Art Agnos wasn't given much chance when he declared his candidacy for mayor of San Francisco in March 1987. A former social worker turned state assemblyman, he was going up against a strong, well-financed opponent. But Agnos adopted an unorthodox strategy, mobilizing an army of small-business owners and making job generation a central issue of his campaign. On December 8, 1987, the long shot came in with a record-breaking 70% of the vote.
Agnos's victory is one sign of the governing political clout of small-business owners. Their rallying cry: we create jobs. "Small businesses generated the vast majority of new jobs in this city over the past eight years," says Agnos. "It's about time they got some respect."
That is not, of course, a universally held sentiment. When INC. columnist David L. Birch focused attention on the jobs being generated by San Francisco's self-employed artisans and entrepreneurs, the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned a rebuttal, defending the role of large corporations. "Someone had to make the case for big business," says the chamber's Bob Hayden. But its own numbers drew criticism from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which had published Birch's original figures.
It was against this backdrop that Agnos launched his mayoral campaign, appealing for entrepreneurial support. He offered programs, distributed a small-business resource guide, even pledged to appoint a small-business person as deputy mayor. The small-business community rallied to his cause and, on Election Day, helped deliver the votes. "They were an integral part of my success," says Agnos.
The message has not been lost on the chamber, which is suddenly working hard to revitalize its small-business department. "For a long time, the chamber viewed small business as a cute little puppy," says the Bay Guardian's Tim Redmond. "Now, the puppy has become a large dog, and the chamber is scared to death."
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