From rabbinical student to legislator to ‘next adventure’

Gay Jewish politician Mark Leno, representing California’s 11th State Senate district, finishes his term at the end of November and plans to come home to San Francisco – ready for his next adventure


Mark Leno sat in his 14th-floor office near San Francisco’s City Hall, finishing up a phone call with a real estate agent. The California state senator needed to sell his Sacramento residence and the clock was ticking.

With his term up at the end of November, Leno is coming home to San Francisco to stay. But not before having accomplished much as a legislator.

The former city supervisor served in the state Assembly from 2002 to 2008 before winning his Senate seat. As a legislator, he has authored hundreds of bills dealing with everything from prison reform and consumer safety to protecting bees. The unabashed liberal became chair of the Senate Budget Committee and found a way to win the respect of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Leno, 65, leaves government with plaudits from colleagues and constituents, but he isn’t entirely satisfied.

“The work is never done,” Leno told J., “whether we’re talking about criminal justice reform, promoting renewable energy, investing in affordable housing or pursuing universal health care.”

The former rabbinical student, small business owner and LGBT activist says he isn’t bitter about the term limits law that mandated his departure.

“We’re all beneficiaries of term limits,” he said on the Senate floor during an Aug. 31 tribute. “Without them, Willie Brown would still be in my old Assembly seat. Those are the rules coming in, those are the rules coming out. There are talented, young, energetic capable people who will follow us.”

That tribute to Leno turned into the closest thing to a love-fest one might ever see on the Senate floor.
Conservative Southern California Republican Joel Anderson said, “Mark completes me. When it comes to legislation and working together, we employ the bookend strategy. If Mark and I are both for it, most of you are between us and you’re going to join us.”

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