|Though he received several endorsements from San Francisco's liberal political establishment, Quintin Mecke '95 was not able to overcome the popular incumbent mayor, Gavin Newsom.
Thirty-four-year-old Quintin Mecke ’95 has a passion for compassion.
He is an advocate for the homeless, for greater public safety, especially in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods that have little political clout, and for creating and sustaining affordable housing. His adopted hometown, San Francisco, is one of the wealthiest—but increasingly class-divided—cities in the country.
In this bastion of progressivism, few would disagree with his sentiments in the abstract. But for Mecke, who inspects homeless shelters as a member of the Shelter Monitoring Network and who, in his day job, is program director for the Safety Network Partnership (which addresses crime in the city’s neighborhoods), San Francisco is failing on a practical level to address serious social lapses and to live up to its lofty ideals.
“There is a certain complacency among those who are doing well here,” says Mecke. “But we need to break through this and have a public conversation about the realities. Many of the shelters are a disgrace—they lack basics such as beds, soap and toilet paper. The city is unaffordable for families—even I can’t afford to buy a home here. And, tragically, a wave of homicides is hitting the city, especially in poorer neighborhoods.”
Mecke, described by a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors as having a “quiet intensity,” deliberately provokes a sense of empathy in those who may feel removed from the problems on the street. “Through my work inspecting homeless shelters ... I have met veterans from Iraq, victims of [Hurricane] Katrina, senior citizens, and people who have lost housing due to skyrocketing medical costs. Experiencing homelessness could happen to any of us.”
Mecke should know: He has been down-and-out and homeless, and those life-changing experiences fuel the passion of the Dickinson religion major who spent two years in the desert in Niger as part of the Peace Corps.
“Several years ago I had a severe mountain-climbing accident,” says Mecke. “I had no health insurance and could not get any public assistance to help during the long recovery period. My mother had to take out a second mortgage on her home to sustain me and it took eight years to pay off those debts. More recently, my apartment burned down as the result of a roofing accident, and I faced the streets. Luckily, I finally found somewhere to go.”
During his 10 years in San Francisco, Mecke has fought to advance the issues so close to his heart, working with local officials on detailed proposals to address the problems and even challenging Mayor Gavin Newsom and the city administration in direct public forums.
Earlier this year, several progressive office-holders, most of them longtime friends and allies of Mecke, considered running against the incumbent—who barely won in the last election even though he spent heavily—to provide an alternative to what they see as an entrenched and corporate-dominated City Hall. One by one, however, they passed on running against the well-funded Newsom.
“I’ve never really been a political person and don’t think the political process is the best avenue for social change,” notes Mecke. “But someone has to stand up and educate the public about what’s happening. There are times in life when you take a stand—no matter what the odds—and just do what’s right.”
When the August filing deadline for the Nov. 6 mayoral election finally neared, Mecke reluctantly entered the race, telling the media and voters, “I’m not here to make it a protest candidacy. I’m not here to make it me against Gavin. I’m actually here to have a substantive conversation about the issues facing San Francisco.”
With that, Mecke took on the all-too-familiar duties of being a political candidate, ranging from speaking at numerous forums on his policy proposals to having to endure the well-known wackiness of a mayoral election that has attracted a host of colorful characters, including a clown, a nudist activist and a few bloggers.
And the longshot odds—which he couldn’t overcome—didn’t brother him. His candidacy won, because his social-justice agenda got airtime and more support.
The campaign also gave Mecke an emotional experience he had not expected. “As a candidate, no one can tell me what to say. Being able to run a campaign based on principle and not expediency is exhilarating. Whether I ever run for public office again, I know that for at least one moment in my life I spoke the truth without fear or apology.”