Dogs, Cyclists Gain Political Attention in SF

San Francisco candidates have started courting cyclists and dog owners.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Dog Owners and bicycle enthusiasts are influencing the mayoral race in San Francisco. NBC Bay Area's Traci Grant reports. (Published Tuesday, Oct 4, 2011)

    When Erica Lively used to live in Washington,D.C., not only was it virtually impossible to find space for her dog Cosmo to run and play, but she felt like there weren’t any city leaders interested in hearing her complaints.

    But that all changed when Lively moved to San Francisco. Her daily walks to Marina Green serve as an opportunity for her dog to run off-leash and as a reminder her that, as a dog owner, she is not alone.

    “We’re here and there’s a lot of us,” Lively said.

    Statistics show that canines outnumber children in the city. Over the years, dog owners have become more vocal about their concerns. So much so, that some dog advocates have formed “Dog-PAC.” The pooch political action committee is designed to keep issues like maintaining open space for dogs and expanding dog-friendly rental housing in the forefront during this mayoral campaign season.

     Dog owners and cyclists are two of the groups that used to be thought of as marginal, but their numbers continue to grow and with that growth comes political power. Many of the candidates vying for the top job at city hall are competing fiercely to grab their votes.

    “It’s cool to see the candidates are realizing these are sensitive issues for people and reaching out to them,” said Lively, as she tossed a tennis ball to her dog.

    It is not a coincidence that mayoral candidate Joanna Rees had her dogs, Jack and Jill, nearby today as she stood inside her campaign headquarters and answered questions about her political views.

     Rees also held a campaign event recently called “Bark in the Park,”created specifically for dog owners.

    “Dog owners are passionate,” said Rees, with her dog squirming in her arms. “There’s many of them. Dogs can’t speak to the mayor in terms of what the critical issues are, but I think it’s important that we open up lines of communication between dog owners and city hall.”

    Candidates courting cyclists made history this election season, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Leah Shahum, executive director of the bike advocacy organization, said that they have put together questionairres for mayoral candidates during previous campaigns. But this year, all but two of the 16 candidates responded, posting comments online about how often they bike and where they stand when it comes to bike lanes and bike parking.

    Shahum believes that is proof that San Francisco’s cyclists, known for being very vocal, are wielding power. Ignoring a segment of the population that, according the Bicycle Coalition, has increased more than sixty percent in the last four years could hurt a candidate’s chances of winning..

    “I think there’s a growing awareness to the fact that people who bicycle are no longer in the minority,” Shahum said.