Howard Schultz at the JCCSF, February 1, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Drew Altizer)
Howard Schultz at the JCCSF, February 1, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Drew Altizer)

At JCCSF, Howard Schultz discusses childhood of poverty and more

Howard Schultz found refuge at the JCC of San Francisco.

Condemned by many Democrats and confronted by a heckler in the days after he announced he was considering a 2020 run for president, Schultz was met with polite applause and nary a catcall Feb. 1 from a crowd of about 450 at the JCCSF.

Though Schultz is Jewish, that was never mentioned during his hour-long talk, which was moderated by San Francisco attorney Roy Eisenhardt — a former president of the Oakland Athletics who at one point asked Schultz to describe his love of baseball.

Policy regarding Israel also never came up during the conversation. And Schultz, 65, was not on the stage when Rabbi Batshir Torchio lit the Shabbat candles minutes before his appearance.

Though the former Starbucks CEO spoke about his decision to explore a run for president as an independent candidate — and the blowback he has received since his Jan. 27 announcement — the evening was mostly a sedate appearance by someone on tour to promote his recently released memoir, “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America.”

Copies of the 335-page book, which was derided by Rolling Stone magazine as “the boring and insincere autobiography of a pretentious oligarch,” were handed out to audience members as they entered the sold-out auditorium.

The billionaire businessman, a lifelong Democrat who now says he has broken with the party because of its turn to the left, assured audience members he is “not going to be a spoiler, and I am not going to do anything to re-elect Donald Trump,” drawing his loudest applause of the evening.

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But he also said that the ideas of “far-left liberal Democrats,” such as Medicare for all and free college education, would bankrupt the United States.

“I want to say I think Donald Trump is the worst president in the history of our country and needs to be fired. He represents so much of what is wrong with American life,” Schultz said.

“We’re living in a situation where we have a president who does not deserve to be president, but we have a two-party system that is broken. The two parties are steeped in their own ideology and their own self-interest and their own preservation.”

Schultz spent much of the evening describing his roots in a “tough, dysfunctional [family] environment” in a working-class part of Brooklyn, New York. He talked about his poor relationship with his father, Fred Schultz, who lost his job as a diaper deliveryman and was left with no health insurance or income after breaking his leg in a fall on the ice. His mother’s maiden name was Elaine Lederman.

“I lived with a great deal of shame as a young boy and that shame was steeped in the embarrassment of where we lived [the Canarsie Bayview Housing Projects] and the facial expressions of people when I said where we lived,” he said.

That upbringing, including the indignities his father faced, led Schultz to offer generous health-care coverage and educational support to Starbucks employees.

Schultz offered few policy proposals and stuck mostly to criticizing Trump and Democrats during his JCCSF appearance, and said he believes his centrist candidacy would draw votes from moderate Republicans as well as Democrats unnerved by their party’s move to the left.

Saying he expects to decide by late spring or early summer whether to actually run for president, Schultz referred to the two empty chairs he always mandated at Starbucks board meetings — representing customers and employees.

“If I do proceed and I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will have a chair in the Oval Office for the American people,” he said.

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.