The crowd at El Rio, the Mission Street dive bar, was reaching capacity election night when Sup. Aaron Peskin climbed onto an unstable bar stool to announce a political victory that had been very much in doubt just a few weeks earlier.
"They said it could not be done. We drove a Hummer over Don Fisher!" Peskin said, referring to the Republican billionaire and downtown power broker who funded the fight against progressives in this election, as he has done repeatedly over the years.
Indeed, the big story of this election was the improbable triumph of environmentalists over car culture and grassroots activism over downtown's money. The battleground was Muni reform measure Proposition A, which won handily, and the pro-parking Proposition H, which went down to resounding defeat.
It was, in some ways, exactly the sort of broad-based coalition building and community organizing that the progressives will need to help set the city's agenda going into a year when control of the Board of Supervisors is up for grabs.
"I just felt it at El Rio — wow, people were jazzed," said campaign consultant Jim Stearns, who directed the Yes on A–No on H campaign. "We brought in new energy and new people who will be the foot soldiers and field managers for the progressive supervisorial candidates in 2008."
Maintaining the momentum won't be simple: many of the people in El Rio that night will be on opposite sides next June, when Assemblymember Mark Leno challenges incumbent state senator Carole Migden, and they'll have to put aside their differences just a few months later.
Downtown, while soundly defeated this time around, isn't going to give up. And some parts of the winning coalition — Sup. Sean Elsbernd, for example, who helped with west-side voters, and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped bring more moderate voters into the fold — probably aren't going to be on the progressive side in Nov. 2008.
But there's no doubt the Yes on A–No on H campaign was a watershed moment. "I've never seen this kind of coalition between labor and environmentalists in the city," Robert Haaland, a union activist who ran the field campaign, told us. "New relationships were built."
During his victory speech, Peskin singled out the labor movement for high praise: "This would not have happened if it were not for our incredible brothers and sisters in the house of labor." He also thanked the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and environmental groups — and agreed that the labor-environmental alliance was significant and unique. "This is the first time in the seven years that I've been on the Board of Supervisors where I have seen a true coalition between labor and the environmentalists," he said.
It's not clear what we can expect in 2008 from Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom the latest results show finishing with more than 70 percent of the vote, better than some of his own consultants predicted. Newsom endorsed Yes on A–No on H, but he did nothing to support those stands, instead focusing on defeating Question Time proposition E, which narrowly failed.
Will Newsom continue to pay fealty to the biggest losers of this election, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Fisher, who funded No on A–Yes on H and became this year's antienvironmentalism poster child?
Or will Newsom — who has said little of substance about his plans for 2008 — step to the front of the transit-first parade and try to drive a wedge in the labor-environmentalist-progressive coalition that achieved this election's biggest come-from-behind victory?
MONEY AND PEOPLE
The Yes on A–No on H campaign was a striking combination of good ground work by volunteers committed to alternative transportation and solid fundraising that allowed for many mailers and a sophisticated voter identification, outreach, and turnout effort.