Turning point

Progressives prove that district elections and ranked-choice voting really work

It's amazing what the New York Times can find newsworthy. On a night when progressives in San Francisco racked up an impressive list of victories — and the popular mayor, often described as a rising star in state and national politics, got absolutely walloped — the nation's newspaper of record led an online report on city politics with this gem: "A bike-riding member of the Board of Supervisors apparently won re-election while his wife was reported to have screamed an epithet at opponents."
The Times story, by Jesse McKinley, called it "just another night in San Francisco's iconoclastic politics," meaning, apparently, that only in this city would a politician ride a bicycle and only here would a politician's wife use foul language in public.
For the record: Sarah Low Daly — who watched her husband, Chris, get pummeled mercilessly for weeks by brutal attack ads paid for by, among others, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association — did dismiss "those motherfuckers" with a colorful epithet that no less than the vice president has used on the floor of Congress but that can't ever appear in the New York Times.
But allow us a little context here.
Daly's wife had every right to celebrate on election night — and every right to slam the forces that were so unwilling to accept a living wage for local workers, sick pay for employees, requirements that developers pay for affordable housing, and the rest of Supervisor Daly's progressive agenda, which had made him the subject of a Karl Rove–style smear campaign.
And the Times (as well as the embittered blogger at the San Francisco Sentinel who leveled personal insults at the supervisor's wife) utterly missed the point of what went on in San Francisco last week.
This was a watershed in city politics, an election that may turn out to have been every bit as important as the 2000 ballot that broke the back of the Brown-Burton machine. It was evidence that district elections work, that downtown money doesn't always hold the day — and that Mayor Gavin Newsom made a very bad political mistake by aligning himself with some of the most intolerant, unpleasant, and ineffective forces in local politics.
We ran into Newsom's press secretary, Peter Ragone, the day after the election and asked him the obvious question: "Not a very good night for the mayor, huh?"
It was a hard point to argue: Newsom put immense political capital into two key races and was embarrassed in both of them. He worked hard for Rob Black, the downtown candidate trying to oust Daly in District 6, showing up at Black's rallies, walking the streets with him, talking about the importance of the race, and helping him raise funds. His handpicked contender in District 4 was Doug Chan, a former police commissioner. Black lost by 10 percentage points; Chan finished fourth.
And a long string of progressive ballot measures that the mayor had opposed was approved by sizable margins.
Ragone began to spin and dissemble like crazy. "We endorsed [Black and Chan] but didn't put a lot into it," he said despite the fact that Newsom spent the last two weekends campaigning for his two favorites.
"The real key for us was Hydra Mendoza, who won [a seat on the school board]," Ragone said.
Yes, Mendoza, who works as the mayor's education adviser, was elected — but she already had a strong base of support as a former leader of Parents for Public Schools and might very well have won without the mayor's help.
Besides, if Newsom saw her as a top priority, why did she finish second in a race for three positions, behind Green Party candidate Jane Kim?

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