Lessons of the Avalos campaign

The mayoral candidate demonstrated what can be accomplished with a new kind of progressive leadership


By N'Tanya Lee

It's the middle of the night. His two kids and wife are home in bed. Supervisor John Avalos, candidate for mayor, heads downtown in his beat-up family car. He parks and walks over to 101 Market Street, and casually starts talking to members of OccupySF. He's a city official, but folks camped out are appreciative when they see he's there to stand with them, to try to stop the cops from harassing them, even though its 1 a.m. and he should be in bed.

John Avalos was the first elected official to personally visit Occupy SF. It wasn't a publicity stunt — his campaign staff didn't even know he was going until it was over. He arrived and left without an entourage or TV cameras. This kind of moment — defined by John's personal integrity and the strength of his personal convictions — was repeated week after week, and provides a much-needed model of progressive political leadership in the city.

John Avalos is more than "a progressive standard bearer," as the Chronicle likes to call him. He's also a Spanish-speaking progressive Latino, rooted in community and labor organizing, with a racial justice analysis and real relationships with hundreds of organizers and everyday people outside of City Hall. He's demonstrated an authentic accountability to the disenfranchised of the city, to communities of color and working people, and he knows that ultimately the future of the city is in our hands.

Some accomplishments of John's campaign for mayor are already clear: He consolidated the progressive-left with 19%, or nearly 40,000, first-place votes, despite the confusion of a crowded field; he came in a strong second to incumbent Ed Lee despite being considered a long shot even weeks before the election; after RCV tallies, he finished with an incredible 40% of the vote, demonstrating a much wider base of support across the city than he began with, and much broader than former frontrunners Leland Yee and David Chiu, who outspent him 3-1. He won the Castro, placed third in Chinatown (ahead of Yee), and actually won the election-day citywide vote. Not bad. In fact, remarkable, for a progressive Latino from a working class district in the southern part of town, running in his first citywide race.

I believe John Avalos demonstrated what can be accomplished with a new kind of progressive leadership — and suggests the elements of a new progressive coalition that can be created to win races in 2012, and again, in 2015.

It's Monday afternoon, 1:35pm, time for our weekly Campaign Board meeting. John rushes in, after a dozen appointments already that day. The rest of us file into the 'cave' — the one private room in Campaign headquarters, with no windows, a makeshift wall and furniture that looks to be third-hand. The board makes the key strategy, message, and financial decisions. There are no high paid political consultants here. Most of us are, or have been, organizers. Today, we need to approve the campaign platform. Finally. We've decided to get people excited about our ideas, an agenda for change. We leave the meeting excited and nervous, wondering if anyone will get excited about the city creating its own Municipal Bank.

We were an unlikely crew to lead a candidate campaign — even a progressive one in San Francisco. We come from membership based community and labor organizations, and share a critique of white progressive political players and electeds who spend too few resources on building power through organizing and operate without accountability to any base. We are policy and politics nerds, but we hate traditional politics. Seventy percent of us are people of color — Black, Filipina, Latino, and Chinese. We are all women except John, the candidate, and nearly half of us are balancing politics with parenting.


Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

They will upzone early, late and mid day, everywhere they can for as high as they can go. With "community leaders" like Rose Pak pimping for upzoning and the requisite trundle of nonprofiteers bringing up the rear, they'll get rezoning wherever they want. The goal of politics in San Francisco is for elected officials and nonprofits to deliver "their constituencies" to corporate San Francisco so that it gets what it wants.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

1) Your criticism of the T line couldn't have anything to do with the fact that it provides service to Sunnydale and many lower income heavily 'ethnic' neighborhoods - could it?
2) Have you done any research into the criticism leveled against this 'subway to nowhere' and it's many flaws, for example the Civil Grand Jury Report might be a good place to start.
Jut my 2c

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 11:58 am

Mission Bay, so from my POV, the T goes nowhere. If it's low-income down there, no noubt it was a politcal gesture to build it.

CS will see far higher traffic volumes.

Oh, and Civil Grand Juries are voluntary. So the people you get on them are skewed towards those who love to find problems.There's no voir dire to weed out the freaks. I never take any notice of them.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

we all now know how you really feel about people with dark skin

don't we

why not move to some all white small town in Texas where you belong?

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

most people need to go. When was the last time you needed to go to Sunnyvale?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

I used to go out there frequently when I had hospice patients in the projects, and it was to wet or rainy to ride my bike.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

The T line was built as a political sop, and not becaue of any genuine need.

If we can build that, we can build CS which actually serves high-density, high-value areas and many populations and businesses.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:29 am

The primary reason for building the Third Street Light Rail, referred to in the neighborhood for many years as the Third Street White Rail, was as an integral component of the Urban Renewal proposal to gentrify that section of the city and reclaim prime waterfront real estate that the city had allowed to be occupied by the 'wrong' people. It is/was intended to shuttle workers from these new developments to Downtown offices and retail. For many reasons the plans of Lennar and others are in a 'holding' pattern, who knows when and what might ever get built there. In the meantime it does provide some service to the current residents.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

The ONLY significant argument for the Central Subway is to restore the 15 Third line. But the 8X does much of that, the Central Subway does not even complete the 15 Third's run to the Wharf.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

build a rail line on Third St or Geary St?

There's a big city hall vote for Geary St over third.

Patrick Monk still finds a way to shout racism, with no third st line.

Whatever happens that may involve some progressive paternalised group, its racism according to our Monk's.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

IF this is the 'real you', I usually give you more credit. I don't know exactly when 'they' realised the unintended consequence of 'their' displacement of the largely black community in the Fillmore, but at some point they realised that these 'uppity folks' were now occupying some of the prime waterfront real estate in the city and 'they' have been strategizing to reclaim it for decades.
Successive administrations, in particular Feinstein and Brown, have either actively promoted, or turned a blind eye to, racist in/action and policies that seem to have finally achieved the goal of dividing, conquering and displacing: redlining; marginalization; denial of basic services; unequal access to public resources; ineffective representation; blah, blah. I know 'you' are aware of this (whether you chose to acknowledge or deny it publicly or not), but many of the self obsessed 'arrivistas' are either woefully ignorant of our history, or could give a shit providing they get theirs.
The Central Subway is a seriously flawed proposition, on the other hand I agree with you, I think, an upgrade to the Geary St corridor would be a great idea and serve thousands of residents.
I've talked to many 'representatives' over the years about a 'Downtown Transit Assessment District' (RIP Sister Sue) a few of whom have mouthed platitudes saying 'that's a good idea', but none of whom have pursued it. The most common cop-out has been something along the lines of - that's 'levying taxes' and local, city, state, federal laws prevent us from doing that - WTF - if it's in the interest of the "1%" (apologies for using a catch-all phrase) there always seems to be a way to change, modify or circumvent 'the law', but if a proposal might be in the long term public interest, the law is writ in stone.
Just my 2c

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

Why is it always the white progressive man that knows what the black folk want?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

expert in what non-whites want. No doubt his deliberate isolating himself from them has helped him gain that perspective.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

Curious as to when you might have last visited or spoken to any of the 'black folk' in BVHP, I am honored to have been 'accepted' by, and able to work along side of many of the long term residents for many years.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

black showed his face, every eyeball would be on him.

Walk your talk, hypocrit.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

It wasn't always 'whitebread'; before you arrivistas with your me-first mentality invaded, Noe Valley, along with most other neighborhoods, was a reasonably well integrated middle class community. I have lived here for over 30 years, and have worked alongside 'black and brown' faces for decades. I have been walking the walk and talking the talk for almost 60 years, why don't you just crawl back under your rock and play with your little i-pod.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

you stay there, even though there are far more diverse area's.

I guess it's safer and cleaner in your all-white 'hood, right?, right?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

Some of my best friends are hispnaic.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

Since you and your ilk moved into town, beginning back in the 'dot-com boom' the majority of landlords have steadily increased rents and thousands of life long residents, primarily middle class, have been priced out of their rental homes which had been stable for decades, often multi-generational, and innumerable affordable housing units have become unaffordable for middle class families. My wife is a native San Franciscan, born and well-bred, There is no way she could afford to stay in her birthplace, fortunately for us I have a rent controlled apartment I have been living in for over 30 years.
Once again, like so many of the other clueless reactionary trolls here, you simply continue to expose your ignorance. There is an old saying that goes something like this; "Better to keep silent and let people think you are ignorant, than open your mouth and remove all doubt".
There, that should give you idiots some red meat to chew on and spew back at me. Bring it on. There is no way to lose when you are boxing with shadows.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

You would tank after thirty years living in a rent controlled apt, you would have saved up enough money to own something so you can't be displaced by the ilk you hate so much. Sad.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

'tank' you for your concern, I won't waste time getting into idealogical or philosophical discussions about the delusion of thinking we can own the earth.
How's it working out for you, are you lucky enough not be one of the hundred's of thousands of 'home owners' who are close to or almost under water.
Like many long time SF residents we could not afford to 'buy' anything in our town (I'm fortunate enough to have a fall back situation), but even if we could, why would we want to pay about 4 or 5 times more a month to bankers, mortgage companies etc, just so we could 'own' something that could be foreclosed on any time they wanted to declare bankruptcy; revise the small print; enforce Section Cc1/sub section X11V1a/para 3/lines 4-6; or simply change the 'rules'.
The entire system is rotten. rigged and reprehensible. I actually don't 'hate' the ilks, but I will keep on opposing them. In the "Grand Scheme of Things" I truly believe that ultimately they me the sad ones. My work over the past 20 years has put me in intimate contact with numerous folks in the last weeks, days, hours of their lives; what they may have gained materially is inconsequential; what they have given or received is priceless.
I'm actually pretty happy and content, all things considered, thanks for your concern.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

Not concerned, just think its sad that you havent educated yourself past the knee jerk fears. If you pay your mortgage, then you dont have to worry about the bank pulling funny business. Banks do not declare bankruptcy. 30 years is a very long time, and I am sure your rent is very very low. Artificially low - so your lifestyle in SF is basically subsidized by your landlord. Your situation right now is actually more tenuous as your landlord has much more capacity right now to kick you out than any bank would - and has more impetus to as he could likely get multiples of the rent you are paying from anyone else.
30 years and you couldnt build something up - sad.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2011 @ 7:27 am

the possibility that it might become relevant at some point in the future? Like the T?

But it's not OK to build CS which will serve areas that are already vibrant, affluent and over-crowded?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

The other lesson from the T-Third line is that it is essentially BRT on steroids and it runs slower than shit. This calls into question ongoing BRT plans for Van Ness and Geary. If the T-Third can't make a go of it, I doubt that Van Ness or Geary can either.

Unfortunately, the unconnected Central Subway value-engineered debacle poisons the water for the real solution, a comprehensive interconnecting subway network that is not constrained by the street grids and surface traffic.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

Some cities like Toronto now have a rule that all new transit goes underground. It makes perfect sense, as that way it can be quickler than road trasport, whether public or private.

We need underground transit under Geary and other densely populated corridors. BART works great under Market and Mission

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

Running all transit underground encourages personal automobiles to continue to dominate, and demand more, of the space above ground.

A far better environmental paradigm is to directly compete for above ground space with transit, bike lanes, and a progressive takeover of walkable ground over auto-oriented pavement.

The most effective rapid environmental transportation strategy is to directly shove auto traffic out of the system with its replacements, in the here and now.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

that's been a disaster. Cars are here to stay so there is little point in engaging in pipe dream debates about thst.

Either cars go underground or transit does and, outside of Boston, almost every city uses subways. Makes perfect sense in a crowded city.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

Anyone who still thinks cars are 'here to stay' is totally out of touch with the reality of the global climate crisis.

I've got news for you. Either cars go, or human civilization collapses. Period.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

for at least 100 more years. And then electric cars potentially forever.

We can't make coherent plans based on a socialist pipe dream.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

Your fixation with the automobile, and your belief that technology will make it possible to perpetuate the car, is simply wrong.

If we spend huge amounts of energy and resources on building a massive electric car infrastructure instead of immediately shifting to transit, we will fail to reverse the climate crisis soon enough to keep our civilization from collapsing. The huge amounts of electricity that we would put into hundreds of millions of automobiles must instead be used immediately to clean up all of our other energy uses, so that we can begin reversing the carbon load in the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

Cars get 2 to 3 times the lileage of just 30 years ago.

The known reserves of oil are now greater than when the "peak oil" myth was first claimed.

Plus there have been huge advances in LPG, NG, CTP, Nuclear and other means of delivering power.

Cars are a fact of life for the enxt 100-200 years, and after that - who knows?

You won;t get the Cs project stopepd by wildly speculating that cars are about to die. Try another strategy.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

I do understand how technology works.

And I didn't speculate that cars will die.

I simply stated the reality that we -must- stop using personal automobiles or our civilization will be guaranteed to collapse.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

"a progressive takeover of walkable ground over auto-oriented pavement."

You're like a chronically depressed parrot. Do you recognize that 90% of what you want will never ever happen?

Do you recognize that some people may not have the ability to walk long distances, and dont want to drive might want to use a subway to get somewhere?
Is there any place for people like this is your communist manifesto?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

Your response is a nonsensical red herring.

Transit and walkways are, in the -real- world, not mutually exclusive.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

CS will add to current transit options and take nothing away.

While freeing up streets for road and pedestrian and bike traffic.

Everyone wins with CS. Which is why over 60% of voters just gave a mandate to a Mayor who supports it.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

The Central Subway will waste 2 billion dollars building a system which will hardly increase transit access at all. That money must be used to build much smarter and more effective mass transit instead. A far better use for that money would be to put it into California high speed rail to replace local air travel.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

the 1.5B (not 2B) that CS will. Money for CS isn't taking away money from HSR - different buckets.

And CS increases transit massively. It makes out subway system 2-dimensional rather than the current system which basically just runs under Market. and it links some of the most populated and utilised destinations in the city.

Given it's State and Fed money, it would be a folly not to build it. And do you really believe that Lee is going to give the finger to ChinaTown by cancelling it?

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

If the Central Subway is built, it will indeed break $2 billion in cost. Anyone who has followed such stuff in San Francisco knows this. For example the original planned cost of the Water System Improvement Project was $1.5 billion. Now it is over $4 billion.

High speed rail in this country was recently cut at the federal level by billions.

The wasteful central subway expenditure could instead replace some of that loss.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

So go talk to Obama. I'm sure he'll listen to you.

But meanwhile, if SF is getting free money to build out infrastructure, we should take it.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

'anonymous' is right...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

I mean the -other- anonymous, who does not capitalize his handle..

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

Mix mode brt is slow. Dedicated lane brt is fast. The t is slow is because most of it is mixed mode. If sf does brt on van ness it will be dedicated lane, and will not share the road with traffic.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

where it doesn't have to compete with buses, bikes, pedestrians, trucks and cars.

Most other cites have made the same decision. A subway under Geary will be a far better solution. Could be BART if the City won't do it. Bay Area wide solutions tend to be better anyway.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

Most all of the T line on 3d Street and along the Embarcadero is dedicated "BRT" equivalent only better with rail and it runs slow.

BRT was proven technology in running from the suburbs to the central city, most of it along freeway corridors. BRT doesn't do so well in already built up areas.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

You mean the report of a bunch of nattering NIMBYs who dont work and have a tremendous amount of time on their hands?
The same civil grand jury that has been critical of every single large infrastructure project for the past how many years?
Self selection is the key here. It's like polling small neighborhood groups on how they feel about highrises.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

Or could it be that the elites never tire of shoveling expensive and corrupt projects into the hopper?

Posted by marcos on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

Is there ever any project which is not expensive or corrupt with you?
No, because the ultimate goal is stasis. The best you can bring to the table is opposition.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

we support all sorts of good development (such as affordable housing) while you support tearing down decent affordable neighborhoods to build plastic condo, cash cow monstrosities

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

Who the he** is we and where is this supposed support for affordable housing?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2011 @ 3:41 pm