Jack Micheline
Gonzalez met the beat poet Jack Micheline in 1991. He recounts the story of their meeting, which took place at the Albion Bar in the Mission District of San Francisco, in a long essay published in John Bennett’s tribute Ragged Lion, which collects a number of essays about the poet. Micheline arranged to keep about 50 suitcases in a shed behind the house Gonzalez and Whitney Leigh rented in the Mission, on Sycamore Street. As a result they saw Micheline on a nearly daily basis during the last six years of his life. In 1997, Gonzalez edited and published a 200-page collection of Micheline’s poetry, Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints under the imprint FMSBW. A second expanded-edition was published after Micheline’s death in 1998.
Jack Micheline, Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints (San Francisco: FMSBW, 1997).
In a review of the book, Jennifer Joseph wrote: “In this stunning tribute to Micheline’s bohemian life and unadulterated talent, his son, Vincent Silvaer, and editor Matt Gonzalez have assembled a remarkable collection of his work, including poems, photographs, letter excerpts from Micheline’s youth (when his name was Harvey Silver), and his final writings, penned just days before his death. Included as well is a fascinating biography that depicts his nascent New York years, his friendships with Kerouac and Bukowski, and assorted other revealing tidbits.” (SF Bay Guardian, 04/28/99).
Micheline’s obituary noted: “Always quick to pack his bags and take a trip, then roll into town and sleep on my couch until he could get his hotel room back,” is the way his publisher, San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, described him. “He had a lot of different sides. He was very spiritual, and he also had the Beat sensibility and a great big heart,” Gonzalez said. “He had an immense number of friends.” Mr. Micheline could also be a pain in the neck to work with – even denying authorship of a poem until shown the manuscript in his handwriting, Gonzalez said.” (SF Examiner, 3/01/98)
In 1999 Gonzalez wrote the introductory essay about Micheline for the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, published by Thunder’s Mouth Press, and edited by Alan Kaufman, which is still in print.
In 2003 SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin offered legislation naming a street in North Beach after Micheline which Gonzalez cosponsored and which was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Matt Gonzalez with Jack Micheline’s granddaughter Nicole at the celebration for Jack Micheline Place, 2003.
1999 Race for District Attorney
After gaining experience as a trial attorney, during which time Gonzalez handled numerous life-in-prison matters successfully, he entered his first political contest in 1999. He challenged then incumbent Terrence Hallinan who claimed to be the most liberal DA in California. Gonzalez challenged him from the left alleging that Hallinan’s administration was still pursuing life in prison sentences in non-violent 3-strikes cases, aggressively prosecuting drug offenses (primarily marijuana offenses), and was ignoring environmental crimes and instances of police brutality. Gonzalez also said he would prosecute landlords who were pretextually using owner move-in laws to evict tenants. He argued for increased training in the DAs office and said he would expand staffing in preliminary hearing courtrooms where a majority of serious cases reach settlement.
Gonzalez was alone among the five candidates to categorically state opposition to the death penalty in all cases. The SF Examiner noted “Gonzalez, who criticized Hallinan and Fazio on the issue, called on all candidates to support a “death penalty moratorium,” saying that “moral leadership on this issue should start in San Francisco.” “There is no reason to execute people,” Gonzalez said. “It’s wrong.” (SF Examiner, 10/27/99). Hallinan would later adopt this position, late in the campaign, as Gonzalez gained traction among progressives.
Gonzalez’s progressive platform prompted columnist Ken Garcia to write that “in another era Gonzalez would have been in the Socialist circle of Eugene V. Debs” (SF Chronicle, 10/26/99).
Although a political novice, Gonzalez distinguished himself in two televised debates. At the time, Robert Oakes, an adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner saying “I think Matt Gonzalez probably has a great future as a public defender or progressive politician, but this probably isn’t a good job for him.” (SF Examiner, 10/26/99). Jim Costello, a veteran San Francisco prosecutor said of Gonzalez “Personally, I don’t like him very much. Let’s just say we don’t travel in the same circles. Professionally, I admire him a great deal. He’s got a job to do, and he does it very, very well.” (SF Examiner, 10/26/99)
During a 1999 interview SF Poet Laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti was asked if there were “Any political candidates you’re excited about in the upcoming city elections?” Ferlinghetti responded: “I like Matt Gonzalez, but he’s crazy to run for District Attorney. It’s a thankless job that requires the repression of the people. I think he should run for the Board of Supervisors instead, to represent the Mission District.” (SF Chronicle, 07/06/99)
Gonzalez was endorsed by a number of political clubs: The Tenant’s Union, the Latino Democratic Club, the Northside Democratic Club, and the City College Democratic Club. Although he led the balloting at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club with over 50% of the vote against Hallinan, he could not reach the 60% threshold for the endorsement.
On the day of the Milk Club vote, Hallinan ally Warren Hinckle published an article in the Fang family-owned newspaper The Independent, which Hallinan campaign workers distributed at the Milk Club meeting, alleging Gonzalez was a racist for questioning some of the qualifications of Hallinan’s hires and promotions, and that he was anti-gay for representing a man accused in a hate crime. To prompt this, Gonzalez had said that, if elected DA, no prosecutor with less than 10 jury trials would be promoted to handle felony cases and no prosecutor without trial experience would lead a trial unit in the DAs office. Gonzalez defenders pointed out that a diverse San Francisco jury had unanimously acquitted Gonzalez’s client in the hate crime trial.
The SF Chronicle reported that: “Members of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Democratic Club, which was deciding Tuesday night whether to endorse Hallinan or Gonzalez, said the Tuesday morning publication of the column [by Warren Hinckle] was no coincidence. “This is a sophisticated group of voters. We do read it and we do know what their style of writing is,” Milk club president Criss Romero said. “We knew that the article was an attempt to take away votes from Gonzalez in our endorsement.” Gonzalez topped Hallinan, 111 votes to 94, too close for either candidate to get an endorsement.” (SF Chronicle, 9/30/99).
The 2,100 members of the Police Officer’s union, the POA, voted to give their endorsement to former prosecutor Bill Fazio. Gonzalez received only 7 of the over 1,000 votes cast in the balloting (originally reported as a single vote) (SF Examiner, 10/07/99).
Three publications endorsed Gonzalez: The SF Bay Times, The Bayview Newspaper, and The New Mission News. Publisher Victor Miller wrote “Gonzalez is a rare candidate who puts forward an enlightened platform, is not a political insider and has a genuine chance of winning.” (New Mission News, 10/01/99).
Ultimately Hallinan and Bill Fazio both received about 36% of the vote to earn a place in the December runoff, which Hallinan won. Gonzalez finished 3rd in the field of five candidates, with just over 11% of the total vote, and just over 20,000 votes. By contrast the 4th place finisher was Steve Castleman, a career prosecutor, who spent over $900,000 and finished behind Gonzalez who spent under $20,000. In 5th place, with 5% of the vote, was Michael Shaefer who was a former prosecutor who had served a term on the San Diego City Council at one time.
After the election the SF La Raza Lawyers Association named Gonzalez the Attorney of the Year for 2000.
2001-2005 Board of Supervisors
In April 2000 Gonzalez entered the race for the newly drawn District 5 supervisor race, an area that includes the Haight, Western Edition, Japantown, Cole Valley, Inner Sunset, and Hayes Valley neighborhoods. Gonzalez had lived in the Mission district (Dist. 9) for many years, but had moved into District 5 a few months earlier when the home he rented was placed on the “for sale” market and prospective buyers were being told the tenants could be legally evicted. During a fundraiser he cosponsored for progressive candidates for the Democratic Party County Central Committee at his new home in Hayes Valley, some activists who had been unaware he now lived in the district began urging that he run for supervisor as no progressive candidate had yet emerged in that contest. Since district elections were new, and few even knew the boundaries of their district, charges of being a “carpetbagger”, now common in San Francisco city council races, did not arise. Gonzalez would face another eviction during the campaign, but was able to relocate to a nearby apartment, living with photographer Michael Rauner, among other roommates, thus maintaining his eligibility to represent the district.
He was endorsed by Tom Ammiano and Angela Alioto, both liberal supervisors who had previously run for mayor.
During the campaign, just before the general election, Gonzalez joined the Green Party stating that he felt more aligned with it’s platform than that of the Democratic Party (SF Guardian, 11/15/00). This move lead to some local democratic leaders withdrawing support and cancelling fundraisers. “Juanita Owens said Gonzalez’s decision could be an issue in some voters’ mind in a district where there are 33,519 registered Democrats and 2,735 Green Party members. Some leading Democrats have already acted. County central committee member Jane Morrison and longtime local and national party leader Agar Jaicks canceled a fund-raiser they planned for Gonzalez after learning of his switch.” (SF Chronicle, 11/18/00).
Art Agnos, a Democrat and the former mayor of San Francisco, continued to support Gonzalez after his switch to the Greens: “I believed then, as I do now, that the important thing was his honesty, his character and his commitment to the issues that we share: economic justice and neighborhood empowerment.” (Columbia College Today, 07/04).
Despite the party switch, the SF Examiner also endorsed him in both the general election and runoff saying: “On a shoestring budget, Gonzalez polled a huge margin over the second-place finisher, school board member Juanita Owens, in this district east of Golden Gate Park. He’s a deputy public defender who made a respectable showing a year ago when he ran for district attorney. His politics match those of his district: So far left he almost falls off the horizon. Nonetheless, he has a certain star quality combined with a supple intelligence and concern for the underdog. He’ll judge things on their merits – and not as a reflection of someone else’s political agenda.” (SF Examiner 11/19/00)
The SF Bay Guardian endorsed saying “Gonzalez has amply demonstrated that he deserves a seat on the board. His positions on his district’s most pressing issues — gentrification, homelessness, tenants’ rights — are solidly progressive and particularly well reasoned. A highly regarded lawyer, he’s fluent in policy matters but never loses sight of the human consequences of political decisions. And he has brought a unique and thoughtful style to the stump, treating campaign events and debates not as occasions for sloganeering but as opportunities for discussion. He’d be an open, accountable, and engaged member of the board.” (SF Bay Guardian, 12/06/00).
Gonzalez won easily with over 65% of the vote defeating Juanita Owens, the then-president of the SF Board of Education. Sensing she was in trouble with voters who saw her aligned with the development policies and cronyism of Mayor Willie Brown, Owens had sent out political hit-pieces late in the campaign blaming the Green Party and Gonzalez for George Bush’s defeat of Al Gore in Florida. District 5 voters were not moved as Gonzalez won by over 30 percentage points.
Gonzalez raised the least of all winners, $40,000, and had a surplus at the end of race. He closed his campaign bank account after the election and did not accept contributions during his term.
Gonzalez was quoted the day after being elected as part of a new progressive bloc of Supervisors saying: “I think (the mayor’s) power today clearly is not what it was the day before the election,” said Supervisor-elect Matt Gonzalez, a public defender who won in District 5, which includes the famously liberal Haight-Ashbury. “Things have changed, and I’m sure that because of that, we’ll see a more progressive mayor.” (SF Chronicle 12/14/00)
Gonzalez quickly became an advocate for progressive causes and worked on many successful and unsuccessful pieces of legislation and ballot measures: he created a local minimum wage which remains the highest in the country (because it adjusts for inflation), successfully opposed the sale of naming rights to Candlestick Park (a city-owned stadium), and successfully blocked chain stores from entering neighborhood commercial districts with legislation which became a national model. He opposed the repeal of San Francisco’s business tax , then urged the adoption of a gross receipts model. He was a champion of publicly-owned municipal electrical power and promoted tidal energy. He advocated for the creation of a municipal bank. He led an effort to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections and advocated free muni for seniors, disabled, and youth, and he proposed a plan for limiting cars in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays. He supported transgender health benefits for city employees, the acceptance of matricula consular ID cards for immigrant workers, expanded whistleblower protections for city employees, and he was a cosponsor of the successful municipal solar bond. He worked on the creation of a local Community Land Trust, and on strengthening the Office of Citizen’s Complaints which investigates complaints against Police Officers. He was involved in changing how Planning Commissions are appointed, creating an Elections Commission, reforming the Ethics Commission, efforts to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-priced properties (to match the tax rate of neighboring cities), and adopting ranked-choice voting (aka Instant Run-off Voting) for all municipal elections. He also, unsuccessfully, attempted to place the troubled Housing Authority under Board of Supervisors control; ultimately settling for public hearings exposing corruption.
The SF Chronicle noted: “Gonzalez has been a vocal critic of Mayor Willie Brown’s administration, pushing plans to reduce Brown’s cadre of special assistants and to blunt the mayor’s control over certain city commissions and the Department of Elections.” (SF Chronicle, 01/09/03).
The SF Bay Guardian rated him the most progressive of all the supervisors when they graded how the Supervisors voted, finishing ahead of Supervisors Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano. (SF Bay Guardian’s good vote scorecard, 10/30/02).
On some matters Gonzalez joined conservatives, including opposing many bond measures which unfairly required tax burdens to be carried by property owners.
One of his lasting contributions to city government, which was formulated with his colleague Tony Hall when they served on the Rules Committee together, was advocating shared power when making appointments to city commissions. They proposed that rather than give all commission appointments to the mayor, the mayor would get a majority but the others would be made by the Board of Supervisors. He also required the Mayor’s appointments to be confirmed by a majority of supervisors rather than requiring a super-majority, 8 of the 11 supervisors, to defeat a nominee.
Gonzalez was also chair of the Local Agency Formation Commission LAFCO where he pushed the agency to conduct numerous hearings on alternative energy, desalinization, solar, and funded a feasibility study on the cost of municipalized electricity.
In 2003 Gonzalez began working on establishing a local minimum wage that would be higher than both the state and federal wages which were set at $6.75 and $5.15 an hour, respectively. Fellow Green Party member, small businessman Barry Hermanson, personally funded an economic impact study and public hearings were convened to give all interested parties a chance to be heard. The SF Chronicle reported: “In a move that will probably send the business community into orbit, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez plans to push a ballot measure to boost the city’s minimum wage by $1.75 an hour, bringing it to $8.50. That’s still $1.50 shy of the $10-an-hour “living wage” that the board adopted in 2000 for firms doing business with the city. But this one would cover all workers in the city — from fast-food restaurants on up. The plan, requiring the backing of at least three other supervisors [to get on the ballot], would boost “the most vulnerable workers — usually minority and youth workers” who aren’t covered by the current law, Gonzalez said.” (SF Chronicle, 04/13/03).
“Supervisor Matt Gonzalez didn’t suggest what the wage should be, but he said during a City Hall hearing on the idea that the state’s minimum of $6.75 an hour falls short of what people need to get by. The city adopted a law two years ago that set the minimum wage for employees of city contractors and for airport workers at $10 an hour. “This excludes thousands of workers, in many cases, the most vulnerable ones,” Gonzalez said. The state minimum wage, he added, does “not correlate with the reality of trying to exist in a city such as San Francisco with such a high standard of living.” But Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Urban Institute at San Francisco State University said there could also be benefits for businesses that pay workers more. He said studies have shown that their employees are less likely to quit, improving productivity and saving the firms money on recruiting and training.” (SF Chronicle, 02/28/02).
A coalition of organizations formed to advance the effort including: People Organized to Win Employment Rights, Chinese Progressive Association, Young Workers United, Hotel & Restaurant Employees Local 2, Mission Agenda, Day Labor Program, Central Cities SRO Collaborative, ACORN, and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition.
Ultimately the wage was set at $8.50 which voters approved by 60% to 40%. Importantly, the measure included a cost of living adjustment, tied to the consumer price index for the area, which has caused the wage to rise automatically every January once those adjustments are calculated. As of 01/01/2015 the San Francisco minimum wage was $11.05 an hour making it the highest minimum wage in the country.
A study that tracked the impacts of San Francisco’s new minimum wage law found it “hasn’t hurt the city’s economy or its businesses, according to a report from a Berkeley labor policy think tank. Michael Reich, a UC Berkeley economics professor and one of the study’s authors, said he was surprised by the data he analyzed and said it should encourage other cities and states to raise their minimum wage levels. “We found that the San Francisco minimum wage policy has proved to be a very effective means of raising wages, without adverse effects on employment, business or the city’s economy,” Reich said Tuesday. “It’s also promising in that it means that other increases in the minimum wage in other cities or at the state level are likely to have similar effects.” The institute’s study, which surveyed the minority of businesses in San Francisco that can attract employees while paying the minimum wage, mostly restaurants, found the city law increased an estimated 54,000 workers’ pay while keeping their health benefits stable.” (SF Chronicle, 01/04/06).
In November 2014, 77% of San Francisco voters approved Proposition J which set a time line to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 2018. However, rather than facing the kind of opposition Gonzalez’s original minimum wage measure had faced from business owners, Prop. J was placed on the ballot by Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors and was part of a national effort to raise wages. It was presented as a compromise between a coalition of labor interests and business interests and it set a timetable for a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour by July 2018.
Concerning the original minimum wage effort in 2003: Former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez said the minimum wage law was cooked up over burritos late one night at Taqueria Cancún at 19th and Mission streets in 2001, when he and a few overworked legislative aides were debating ways to extend their pro-labor agenda to thousands of San Francisco’s low-wage workers. “We started wondering what the guys behind the counter were being paid,” Gonzalez said. “The following day we started researching the creation of a local minimum wage and whether it was preempted by state law.”
The reformers answered that question resoundingly in 2003, when they teamed up with anti-poverty activists and the local Green Party to persuade 60 percent of voters to “vote yourself a raise.” The Minimum Wage Ordinance briefly elevated Gonzalez to the status of standard bearer for San Francisco’s political left wing, culminating in a close but unsuccessful run for mayor against Gavin Newsom.
After leaving the Board of Supervisors, he briefly carved out a new role for himself in the ecosystem of worker protections through his private practice as a lawyer, taking on class-action lawsuits against big-time minimum wage violators. In 2007, he settled a lawsuit over wages with Marriott Hotel for $1.35 million and contributed back some of the proceeds to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement for pursuing minimum wage claims. (KQED, 05/06/13).
Gonzalez worked on a number of animal rights issues. In 2004 he pushed legislation that prohibited the San Francisco Zoo from keeping elephants. Ordinance 041461 would “prohibit the keeping of elephants at the San Francisco Zoo by any City department or contractor.” However, to obtain a super-majority of support among the supervisors, which was need to override an expected mayoral veto, the measure underwent amendments. Specifically the revised version called for a 15 acre minimum for the elephant exhibit at the zoo. This nevertheless had the effect of shutting down the exhibit as zoo administrators, who had previously dedicated just 1/64th of an acre for multiple elephants, said they would not commit more acreage to the exhibit. Gonzalez was prompted to act after two elephants died while in captivity at the zoo prematurely. Questions about whether such large mammals should even be held in confinement and how much area they needed to live comfortably took center stage. KTVU reported that “Animal rights advocates expressed hope that the San Francisco measure would set a precedent for elephants at urban zoos across the country. “We should not have them suffer because people want them as exhibits,” said In Defense of Animals founder Elliot Katz.”” (KTVU 12/07/04).
Earlier in his tenure, in 2002, Gonzalez called for and presided over public hearings on animal experiments at Univ. of Calif., San Francisco (UCSF) that animal rights activists had long questioned as useless. The experiments in question involved very invasive brain experiments on rhesus macaque monkeys by Dr. Stephen Lisberger. Of particular concern was that these experiments, which had been happening over the course of 5 years, had not resulted in any documented, usable medical information yet were being conducted on live and conscious monkeys.
In 2003 In Defense of Animals recognized Gonzalez’s work on behalf of animal rights by presenting him with a Distinguished Guardian Award at a ceremony in Santa Monica where Jane Goodall was honored for her life’s work.
Chain Store Legislation
Gonzalez passed “groundbreaking legislation” (BeyondChron, 08/14/06) to protect neighborhood commercial districts from chain stores. Specifically, the measure allowed neighborhoods to ban chain stores altogether or alternatively lessen restrictions that made it easier for chain stores to enter a commercial district. He argued that the measure was actually good for everyone involved because the trend had been for neighbors to raise objections to chain stores late in the planning process after a business establishment had already obtained permits and signed leases. This way, everyone one would know what the neighborhood wanted beforehand. The original measure placed a ban on chain stores in the Hayes Valley neighborhood and was later extended into North Beach and other locations.
In an opinion editorial in Mesh Magazine Gonzalez noted that economically speaking, chain stores are not good for the local economy. “A recent study in Austin, Texas concluded that chain stores are more likely to take money out of the local economy, while independent local merchants are not. The findings are quite astounding. Chain stores only reinvest $13 out of $100 spent in their stores in the local economy. By comparison, for every $100 spent in independent neighborhood stores, $45 is reinvested in the local economy. The study concluded that if each household in Travis County, Texas redirected $100 of planned holiday shopping from chain stores to stores that were locally owned, the local economic impact would reach approximately $10 million dollars. Not a bad way to revitalize the local economy.” (Mesh Magazine #4, 04/04)
Dean Preston noted “Working closely with neighborhood activists in Hayes Valley, Gonzalez introduced the original “formula retail” law in 2003. The law defined “formula retail” as a business with more than eleven locations and certain standard characteristics (such as uniform signage). Gonzalez’s legislation imposed notification requirements on formula retail establishments seeking to open in neighborhood commercial (NC) districts. The law also imposed a complete ban on formula retail in Hayes Valley, and provided that formula retail was a “conditional use” in Cole Valley.”
“Following the passage of the Gonzalez formula retail legislation in March 2004, several Supervisors introduced legislation to bring about limits on chain stores in specific neighborhoods within their districts. Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation to make chain stores a conditional use (CU) on the Divisadero Corridor. Aaron Peskin introduced a ban on chain stores in North Beach. Most recently, Chris Daly introduced legislation to make chain stores a conditional use in Western SOMA. All of these proposals passed the board with veto-proof majorities.” (BeyondChron, 08/14/06)
Ultimately, the legislation was seen as a national model with other jurisdictions exploring how it could be implemented.
Gonzalez sponsored a ballot measure (Proposition F, November of 2004) that would have given non-citizens, including the undocumented, the right to vote in local school board elections. Precedents for this include New York City, where non-citizens voted in school board elections from 1970 to 2003 (when school boards were dissolved as part of a recentralization effort), and Chicago, where non-citizens received school board voting rights in 1988. The measure was defeated by the narrowest of margins, 51 to 49%.
When questioned why the measure didn’t exclude undocumented persons Gonzalez stated that he didn’t think it was feasible to require the department of elections to make determinations of immigration status. He further noted that undocumented immigrants would not likely register to vote and draw any such attention to themselves which had been the experience in New York and Chicago.
Gonzalez published an opinion editorial in the SF Chronicle noting that from 1776 until the 1920s, many states in the United States allowed non-citizens to vote in elections, and even hold office in some cases, based on a desire to encourage immigrants to invest in local civic institutions and become fully assimilated in their new communities.
Also, Gonzalez noted that many Americans who live abroad are allowed to vote in local elections without giving up their US citizenship. “Ireland, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland are among the 23 countries that afford this right.” (SF Chronicle, 07/20/04).
The Migration Policy Institute noted that “considering that just a few months ago, noncitizen voting rights were a somewhat shocking, new idea to many San Franciscans, it is notable that approximately 49% of voters were in favor of the initiative.”
Building the Green Party
After his election to the Board of Supervisors, Gonzalez worked to build the Green Party although he faced obstacles. The SF Chronicle quoted Gonzalez as saying: “Jello Biafra (of punk band Dead Kennedys and former Green Party presidential nominee) told me, ‘[Joining] the Green Party is like naming your band the Dead Kennedys. There will always be places you are not invited to go,’ ” Gonzalez said. Biafra, who met Gonzalez at a fund-raiser this fall, called the new supervisor courageous. “He automatically cut himself off from the Democratic machine that stood primed to vault him into the legislature,” said Biafra, who ran for mayor here in 1979.” (SF Chronicle, 2/21/01)
Poster for an event featuring Jello Biafra, Medea Benjamin, Kevin Danaher, & Matt Gonzalez, 2004.
Locally Gonzalez recruited candidates to run for office. Nationally he travelled to other parts of the country, including Maryland, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, at his own expense, to discuss Green Party strategy.
In 2001, in Maryland he met with a number of activists including Isaac Opalinsky, Co-Chair of the Maryland Green Party, who he tried to get to run for a local city council race. Opalinsky, a 25-year old graduate of St. John’s College, refused until he lost a coin toss to Gonzalez. The loser had agreed to run for any office the winner chose. Opalinsky went on to win 43% of the vote in his bid for Annapolis City Council. Significantly, Opalinsky was the first local Green candidate ever on the ballot in Maryland.
In a 11/25/01 letter to the editor of the Annapolis Capital newspaper, Gonzalez praised Opalinsky’s effort:
As a member of the Green Party and a member of the Board of Supervisors of the city and county of San Francisco, I was pleased to see how well Isaac Opalinsky did in his effort to win the Ward 1 aldermanic seat in Annapolis.
Although he didn’t win the race, he succeeded in having his party affiliation listed on the ballot, thus making him the first Green to “officially” run for office in Maryland. He also came very close to defeating his Democratic Party opponent, incumbent Louise Hammond. The final count was 723 to 527 votes, which means that if 100 of Mrs. Hammond’s votes had instead been cast for Mr. Opalinsky, he’d have been elected.
The fact that such a young newcomer (age 25) could come so close to unseating a well-financed incumbent should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in Maryland. Many voters are increasingly choosing the Green candidate (when they have the option) because they are tired of machine politics and business as usual at city hall.
The Green Party posted a number of recent electoral victories, most notably by gaining two seats in both the Minneapolis and New Haven, Conn., city councils, bringing the total number of Greens currently holding office in the United States to over 100.
We look forward to our first victory in Maryland.
(The Capital 11/25/01)
Gonzalez, often in tandem with Green Party School Board member Mark Sanchez who had registered Green following a victory as a Democrat, encouraged people he believed were electable to seek public office. Gonzalez hand-picked Sarah Lipson and Jane Kim who both won school board races, and John Rizzo who was elected a trustee of the City College Board, to run for office.
Mayor Willie Brown would later comment: “As for Gonzalez’s impact on local government, Brown said, “He was able to help elect a number of people who had views similar to his. He certainly did it against candidates I supported.” (SF Chronicle, 01/03/05).
2003 Election as President of the Board of Supervisors
On January 8, 2003 Gonzalez was narrowly elected president of the Board of Supervisors after 7 rounds of voting. The San Francisco Chronicle reported: “San Francisco, long a stronghold of the Democratic Party, got a jolt Wednesday when Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez made history by landing the powerful post of Board of Supervisors president. The board president, elected by the supervisors, makes committee assignments, orchestrates the movement of legislation and, if effective, builds a majority coalition to pass laws. It’s the second most powerful job in City Hall, after mayor. The job will put the soft-spoken but passionate Texas native, who at times has gone out of his way to avoid media attention, into a high-profile role.” (SF Chronicle, 01/08/03)
The San Francisco Bay Guardian described the victory: “And in the end, just about everyone was shocked: Matt Gonzalez, the 37-year-old former public defender and Green Party member who has built a reputation as a hard-line progressive – a fighter, not a conciliator –was in the top spot on a fractured, contentious board.” (SF Bay Guardian, 01/15/03).
Gonzalez had been nominated by the most conservative member of the board, Independent Tony Hall who represented District 7, stating “Matt Gonzalez has all the qualities that we need to steer this board as a legislative family. Gonzalez is a man of integrity and intelligence, who will carry out his responsibilites fairly and impartially.” Others joining the majority were Chris Daly, Gerardo Sandoval, Aaron Peskin (who dropped out and threw his support behind Gonzalez), and Jake McGoldrick.
Many had framed the race between Gonzalez and two other democrats as a referendum on the Democratic Party, reporting that prominent democrats were making phone calls to stop a Green Party victory.
The SF Chronicle reported: “Gonzalez’s election as board president was not, obviously, made along party lines. Nine of the 11 supervisors are Democrats, and some of the Democratic Party’s heavy hitters, most notably State Senate President John Burton, lobbied against Gonzalez, not wanting to see the elevation of a Green. Jane Morrison, chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, was reluctant to comment on the Gonzalez victory. “You’d think that with nine Democrats on the board, they would have voted Democratic,” is all she would say.” (SF Chronicle, 01/09/03).
The Greens certainly saw it as a major victory announcing that “San Francisco is now the largest U.S. city or county (pop. 776,000) to have its legislative body headed by a Green.” (Green Focus, 01/03).
David Binder, a local pollster, said: “This was about uniting behind a progressive who gets along with his colleagues,” Binder said. “He got elected because of his personality and his politics and his potential effectiveness. The spin on the Democratic Party [implications] is overplayed. (SF Bay Guardian 01/15/03).
“Political scientist Rich de Leon suggested that the vote – particularly Gonzalez’s ability to bring along a conservative like Hall – shows Gonzalez can put together “improbable coalitions.” “San Francisco is working on politics in an experimental way that is not happening anywhere else.” And he said Gonzalez’s appeal may be because he’s not part of any faction: “Maverickness has a certain currency [in San Francisco], and obviously it works.”” (SF Bay Guardian, 01/15/03).
Gonzalez was the first third-party president of the Board of Supervisors since Frank Havenner won the post in the 1930s. Havenner was a member of the Progressive Party and later was elected to Congress.
Once elected Gonzalez continued his progressive focus and by all accounts presided over the Board in a fair manner. Randy Shaw noted: “People knew they could disagree with Gonzalez without fear of retribution, something that was not true under the progressive leadership of Tom Ammiano. Nor did most business leaders and developers see Gonzalez as out to destroy their livelihoods, a fear Ammiano could not overcome in his 1999 race against Mayor Brown.” (BeyondChron, 01/03/03).
While Gonzalez pushed for curbs on big commercial development, he managed to gain the support of Joe O’Donoghue, president of the Residential Builders Association, and Walter Wong, a politically powerful building permit expediter who [later] offered Gonzalez space in his building for a mayoral campaign office. Said political consultant Alex Clemens: “Matt was very good at not cultivating enemies. He was really good at focusing on issues rather than personality politics.” (SF Chronicle, 01/03/05).
As board president, Gonzalez made many internal reforms: he sponsored a ballot measure making the job of supervisor full-time and allowed the salaries to be set by the Civil Service Commission; he moved the Board meeting from Monday to Tuesday increasing the availability of members to attend regional board meetings (since neighboring county supervisors all met on Tuesdays and subcommittee meetings were often scheduled on Monday); and he was a champion of shared appointment authority between the Board and Mayor, something he had already begun during his tenure on the Rules Committee.
2003 Campaign for Mayor of San Francisco
The 2003 campaign for mayor, to replace two-term mayor Willie Brown, was essentially a race between Gavin Newsom and everybody else. Newsom, a city supervisor who had been appointed by Brown, was primarily known as an establishment politician who did as Mayor Brown wanted, with strong ties to the wealthy Getty family, who had supported a number of his business ventures financially, thus allowing Newsom to say he was a successful entrepreneur. Newsom, in his own right, had launched a campaign to change how government assistance money was doled out to the poor, a measure called “Care Not Cash”, that was popular with the electorate. Critics claimed the services were not guaranteed while Newsom countered that the money taken from direct payments to the poor would fund the services.
Other candidates in the race included former supervisors Tom Ammiano, Angela Alioto, and Susan Leal (who was then serving as City Treasurer), and former police chief Tony Ribera (the lone Republican in the field).
Gonzalez and his progressive allies on the Board wanted to support Ammiano, who had been the standard-bearer for progressives in the 1999 mayor’s race, but were concerned that he had lost by such a wide margin in that contest, 39% to 61%. Ammiano had also disappointed some of his allies, during the four years since the ’99 race, by attempting to make inroads with moderate and conservative business and property interests. Angela Alioto, whose father had been a mayor of San Francisco, was liked by the labor unions but had already lost the mayor’s race two times. Susan Leal was seen as trying to take on the local political machine only after it had rejected her candidacy and lined up behind Newsom. Tony Ribera was well-liked but not as liberal as the others and didn’t appear to have the broad political support to win.
Gavin Newsom, Tony Ribera, & Matt Gonzalez, 2003.
Gonzalez believed Newsom could be beat, in part, because he faced off against him in a debate over his Care Not Cash measure in 2002, at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav synagogue in San Francisco. Gonzalez was standing-in for Ammiano who had decided at the last minute not to debate Newsom, one on one. Those close to him confided that Ammiano didn’t want to be the face of opposition to the popular measure. The Gonzalez/Newsom debate was a standing-room-only event and by most accounts Newsom did not fare well against the better-prepared Gonzalez. The difference was that Newsom spoke casually as if giving an after dinner fundraising speech while Gonzalez came armed with policy studies of similar failed efforts from other jurisdictions. In a story published after the debate journalist Frank Gallagher, writing for the SF Examiner, said he felt he had just had a glimpse of the next mayor’s race.
After the debate with Newsom, Gonzalez met with Ammiano and offered to help him prepare for the likely mayoral debates between the two, by proposing a mock debate wherein Gonzalez would pretend to be Newsom. At first Ammiano agreed, but then changed his mind. Gonzalez made the same offer of Alioto and she readily accepted. Gonzalez and Alioto debated at SEIU offices in Oakland one weekend in mid-2003. Gonzalez was so unimpressed with her performance that he decided he could not support her.
To understand Gonzalez’s decision to enter the mayor’s race one has to understand how Supervisor Ammiano and Gonzalez grew apart on many issues. Randy Shaw noted: “After taking office with other newly elected district supervisors who ran against the so-called Brown machine, Gonzalez became the quintessential anti-politician who gets elected only to realize that his colleagues rhetoric about fundamental change is not matched by actions. Two major issues quickly impacted the new Supervisor.
First, in early 2001 Gonzalez waged a valiant effort against approving the city business tax settlement. He was surprised to learn, however, that then Board President Tom Ammiano, the supposed leader of the city’s progressive movement, supported the deal. Daly and Sandoval were the only supervisors who joined Gonzalez in opposing the business tax deal, while the other “reformers” were given progressive cover by the Board President. “Gonzalez viewed Ammiano differently after the business tax fight. The dispute led him to realize he would have to forge a new direction for progressives, rather than counting on Ammiano to lead the way.
“The second issue that greatly impacted Gonzalez in 2001 was the budget fight. Gonzalez had a coveted spot on the committee that reviewed the city budget, and this is where he built his relationship with the Board’s most conservative member, Tony Hall. Gonzalez found himself agreeing more with Hall than with his progressive colleagues, and he soon concluded that most of the Board was not interested in meaningful budget reform. “The budget process further disillusioned Gonzalez about Ammiano’s commitment to progressive reform. Since Ammiano controlled eight votes on the Board in 2001, Gonzalez felt that a unique opportunity to meaningfully change the system had been squandered.” (BeyondChron, 01/03/05).
Randy Shaw: “What changed his mind and led him to run? Gonzalez felt by the spring that Tom Ammiano’s campaign was going nowhere and that Angela Alioto could not win. His assessment was that Gavin Newsom was a lock to win unless a new candidate entered the race. Gonzalez was not alone in his assessment. But whereas the city unions and other progressive interests were unwilling to come out and say that Ammiano could not win, Gonzalez saw a train wreck happening and was unwilling to sit by and watch the crash. That’s what is known as leadership. After Gonzalez failed to recruit other people to run, the daily “Run, Matt Run” poundings from Chris Daly and others finally convinced the reluctant Gonzalez to enter the mayor’s race.” (BeyondChron, 01/03/05).
Once it was clear that neither Tom Ammiano nor Angela Alioto’s campaigns were resonating with voters, progressives sought out a candidate who could mount a winning campaign. The fear was that Newsom would win with a conservative/moderate mandate and progressives wanted a candidate that could defend progressive issues eloquently.
Peter Keane noted: “There was a feeling in regard to progressive people in San Francisco that by default Gavin Newsom is just going to slide into the mayor’s office because there was no alternative,” said Peter Keane, dean of Golden Gate University Law School. When Keane was the second-in-command at the public defender’s office in San Francisco, he hired Gonzalez. “Matt is a clear alternative, an honest, progressive candidate who’s not someone anyone’s going to buy or anyone’s going to control.” Keane said San Francisco was ready for a Gonzalez in the mayor’s office. “At its heart, San Francisco is not a centrist town, it’s a progressive town,” he said.” (SF Chronicle, 09/03/03)
Gonzalez entered the mayor’s race on the last day to file after heavy lobbying by supporters who had seen polling data indicating voters would consider his candidacy favorably. Gonzalez’scampaign was managered by Enrique Pearce. His treasurer was Randall Knox who was assisted by Michelle Mongan. Ross Mirkarimi served as media spokesperson and Whitney Leigh was the original fundraiser who raised $10,000 in one day so that Gonzalez could make the filing deadline.
In addition to Peter Keane, Gonzalez’s biggest backer was former mayor Art Agnos who helped assuage voter concern about electing a member of the Green Party as mayor. Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Chris Daly endorsed Gonzalez immediately. Supervisor Tony Hall, a friend of Gonzalez, didn’t directly endorse Gonzalez because of their ideological differences, however, he did take every opportunity to let voters know he liked and respected Gonzalez. The SF Chronicle noted: “Supervisor Tony Hall, who represents the city’s more conservative neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks and has been a vocal critic of insider dealmaking at City Hall, said Gonzalez cannot be bought. “He is as honest as they come,” said Hall, who, despite ideological differences with Gonzalez, nominated him for the post of board president last January. (SF Chronicle, 12/08/03).
Gonzalez won the endorsement of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the Green Party. The later was a hard fought battle because many Greens had worked with Ammiano for years and felt they were betraying him by supporting Gonzalez.
The Bay View Newspaper was the only print publication that endorsed Gonzalez in the general election.
Gonzalez made it into a runoff against Newsom who finished with 42% of the vote. Gonzalez had 19% going into the runoff. Of the candidates that didn’t make the runoff, only Ammiano endorsed Gonzalez, but he refused to make any public appearances or actively lend any support.
Other candidates who had built entire campaigns running against Newsom fell back into line and endorsed Newsom once they were not in the run-off including Angela Alioto and Susan Leal. It appeared unlikely that Gonzalez could win the contest.
Notably, actor Danny Glover, labor activist Dolores Huerta, and musician Jonathan Richman were among Gonzalez’s biggest supporters. The San Francisco Bay Guardian which had endorsed Alioto in the general election now put it’s full strength behind Gonzalez.
Campaign poster by Niffer Desmond.
Campaign poster by Chuck Sperry.
The Gonzalez campaign was unconventional with Gonzalez refusing to allow campaign street signs to be erected except in homes and apartments (at the time it was still legal to put signs on telephone polls and lampposts). He pushed issues he had talked about as a supervisor including tidal power, the creation of a municipal bank, and replacing the payroll business tax with gross receipts business tax. He also cautioned against letting San Francisco become strictly a tech city and spoke about protecting industrial zones so that working people would have jobs.
The race between Newsom and Gonzalez was spirited and pitted two under-40 politicians against one another in a city famously known for political activism.
The Democratic political establishment feared Gonzalez might win: “The ‘03 mayoral race “was a particularly vicious campaign,” recalls former Newsom apparatchik Frank Gallagher. It’s hard to overstate how much was at stake in the showdown between Gonzalez and Newsom, who was the choice of the city’s Democratic establishment. It’s hard to overstate how much a Gonzalez win would have eviscerated the political equilibrium of this city — and state. Newsom’s people knew this. They outspent Gonzalez by a factor of 10. “Everyone was terrified Gonzalez was gonna win.”” (SF Weekly, 07/09/14)
John Mecklin of the SF Weekly credited both candidates: “Either Newsom or Gonzalez will make a good mayor, but Gonzalez has the creative edge.” (SF Weekly, 12/03/03) Mecklin wrote: “Had anyone but Matt Gonzalez made the runoff, I’d be recommending a vote for Gavin Newsom. Had Angela Alioto gotten to the runoff, I’d be screaming: “VOTE FOR GAVIN NEWSOM!” But Gonzalez did make the runoff, and I’m recommending a vote for him because he’s a smart, decent guy who seems to have a quality that is rare in public life: imagination. … The ability to imagine a future that others cannot see – and to work the real-life details necessary for that future to become a reality – is one of the primary traits of leadership. Unless my people-reader has lost its bearings, Matt Gonzalez has the imagination gene in spades, and therefore the slightly better claim this time around to the mayorship, and the chance to prove that he will do what he’s claimed he would do to improve San Francisco. But I’m not losing a second of sleep contemplating the possibility of Gavin Newsom as mayor, and neither should you.” (SF Weekly, 12/03/03)
Marshall Kilduff, one of the editors at the SF Chronicle, noted: “Guess who at City Hall is the most worried about Gonzalez as mayor? The bureaucrats. A highly unscientific sampling of insider opinion puts Gonzalez at the top among his colleagues in brainpower and independence. Whether you’re the deputy director of curb painting or head of a $100 million department, Gonzalez can make you nervous. He’s not ready to rubber- stamp every union request, and he led the charge to yank the mayoral dominance of the police and planning departments. He probes and annoys, refusing to make the dozens of little deals that keep the status quo rolling along. He doesn’t like holy causes. Consider the proposal for a City Hall gift of $60 million to the public schools. What city programs take big hits to create this financial care package for a system that just won a $295 million bond measure? Gonzalez isn’t sold on the idea. In personal terms, the guy is baffling. He doesn’t help himself with the monotone delivery and a personality that’s more pilot light than burning flame. … The city may not be ready for a brash outsider like Gonzalez. He may need more allies, seasoning and law-making skill. But he’s more than a fringe ideologue. He provides a door-kicking challenge and canny intelligence missing from City Hall. Don’t be surprised when that brings him votes next Tuesday.” (SF Chronicle, 12/03/03)
Although the campaign gained ground with polling showing it was a dead-heat in the final week of the election, Campaign money would be the deciding factor, with Newsom spending 8 million to Gonzalez’s $900,000. Newsom ultimately won with 53% of the vote to Gonzalez’s 47%. In all 250,000 people had voted, the highest of any mayoral election in San Francisco history.
Interestingly, Newsom likely won because Republican voters turned out for him: “In a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle after the runoff, the chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party asserted that Republican votes “saved San Francisco.” The New York Times reported that an informal survey of Republicans found that 85 percent had voted for Newsom. Professor Rich DeLeon looked at how voters in Newsom’s and Gonzalez best precincts in November voted in the October recall [of Democratic Governor Gray Davis] and gubernatorial election. His “voting pattern analysis” appeared on the San Francisco Sentinel website shortly before the runoff election. One generalization he arrived at: “Voters in top Newsom precincts were the most supportive of the Davis recall… and they were clearly the least supportive of [Democrat] Bustamante [against Republic Arnold Schwarzenegger].” In Gonzalez top precincts, voters were strongly opposed to the recall and strongly supportive of Cruz Bustamante.” (Berkeley Daily Planet, 12/19/03)
Randy Shaw noted: “Matt Gonzalez nearly pulled off the most astonishing upset victory in the history of American municipal politics. Gonzalez galvanized the city and forced Gavin Newsom to spend the most money per capita of any mayoral candidate in American history (Newsom’s $8 million of spending does not include the highly publicized visits on his behalf by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, nor the daily pro-Newsom stories and columns in the San Francisco Chronicle). (BeyondChron, 01/03/05).
After completing his term, Gonzalez decided not to seek reelection. Randy Shaw noted: “As Matt Gonzalez leaves the Board this week, his impact will not be measured in legislation passed or speeches given. Rather, from the moment he switched from Democrat to Green during his 2000 runoff election, Gonzalez realigned San Francisco politics in a way that could shape the city for years to come. For all of his political skills, Gonzalez’s personal traits were also critical to his success: he respected those with differing views, refused to divide people into political camps, and provided an ethical model for both activists and politicians. Matt Gonzalez burst on the political scene like a comet and it is hard to believe that he leaves public life (likely temporarily) this week. Most people are likely to remember Gonzalez for his amazing mayoral campaign, while overlooking his role in virtually redefining the city’s political battle lines.” (BeyondChron, 01/03/05).
“For all of the hype about the young people and newly energized voters who got their start in the Gonzalez campaign, more significant was the active involvement of those not included on the usual list of progressive suspects. This was Gonzalez’s genius. He could win the active support of individuals and groups with whom he disagreed on many issues because they felt he was trustworthy and took positions based on conviction, not expedience.
“Conviction, not expedience. Matt Gonzalez never cast a vote or took a stand based on campaign donations or some future considerations.” (BeyondChron, 01/03/05).
From the SF Chronicle: “Rich DeLeon, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, said that even where Gonzalez failed, he made progress by serving as a catalyst. “I think he did push the envelope in key areas,” DeLeon said. “Even in areas where people were not prepared to go that far, like noncitizen voting, it’s in the political space now, where it wasn’t before.”
“But what Gonzalez will be remembered for most, DeLeon said, is jumping into the mayor’s race at the last minute and getting into the runoff, where he won 47 percent of the vote. “His candidacy for mayor — the incredible race he made of the runoff and challenging Newsom despite being outspent 10 to 1 — that was a significant political event,” DeLeon said. “If there’s any single thing that came out of the last four years, it’s raising the banner of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” Even if it took a Green to do it.” (SF Chronicle, 01/03/05).
Richard Marquez said: “With his Mayoral run, Matt Gonzalez’s rise to fame marked a watershed in the City’s progressive electoral movement. Gonzalez’s campaign injected “motion into the movement” and during those final weeks of electrifying fever, he became widely know as “Matt” to ordinary, white progressive San Franciscans, and “Gonzalez” to prideful Latino immigrants. For some critically conscious liberal and moderate San Franciscans on the Westside, Matt Gonzalez wasn’t Gavin Newsom, who reeked of silver-spoon, patrician privilege, and was downtown’s “Golden Boy” and Mayor Brown’s anointed, heir apparent — that in itself — were reasons enough to vote for Gonzalez because some Westside voters instinctively knew that Newsom had been groomed, literally, since kindergarten, to rule the world that the rest of us labored in.
“Gonzalez was the first Mexican-American, non-Democratic Party candidate in the City’s history to actually campaign, unabashedly, as a leftist and anti-corporate politician. He turned San Francisco’s sordid and sold-out political history upside down, invoking an inspired and conscious resistance from the City’s previous generations’ experiences of exclusion, exploitation, disenfranchisement and dot.com displacement. Unlike Mayor Willie Brown, progressives and working people knew that Matt Gonzalez would never become that type of minority politician, donning tuxedo tails at Symphony balls, courting developers and realtors, and cutting the ultimate deal. There’d be no bronze bust of Mayor Matt in City Hall at the end of his term.” (BeyondChron, 04/07/04).
Gonzalez, who was well-known for holding monthly art parties at City Hall left with a bit of controversy. “Gonzalez’s parting exhibit was typically irreverent — he invited graffiti artist Barry McGee to tag an office wall with the slogan, “SMASH THE STATE.”” (SF Chronicle, 01/03/05). When asked about it Gonzalez said he knew his walls were scheduled to be re-painted for the next occupant.
Private practice, Gonzalez & Leigh LLP
After leaving public office Gonzalez started a law firm with a Stanford Law School classmate Whitney Leigh who left John Keker’s law firm, where he was a partner, to start the venture. Other progressive lawyers joined them and they proceeded to build a practice that focused on civil rights cases.
Gonzalez & Leigh filed a class action lawsuit against a local hotel to enforce the minimum wage; they filed suit against Clear Channel in a naming rights dispute; they sued the Yolo County Superior Court and Grand Jury alleging discriminatory practices in the selection of grand juries there; they sued a number of municipalities and Ringling Bros. Circus for denying free speech to animal rights protestors; and they represented minority owned businesses in lawsuits alleging the deprivation of property interests.
Most notably, Gonzalez won a punitive damages verdict, the first of its kind in California, against an elected county district attorney and one of his investigators, for retaliating against a person’s free speech rights. The case was tried in Federal Court before District Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento.
Some of the cases the law firm handled:
Gonzalez & Leigh filed a lawsuit enforcing San Francisco’s local minimum wage: “Former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, the lawyer for the workers, said it is the first private class-action suit seeking to enforce the wage ordinance, Proposition L, since it was passed by city voters in November 2003 and took effect the following February.” (SF Chronicle 10/07/05).
“Former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez announced on January 2nd that his law office has settled a class action claim against the Marriott Hotel to enforce the City’s minimum wage ordinance. The settlement concludes sixteen months of litigation against the hotel chain for failing to pay its workers the local minimum wage – and failing to post notices at the work-site regarding the minimum wage, as required by law. Filed in October 2005 on behalf of four workers at the Marriott (and all other employees similarly situated), the complaint alleged that the hotel chain ignored the city’s minimum wage ordinance – and retaliated against the lead plaintiff, Joseph Aubrey, when he complained to management. The parties agreed to a settlement in the amount of $1.35 million. “We appreciate Marriott’s cooperation in reaching an amicable resolution in this matter,” said Gonzalez. “This settlement affords the plaintiffs appropriate relief and serves as a reminder to employers that all workers in San Francisco must be paid the city’s minimum wage.” As part of the negotiated settlement, funds that are not distributed to employees will be contributed to the City’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement for enforcement of the local minimum wage ordinance.” (Beyond Chron, 01/03/07)
Gonzalez & Leigh filed suit in Yolo County challenging how grand jurors were selected: “On Wednesday, [Superior Court Judges] Mock and Warriner were issued a summons to respond to the civil complaint with 20 days. Robyn Weaver, the jury commissioner, also is named as a defendant. Gonzalez, in a phone interview on Wednesday, said the exclusion of nonwhites as grand jurors is an ongoing abuse of process. “It cannot be coincidental that the grand jury never reaches Latino or Asian representation,” he said. “The lawsuit raises questions about the lack of racial diversity, bringing action against individual judges for improperly recruiting jurors.”” (Davis Enterprise, 07/06/06)
Gonzalez & Leigh filed suit shutting down the live animal markets at the UN/Civic Center famer’s market: “The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez, charges Young and his employees of assault and human rights violations, and the market of negligent supervision, among other complaints. Activists with LGBT Compassion began protesting last March, videotaping and replaying footage of how the fowl were handled. The two most adamant activists, Alex Felsinger, 25, and Andrew Zollman, 43, of LGBT Compassion, cite more than half a dozen instances of being physically or verbally attacked by Young’s employees.” (SF Chronicle Blog, (01/27/11)
The San Francisco Appeal reported: “Sales of live chickens and other live poultry at the Heart of the City Farmers Market at UN Plaza — the only farmers market in San Francisco to offer live birds for sale — will end May 27, the market announced Sunday, a move that led a group of animal rights activists who had worked for years to stop the poultry sales to claim victory. …”It’s an amazing victory for the animals and for public health,” he said. “The violations we documented at the farmers market were rampant… it’s really amazing it didn’t happen sooner.” (SF Appeal, 05/02/11).
Gonzalez & Leigh successfully defended the Yolo County Housing Authority executive director against corruption charges: “[David] Serena, the retired executive director of the Yolo County Housing Authority, faced 19 felony counts of insurance fraud… The judge dismissed the case Feb. 25, finding no evidence of fraud. The judge found the listings were the result of administrative errors that should have been resolved outside of court… “It is difficult to believe that the grand jury was investigating his agency year after year,” said Matt Gonzalez, Serena’s attorney. “They were issuing statements with factual errors. They had no concern that they were doing damage to his reputation.” Serena, now retired, is again living in Salinas, the city where he began his career of political activism and public service. He served two terms on the Hartnell College District Board and was the first Latino elected to represent the east Salinas area. He now teaches at the Farm worker Institute of Education and Leadership Development in Watsonville.” (The Salinas Californian, 04/02/08).
The Monterey Herald reported: “On March 15, a Yolo County Superior Court judge dismissed all counts by the county against Serena for fraud and grand theft… All along, Serena maintained his innocence and said the charges were politically motivated. In 2006, only a few days after he filed suit against the grand jury for not seating enough minorities, Serena was charged with the 19 felony counts… After two days of testimony at a preliminary hearing earlier this year, judge Richard Kossow wrote on March 15 that he found no evidence that Serena was not entitled to add the children to his employee dental and health insurance… “His lawsuit changed how they select the grand jury” in Yolo County, said Matt Gonzalez, former San Francisco county Supervisor and Serena’s attorney. “There’s never going to be a disproportionate representation of Latinos again. Ultimately, we showed very disturbing patters of lack of racial diversity.”” (Monterey Herald, 03/25/08).
Gonzalez disassociated from Gonzalez & Leigh LLP in early 2012 and Whitney Leigh continued the firm in association with other lawyers. Leigh initially elected to keep the name intact, as it had become known in legal circles, but later changed the name to Law Offices of Whitney Leigh.
San Francisco Collage Collective
In 2006 Gonzalez founded the San Francisco Collage Collective with Robin Savinar and Albert Herter. “It is a loose-knit group of artists from a variety of disciplines and varying degrees of formal art training, who occasionally gather together to make collage and montage works. The primary idea is to democratize art by inviting anyone to participate.” (SF Collage Collective website). Gonzalez has worked with many artists in the collective including Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Theophilus Brown, and Glenna Putt.
He has exhibited his paper collage art works at a number of venues in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2006 including: Johansson Projects, Soap Gallery (solo show), Adobe Books Backroom Gallery (solo show), Lincart, 111 Minna Street Gallery, Guerrero Gallery, a.Muse Gallery, Jack Fischer Gallery, Smith Andersen Editions, The Luggage Store, George Krevsky Gallery, B. Sakata Garo, and Triple Base Gallery among others.
Various art show announcements promoting Gonzalez’s work.
Ava Jancar has said of Gonzalez’s collage work: “Gonzalez’s collages elevate detritus to a more revered status, acknowledging not only its aesthetic worth but also its historical and social implications. Just as in the unfinished walls of Adobe Books, there is an inherent beauty in these scraps of boxes and notes and bills that would otherwise have been discarded or overlooked. The textural quality of a dirtied receipt, the yellow crispness of a newspaper snippet, the gleam of a turquoise sliver of cardboard — the combination of all such items is nice. However, the act of placing these bits of so-called trash in jagged compositions is nothing new. The works bring to mind, most obviously, those of Dada artist Kurt Schwitters, whose collages, like Gonzalez’s, were created from materials culled from the city streets and daily life. As a rule, Schwitters’s art was apolitical, although each of his pieces couldn’t help but become a miniature capsule that preserved history as time elapsed. Similarly, Gonzalez’s collages capture a moment in San Francisco’s arts and culture scene, pointing to the trend of rough, street-inspired art. Unlike Schwitters’s, his work does not lack a political edge, and as the exhibit’s title, “Let Her Make a Speech for Me,” suggests, these collages are likely Gonzalez’s latest expressions of his interests.” (SF Bay Guardian, 11/21/07).
Mark Van Proyen: “Now Gonzalez is back in the public eye, but not because of his political activities. Instead, he returns as a self-taught artist who makes intimate, witty and charming collage works, 25 of which are on view in this exhibition. The temptation to read these works as imaginary records of the process of a “picking up the pieces” that we might assume comes along with the retreat from public life is all but irresistible. But resist we shall, because these works are far too accomplished to be constrained by such a mono-dimensional reading. Although they tend to be quite small, they are quite sophisticated in their evocation of the collage works of the Beat era, as well as the more canonical precedents established by collage artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Robert Motherwell. Which is to say that most of the works are earmarked by their elegance and restraint, as well as their focused attention to the aesthetic subtleties of color and shape relationship.” (Art LTD/West Coast Art + Design, 07/07).
Hiya Swanhuyser: “Torn cardboard and witty phrases are threads that run through the visual art of Matt Gonzalez. Yes, that Matt Gonzalez, whose riveting life as a Green Party-er and near-swiper of the Mayor’s Office has just now given way to a new chapter. Some might say that repurposed recyclables and sharp observations were hallmarks of his shoestring mayoral campaign — it’s safe to say he’s good at getting things done using his giant brain and whatever else is at hand. But the Georges Braque-inspired collage work he presents in this eponymous exhibition proves that his visual skills are right up there with his political ones. The pieces are delicate and colorful paste-ups of common street trash Gonzalez picks up himself, and he gives them names like “With the Throat of a Silver Vale.” Columbian painter Omar Chacon exhibits as well.” (SF Weekly, 04/16/07).
Artist Gustavo Ramos Rivera & Matt Gonzalez, 2013. Photograph by Bobby Coleman.
Partial installation photo of Gonzalez’s Park Life show, 2013.
Paul Occam: “The work is composed of images and discarded packaging, the disambiguation of old meanings through minor resurrections of color, compositions and forays into textures and curiosity. … The pieces are a playful critique of modern society and throwaway culture. Gonzalez pays attention to ideas and things left in the margins, and rescues them from oblivion and unconsciousness in such a way as to show us the ghost of modern living that lurks outside our doors. Gonzalez goes further than Jorn and Debord when he appropriates the Situationist concept of the “Drift” — a deliberately poetic and uncalculated exploration of the city — and catalogues it by creating artifacts of experience, an archaeology of everyday life created from discarded images and messages that he juxtaposes into small works of art.” (Mission Local, 12/26/10).
Anthony Torres: “Rather than making overt political statements that directly address social issues, Gonzalez’s visual condensations seem to be concerned with engaging, stimulating ideas, and triggering associations from diverse histories through the multiple interpretations that reverberate in the works. Indeed, with this work he seems less concerned with affecting consciousness for social transformation, or creating a feeling of solidarity centered in sympathetic issue identification, or reinforcing ideologies that separate or demarcate art from politics in contemporary life, than with constructing objects that affirm the notion that art and everyday life are connected and open to multiple interpretations.
“Here, a simplistic separation and fragmentation of art from society, which tends to relegate politics in art to legible content and to reduce cultural politics to declarative messages that communicate to an already initiated sympathetic audience, is undermined in favor of recognizing that the construction of art is integrally related to the making of meaning through interpretive viewing — a politics of cultural representation that implicates the both the maker and the viewer in discursive entanglements connected to various histories and cultural discourses.
“These works are heir to avant-garde traditions centered in subverting hierarchies in the arts that were anchored in social divisions of labor and the compartmentalization of knowledge related to the rise of capitalism, which established a distinction between “high” and “low” cultural practices. These avant-garde strategies critically re-examined the visual conventions, traditions, premises, rules, concepts of order, canonic standards of beauty, and codes of art that had previously structured and constituted what is “art,” by re-signifying and blurring distinctions between media to formally render the nature and significance of the materials and the objects constructed as fluid.” (Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, 10/08).
2008 Campaign with Ralph Nader
In 2008 Ralph Nader decided to run for president and asked Gonzalez to be his running mate. Gonzalez saw himself as a stand-in for Peter Camejo who had run with Nader in 2004 but was now unavailable because he was fighting cancer a second time. Camejo specifically encouraged Nader to select Gonzalez who was one of the few elected officials in the nation to publically endorsed their ticket in 2004. Gonzalez agreed with the condition they not seek the Green Party Nomination. Nader was in accord. Both were supportive of Cynthia McKinney’s efforts to win the Green Party nomination and believed both campaigns could complement one another. The decision not to compete against McKinney for the Green Party nomination and to run as independents meant they could not rely on a preexisting party aparatus to gain ballot status.
Shortly after the announcement that Gonzalez would be Nader’s running mate, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said “Matt Gonzalez is a formidable person. He is incredibly articulate and extraordinarily bright. I am concerned that with former Supervisor Gonzalez getting in the race with Ralph Nader that the Nader ticket has now strengthened exponentially.” He went on to add “Don’t underestimate Matt Gonzalez. Don’t underestimate what he means to Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Don’t underestimate his ability to galvanize young voters.” (KRON Channel 4, 3/08)
Peter Camejo, Matt Gonzalez, & Ralph Nader, 2004. Photograph by Liz Ross.
Matt Gonzalez & Ralph Nader, c 2006. Photograph by Adam Aufdencamp.
Ralph Nader & Matt Gonzalez at the National Press Club, Washington D.C., 2008.
Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi, Matt Gonzalez, & Ralph Nader at the Peace and Freedom Party Convention, Sacramento, 2008.
The Nader/Gonzalez ticket obtained ballot status in 45 states, and write-in status in four of the five remaining states. This was more than Nader had in any previous election. Gonzalez registered “declined to state” to accommodate ballot requirements in states such as Idaho, Delaware, and Oregon that do not allow a party member to run as an Independent if their party has nominated other candidates for the same post they are seeking.
Gonzalez wrote prescient critiques of then-Democratic Party nominee Barak Obama that were widely circulated on the internet :
—The Obama Craze: Count Me Out, published in Beyond Chron, 02/27/08
—The Trail of Broken Promises, published in Counter Punch, 10/29/08
He also wrote a rebuttal to claims Nader had spoiled the 2000 presidential contest:
—What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander, published in SF Chronicle, 03/12/08
In California, the Nader/Gonzalez ticket won the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party (a self described feminist socialist party) thus gaining ballot access in California which had eluded the Nader/Camejo ticket in 2004.
On the eve of the election, 11/02/08, Gonzalez participated in a debate among the third-party candidates for vice-president, the first such debate of its kind, which took place in Nevada at UNLV sponsored by Free and Equal Elections. The debate moderator was journalist John Geluardi, then working for the San Francisco Weekly newspaper. The debate was streamed live on the internet.Wayne Allen Root the Libertarian Party running-mate of Bob Barr, and Darryl Castle the Constitution Party running-mate of Chuck Baldwin also participated.
Flyer for an event featuring Jello Biafra & Matt Gonzalez, 2008.
Campaign poster by Chuck Sperry, 2008.
Despite a near media blackout and exclusion from debates with the major party candidates the Nader/Gonzalez ticket won about 740,000 votes. However, understood in a broader context this amounted to less than one percent of the total votes cast. The ticket won no electoral votes and finished a very distant third place to the Obama and McCain campaigns, each garnering over 60 million votes.
Other vote totals included:
Nader/Gonzalez — 740,000 votes
Libertarian Party — 525,000 votes
Constitution Party — 200,000 votes
Green Party — 160,000 votes
After the election, Gonzalez returned to his practice at Gonzalez & Leigh LLP.
Chief Attorney, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
In Februrary 2011 it was reported that Gonzalez had left private practice to take a position as Chief Attorney of the SF Public Defender’s Office. In that role, Gonzalez would be second-in-command to elected public defender Jeff Adachi, a long-time friend and political ally.
Adachi has been credited with building one of the most impressive public law offices in the nation having won the American Bar Association’s national award for excellence in public defense. Adachi had been chief attorney when Gonzalez had left the office at the time of his election to the Board of Supervisors. In that capacity Gonzalez had been among Adachi’s strongest supporters in what would be a successful campaign for Public Defender in 2002 against the appointed-incumbent Kimiko Burton, daughter of State Senator John Burton.
Many speculated Gonzalez took the Chief Attorney position to better position Adachi to run for mayor, which he ultimately did in late 2011. Adachi countered that he was looking for an experienced lawyer he trusted who would command respect both among his staff and at city hall.
The office has over 100 attorneys and 80 support staff with a number of different units including: juvenile, mental health, felony, misdemeanor, investigations, paralegal, social work, and clerical units.
In 2012 Gonzalez was criticized for handling a civil matter while on paid vacation from his duties at the Public Defender’s Office. The case involved a lawsuit brought by his former law firm. The State Bar issued an ethics opinion finding no conflict of interest, because the matter involved a civil dispute. At the time Gonzalez accepted the position of Chief Attorney he had indicated that he might take a leave of absence to complete important cases he had worked on while at his former law firm. A news story published when Gonzalez assumed the Chief Attorney position noted: “His private firm, Gonzalez and Leigh, which focuses on both civil and criminal matters, “Will continue without me, though there are a couple cases I’ll keep an eye on, and may take a leave if and when they come to trial,” Gonzalez said.” (San Francisco Appeal, 2/22/11).
The case involved Cobra Solutions, a minority owned business, that had been wrongfully suspended from being able to bid on city information technology contracts. Of note: Gonzalez’s was not paid for his work on the case once he joined the Public Defender’s Office. In all, Gonzalez & Leigh had represented Cobra Solutions for nearly a decade and had successfully litigated pre-trial issues before the California Supreme Court. The lawsuit, which started as a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against Cobra Solutions by the City, ended with a 25K judgement against them which was reversed on appeal.
In February of 2012 the press reported that both Adachi and Gonzalez were personally handling murder cases: “While San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and his second-in-command Matt Gonzalez each appeared in court this week to handle murder cases, District Attorney George Gascon said today that he does not plan on personally trying a case any time soon. Speaking today to a roundtable of reporters, Gascon said his responsibilities are much different than those of Adachi or Gonzalez, the public defender’s chief attorney. Adachi is representing Rickey Leon Scott, a man accused of a fatal stabbing at a homeless shelter last week, while Gonzalez is representing Rodney Pool, a man accused of a killing at a residential hotel in the city earlier this month.” (SF Appeal, 02/16/12).
In October 2013 the press reported that Gonzalez had won an acquittal in what was alleged to be a gang-related murder. “After five days of deliberating, the jury decided that Carnell Taylor, 25, was not guilty of all charges, including murder, discharging a firearm into a car, possession of a firearm, as well as multiple gang enhancements. He was facing life in prison if convicted.” (SF Weekly, 10/04/13). Gonzalez was quoted saying “This was a tragic murder, but Mr. Taylor did not commit the crime.” (SF Chronicle, 10/04/13).
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate (aka Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez) case
In July 2015 the press reported that Gonzalez was the lead defense attorney for immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate (aka Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez) who was accused of shooting Kate Steinle on Pier 14, the popular tourist location in San Francisco. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the case to highlight his anti-immigrant policy positions and Fox TV show host Bill O’Reilly initiated efforts at stiffer penalties for immigrants who enter the country illegally. At the preliminary hearing the defense established that the shooting appeared to be an accidental ricochet: “The bullet in this case appears to have hit the concrete surface of the pier and traveled (a long) distance from where Mr. Lopez Sanchez was believed to be seated and where the victim was struck,” Gonzalez said outside court. “Candidly, I doubt an expert marksman could make that shot.” (SF Chronicle, 8/26/15)
Bob Egelko, of the San Francisco Chronicle, profiled Gonzalez as part of the paper’s coverage of the Lopez Sanchez/Garcia Zarate case, “Immigrant charged in slaying has strong defender in Matt Gonzalez”, SF Chronicle, 7/12/15.
The defense team wrote a number of editorials countering the portrayal of the Garcia Zarate case in the media:
Proposed Kate’s Law would not have saved Kate Steinle by Matt Gonzalez
No Sanctuary for Law-Breaking Feds by Matt Gonzalez
Don’t let Trump exploit an accident to foment hate by Francisco Ugarte
A gun’s history of accidental discharges by Matt Gonzalez
A ‘dangerous felon’ who was never convicted of a violent crime by Matt Gonzalez
On November 30, 2017, Jose Ines Garcia Karate was acquitted of all murder related charges, including Murder in the First Degree, Second Degree, and Involuntary Manslaughter. He was also acquitted of Assault with a Deadly Weapon. The jury only found Garcia Zarate guilty of gun possession.
Portrait of Matt Gonzalez by artist Paul Gibson, Mix water medium on Lennox paper, 48″ x 77″, 2015.
Matt Gonzalez and Ralph Nader at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, October 18, 2016. Photo by Stacey Lewis.
Gonzalez has two siblings. His sister Diana has worked as an assistant district attorney and appellate attorney in Galveston, Tx; and his brother Charles, who is trained as a lawyer, works as a musician and music producer in San Francisco.
Gonzalez was baptized in Reynosa, Mexico with his uncle and aunt Efrain & Argelia Martinez Rendon serving as godparents. During 1981-83 his uncle, a medical doctor, served as mayor of Reynosa, a border town with a population estimated at 1 million people.
In his youth, Gonzalez was a boy scout and attained the rank of Eagle Scout as did his brother Charles. Both were members of Troop 78 in McAllen Tx. Also, Gonzalez was president of his graduating high school class at McAllen Memorial H.S. in 1983 as was his brother 5 years later.
At the age of 18, before beginning his studies at Columbia University, Gonzalez took summer courses in the English Department at University of Texas, Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. His first college paper was on California poet Robinson Jeffers.
Gonzalez played in an indie rock band, John Heartfield, which was active during 1995 to 1999. The band’s original line-up included Whitney Leigh on guitar and vocals, Gonzalez on bass, and Keith Challberg on drums. Later the band added Liz Ross on rhythm guitar, and substituted Pat Spurgeon on drums (they performed as Hannah). One of the band’s songs Blue Moustache was used in the soundtrack of the movie Road Kill (1999) a film produced and starred in by Jennifer Rubin and directed by Matthew Leutwyler.
Gonzalez has curated a number of art exhibitions including: Paintings by Sacha Eckes, John Bovio, & Raha Raissnia at Adobe Books, January 25, 1997; Harry Bowden, American Modern at the Worth Ryder Gallery, UC Berkeley, September 25, 2013 (with John Zarobell); Welcome to the Left Coast (election themed exhibition), Luggage Store Gallery, May 13, 2016 (with Andres Guerrero); Verse Verse Chorus: New works by Tim Cohen & Chelsea Wong at Adobe Book Backroom Gallery, opening September 10, 2016; and Thrum Spectacle: Paintings by Rachel Dwan & Brad Bernhardt at a.Muse Gallery, opening January 14, 2017.
Poet Jack Hirschman and Swedish-Anglo poet Agneta Falk were married in the back yard of a house Gonzalez shared with Whitney Leigh in the Mission District of San Francisco, in 1999. Hirschman wore one of Leigh’s suits and poet David Meltzer performed the ceremony. Hirschman’s poem commemorating Gonzalez’s campaign for mayor, The Matt Gonzalez Arcane, was included in Hirschman’s 1,000 page book The Arcanes, published by Multimedia Edizioni in 2006. A poem written for Gonzalez after he ran for District Attorney, Likeunto, was included in Fists on Fire published by Sore Dove in 2003. Gonzalez narrates the 2010 documentary film Red Poet about the life of Jack Hirschman directed by Matthew Fury.
Jim Dorenkott, Matt Gonzalez, & Jack Hirschman, 2003.
National Book Award winner William T. Vollman quotes from an interview with Gonzalez in his book The Royal Family, published by Viking in 2000, in a chapter called An Essay on Bail. Novelist Alfredo Vea Jr., named a character in his book Gods Go Begging, published by Penguin in 2000, after Gonzalez. The character, named Matt Gonzalez, is a defense lawyer originally from South Texas.
From early 2000 through 2001, Gonzalez served as a board member of Intersection for the Arts, the oldest, independent, non-profit art and theater space in San Francisco. From 2012-2016 he served on the board of 509 Cultural Center & the Luggage Store Gallery.
Gonzalez taught “Evidence” at New College of California in 2000, “Art and Politics” at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2004, and “Government and Elections” at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2006. Recently he has lectured on “Evidence” at the Free University of San Francisco in 2011.
The founding of the Free University: Bobby Coleman, Diamond Dave, Steven Gray, Joe Donohue, Sarah Page, Matt Gonzalez, Alan Kaufman, Andrew Paul Nelson, & others, at Viracocha, December 19, 2010.
Inaugural poster by Chuck Sperry announcing the first course offerings of the Free University, 2011.
Gonzalez has published numerous interviews including one with Clash frontman Joe Strummer for Bang! magazine published in September 2001 and one with Mission School artist Barry McGee for a zine published by artist Sara Thustra in 2006. Gonzalez interviewed filmmaker Stanley Nelson about his film Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple which was published in the SF Bay Guardian, 04/04/06, and he also interviewed artist Andrew Schoultz in 2013 for a publication of the Mark Moore Gallery in Culver City, Andrew Schoultz: Statements, which coincided with Schoultz’s show Fall Out.
Joe Strummer, Matt Gonzalez, & Whitney Leigh, Murio’s Trophy Room, San Franicisco, 2001.
Gonzalez gave the 2003 commencement address at San Francisco Law School and the 2005 commencement address at New College of California Law School. In 2004 Gonzalez gave the Raven Lecture at UC Boalt Law School. The address “The American City: A Tool for Progressive Change in the 21st Century” was published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2005.
Gonzalez published My Green Manifesto, a playful listing of reasons to vote for the Green Party, in Comet Magazine, #4, in 2003. A broadside of the manifesto which Gonzalez says was written in the spirit of Christopher Logue and Jack Micheline, for his friends in the Maryland Green Party, was issued by Pino Trogu and Jack Stauffacher of the Greenwood Press in 2004.
Detail of My Green Manifesto, 2004.
In 2004 the California Mexican American Political Association awarded Gonzalez the Premio Bert Corona for his work advancing the rights of working people and immigrants.
Gonzalez was the sponsor in 2004 of the resolution that approved the placement of a bust to slain SF Supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall. It was installed in 2008 and remains the only tribute to an openly gay person in a government building in the United States.
In 2007 Gonzalez and political activist Van Jones were invited to speak before the Richmond City Council at Gayle McLaughlin’s inauguration as mayor of Richmond, California. In 2008 Gonzalez was invited to testify before the Los Angeles City Council as they considered an ordinance by council member Tony Cardenas to ban elephants at the LA. Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
In 2009 Gonzalez founded, along with Okla Elliott, an associate professor of English at Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (now an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania), and Jim Dorenkott, a Bay Area political activist, the progressive blog As It Ought To Be which features progressive critical essays and poetry.
An avid art collector, Gonzalez has gifted works from the 1950s by Mexican American artist Jose Ramon Lerma to both the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco. He donated a painting by Bay Area Figurative artist James Weeks to the Cantor Museum collection at Stanford University in 2010. He gifted a major early work by Andrew Schoultz to the Oakland Museum of California and works by Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Harry Bowden, and Lundy Siegriest to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. A painting of the poet Neeli Cherkovski by Jack Freeman was donated to the Beat Museum in 2016, and paintings by Jack Hirschman and Jack Micheline were donated in 2017.
James Weeks, Still-life with fruit and flowers, oil on canvas, c. 1958.
In September of 2010 Gonzalez spoke at a public rally, sponsored by the Campaign for Liberty, along with Congressman Ron Paul, Congressional candidate John Dennis, and former SF Supervisor Tony Hall.
John Dennis, Ron Paul, Tony Hall, & Matt Gonzalez, 2010. Photograph by Luke Thomas.
Socialist Workers Party 1976 presidential candidate Peter Camejo includes an entire chapter about Gonzalez’s campaign for mayor in his memoir, North Star: A Memoir, published by Haymarket Books in 2010.
Since 2011 Gonzalez and his business partner Hansu Kim are majority owners in DeSoto Cab Company (also known as Flywheel Taxi) in San Francisco. Kim, a former professional bicycle racer, is president of the company. Gonzalez is not involved in the day to day operations of the company. (SF Weekly, 02/18/11).
In 2011, poet Micah Ballard published ten poems written by Gonzalez between 1992 and 2004, The Violet Suitcase, under the imprint Lew Editions.
The Violet Suitcase published by Lew Editions, 2011.
Gonzalez has read his own poetry on five occasions: 1) a.Muse Gallery, May 26, 2011, with Micah Ballard, Patrick Dunnagan, Christina Fisher, Erik Noonan, Cedar Sigo, and Sunnylyn Thibodeaux; 2) Adobe Bookshop, June 4, 2013, with Justin Davis, David Highsmith, Erik Noonan and Julien Poirier; 3) Green Apple Books, March 18, 2014, with Erik Noonan and Justin Davis; 4) Bazaar Cafe, April 8, 2015, with Leah Candelaria-Tyler; 5) Dolby Chadwick Gallery, December 12, 2015, with Devorah Major, Bill Berkson, Tamsin Smith, Peter Coyote, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Jack Hirschman, Charlie Pendergast, Renny Pritikin, and Truong Tran.
Flyer for the Adobe Bookshop poetry reading, 2013.
Flyer for Bazar Cafe reading, 2015.
Gonzalez serves on the National Advisory Board of Restore Hetch Hetchy and the Advisory Board of the Beat Museum in San Francisco.
In 2016 Gonzalez introduced Ralph Nader at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco to celebrate the publication of Nader’s book Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think. It marked their first joint appearance since the 2008 presidential election. You can hear the event here.
In 2018, Francisco Ugarte and Matt Gonzalez were named “Defender of the Year” by the California Public Defenders Association for their work on the Jose Ines Garcia Zarate case.
Matt Gonzalez, 2015. Associated Press photo by Tony Avelar.
–MG, FS, & PG (updated 12/17)