|39th Mayor of San Francisco|
January 8, 1988 – January 7, 1992
|Preceded by||Dianne Feinstein|
|Succeeded by||Frank Jordan|
September 1, 1938 |
Arthur (Art) Christ Agnos (born September 1, 1938) is an American politician. He served as the 39th mayor of San Francisco, California from 1988 to 1992, and the Regional Head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993–2001.
Agnos was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College and a Master of Social Work from Florida State University. He moved to San Francisco in 1966 and went to work at the San Francisco Housing Authority as a social worker with senior populations. At that time, San Francisco’s senior housing was being built as high-rises that many believed left seniors disconnected from the community. Agnos learned through his involvement in challenging this policy that political decisions can shape the environment for poor and vulnerable people.
On December 13, 1973, Agnos, who was then a member of the California Commission on Aging, was attending a meeting in the largely black public housing project on Potrero Hill in San Francisco to discuss building a government-funded health clinic in the area. After the meeting broke up, he was shot twice at point blank range by a black man; Agnos became one of two victims shot that day in a series of killings called the Zebra murders. It was perhaps the first cases of urban terrorism in the United States, with random shootings in San Francisco resulting in 16 murders and eight to ten wounded in waves of attacks in 1973 and 1974 by a more militant offshoot of the Nation of Islam in which points were earned by killing a white person. Agnos was one of the few who survived that day; the other victim, Marietta DiGirolamo, died.
Early political career
Agnos was asked by California State Assemblyman Leo McCarthy to join his staff in January 1968. McCarthy was elected Speaker of the Assembly in 1974 and Agnos became his Chief of Staff. During this period, Agnos helped obtain the first-ever California state funding for community-based mental-health services serving the lesbian and gay community, helped pass nursing-home reform, and worked for preservation of farm land.
In 1976, Agnos was elected in his own right to the California State Assembly, defeating Harvey Milk in the Democratic primary in a district covering the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco. He served as the Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and as chair of the health subcommittee of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Agnos also served as co-chair of the Joint Committee on South East Asian Refugees.
Agnos authored legislation that received national attention for innovative approaches to challenges in health care, welfare and civil rights, among other areas. He authored California’s model welfare reform, GAIN, that matched work requirements with funding for job training, education, and child care. Agnos also authored much of California’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, working directly with President Reagan’s Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, M.D., and the President of the National Academy of Sciences, David Baltimore,M.D. Although Agnos arranged for the nation’s first Joint Legislative Session on the AIDS/HIV Epidemic with Dr. Koop and Dr. Baltimore, the comprehensive approach to the epidemic failed to muster a majority of votes when the Governor failed to support the measure.
Since then, nearly all aspects of Agnos' proposals have become law and policy in California. Agnos also authored laws that provide support for family caregivers, fair child-support payments with a calculation that remains known as the Agnos calculator, safeguards against brain damage in the boxing ring, and legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mayor of San Francisco
In 1987, Agnos ran for mayor to replace Dianne Feinstein, who was term-limited. Agnos came from behind to defeat Supervisor John Molinari, garnering 70 percent of the vote. Agnos' "abrasive personality, mismanagement at City Hall, a surge in the homeless population and San Francisco's economic decline" led to his resounding defeat by Frank Jordan in 1991.
Agnos is best known for his failed attempt after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to try and move the Embarcadero Freeway underground. A narrow 6-5 vote at the city's Board of Supervisors paved the way to tear-down the double decker freeway, which led to the start of a decades long effort to open up the San Francisco waterfront into what is widely considered one of the best outcomes from the earthquake. However, Agnos failed to address concerns of the city's Chinatown merchants and voters, despite the role they played supporting his mayoral campaign in 1987. In 1991, Chinatown played a significant role in his failure to win re-election.
In recent years, Agnos’ decision has been looked to by city leaders and elected officials in Seattle and Toronto, Canada, where Agnos’ Embarcadero result is considered a potential model for replacing elevated freeways in urban areas. Under Agnos, the waterfront transit system gained an uninterrupted streetcar line with historic trolley cars running from Fisherman’s Wharf in the north to Mission Bay in the south. Agnos added to the waterfront by laying plans for the city’s first public access pier, Pier 7, to allow pedestrians to walk out into the Bay. Today San Francisco has dedicated a new public pier, Pier 14, to honor Agnos for his leadership in opening the city’s waterfront.
Agnos' San Francisco struggled with homelessness, a challenge that faced a number of cities in the late 1980s. Agnos convened a task force of providers, homeless advocates, city agency representatives and others to develop an approach that hoped to end the reliance on overnight shelters in favor of programs to help homeless individuals and families become self-reliant. The plan, Beyond Shelter, won national recognition and awards.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 low-rent housing units, including units housing those recovering from homelessness. Agnos championed changes in earthquake recovery programs from the federal and state government and from the Red Cross that provided funds to build new facilities and housing to implement the Beyond Shelter program and to restore arts programs and facilities. In 1993, the results were named a Finalist in the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.
During the nine months that it took to renovate and open the Beyond Shelter multiservice centers, Agnos allowed homeless individuals to camp in the park in front of City Hall, saying that the alternative was to drive them into neighborhoods and that, as long as they were in front of City Hall, city leaders would be confronted daily with the urgency of the crisis. Critics dubbed the result “Camp Agnos,” and called on him to use police force to remove them, which Agnos refused to do.
Agnos remained committed to a program of expanding affordable, low-cost housing in San Francisco. The city increased funding to repair and rehabilitate public housing by 300 percent, changing the vacancy rate from ten percent to one percent. He increased other affordable housing production from 342 units when he took office to 2,240 units, winning San Francisco’s first national recognition from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Excellence in Rental Rehabilitation and a Special Achievement Award.
Agnos’ liberalism also ran counter to other conservative interests. As mayor, Agnos and his family became the first to ride in the Lesbian Gay Freedom Day Parade, appointed minorities, lesbians and gays to high city posts, and ended the city’s opposition to a court-ordered consent decree to hire and promote minorities and women in the fire department which a federal judge opined was “out of control” due to racism when Agnos took office. Agnos ended a police department policy seen as permitting spying on local political organizations and ended the Department’s Tactical Squad that critics blamed for abusing citizens. Agnos also strengthened civilian oversight of the Police Department.
Agnos signed a law establishing domestic partner recognition for lesbian and gay couples that had been vetoed by his predecessor, which then became a target of repeal efforts. In 1989, voters narrowly repealed domestic partner recognition. Agnos moved forward with a Family Policy Task Force that recommended broad changes to San Francisco policy and law, including health insurance for domestic partners of city workers. In 1991, the city formally adopted domestic partner health insurance rights for the city’s 20,000 employees, the largest employer to do so at that time. Also in 1991, San Francisco voters approved a new domestic partners recognition law for the city.
Agnos served as Chair of the US Conference of Mayors AIDS Task Force, where he organized the lobbying effort that resulted in passage of the Ryan White Care bill. He implemented the policies he advocated as a state legislator, including a 98 percent increase in the city’s AIDS budget. He created the Mayors Task Force on the AIDS/HIV Epidemic staffed by Dr. Don Francis, a national leader on AIDS/HIV and credited with leading the effort to eradicate smallpox worldwide.
During his tenure, Agnos also undertook major improvements to the city’s infrastructure. As first lady of San Francisco, Agnos’ wife Sherry co-chaired the bond campaigns for public school renovations and a new Main Library at Civic Center, and Agnos designated that the existing Main Library become the new home for the Asian Art Museum that had been located in Golden Gate Park. In 1990, Sherry Agnos also raised funds and oversaw the construction of the $2 million Jelani House that has become a most successful drug rehabilitation facility for pregnant addicted women. Agnos ended the nation’s longest stalled public works project at Yerba Buena to develop a cultural hub that includes the Museum of Modern Art, Yerba Buena Center and Yerba Buena Gardens. Agnos also proposed a waterfront site for a new San Francisco Giants ballpark, but the proposal narrowly lost in November 1989 weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake absorbed public attention. Later the Giants ballpark was sited at the location Agnos designated and built to the same overall design by the architects and developers he selected originally.
During the Clinton administration, Agnos served as Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii. Agnos also served as Acting FHA Commissioner and Acting Assistant Secretary for Housing, as well as Director of the Special Actions Office.
Agnos led HUD’s effort to uplift San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley, blighted by twin 20-story high-rises supported by HUD and which were unsafe for the residents and the community. Agnos created a partnership with the city, the residents, local community leaders, and HUD that led to the demolishing of Geneva Towers in 1998 and a new resident-led housing development of townhouses and apartments.
Agnos also crafted a HUD partnership for teacher housing in San Francisco and communities with excess land set aside for schools. Under the program, HUD financing supported construction and rental assistance for housing dedicated for teachers. San Jose, California has a similar program now in effect.
Agnos worked with city leaders throughout the region to create the first funding for homeless coordination between neighboring cities to address concerns that services were not well matched with those in need.
Agnos also led an effort to combat predatory lending aimed at minority homeowners and to repeal “racial covenants” barring non-whites from living or staying overnight in many California communities.
Agnos worked with his mentor former California Assembly Speaker and Lt. Governor Leo T. McCarthy to establish the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. He has frequently been called upon by the US State Department, the National Democratic Institute, the Asia Foundation and other international bodies to provide leadership development on democracy building, including in the Russian Far East, the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Angola, Korea, and as one of the first official to arrive in Bethlehem to offer disaster assistance after the Palestinian-Israeli army siege of the Church of the Nativity ended on May 10, 2002. He also is frequently sought as a speaker on disaster preparedness and recovery.
In 2007, Agnos was appointed as receiver for the troubled San Francisco Housing Authority. The Housing Authority sued to block the court order, and the matter went before the California Court of Appeals. The city still failed to act for two years, while appealing Agnos' appointment. By April 2009, the SF Chronicle reported that continued inaction while Agnos' appointment remained in court "seemed to jolt City Hall into action. Agnos never took control of the agency; instead, Fortner resigned under pressure from Newsom, who appointed Mirian Saez, director of operations at Treasure Island, to run the agency on an interim basis before hiring Alvarez. Under Saez and then Alvarez, the agency sold off properties to satisfy the judgments."
Agnos' most recent projects also include advising the founders of Open House, the first senior housing planned for elderly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in San Francisco as well as a project working with young families seeking to improve neighborhood schools in their neighborhood of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. And he has worked as a consultant with Minnesota-based Cargill and Arizona-based DMB Associates on their controversial plan to develop a bay salt pond in Redwood City.
- Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1985, "Liberals Provided Key; California's Workfare; Compromise All Around"
- LA Times, March 4, 1987, “A Chance to Move Quickly”
- San Diego Union, March 14, 1984, “Veto of Gay Job Rights Bill Brings Criticism, Praise.”
- "L.A. Times, December 11, 1991, "Jordan Defeats Agnos in S.F. Mayor's Race"".
- "Removing Freeways - Restoring Cities, Embarcadero Freeway".
- KIRO Channel 7 Eyewitness News, February 28, 2007 “Elevated Waterfront Freeway Torn Down; Example for Seattle?”
- San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 2004, 15 Seconds that Changed the World"
- Beyondchron.org, June 16, 2006, “New Public Pier Dedicated to Former Mayor Art Agnos”
- New York Times, July 19, 1990, “SF Homeless Shelter Spartan but Hospitable”
- San Francisco Chronicle, February 7, 1990, “Agnos Assails Suit Opposing Black Fireman”
- Associated Press, June 5, 1989, “San Francisco Mayor Signs Domestic Partner Bill”
- San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1991, “Domestic Partners Policy Cost"
- San Francisco Chronicle, March 14, 1990, “Agnos to Head AIDS Panel”
- San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 1989, “S.F. Civic Leaders Picked for Agnos AIDS Panel”
- San Francisco Chronicle, October 21, 1991, “Yerba Buena Gardens”
- San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 2007, “Housing Agency to Challenge Appointment of Agnos.”
- San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2009, "Housing Authority Pays Off $3.2 Million."
- Potrero Residents Education Fund website.
- Bay Citizen, June 2, 2010, "Showdown on the Salt Flats"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Art Agnos.|
- Art Agnos Website, Art Agnos Website
|Mayor of San Francisco