District elections changed everything. You can see it in the interviews we've been doing with candidates for supervisor. Ten years ago, most of the incumbents were political hacks, bought and paid for by the mayor and downtown. So were most of the serious candidates challenging them.
We didn't tape the interviews back then, but I remember them well: we spent a lot of time arguing with people, trying desperately to find some reason why people who had raised more than a quarter of a million dollars to run for citywide office might possibly be worth endorsing. We spent hours arguing among ourselves about who was the least awful, trying to count to five or six to fill a slate, knowing that some of the candidates we were backing had no chance of winning or that they were, at best, marginally acceptable.
Now almost every district has good candidates: people who have roots in the communities they want to serve, people with credible ideas about addressing the city's problems people who seem to be more interested in progressive policies than in making the mayor or campaign contributors happy. The problem we have this year, in some districts anyway, is not finding one tolerable candidate it's choosing between several very good ones.
Check it out for yourself: all of the interviews this year are on the Web, at our sfbg.com Election Center.
Of course, there are still some people who don't get it. Sue Lee, who was once an aide to a district-elected supervisor named Nancy Walker, told us she thinks the last at-large board was better than this board, and that she'd support some sort of modification (read: repeal) of district elections.
(Excuse me, Sue: that last board was the group that thenmayor Willie Brown referred to as his "mistresses" who needed to be "serviced.")
And downtown hates the district board, because money can't control district supervisors. So I think we'll keep hearing about a repeal effort. I understand there are already focus groups being convened on the subject. I would never support a candidate who wasn't fully, completely, aggressively committed to district elections but I think it's also important to support candidates who are going to make a functioning, as well as activist, board.
Lee also sounded like a Ronald Reagan administration official at an Iran-Contra hearing; she couldn't remember which Pacific Gas and Electric Co. official had told her to oppose the Clean Energy Act, and she had a hard time taking a stand on anything else. Ron Dudum was even tougher to pin down. We spent an hour asking him to say he was in favor of or against any policy at all anything and we got absolutely nowhere. (Oh, he thinks the city has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, but he couldn't tell us what he would cut.)
Eva Royale, who is running in District 9, told us she supports public power but opposes Proposition H. Huh?
Ahsha Safai, who is running in District 11, sent me an e-mail that said he couldn't be bothered to come in for an endorsement interview. Joe Alioto, who is running in District 3, never returned my phone calls. That's just lame; even Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom we criticize almost every week, comes down to talk to us at endorsement time.
We'll come out with our recommendations Oct. 8. But for a preview of how it's going, check out the Election Center. Never a dull moment.