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The limits of tolerance

National | Backlash over sex party for S.F.'s elite nearly kills bond issue

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

San Francisco voters on June 3 narrowly approved a municipal ballot measure calling for a $100 million bond issue to help finance a new stadium/mall complex for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Such events are fairly common, but the slim margin of passage-less than one percent-suggests both a brewing backlash against San Francisco's elite culture and that culture's ability to survive criticism.

The bond measure was heavily supported by the 49ers, the city's Democratic leadership, and various local liberal interest groups. Altogether, this coalition massively outspent the measure's opponents, $2 million to $100,000. But the entire drive for what was known as "Proposition D" nearly self-destructed a month before the election when the campaign's manager, prominent liberal political consultant and San Francisco power broker Jack Davis, held an X-rated party attended by Mayor Willie Brown, various elected city supervisors, and many other civic leaders supportive of the proposition.

The party, which featured acts of profound sexual perversion, was a 50th birthday celebration for Mr. Davis, and was organized by some of his friends. There were both male and female strippers dancing at the party, as well as live and simulated sex acts openly performed on a stage throughout the night.

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The bacchanalia concluded with a "dominatrix" beating a man in front of the crowd, urinating on him in full view of the audience, and carving a satanic symbol-a pentagram-into the man's bare back with a knife. Finally, the man was publicly sodomized with a whiskey bottle. According to reports, some in attendance walked out in disgust, but many did not.

One of those who left in shock was Barbara Kaufman, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who was seen leaving during the mutilation of the man, moaning, "Gross ... gross." Some other city leaders remained, watching uncomfortably. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey was among them. He said, "It was like walking into a Mapplethorpe exhibit. It was so disgusting, I thought it was funded by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)."

The man in whose back the pentagram was carved is Steven Johnson Leyba, an "ordained" priest in the San Francisco-based Church of Satan. He also leads a performance group called The United Satanic Apache Front, which Mr. Leyba-who is one-quarter Apache-says has performed this same obscene act at the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of New Mexico. The ritual, which Leyba calls the "Apache Whiskey Rite," is intended, he says, to be a "literal metaphor for how alcohol was forced on my [Apache] people."

P. J. Johnson, a spokesman for mayor Willie Brown, expressed more sympathy for the bond issue than for those offended by the violent sexual perversion, saying at the time, "Hopefully ... everyone [will] move past the whole party thing, which has nothing to do with whether the city ought to invest in a project."

Although Mayor Brown (whose 1995 mayoral campaign Mr. Davis managed) was present at the party, he left for another commitment before the bloodletting of Mr. Leyba. But in response to the ensuing uproar, the mayor refused to criticize Mr. Davis, saying, "I don't know who he owes an apology to."

In the wake of the city fathers' night of debauchery, local newspapers and talk shows were abuzz with the angry voices of citizens deriding arrogant city insiders who flout what outside of San Francisco are considered common norms of behavior and who, in the words of one columnist, "think that they can get away with anything."

Local restaurant owner Ed Moose expressed the frustration of some city residents, saying, "We've come a long way in showing San Francisco as a sane, exciting place to live and raise a family. Now, once again, the country and really the whole world will say this place appears to be so far out of the mainstream. The people of this city deserve better, and that's why I'm so angry."

For Mr. Davis's part, when the furor over his party erupted, he offered to resign his management of the ballot initiative, and he issued an apology to the 49ers and to "all of those in attendance that night who took offense" at the perversity. "There were some activities on stage that many people found shocking," Mr. Davis allowed. But he had no regrets, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "Most people said it was the best party they'd ever been to. And it wasn't anything compared to the after-party at my house."

As the June 3rd election neared and the substantial fallout from the party settled, some of those who had spoken freely to reporters about the party became coy. Sheriff Hennessey had only a rigid "no further comment" to questions about the party's impact on citizens' opinions of their leaders; Supervisor Kaufman turned down press interviews; and Mr. Johnson of the mayor's office insisted on the day before the election that the Davis affair was a "non-issue," saying flatly, "The voters don't care about that."

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