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    Mark Leno on COVID-19, the Recall, and Kamala

    Credit: Will Zang

    By Robert Holgate and Jennifer Kroot–

    After months and months of sheltering in place, we wanted to begin 2021 with a fresh perspective, so we had a good, old fashioned, socially-distant phone call with our friend, former California State Senator Mark Leno. Mark’s outlook is always broad and thoughtful—just the remedy! 

    We asked him how he’s dealing with the lockdown. Mark describes his time at home as reflective. “The power of gratitude has served me well,” he told us for the San Francisco Bay Times. “There’s a Hebrew prayer I like to recite, ‘Blessed are you, creator of the universe, who has provided to me all of my needs.’ It reminds me, no, I’m not lacking anything. I have a roof over my head, safety, provisions, even an internet connection, basic stuff that not everyone has.” 

    Mark finds solace with his two sisters. He said, “We’re each other’s best friends and there’s a lot of casual communication throughout the day, sharing positive experiences and good fortune with each other.”

    Though Mark is grateful to be healthy and “connected” with family and friends, running his business, Budget Signs, has been challenging. “Like many small businesses,” Mark explained, “we’re barely hanging on. I’m very committed to our staff, and we’re getting as creative as possible. We make signs for a wide variety of business sectors, but the bottom is falling out from many of them.”

    Despite his business concerns, Mark assists local nonprofits with fundraising. He said, “With so much need and suffering, I do what I can. I’m a big fan of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, and Project Open Hand.”

    Mark’s political career grew out of his fundraising work during the AIDS crisis, and he prioritizes nonprofits that support people living with HIV and AIDS, including Shanti, the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, and the Positive Resource Center. Mark’s partner, Douglas Jackson, died in 1990 from complications related to AIDS. 

    Mark noted a similarity between the pandemic and the AIDS crisis: “In both cases, we were ignored by the federal government.” Sharply critical of Trump’s hesitance to promote mask wearing, he asserted, “We know for a fact that thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people died unnecessarily because of his willful ignorance and avoidance of the crisis.” 

    “But one person in the federal government does care, Dr. Anthony Fauci,” affirmed Mark. Fauci received criticism from the LGBTQ community during the early days of AIDS, but learned from it.

    “Because of Fauci’s open mind and heart,” Mark reflected, “he came around to understand our community’s experience. He really changed the way medical research was conducted at the federal level. He became our champion after initially offending people.”

    Mark finds comfort in Fauci’s efforts to lead by example, “He didn’t spend the holidays with his adult daughters for the first time in a quarter century because it was too risky. I’m not going to do anything that he’s not going to do.” 

    Mark also lauds the consistent messaging of Governor Newsom, but is troubled by the recall attempt. The French Laundry dinner was poor form, Mark agrees, but it is no reason to recall Newsom.

    “We Democratic voters need to pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “When Newsom was one year into his term, after having won in a landslide, and prior to COVID, there were multiple recall efforts, purely political, nothing to do with anything that he did or didn’t do.” 

    Mark emphatically explained the motive. “California has the fifth largest economy in the world, so any California governor has a presence in national politics. If Republicans can kneecap our Democratic governor, that’s one fewer potential national opponent they’ll have to face.”

    We ended our conversation on an uplifting note. Like 90% of San Franciscans, Mark is eagerly anticipating January 20th—but not just to see Trump’s exit. He’s thrilled to see his longtime friend Kamala Harris make history. He met Harris in 1995, before he was a San Francisco Supervisor and while she was an Assistant District Attorney. He joyfully recalled, “I was just dazzled when I met her.”

    He has been impressed with Harris’ career ever since, and listed her many firsts: “San Francisco had never had anything but straight, white male district attorneys, and California had never had anything but straight, white male attorney generals—and now the same can be said for vice president.”

    “Kamala has great intellect, a great heart, and a great, personal life experience that will serve the moment extraordinarily well,” Mark continued. “Certainly, coming off of what we’ve had to endure the past four years, it’s going to be a breath of fresh air.”

    Jennifer Kroot is a filmmaker, known for her award-winning LGBTQ themed documentaries, including “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and “To Be Takei.” She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has also taught. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    A humanitarian, as well as a designer, Robert Holgate is dedicated to critical social issues. With his hands-on approach to philanthropy and social justice, he supports the advancement of local and national social causes. For more information:

    Published on January 14, 2021