Raucous vets forum

Of The Examiner Staff

    If it wasn't for Jim Reid's dozen volunteers in bright colored t-shirts, Supervisor Gavin Newsom might have stolen the show Tuesday night at the Swords to Plowshares mayoral forum.

    Newsom didn't show at the event, begging pre-scheduled house parties. In fact, at the forum's 6:30 p.m. start, three of the biggest candidates -- Newsom, Angela Alioto and Supervisor Tom Ammiano were nowhere to be seen.

    The more than 120 assembled veterans, mostly middle-aged men, booed loudly as MC Johnny Baskerville announced that after several weeks of trying to get Newsom on board, his campaign had declined. Baskerville then pinned up a photo of Newsom above his empty chair.

    Without the mayoral frontrunner, the crown still had plenty to cheer for as Treasurer Susan Leal, builder Reid, educator Tony Ribera and businessman Michael Denny vied for their support. Ammiano, straight from a board meeting, and Alioto showed in time to tack on opening remarks.

    Promises to support housing for homeless vets at the former military sites on Treasure Island and Hunters Point - and attacks on Newsom -- drew the largest cheers.

    Reid, with a group of volunteers, got props from Alioto and Denny for his "Shelter One" proposal to house worthy homeless individuals in tiny, cheap homes. Ribera called up his Vietnam War service, and Ammiano his time teaching high school to the Vietnamese in the same time period.

    In an aside, Leal campaign manager Tony Winnicker said that Leal has many public events the conflict with house parties, but asks her hosts if they can delay until later in the night. Indeed, the sun shone strong throughout the forum.

    Alioto positioned herself as a champion for veterans who would get rid of the shelter system and take them to Washington to lobby for more federal funding for local programs.

    "We shall often go to D.C," and remind lawmakers that "our veterans are our troops," Alioto said.

    Ribera promised to turn the El Capitan Hotel into full-service housing for veterans, to some applause.

    Reid pledged to teach the homeless how to do plumbing, electrical and sheetrock to get jobs and build their own homes, calling for an effort like the housing of survivors following the 1906 quake.

    "We haven't burned to the ground," Reid said. "But we have no money."

    He criticized Newsom's Care Not Cash homeless plan, like the rest of the candidates emphasizing that services and housing are not adequate and long shelter stays are intolerable.

    Ammiano and Leal pledged to support a new affordable housing bond.

    Alioto jumped on straw man Newsom like a horse at the feeding trough, chewing on him as preying on the poor for political gain with the November ballot measure, Prop. N, which would replace cash grants with services for the homeless.

    "He didn't give a damn about the poor," Alioto said. "There never was care to Care Not Cash."

    Newsom volunteer T.J. Anthony, a former homeless vet who came to hand out literature, said Alioto's speech made him sick.

    Talking to a reporter outside the event at the Veterans Building, Anthony said the candidates failed to talk about addiction among the homeless population.

    "These guys are clean and sober," he said, referring to the audience inside.