Election as prologue

Leno victory and other ballot results shift San Francisco's political landscape


San Francisco politics shifted June 3 as successful new coalitions altered the electoral landscape heading into the high-stakes fall contests, when seven of the 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs.
Progressives had a good election night even as lefty shot-caller Sup. Chris Daly suffered a pair of bitter defeats. And Mayor Gavin Newsom scored a rare ballot box victory when the southeast development measure Proposition G passed by a wide margin, although voters repudiated Newsom's meddling with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission by approving Prop. E.

But the big story wasn't these two lame duck politicians, who have served as the two poles of local politics for the past few years. It was Mark Leno, who handed Sen. Carole Migden her first electoral defeat in 25 years by bringing together progressives and moderates and waging an engaged, effective ground campaign. In the process, he may have offered a portent of things to come.

The election night speech Leno gave just before midnight — much like his entire campaign — didn't break along neat ideological lines. There were solidly progressive stands, like battling the religious right's homophobia, pledging to pursue single-payer health care, and blasting Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for funding sleazy attack pieces against him, reaffirming his commitment to public power.

But he also thanked Newsom and other moderate supporters and heaped praise on his political consulting firm, BMWL, which has run some of downtown's nastiest campaigns. "It was clean, it was smart, and it was effective," Leno said of his campaign.

The Migden campaign, which had the support of Daly and many prominent local progressives, often looked dirty by comparison, marred by past campaign finance violations that resulted in Migden getting slapped with the biggest fine in state history and by Daly's unethical misuse of the Guardian logo on a mailer that made it appear as if we had endorsed Migden.

Old alliances seemed to crumble around this election, leaving open questions about how coalitions will form going into an important November election that's expected to have a crowded ballot and huge turnout.


There are things that unite almost all San Franciscans, like support for public schools. In this election that support came in the form of Prop. A — a measure that will increase teacher salaries through a parcel tax of about $200 per property owner — which garnered almost 70 percent of the vote.

"These numbers show that people believe in public education. They believe in what we're doing," school superintendent Carlos Garcia told a jubilant election night crowd inside the Great American Music Hall.

Also uniting the city's Democrats was the news that Barack Obama sewed up the party's presidential nomination June 3, ending a primary battle with Hillary Clinton that had created a political fissure here and in cities across the country.

"The winds of change are blowing tonight. Let me congratulate Barack Obama on his victory," Leno said on election night, triggering a chant of "Yes we can" from the crowd at the Upper Market bar/restaurant Lime.

Local Clinton supporters were already switching candidates on election night, even before Clinton dropped her campaign and announced her support for Obama four days later.

"As a strong Hillary person, I'm so excited to be working for Obama these next five months," DCCC District 13 member Laura Spanjian, who won reelection by placing fourth out of 12 slots, said on election night. "It's my number one goal this fall."

Leno also sounded conciliatory themes.