Steve Zeltzer: District 9’s Labor Candidate

by Lorraine Sanders on June 30, 2004

Everywhere he looks, Steve Zeltzer sees big problems with big business. There’s the 15-year battle against Home Depot moving into the city. And then there’s Comcast’s monopoly on city cable services. Small businesses face impossibly high rents while public spaces like parks and libraries face privatization. If corporate interests keep winning at City Hall, as Zeltzer says they have time and time again, then San Francisco’s working residents stand to lose big in the coming years.

“I think what we need in this city is a working class political party. Small business in San Francisco is being driven out. There’s a lot of greed,” Zeltzer said.

A San Francisco native and dedicated labor activist, Zeltzer’s campaign focuses on the needs of the working man. During his 40 years as a Bernal Heights resident, Zeltzer has concentrated on labor issues and freedom of speech. Since 1983, Zeltzer has hosted the bi-weekly Channel 29 community access program Labor on the Job. He staunchly supports the public right to community access channels, access he says San Francisco residents are not getting.

“Community access was promised to the people as freedom of speech,” he said. At present, Zeltzer said, residents have few options for live community programming, and The City has refused to stream community access content on the Internet. In his campaign, Zeltzer calls for a public media center to help train youth in broadcasting and web development.

In addition to his interest in open media, Zeltzer wants labor to take a front seat in the public issues arena. In his fight for labor awareness, Zeltzer helped found the annual San Francisco Labor Fest (July 5-31, 2004), now in its 11th year, a month-long celebration commemorating the 1934 San Francisco General Strike and drawing attention to the city’s contemporary labor issues.

If elected, Zeltzer plans to fight closure of city medical clinics and hospital emergency rooms, establish a Labor Commission to monitor work conditions, introduce rent control for small businesses, oppose privatization and contracting out of city resources, support a single payer health insurance system, implement a transit tax on downtown businesses and impose a war profiteers tax on companies profiting from the war in Iraq. These changes would better secure the health and safety of the city’s working class while forcing large businesses to pay more for the city’s transportation and social services.

Until now, Zeltzer said, City Hall has repeatedly sided with corporate giants. Take, for example, Comcast’s stronghold over the city’s cable market. Under the Comcast monopoly, residents pay high rates for cable service and cannot choose channels, like Sundance, that Comcast does not own. Public control of local cable would give residents more options, lower rates and keep service fees within the local economy. And although incumbent District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano has publicly stated his support for community-owned cable, Zeltzer says his actions tell a different story.

“Ammiano plays a game. He says he’s for public control of cable, but when it comes time for a commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission, he voted for a Viacom V.P.,” Zeltzer said. Viacom and Comcast have been affiliated companies since 2003.

In addition to fighting media monopolies, Zeltzer opposes what he sees as a general lack of attention from the local government to work-related incidents and issues. In Zeltzer’s estimation, the layoffs at The City Assessors Office should never have happened. Workers at the San Francisco General Hospital should be able to strike without fear of losing their jobs. Local government should express its outrage at the multiple reports of race-related harassment at the San Francisco Sewage Treatment Plant. The North Beach gallery owner who recently closed her doors after being attacked for showing one controversial painting should have received more support from the Board of Supervisors.

“Where are all of the supervisors, not just Tom? Where were they?” Zeltzer asked regarding the above-listed incidents.

To combat these problems and lend residents the support they need, Zeltzer advocates regular district meetings in neighborhoods, an elected Human Rights Commission, the right to strike for all workers and increased funds for hospitals and schools through higher taxes levied on profitable, often under-assessed downtown properties.

Rather than focusing on issues specific to District 9 residents, Zeltzer’s campaign has a broader focus. His campaign literature advocates local improvements like the addition of a 30th Street BART station, and he says day laborers should have a sheltered place to congregate instead of facing the elements on Cesar Chavez. But, for the most part, Zeltzer sees both District 9 and citywide issues as part of larger, national problems. For example, Zeltzer views San Francisco’s rising immigrant population as the result of the U.S.’s unfair foreign policy decisions.

“Many immigrants have been forced to come to this country because of U.S. intervention in their own country. And then the immigrants get blamed,” he said.

Turning voter attention to labor-related issues could help address immigrant needs, as well as those of all working families, regardless of their country of origin. And, co-opted by big business, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to pay attention to workers’ rights anytime soon, Zeltzer said.

“The whole country’s being privatized. It’s a rigged market. Ideologically, I’m against corporate America running America. And Democrats and Republicans basically support the corporate control of America,” he said.

As his campaign continues, Zeltzer hopes to forge his own path based on labor issues and community control of city resources.

“People are disillusioned by the political process and I’m going to provide some kind of alternative,” Zeltzer said.

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