Mike DeNunzio wants to meet at "the shrine." You know where that is, don't you, Debra?
Well, no, actually. I have no idea which North Beach shrine he means.
It turns out that DeNunzio wants to meet at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, in a church built in 1849 at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Vallejo Street. In the back of the church, there is a relic of St. Francis.
DeNunzio is excited that a replica of St. Francis' porziuncola in Assisi (a tiny chapel erected near Assisi, where the Franciscan movement started) will open in September, when it will be blessed by Cardinal William J. Levada. And that the shrine is in San Francisco's District 3 -- the district that DeNunzio is campaigning to represent. As a Republican running for office in San Francisco, his faith may come in handy.
The incumbent, Aaron Peskin, is being term-limited out of office. DeNunzio is one of 12 San Franciscans running to replace the Napoleon of North Beach, and the only known Republican.
Why is he running?
"I'm not going to sit by and be a bystander," DeNunzio told me over coffee last week. For years, DeNunzio has been a staple at political events in the city. Now, as a candidate, he's planning to attend the district debates and challenge the left-leaning orthodoxy, and the sort of zany, busybody, only-in-San Francisco ordinances that cause out-of-staters to cackle and drive many San Franciscans nuts.
He has two maxims: "Make your laws with humility." And: "Government has a role, but it has limitations." That means: Enough with the laws on plastic bags and new places to ban smoking. If elected, he would concentrate on meat-and-potato issues, like bringing fiscal sanity to the city budget.
"We've had eight years of progressives (on the board of supervisors)," he said. "Maybe we now need someone who can count."
As for the school board's vote to get rid of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp in 2009, as a former personnel specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves, DeNunzio does not approve. And wouldn't it be nice to have an elected conservative, who knows how to get on television and radio, to show the world the side of San Francisco that recognizes the city's military heritage?
"That's not who we are," DeNunzio said of San Francisco and the effort to ban high-school JROTC. DeNunzio is not the stereotypical face of the GOP. When he was chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, he was in the Gay Pride Parade. "I wasn't happy about being in a parade with people running around half naked," DeNunzio confessed, "but I believe in the Big Tent." And that the GOP should be "a party that welcomes everybody."
In that spirit and in recognition of the GOP's historic ties with the African-American community, DeNunzio made the SFGOP a presence at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.
As a member of Mayor Gavin Newsom's 10-year plan on homeless commission, DeNunzio believes that San Francisco has "created a homeless industry." And he wants to take on that industry, but with the understanding that city policies should "respect the dignity of the human being."
Christopher L. Bowman, another indefatigable Repub, thinks DeNunzio "was a helluva fine commissioner" -- both on the homeless panel and on the Aging and Adult Services Commission. "He does his homework, and he gets things done."
"One of the problems has been that many Republicans have a defeatist attitude," former Police Chief Tony Ribera, now at the University of San Francisco, noted. "I know that Mike does not."
DeNunzio is aware that he is in an uphill fight. So be it. "Half the tennis players are not going to win," he shrugs. "They still go out and play."