Heart of the City Archives

Emmit Powell brings Powell's Place to Eddy Street.

Some questions for our moment in time
by Hank Donat

With the efforts to save the Harding Theatre and St. Brigid's Church going gangbusters it's nice to see a local institution find a second life that's commensurate with its first. The Star Bakery on Church Street at 29th in Noe Valley is now a Curves gym. What better place to work off generations of that great Irish soda bread?

There is encouraging news for bibliophiles in Bernal Heights. Red Hill Books is going through the permit process to expand the store into part of an adjacent room in the building at 140 Courtland Avenue. Just a few years ago, the shop, then Bernal Books, was mourned as a casualty of the recession. The expanding Red Hill and the upcoming branch library improvement will help keep Bernal a book friendly village.

You might not recognize Powell's Place at 1521 Eddy Street. The soul food restaurant, a favorite at its Hayes Street location from 1972 until last year, reopened on Saturday with a rousing ribbon cutting and blessing ceremony. Gospel singer/restaurateur Emmit Powell unveiled a chic new dining room finished with elegant detail. Don't worry, the food is the same down home cooking, and it won't break your wallet. Rev. Arnold Townsend, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Police Chief Heather Fong, and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White all made the scene, along with members of the neighborhood community and fans of the best fried chicken in town.

I hear the Year of the Rooster favors an orderly household and long-term love. Since my physical household is always in excellent order, it's time to dust a few lingering questions out of the corners my mind.

Is SpongeBob gay? I couldn't help thinking of Angela Alioto when conservatives denounced the cartoon character SpongeBob for promoting a gay agenda. Stand up comics and commentators have been entertaining themselves and one or two others for weeks wondering if SpongeBob is gay himself. Alioto's granddaughter, Chiarra is a huge SpongeBob fan.

Does Alioto, who has a sizeable gay following herself, think that the cartoon sponge is a homosexual? "I don't get it," says the usually up-for-a-laugh former president of the Board of Supervisors, "How is he gay or anything else? It really is absurd to attribute any sex to good old Bob." The voice of reason!

What is Democracy? In honor of President George W. Bush's State of the Union call for Americans to spread democracy, I've decided to vote for the first time for Empress of San Francisco. I think the president would be proud of my choice, Victoria Secret. Vickie was endorsed by Donna Sachet, a past Empress and one of San Francisco's major AIDS fundraisers. This year's coronation is the 40th for the gay community's Imperial Court organization. Empress XL will be crowned this week at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.

Who is a reporter? I couldn't help thinking of Eric Allen Bass, the recently deceased blogger and convicted embezzler known as Joefire, when Internet reporter Jeff Gannon quit his outlet last week in a Washington D.C. firestorm over journalism and ethics. "Gannon," a persona adopted by conservative writer James D. Guckert, attracted national attention at a January 26 press conference when he asked President Bush a question based on the presumption that the president's opponents in Congress had "divorced themselves from reality."

Gannon was discredited after liberal bloggers posted his true identity and revealed that Guckert had also registered URLs for porn sites in addition to online reporting.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, defended the loaded question and the questionable questioner. "He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly," McClellan said. "In this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide, to try to pick and choose who is a journalist."

Here at home, Bass was given what some called a "state funeral" by San Francisco's political community after Bass died of AIDS last Thanksgiving. Months earlier, Bass had talked his way into the City Hall press corps with no journalism experience and a web page that PJ Corkery of the Examiner recently reviewed as "mostly illiterate."

In the wake of the Joefire episode, the San Francisco Police Department has begun to weed out what it considers ineligible recipients of the press passes it issues to people who report breaking news in San Francisco. One of the first casualties is the San Francisco Call. The SFPD denied Call reporter Betsey Culp's request to renew a press pass she has held since 1998.

The Call, once ubiquitous in print, has been publishing only online for several months. The public affairs office of the SFPD says The Call is disqualified from receiving the credential, which technically only allows reporters to cross police lines while covering breaking news. In practice, authorities use the passes to mediate access to press conferences and photo opportunities such as inaugurations and VIP visits.

Culp is crying foul. She says she's entitled to the same access given to the Chronicle and others. She has posted an account of her struggle at SFCall.com. It would be a shame to disenfranchise the Call at a time when small outlets and bloggers are emerging as viable alternatives to corporate media. In the Year of the Rooster it only benefits the Foxes to punish the Calls for the Joefires.

Meanwhile, another voice is gone from the print world. Veteran weekly newspaper columnist Wayne Friday has retired from the Bay Area Reporter after 30 years on the beat. Congratulations to the man who was called "the Herb Caen of the Castro" by Herb Caen himself!

Other questions linger for another year. Why are there always cherry blossoms weeks before Cherry Blossom Festival? How can anybody live in North Beach and not know the difference between a Dolphin and a Rower?

In closing, a confession. I make it on bended knee, humble pie crumbs dancing liberally in my whiskers along with crow feathers. I'm actually beginning to like the new Union Square.

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