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'The Better You Are and the More Wins You Have, the More of a Target You Become'

Eighteen years after his 50th birthday party scandalized the city, Jack Davis, the notorious political operative has aged and mellowed. Or so he says.

Jack Davis

Jack Davis 

 

This is "Think Tank," an occasional  series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Name: Jack Davis
Job: Political consultant
Age: 68
Residence: Inner Mission

San Francisco: As one of the public faces of the Mission Bay Alliance, the deep-pocketed group opposing the Warriors arena, you saw fit to call Ron Conway “a bag of crap.”
Jack Davis: I don’t even remember saying “a bag of crap.” But if they say I said it, I’m not disputing it.

Tell us how you really feel.
It seems to me Ron Conway is a guy with a lot of money who has come on the [political] scene relatively recently. And has used his money to think that he is Mr. San Francisco, and the clear force behind every civic thing that goes on. And you know, I find him, in the role that he’s playing, objectionable. He’s the kind of guy who sits in the front row of every mayoral address as the cheerleader. And I guess he’s playing that role for the Warriors. Maybe he ought to get a cheerleader’s outfit. You know, a little skirt and some pom-poms. And throw out cash.

You’ve been involved in city politics for the better part of 40 years. Is Conway’s shtick a new thing? And how have things changed for you?
You know, there have been people in the past who gave a lot of money, like Walter Shorenstein. But he was very discreet about it. He was a longtime player in San Francisco. Conway, I don’t know where he came from. But, all of a sudden, here he is. My first campaign was for [Sheriff] Michael Hennessey in ’79. I think that back in those days, people got into the business of running political campaigns not to make money but to change the world. And people today, I think, who are in this business are in it to make money.

You didn’t want to make money?
I’ve never worried about money. And the more I didn’t worry, the more money I made. But I never did a campaign for money. I did it with the belief that the candidate was good for the office. Well, probably with the exception of Frank Jordan’s campaign. That was retribution.

Against Art Agnos?
That’s correct. Art Agnos is the consummate bully. My father always said, “Don’t get mad. Get even.”

You were quite the hard-ass.
Oh, I’ve mellowed immensely. I’ve been HIV-positive since 1984. I lived through a period of time when all my friends and associates died of AIDS. I lived thinking that I had a live grenade inside of me that was going to go off. Many people thought that I became more driven and perhaps harsher and blamed it on the fact that I thought I was going to die. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. I think the reality of it is, the better you are and the more wins you have, the more of a target you become for people.

Every politician of note was at your 50th birthday party, in 1997. The stories—the man having a pentagram bloodily carved into his back; the dominatrix peeing on him; the man being sodomized with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s—is that all true?
Yeah. I tell ya, people still come up to me and tell me it was the best party they ever went to. There were three bands. There was the bar from Star Wars, there were male and female dancers. Talk about out of control—the amount of alcohol consumed at that party! Cases and cases. And kegs. I mean, it was a $50,000 party! If the blood- and-urine thing hadn’t happened, it would have been a top-shelf event.

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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