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Local Legend Of The Week: Matt Gonzalez Chief Attorney of the SF Public Defenders Office

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We here at like to show love to the people who make cities like San Francisco and New York special. That’s why we’ve begun doing a new series called Local Legend of the Week. This is our chance to hip you to some of the strange, brilliant, and unique folks who populate these towns and give them the character that people from around the world have come to love.

Is there someone you want to nominate as Local Legend of the Week? Then please email us here.


NOPA Resident and Local Legend Matt Gonzalez

Matt Gonzalez is the Chief Attorney in San Francisco’s Public Defenders Office.  He was Ralph Nader’s choice for VP in the 2008 presidential election and in the early 2000’s he was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  As a politician he was responsible for introducing the highest minimum wage in the country, he lead the way to changing our local electoral process to the much fairer Ranked-Choice voting system, and more presently, if you get yourself locked up in our fair city, you may want you use one of his 92 attorneys to defend your ass for free.  I kept asking Matt ‘off-the-record’ if in exchange for a puff piece he would give me some kind of “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, but he kept insisting that nothing like that existed.  So since the counselor refused my offer I’m going to expose his failed campaign for mayor, that’s right, Matt ran for Mayor in 2003 and LOST to Gavin Newsom.  Sorry for the burn Matt, but that’s politics, you had your chance at bribing me but you were beyond reproach. All jokes aside, Matt won 47% of the vote in that election despite being outspent 8 to 1 by Newsom’s campaign, and was the first Green Party candidate to run in SF history.

Matt doesn’t hold any hard feelings, despite my insisting that he say something nasty and controversial for the headline of this article,  Matt said, “I probably ran the most solidly progressive campaign in this city’s history”. And Matt’s right, as he explained to me, by running a progressive campaign you bring light to important issues that help shape the discourse of elections and platforms, much like how Ralph Nader brought issues like corporate welfare, single payer health care, and public safety into the national arena with his (and Matt’s in ’08) bids for the Presidency.vp campaign

Matt tells me old Ralph is a great guy, in case you were wondering

Now enough politics, let’s talk about art.  Matt’s apartment is full of it, and he’s become quite an artist himself holding exhibitions all over the place for the last 9 years.  Where the TV should be there are sculptures, and on the coffee table in front of us there is an ongoing collage project.   We sat down, Matt poured us some beer (Lagunitas), and chatted about Matt’s favorite things in our city.

Name: Matt Gonzalez

Year Arrived in San Francisco: Summer of 1988

Favorite place to work in San Francisco: Public Defenders Office

First Job in San Francisco: Working on Death Row appeals as a law intern

Favorite place to live In San Francisco: Mission District, Albion & Sycamore St. 1991-1999

Best Politician In San Francisco History: Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys ran against Dianne Feinstein.  Here’s an amazing video describing his campaign:

Favorite event in SF: I saw the Violent Femmes play for free at the Haight Street fair 1988

Favorite eats: Oyster at Bar Crudo

Favorite bar: 821

Favorite drink: Old Fashioned

Best hangover cure: Beer and tacos

Favorite free thing to do in the city: Visiting the San Francisco Art institute on Chestnut, there’s a great view and there’s Diego Rivera on display

Favorite Museum: The Mexican Museum

Advice to a student who wants to become a lawyer: Study humanities, become well rounded.  And become a good writer.

What’s special about the SF Judicial system? In San Francisco our Public Defender is elected not appointed, so we have more freedom to choose our cases (less pressure from politicians)

Who would win in a poker game between you and SF District Attorney George Cascon? George Cascon would win, anybody who started as an immigrant from Cuba, and a republican, and manages to become a police chief and then the DA as a Democrat is probably a very good poker player. (agreed)

On a scale of 1 to 10 how much cooler are you than Gavin Newsom? (laughs) I don’t dislike Gavin at all, I even voted for him in the Lieutenant Governers race.  Garret Kamps wrote an article comparing our tastes’ in music which sheds a lot of light on the subject.  (Matt references The Clash and John Coltrane while Gavin reps Santana and promotes a local radio station).

Should drugs be legal? Probably.  I think in a mature criminal justice system you want to criminalize actual criminal activity, and not intoxication.  As long as you can care for yourself I don’t think intoxication should be illegal, and I think police officers actually agree with that.

Art: Some of Matt’s more recent peices:


Installation view of Park Life show, “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved”, 2013


Found paper collage by Matt Gonzalez, 2013. Collection of Katherine Higgins. Exhibited at Park Life.

Matt’s art site

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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