Keys to a better community: The James Keys Story

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 09 August 2010

Keys to a better community: The James Keys Story

One of a series of pre-election stories on PNN

Marlon Crump/PNN
Saturday, July 17, 2010;

“Housing, income (other poverty-related issues), I feel that the people don’t feel they have a voice or a choice. When election time comes, that’s when other people (candidates) will engage them.” James Keys, candidate for District 6 Supervisor stated to me in an interview, on June 24th, 2010.

Witnessing (and a living testimony) politics in its variations of fascism, race and class segregation, marginalization, imperialism, armed with its weapon, the alleged “budget crisis” is the fuel efficiency for us poor people to struggle with resistance.

For six years, the City of San Francisco has been my home. Five of them have been in the Northern Mission of District 6. My first year was the most difficult due to homelessness: Shelter to shelter, meal to meal in long lines, struggle to struggle to even access a bed, public assistance hassles for small stability, to finally be housed in a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel. (a.k.a. poor people housing)

Surviving a senseless police raid, and finding my purpose through POOR began my resistance to the barbaric side of politics. One voice, one story, and struggle at a time.

In 2006, I visited the office of current incumbent District 6 Supervisor, Chris Daly quite often, regarding my issues with the San Francisco Police Department. At his office was a full time volunteer name James Keys, who handled a lot of constituents concerns within the community. I was equally surprised that at this office, I was not deferred from being heard, referred to wild goose chases, and discouraged from raising my concerns.

“When the supervisors or even the mayor won’t even deal with their constituents something’s wrong there.” Keys would explain to me during an interview. He then added, “Even the mayor’s office was referring constituents to Daly’s Office.”

My feelings are that every public official elected into office are obligated to heed from hierarchy in their positions as a “public servant” and address the problems of the public……….with real solutions.

For James Keys, being a community leader is the “Keys to a better and healthier community” in reference to his campaign slogan in the upcoming November election for S.F. Supervisor of District 6. With current incumbent Chris Daly’s term expiring, Keys is hopeful to fill the vacant seat and become more than just a volunteer to the community.

On June 24th, I arrived at his campaign office, 2940 16th St. which is in the very headquarters of POOR Magazine/PNN at approx 6:30 p.m. His office is temporarily shared with my comrade and community organizer against police brutality, mesha Monge-Irizarry of the Idriss Stelley Action Resource Center. Mesha has significantly supported Keys since his decision to run, sometime last year.

Despite an exhausting day of organizing, and coordinating his team of volunteers on his campaign, he was more than willing for me to conduct an interview. The key issues (no pun intended) Keys confronts are public health, public safety, pedestrian safety, rights of seniors, and affordable housing.

“People were at their last leg, and felt the system let them down. So they were turning to Chris Daly’s office for help.” I would later learn from him. In a city of a capacity of eleven predominate public servants, “Why should such dependency rest on one?” I asked myself.

“What motivated you the most to run for District 6?” was my first question. Keys explained that while serving in his full-time volunteer capacity for Chris Daly, he answered many constituent calls concerning the city’s budget, homelessness, and housing.

The Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom were of course, the primary subjects for these concerns.

“It was not primarily about politics, but primarily concerning that their basic needs were not met from both sides.” He said. “A lot of people need housing, and seniors only get one meal a day from a center that distributes.” He mentioned Canon Kip and Curry Senior Center as an example.

I asked him about what were the main problems did he observe in District 6. Keys began to explain how there was “a huge disparity about income” and the communities most affected: The Tenderloin District, South of Market, North Mission, and Treasure Island, all areas whom from which are within District 6. He also added, “We have issues of pedestrian safety of not only being able to cross the street, but to walk the street.”

James Keys was born in Oakland, CA in 1961. Keys lived with his family there until the age of eleven. He and his family then moved to Hayward, CA. In high school, Keys graduated early and won three scholarships to three colleges of his choice. He chose Brigham Young University.

After returning home in 1981, he attended MTD Business College and worked for Chess King Clothing Store as a manager.

Having previously lived in San Francisco briefly, he once again returned in 1998, only to reside here for good. Keys worked for celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck and cruise events of the Horn blower. Afterwards, he started to advocate for budget reform, senior citizens, and mental health. In 2005, Keys was accepted by Daly to volunteer at his supervisor office in S.F. City Hall, where he helped for the next three years.

Additionally, James Keys is President of the Alliance for a Better District 6, a community based non-profit devoted to increasing participation in elections and government, by low-income residents of District 6. He is an active member of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, the Central City Democrats, the Community Budget Reform Council, and Single-Payer Now!

When community organizer and advocate on homelessness issues, Chance Martin left a vacant seat for chair of S.F. Mental Health Board, Keys was appointed by Chris Daly to fill the vacancy. “I felt good. I really wanted strong advocacy around mental health.” He says.

“How would you solve youth violence?” I asked. He answered, “We certainly need to bring more mental health services to the schools: The Bay view, Tenderloin, and Western Addition. These services would be preventative to traumatic stress syndrome before it starts. We should continue funding based organizations that deal with families and children.”

Last year, Keys led an unrelenting effort to save funding for critical San Francisco services and programs, endangered by budget cuts. Because of his efforts over 14 million dollars were restored by the Board of Supervisors, and vital programs like the Homeless Drop-In Center, Nutrition for Seniors, and Community Behavioral Health Services were saved from depletion.

He has also written several resolutions to the Board of Supervisors, in which were actually approved by them. During his 3 years of volunteering for Chris Daly's office, Keys successfully fought against the closure of St Luke Hospital and of the South East Geriatric Center for elders with psychiatric issues. He also narrowed down the medical term for “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” (PTSD) to “traumatic stress syndrome.”

“If elected, how will you advocate the needs for your district?” I asked. Keys responded, “As a supervisor, people tend to listen to them. In actuality, they’re public servants.” He discussed the critical concerns of funding lacking for needy services. Keys pointed out that at one time during the 80s era San Francisco was “service rich” but when funding diminished, services dwindled. “We need to find more smarter ways, and bring jobs locally.”

My final question to James Keys was what did he have to say to the community of District 6. He answered with a definite tone to his voice, “If you want someone to change the community, you should elect someone FROM the community.”

"Do the Right Thing!”
Campaign Mantra of the James Keys District 6 Campaign


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