Dinner & Keynote Speaker

Matt Gonzalez

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2023: 7:15-8:45pm (Tower Ballroom, 2nd Floor)


The Caucus for a Critical Political Science is pleased to host Matt Gonzalez as its keynote speaker for the 3rd Biennial Conference. Matt Gonzalez is a politician, lawyer, and activist, who epitomizes this year’s conference theme of “challenging authority.”

He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2001 and 2005 and was president of the Board. In 2003, Gonzalez ran against Gavin Newsom for Mayor of San Francisco as a member of the Green Party. In the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, he was the Vice-Presidential running mate of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. He currently works as the Chief Attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Matthew Edward Gonzalez was born in McAllen, Texas. He graduated from McAllen Memorial High School and then attended Columbia University from which he graduated in 1987. In 1990, he earned a Juris Doctor degree from Stanford Law School.

Gonzalez began working as a trial lawyer at the Office of the Public Defender in San Francisco in 1991. Gonzalez first entered politics in 1999 when he ran for San Francisco District Attorney on a campaign to halt political corruption and marijuana prosecutions. In a field of five candidates, he finished third with 20,153 votes (11 percent of the total). When a system of electing supervisors by district rather than citywide took effect in 2000, Gonzalez was urged to run for supervisor in the newly made District 5. In early November, shortly before a run-off election, Gonzalez switched party affiliations from the Democratic Party to the Green Party. His opponent tried to capitalize on many Democrats’ ill feelings toward the Green Party in the wake of Ralph Nader’s involvement in the acrimonious 2000 U.S. Presidential election, but Gonzalez won the run-off election. He was part of a slate of candidates who wanted to change the direction of city policy in opposition to the so-called Brown machine, a Democratic Party political machine that had dominated local politics for over 30 years behind Mayor Willie Brown, the Pelosi family, and other establishment Democrats. In January 2003, Gonzalez was elected president of the Board of Supervisors.

Gonzalez has also hosted monthly art exhibits in his City Hall office. At the last reception, graffiti artists Barry McGee spray-painted “Smash the State” on the walls of the office as part of his exhibit. Gonzalez is an artist in his own right, whose work is frequently exhibited and reviewed. One reviewer observes that the streets where Gonzalez practices law are “the same streets where Gonzalez mines the material for his art. Walking into a gallery of his collage work is like entering a room full of reflecting stained glass. Each piece stands on its own, though collectively, the effect is a stunning homage to color and light, texture and association. The artist and lawyer are one, seeking stories, making connections and, if you will, framing the evidence.”

In August 2003, Gonzalez ran for mayor of San Francisco in a bid to replace outgoing two-term mayor Willie Brown. On a ballot with nine candidates, Gonzalez finished second in the primary election behind Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and fellow member of the Board of Supervisors who was endorsed by Brown. Gonzalez faced a difficult run-off election with only 3 percent of voters in San Francisco registered with the Green Party. Gonzalez received endorsements from several important local Democrats, including five members of the Board of Supervisors, while national Democratic figures still upset about Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election campaigned for Newsom (The list included Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi). Gonzalez said about his candidacy at the time: “They’re scared, not of a Green being elected mayor, but of an honest person being elected mayor.” Newsom won the runoff race by 53% to Gonzalez’s 47%.

Following the mayoral contest, Gonzalez announced he would not seek re-election to the Board of Supervisors. He left office when his term ended in January 2005. Gonzalez began a private law practice. His law firm sued a San Francisco hotel for not paying its workers the minimum wage; two wrongful death suits against Sacramento police for using tasers; against the city of San Jose and Ringling Brothers Circus for interfering with the free speech rights of protestors.

In January 2008, Gonzalez and other prominent Green Party members launched Ralph Nader’s 2008 Presidential Exploratory Committee to support a potential Nader candidacy. On February 28, 2008, four days after announcing his presidential bid, Nader named Gonzalez as his running mate for the 2008 Presidential campaign. 

On October 18, 2008 Gonzalez and Nader held a large protest on Wall Street following the passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Their opposition to the bailout was a key issue of the Nader/Gonzalez campaign in contrast to the Democratic and Republican Party candidates who supported the bill.

In February 2011, Gonzalez was appointed Chief Attorney in the Public Defender’s Office. Gonzalez defended José Inez García Zárate in the Kate Steinle homicide trial. The trial received national media attention because the defendant was an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported five times. Zarate was found not guilty of assault with a firearm but was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Zárate was sentenced to time already served. 

The dinner and keynote address is included in the registration fee.