Endorsements were prepared by the Bay Guardian editorial board: Rachel Brahinsky, Bruce B. Brugmann, Matthew Hirsch, Steven T. Jones, Tim Redmond, Camille T. Taiara, A.C. Thompson, and Tali Woodward.
See Endorsements Part II, which includes congressional, state and East Bay races.
Board of SupervisorsDist. 1 1. Jake McGoldrick
Dist. 2 1. David Pascal
Dist. 3 1. Aaron Peskin
Dist. 5 1. Ross Mirkarimi; 2. Robert Haaland; 3. Lisa Feldstein
Dist. 7 1. Christine Linnenbach; 2. Shawn Reifsteck
Dist. 9 1. Tom Ammiano; 2. Renee Saucedo
Dist. 11 1. Gerardo Sandoval
Eric Mar, Mark Sanchez, Jill Wynns, Norman Yee
Part one: Mirkarimi, Haaland, and Feldstein in District 5. Mar, Sanchez, Wynns, and Yee for school board. Yes on A and N, no on I and L ... complete San Francisco endorsements for the Nov. 2 election
A LOT HAS happened in San Francisco since district elections were restored in 2000. A whole lot.
City Hall today has an entirely different atmosphere. The supervisors actually debate real issues; decisions aren't all made in advance, by the mayor's handpicked vassals. The power of the mayor who traditionally has been one of the strongest executives in any California city has been reduced significantly. The progressive agenda that seemed to be on the ropes at the dawn of Willie Brown's second term is now moving forward on all sorts of fronts.
Downtown has noticed: Mayor Gavin Newsom and his allies have targeted supervisors they think are vulnerable, particularly Jake McGoldrick, and are trying to control at least enough seats to prevent Newsom's vetoes from getting overridden. And we may see a move in the not-too-distant future to repeal or amend the district system.
But the lineup for the Nov. 2 election shows exactly how valuable the district system is. In District 5 a wide range of good candidates, few, if any, of whom could raise the money for a citywide race, are on the ballot. McGoldrick, who has never been much of a fundraiser, still has a real chance of holding his seat against a much-better-funded opponent. Sean Elsbernd, the appointed incumbent in District 7, is by no means a shoo-in to keep his job. The mayor isn't controlling this election, and neither is downtown money.
To make things more interesting, this is the first year of ranked-choice voting a system that has already demonstrated its value. Races like those in District 5 and District 9, which could have been nasty, are (generally) civil. Nobody's worried about "spoilers" keeping progressives from winning.
At the same time, the supervisors face enormous challenges. Next year's budget will be swamped with red ink again. The homeless problem is just getting worse. The housing crisis shows no sign of abating. Energy prices are going to continue to rise as long as the city is under the thumb of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. And that's just the top of the list.
Meanwhile, the school board is deeply divided over the future of the superintendent. And the Community College district is an utter mess.
Our endorsements below represent our best recommendations for candidates and propositions. Turnout is expected to be huge, with San Franciscans voting in droves against President George W. Bush. We urge everyone to remember that there's a lot more on the ballot.
Vote early, vote often, and vote to save your city.
No, he's not the ideal candidate. No, he's not running the perfect campaign. No, he won't bring us universal single-payer health insurance, or dramatically shrink the wealth gap, or restore urban programs to the level they were at in the 1960s.
Yes, he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq and was awfully weak in the early days of the war. Yes, he's against same-sex marriage and supports (limited) federal money for faith-based programs. Yes, we realize that, when it comes to his voting record, the senator is no Ted Kennedy.
But there's only one way to look at this election: Bush is the worst president in at least three-quarters of a century, and one of the worst in U.S. history. This election is a referendum on his administration, his huge tax cuts for the rich, his all-out assault on civil liberties, and his appalling invasion of Iraq. It's the most important election of any of our lives, and the choice couldn't be more clear. John Kerry is far and away the better candidate for president.
Kerry, let's remember, was a founding member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and his riveting testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1972 helped further galvanize opposition to the fiasco in Southeast Asia. As Michael Moore notes, that passionate young man may still be somewhere inside Kerry.
The mature Kerry is a politician and has tailored some of his positions to a national audience, but he's still (courageously) against the death penalty and even voted against a post-9/11 bill that authorized execution for convicted terrorists.
His performance in last week's debate was solid and showed that he's moved a few big steps into the antiwar column. And, to his credit, he has said repeatedly that he would seek to repeal Bush's most regressive tax cuts.
There's a huge amount at stake here. Among other things, the war is escalating and could soon lead to a restoration of the draft. The economy is still in tatters, and the federal deficit is ballooning beyond the worst days of the Reagan administration. And it's likely the next president will appoint at least two, and perhaps as many as four, Supreme Court justices and under Bush, that could very well lead to the court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Kerry isn't going to end the war immediately, and it will take a lot of pressure from the antiwar movement to force him to shift control of all military and security operations to a multinational, United Nations-sponsored force and get U.S. troops out quickly. But at least under Kerry that would be a possibility.
Vote for Kerry and more important, call everyone you know in the swing states and make sure they vote for him too. This is one we really can't afford to lose.
P.S. There's still time for Ralph Nader to do the right thing and announce he's dropping out and will endorse Kerry. Every Nader supporter needs to realize the stakes here and pressure him to withdraw before he ruins his reputation and hurts all his causes by helping reelect Bush.
Board of Supervisors
1. Jake McGoldrick
Jake McGoldrick, one of the most personable and sincere people in local politics, is the number-one target this year for big business, landlords, and restaurant owners who don't want to pay their workers a decent minimum wage and Mayor Gavin Newsom. McGoldrick's record isn't perfect, but he's generally a strong, independent-minded progressive and has been on the right side on almost all the real tough votes over the past four years. He deserves not only reelection but also a strong show of support from the neighborhood.
McGoldrick represents one of the more moderate-to-conservative districts in the city, and he's taken some stands that ran counter to the politics of his constituents. The most notable, and often raised by critics, was his opposition to Care Not Cash, which passed by a strong margin in the Richmond District.
But McGoldrick is hardly another Sup. Chris Daly or Sup. Matt Gonzalez. He voted, for example, in favor of Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier's biotechnology tax credit, and he's no longer identified as part of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' "left flank." He isn't a pushover for the mayor, though, and that's why he's under attack.
McGoldrick has taken the lead on good-government and land-use proposals, and his long history as a neighborhood advocate (fighting, among others, the Residential Builders Association) makes him a reliable ally of anyone opposed to runaway development. He took on the Fang family over the lucrative city legal notices contract (he wanted it open to fair bidding). He supports public power and district elections.
A lot of the criticism of McGoldrick has seemed to come from outside the district. In recent days a nasty "anyone but Jake" mailer went out, funded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a big Care Not Cash backer and prime opponent of the minimum-wage hike, which McGoldrick supported.
With the mayor's allies seeing McGoldrick as vulnerable, five candidates, who are mostly pretty far to his right, are challenging him. None of them has earned our endorsement this fall for second- or third-place votes, and most seem to have a problem committing to specific positions on issues. Lillian Sing, McGoldrick's best-funded opponent, for example, likes to focus on things she did 20 years ago, when she was active in community and civil rights issues, before she was a judge. It's been hard to get a handle on what she might do in office but it's clear she has nothing even close to McGoldrick's independence. Sing moved into the district to run this race, and she seems to be the mayor's handpicked choice. She told us she rarely disagrees with his policies, and her election would likely be key to him building a veto-proof majority on the board. She opposes public power.
Matt Tuchow and Rose Tsai also would likely be close to the mayor, although Tsai comes down much further to the right on many issues (she opposes gay marriage, for example).
We don't agree with McGoldrick on everything, but he's been a solid district supervisor, and we're pleased to endorse him.
1. David Pascal
In the nine months since Newsom appointed her to fill his old slot representing the Marina District and Pacific Heights, Alioto-Pier has been a serious disappointment. She's proved to be exactly what some critics predicted at the outset: a loyal Newsomite who has shown almost no initiative to establish her own track record on the board. Along the way she has opposed a lot of important legislation, including Gonzalez's limits on chain stores (which Newsom opposed) and Daly's anti-demolition ordinance (which Newsom vetoed).
The only measure of any significance Alioto-Pier has introduced was the proposal to give tax breaks to biotech firms, which is a terrible idea (and one of the mayor's pet projects). Starting to see the trend? If only Alioto-Pier would show even a little independence, we'd take her more seriously. So far she just seems to be a tool of the mayor ("It's still Mayor Newsom's district," she says of her turf) and of downtown (her campaign Web site proclaims that it's "sponsored by SBC").
On important issues, like raising revenue for the city, Alioto-Pier lacks any credible positions. She says the city's budget woes can be fixed simply through "streamlining," but like so many other candidates who talk about government efficiency she has few concrete proposals to close a huge budget shortfall. She refuses to commit to preserving district elections.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of strong challengers in this district. David Pascal is the best of the lot.
Pascal, a former yoga teacher and small-business owner who now works for Global Exchange, also suffers from a lack of solid positions on important issues. He told us he got his start in electoral politics just last year: he tried to volunteer for Newsom's campaign, but when he found he wouldn't have much influence, he went to work for Gonzalez's. So it's unclear whom he would be allied with on the board, but there are signs he might come down on the progressive side at least some of the time, particularly on small-business issues. He supported Gonzalez's chain-store limits, talks about preserving neighborhood commercial districts, and endorses a "buy local" program for San Francisco. He's a little wobbly on the Presidio (he doesn't like the way the privatized park is run but has no concrete suggestions for how the city could alleviate traffic problems or squeeze out some tax money), but at least he's trying. He opposed Care Not Cash and is "generally" in favor of public power (although he ducked the key question would he support a city takeover of PG&E? saying he needed to study it). He's hardly a crusader, and he needs a lot of work to get up to speed on the issues, but we'll back him over Alioto-Pier.
We found no qualified candidates for second or third choice.
1. Aaron Peskin
This one's a no-brainer. Incumbent supervisor Aaron Peskin is, by almost all accounts, one of the most effective legislators in San Francisco. He's held true to his progressive neighborhood roots while becoming a leading voice for fiscal sanity and ending corruption at City Hall. From blocking runway expansion at the airport (and exposing all manner of financial shenanigans there), to leading political reform efforts (including ending the practice of commissioners seeking fees from private interests with business before their commissions), to banning private companies from selling consumer information, he's been a loud voice for the public interest.
Peskin has always supported sunshine and public power, is a leading advocate of affordable housing, and is working to legalize in-law units. He slips a little toward the center now and then and is willing to compromise when the likes of Gonzalez and Daly refuse to bend, but he also gets things done, and overall, he's been an excellent supervisor.
None of his opponents have made any case for electing them. His main foe, Brian Murphy O'Flynn, seems to be running just because he's angry Peskin fought for a new park in North Beach where O'Flynn and a partner wanted to build condos.
Vote for Peskin. Period.
1. Ross Mirkarimi
2. Robert Haaland
3. Lisa Feldstein
The contest for supervisor in the city's most liberal district is a celebration of ranked-choice voting and district elections, writ extralarge. Since incumbent Gonzalez (in his own very special style) shocked almost everyone in town a few months ago by announcing he wouldn't run for reelection, some 22 candidates have thrown their hats (and sundry other types of headgear) into the ring, creating a wonderful, slightly crazy race that leaves progressives with a huge surplus of attractive choices.
Frankly, there are at least six candidates in the field whom we could happily endorse. All of them would make excellent legislators. The odds are very good that the Haight-Inner Sunset area will wind up with a well-qualified neighborhood supervisor who will not only represent the district but will also immediately become a leader on the citywide progressive agenda.
This is also the race in which the city's experiment with ranked-choice voting will have the most dramatic impact. Already, even mainstream papers like the New York Times have remarked on the unusual civility of the campaign a credit in part to the new voting system, which encourages alliances instead of attack ads, and in part to the basic decency of the leading candidates.
The District 5 race also demonstrates why ranked-choice voting is so important: it allows a wide range of progressives to run without siphoning votes from the others (and thus allowing a more downtown-friendly candidate to sneak to victory). A vote for a candidate you really like, but who won't win, doesn't hurt anyone you can put a stronger contender as your second or third choice. So the three Green Party candidates can work together, the so-called Mod Squad of three centrists can do joint mailing and events, and progressive Democrats can work with other progressive Democrats to raise money and get their messages out.
With all the good candidates, this was one of the toughest choices we've faced in a long time. We're giving the nod, in order, to Ross Mirkarimi, Robert Haaland, and Lisa Feldstein. All three candidates support public power, district elections, progressive taxation, tenant rights, and open government. In fact, there aren't many real policy disagreements among them.
Mirkarimi, who's on leave from his job as an investigator with the District Attorney's Office, has spent much of the past 20 years as an activist and organizer on progressive issues. He was among the founding members of the California Green Party, has been an aide to then-supervisor Terence Hallinan and a campaign manager for both the Sunshine Ordinance and the public power movement, and helped run the upstart Gonzalez for Mayor effort that provided a surprisingly strong challenge to Newsom. He's a principled, articulate voice for the left, and he has the potential to take on the sort of movement leadership role Gonzalez never really adopted. He's also a Green Party member who has the potential to move on to higher office. (It's worth mentioning that when we asked all the candidates to give us their second and third choices, Mirkarimi stood out as the one on nearly every progressive's list.)
Haaland, like Mirkarimi, has a long record on the local political scene. He's been a tenant activist and organizer for more than a decade, working with the San Francisco Tenants Union and the Housing Rights Committee and pushing the tenant agenda at City Hall and on the ballot. He's also played a central role in building the progressive coalition that, starting in 1999, broke former mayor Willie Brown's lock on City Hall: he helped run Sup. Tom Ammiano's write-in mayoral campaign, was heavily involved in the 2000 district supervisorial races, and helped manage former supervisor Harry Britt's race against Mark Leno for the state assembly. Haaland, a former president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club who now works as an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 790, would, to our knowledge, be the first openly transgendered person elected to legislative office anywhere in the country a hugely important milestone.
Feldstein, a union policy analyst, is a bit less experienced in the local political scene, but she had a strong track record as a planning commissioner, is familiar with all the key citywide and local issues, and brings an intelligent and forthright approach to public policy. She has demonstrated her political independence as a former worker in Brown's housing office who spoke out against patronage abuses. An expert in land-use policy (always one of the top issues in San Francisco), she told us she supports "creating a built environment that is structured around people, not cars." She has a good handle on the problems with the city budget and would demand the mayor give the supervisors more than just a few weeks to analyze his financial plans. She would also be a progressive woman on a board that's too often dominated by men.
If we could endorse more than three, Bill Barnes, Susan C. King, and Dan Kalb would all be on the list. Barnes, an aide to Daly, is among the smartest people at City Hall, a committed progressive who knows how to get things done (and who was very helpful with the latest effort to reform the local Sunshine Ordinance). King, a Green Party activist, has a solid agenda and makes a good case for bringing more women into the party's, and the city's, leadership. Kalb has a long history of environmental and good-government work with the Sierra Club, Common Cause, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. But on the basis of experience, platform, and ability, we're going with Mirkarimi as our first choice and urging voters to put Haaland and Feldstein as their second and third choices, respectively. Any one of them would do the district, and the city, proud.
P.S. Do not vote for Andrew Sullivan, who tries to promote himself as a moderate who helped save Muni but is in fact a pro-Newsom, pro-downtown candidate.
1. Christine Linnenbach
2. Shawn Reifsteck
This is the most conservative district in the city, with the largest percentage of registered Republicans, and it's never been an area that sends traditional liberals to City Hall. But there have been some stalwart representatives of the West of Twin Peaks-West Portal area; this was once Quentin Kopp's district, and Kopp demonstrated that good-sense, good-government fiscal conservatives can often find common ground with east side progressives.
For most of the past four years, the District 7 seat was held by Tony Hall, a crotchety and unreliable politician who opposed public power (after getting our endorsement by telling us he would support it) and voted the wrong way on almost all the key issues. He didn't get along with the mayor either, though, so Newsom found him a job at Treasure Island and replaced him with his longtime aide, Sean Elsbernd, a personable type who has shown little or no initiative and offers a platform that rarely varies from the Newsom agenda. The whole deal stank from the start, and it demonstrated why the district needs someone who won't just carry the mayor's (and PG&E's, and downtown's) water.
The best of 13 challengers is Christine Linnenbach, a neighborhood and planning activist who made her mark fighting to keep the city from allowing hundreds of new communications antennae to be placed on Sutro Tower. A lawyer formerly working for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, Linnenbach has a strong independent streak and would find common ground with the progressives on most land-use and good-government issues. Sadly, she told us she didn't support legislation commending District Attorney Kamala Harris for refusing to push for the death penalty in the killing of San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza, and she's far too protective of the Police and Fire Department budgets. She's also against the business tax.
But we don't expect anyone who can win in District 7 will agree with us on everything, and Linnenbach, with her experience and credentials, is the clear choice in this race.
Of the others, only Shawn Reifsteck rises to the level where we feel we can offer him an endorsement. The most fearsome is Gregory Corrales, a one-time Fajitagate defendant, who is on leave from his job as captain of the Mission Police Station and is so far to the right that he's way out of place in any San Francisco district. Pick your second and third choices, but leave Corrales off the list.
1. Tom Ammiano
2. Renee Saucedo
Like District 5, this Mission-Bernal Heights district has more than one qualified progressive candidate, and it offers voters exactly the sort of opportunity ranked-choice voting was designed for. In a traditional election, progressives would have a nasty dilemma: people who support activist lawyer and Green Party member Renee Saucedo might worry that voting for her would help the pro-Newsom stealth candidate, the unqualified (but well-funded) moderate Miguel Bustos topple incumbent Tom Ammiano. And yet Saucedo is raising important issues that need to be addressed in the campaign.
With RCV there's no danger of splitting the progressive vote. We're supporting Ammiano, while giving a nod to Saucedo not only for her positions on issues but also for her willingness to take on an incumbent and demonstrate that even long-time progressives need to be held accountable.
For most of his 12 long years at City Hall, Ammiano has been the progressive conscience of the Board of Supervisors. He was the first to propose a comprehensive tax-reform package that would have forced big business and the wealthy to take on more of the burden of paying for city services. He supported and pushed for public power when almost nobody else on the board would. He's consistently opposed the privatization of public services. He's worked for sunshine, not only in public agencies but also in nonprofits that get city money. He's been a part of almost every significant piece of pro-tenant legislation to come before the board in a decade. He's the only supervisor to speak at antiwar rallies on a consistent basis, and he aggressively opposed former mayor Brown and former supervisor Tony Hall's efforts to make protest organizers liable for the costs associated with demonstrations sparked by the Bush administration's launch of the war on Iraq. He's currently spearheading a push for the city to lay down its own underground fiber-optic cable to break the stranglehold Comcast and SBC have over Internet service.
He's also been effective, both as a legislator and as a political leader: he lead the fight to restore district elections, and his 1999 mayoral campaign was, by all accounts, the birth of the modern progressive movement that won a majority of the board seats and very nearly elected Gonzalez mayor.
We've had our serious disagreements with Ammiano: we didn't like his most recent, overly weak public power plan, and we opposed settling the downtown lawsuit over the city's business taxes (which he voted for). But in the past few months even his critics on the left agree he's been a solid member of the board's progressive flank.
By law, this will be Ammiano's last term in office. He deserves a final shot to complete his powerful legacy.
That shouldn't in any way detract from Saucedo's qualifications. We'd be hard-pressed to come up with another candidate who would better represent the interests of the Mission District's working-class, Latino, and immigrant communities. A Mexican American attorney and third-generation Mission resident who's emerged as one of the district's most prominent and hardworking organizers, Saucedo has worked as a youth advocate and has organized against racial profiling, the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, and the Clinton-era welfare reform. She's been behind virtually every pro-immigrant initiative in the city over the past decade. She helped safeguard San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance barring city employees from collaborating with what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the early 1990s, and she helped create the Immigrant Rights Commission. As director of La Raza Centro Legal's Day Labor Program, she's fought long and hard for the rights of immigrant workers to seek employment on the street, earn a decent wage, and defend themselves against corrupt contractors who hire day laborers and then refuse to pay them all the while expanding the program. She's gone head-to-head with both former mayor Brown and Mission Police Station captain Gregory Corrales over their policies of ticketing day laborers who converge on Cesar Chavez Street to look for work a battle that's cost La Raza Centro Legal close to $400,000 in city funding for the Day Labor Program over the past two years. And when Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted two immigration raids in the Mission last summer, it was Saucedo not any of the supervisors who took ICE to task by meeting personally with bureau representatives. She's also a firm progressive on all the important issues and has vowed to make affordable housing, universal health care, police accountability, youth services, and living-wage jobs some of her top priorities if elected. She's earned the endorsements of several dozen progressive individuals and groups, including Gonzalez and the San Francisco Green Party.
The wild-card candidate in this race is Bustos. A nonprofit executive who once worked as a policy advisor to former vice president Al Gore, he supported Newsom for mayor and has the backing of Newsom's allies. He obviously has some money behind him his signs are all over 24th Street but he has little experience in San Francisco politics and has built no progressive alliances in town. We can't support him. Vote for Ammiano, vote for Saucedo and leave the third spot blank.
1. Gerardo Sandoval
Incumbent supervisor Gerardo Sandoval doesn't always do the right thing. As chair of the Budget Committee, he should have held firm in demanding Newsom cut fat from the notoriously wasteful fire and police departments and redirect those funds to much-needed health and social services that have suffered debilitating slashes over the past few years. He tried to duck the vote on a measure to include gender-reassignment surgery as a benefit for San Francisco employees. And he failed to support Daly's resolution commending District Attorney Kamala Harris for refusing to seek the death penalty against the alleged killer of Officer Isaac Espinoza.
But District 11 is a tough place to represent particularly for a progressive. With possibly the highest homeownership rate in San Francisco and one of the city's most racially diverse, working-class populations, the district supervisor has to play a tenuous balancing act between aging property owners on fixed incomes, small-business owners, and largely ignored Asian, Latino, and African American communities suffering the brunt of the Bush administration's brutal, despotic economic policies.
Overall, Sandoval's done a pretty good job. He's a classic example of the kind of leader encouraged by district elections a true neighborhood advocate who's fought to bring much-needed city services to a heretofore largely neglected community. He's also played a leading role in some important initiatives during his first term in office. He's proved himself a staunch advocate of the Transbay Terminal Project. He spearheaded the successful effort to have the city and county of San Francisco accept the matricula consular, an identification card provided by the Mexican Embassy, as an official form of ID a move that allows Mexican nationals to carry out such simple tasks as cashing a check and proving their identity to hospital personnel and police.
Progressive, grassroots organizers in his district describe Sandoval as a responsive and accountable representative at City Hall. And he's been a fairly loyal ally to the progressive bloc on the board supporting, for example, Daly's anti-demolition legislation and voting in favor of Gonzalez's anti-chain store measure, among other things. He's always backed public power.
In fact, Sandoval, a former public defender, is probably a bit to the left of most of his District 11 constituents. But his neighborhood-service work should help him with the more moderate voters.
Anita Grier, the other potential progressive running for the seat, has a relatively good track record as a member of the Community College Board (although she voted to transfer $25 million in bond money from a performing arts center to a new gym facility at the college). But Grier came off as sadly underprepared during an endorsement interview with us; she wasn't on top of any of the key issues and didn't make a good case for moving from the college board to City Hall. And she's not running a terribly effective campaign.
Rebecca Silverberg, a staunch ally of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and a foe of consumer interests and public power, is widely mistrusted by community activists and she should be. Silverberg would be a disaster on the board and by no means belongs on anyone's ballot. Myrna Lim is almost as bad. There are no other worthy candidates, so we'll just go with Sandoval.
Eric Mar, Mark Sanchez, Jill Wynns, and Norman Yee
Sometimes we wish the San Francisco Board of Education would take a cue from Metallica and enter group therapy. Yes, the San Francisco Unified School District has some real problems. The persistent achievement gaps between students of different races, the administration's seeming disinterest in community input, and the perennial controversies over student assignment all spring to mind. But personal conflicts too often overshadow these serious issues.
Ever since Superintendent Arlene Ackerman came to town, and despite many improvements on her watch, she's been a polarizing figure for the board. Board members Jill Wynns, Dan Kelly, Eddie Chin, and Heather A. Hiles are sometimes too willing to give her free reign and rush to her defense even when she doesn't deserve it. The other three board members Eric Mar, Mark Sanchez, and (to a lesser extent) Sarah Lipson call her out on many legitimate issues, but sometimes the criticism is too high-pitched and undermines their cause. Both factions would like us to come down on one side and endorse only the candidates with whom they're allied.
But the fact is, the board is largely made up of good, progressive people who are committed to equity and reform. The issues that divide them are as much practical as philosophical: some, like Sanchez, would prefer the district defy the state of California on things like curriculum mandates and standardized testing; others, like Wynns, also dislike standardized tests but think it would be foolish to risk state funding. Sanchez says Ackerman's pedagogical style is too traditional, and in some ways she's a bit more conservative as an educator than we would like. But her supporters point out also correctly that she's far, far better than her predecessor, is better than most big-city superintendents in the country, and has made tremendous strides in keeping San Francisco's schools not only afloat but also improving at a time when urban districts around the bay are utterly collapsing.
We have our own serious complaints about Ackerman, particularly her top-down style, her gag order on staff, and her recalcitrance in making district information public. But we also agree that under her administration, the schools are getting better.
So we're endorsing three incumbents who often disagree: Mar, Sanchez, and Wynns. All of them have demonstrated that they care more about public schools, and the students who attend them, than about cutting deals or making friends in politics.
Mar is unquestionably committed to educational equity and community input. He told us this race is about ensuring more of a voice for students, parents, and staff, and he's rightfully pushing the district to adopt the city's Sunshine Ordinance, which would make it easier for the public to get important information about school business.
During his first term, Mar has served as vice president of the board and focused attention on getting more money for schools he helped write last fall's Proposition H, which will direct up to $60 million in city money to the schools. But Mar's heart is in reforming underperforming schools, particularly on the east side, and in protecting the rights of disadvantaged students, including those from immigrant families. He was instrumental in getting the school board to unanimously support this ballot's Proposition F.
Despite the strain with the superintendent, Mar told us, "I want to support her when she does good things she's done many." We hope he can forge new working relationships and continue to be a leader on the board.
Wynns has spent years as the board skeptic, asking the uncomfortable questions that needed asking and identifying legal and financial realities. In fact, she was the first person to point out that things were fishy under former superintendent Bill Rojas. Which is why it's so troubling that she never seems to want to criticize Ackerman. Even though Wynns admits she sometimes has reservations about how Ackerman has handled an issue or a situation, she rarely voices them publicly. She's even defended the school district's tendency to guard information.
Still, when it comes down to it, Wynns has a depth of knowledge and a strength of commitment to San Francisco's public schools that can't be matched. She's a strong and effective parent advocate and a powerful ambassador for the public schools in the community. The school board is still lucky to have her. We'll endorse Wynns for another term, with the hope that we'll see more of that independent streak we've admired so much in the past.
Sanchez always acts out of principle, even if it means being the only no vote when the board is up against some sort of legal wall. It's important to have someone who's willing to act as the board conscience and remind the educational community of what's at stake. Sanchez is a dependable critic of having police or military recruiters in our schools, and he's an advocate for educational innovations like creating smaller schools. He coauthored the resolution to put the school district under the Sunshine Ordinance, an idea that's long overdue, and he's always focused on the needs of teachers, who are of course crucial to any school reform effort.
An activist at heart, Sanchez is sometimes a little more adversarial than he needs to be, and we hope he'll temper those impulses a little during his second term. At the same time, we're happy Sanchez is as riled up about education as he is.
We can't support the fourth incumbent, Hiles, who was appointed to the board by the mayor and has shown herself to be more interested in raising her own profile than in doing the hard work to bring the board together. Smart and articulate, Hiles has unfortunately proposed changes that would have made a mockery of public input and has solicited so many big contributions from the business community that she broke the voluntary spending cap on fundraising. That's not what the school board should be about.
There are several attractive challengers, including James Calloway, Jane Kim, and David Weiner. But our choice for the fourth slot is Norman Yee.
Yee had spent 30 years working with local kids through community nonprofits like the YWCA and Wu Yee Children's Services. He helped start the Chinatown Beacon Center and a preschool in the Sunnydale housing projects. And Yee, who has taught university courses on early-childhood education, has a deep understanding of what solid schooling requires, plus strong community connections.
But Yee also has something else we were looking for this time around: the calm and understated manner of a true mediator, which the board could certainly use. Some have criticized him for distancing himself from the split on the board, but it's clear where Yee stands on the most important issues he's for openness and accountability and against giving downtown businesses control over our schools and we think Yee's tendency toward restraint could serve him and the entire board well.
Milton Marks III and Julio Ramos
We always try to make as many endorsements as there are spots on the ballot, however painful that may be; after all, somebody's going to get elected. But at a certain point, we have to limit our recommendations to people we can, in good conscience, say are worthy of election. This year, unfortunately, that means endorsing only two people for the four open seats on the Community College Board. We're backing Milton Marks III and Julio Ramos, who've both demonstrated their commitment to making City College of San Francisco a better place for students.
Let us be blunt: the college board is a disaster. City College is enormously important to the 110,000 students who go there, and to the overall vitality of this city. And with years of fee hikes and funding cuts piling up, it could use an active and engaged board more than ever. Instead, most of the incumbents are happy to go along with an atmosphere of secrecy and disdain for community accountability that's led to a string of smelly deals. Just recently, for example, all but Marks and Ramos went along with a rotten deal to take $25 million in bond money away from a performing arts center and shift it to a new gym complex at a time when the athletic department is under state investigation for recruitment violations by the football coach.
The toughest watchdog on a board that could use half a dozen more like him, Ramos has proved he's not willing to let the board continue cutting deals out of the public eye. "This administration is basically resistant to transparency," he told us before listing off a number of questionable votes that didn't get the public scrutiny they deserved.
An attorney, Ramos wants to focus his next term on getting City College to adopt tighter open-government rules, making classes more accessible despite the fee hikes, and providing a voice for the student body. He also wants to continue scrutinizing contracts that require board approval, in an effort to save precious dollars. He opposed the bond-money shift, and he's against a privatization move that would lease those facilities to Lick-Wilmerding High School (see "Field of Schemes," 9/22/04).
Ramos says he's the only person on the board who systematically asks questions. His independence has cost him some support from fellow board members and endorsements from the local Democratic Party and others. But if anyone deserves reelection to this troubled body, it's Ramos.
Marks, first elected to the board four years ago, has quickly built a reputation as a committed member who wants to raise the board's profile and increase its accountability.
Although he gets along with the rest of the board better than Ramos does, Marks has also proved his ability to stand up for what's right, voting against the reprioritizing of bond money and forcing the board to stop giving retroactive approval for things the administration has already done. And he's taking the lead on getting City College to build green buildings.
We wish Marks would push the board a little harder on issues like sunshine, but he's a reasonable person and a solid board member who does his homework.
The same can't be said of incumbents Natalie Berg and Rodel E. Rodis. Both offer platitudes that sound just fine about helping mediate the financial strain of going to college and attracting outside sources of funding. But when it comes down to it, Berg and Rodis have approved all sorts of bad deals and seem to be more interested in their political allegiances than in what's right for City College. Plus, they're shockingly uninformed about college business; in their respective endorsement interviews, they couldn't answer even simple questions about their supposed accomplishments. Neither would admit there's anything wrong with their votes to redirect bond money approved by city voters, and they were lackadaisical on good-government issues. They both seemed unconcerned that the district is under state investigation for football-team recruitment violations (see "Away Game," page 10) and supported the district's decision to sue the state over the investigation.
Unfortunately, challengers Judith Schiff and Matt Juhl-Darlington are only lukewarm candidates at best and weren't adequately informed on the issues facing the district. We can only support two candidates this time and two years from now, we'll be looking for some new faces.
The BART Board is a moribund, calcified operation largely made up of weak, unimaginative politicians who don't exercise even marginal oversight over a huge, important, and problem-ridden agency. Tom Radulovich is a rare exception, a genuine environmentalist and public interest advocate. He's critical of boondoggles like the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport, and he's pushing for more regional approaches to transit. We wish he'd push more actively for civilian oversight of the BART police (he says he supports it, but he hasn't done much) and for late-night service. But he's unopposed, and we're happy to endorse him for another term.
Lynette Sweet, the incumbent in this district, was appointed by Mayor Brown and has been a total disappointment. She's taken no aggressive action on BART's problems and is little help to progressives like Radulovich and Roy Nakadegawa. We can't support her, and it's too bad she has no opposition.
YES, YES, YES This $200 million general obligation-bond measure is the result of months of negotiations between the city's various political factions. The debate over the measure's content was more than a bit contentious, but in the end we've got a ballot measure endorsed by both Sup. Gonzalez and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce; the mayor is on board, and so are Sups. Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano. It's nothing short of miraculous to have all these parties on the same page, and there's good reason for their agreement: Proposition A would help house San Franciscans at a wide range of income levels, and with different goals.
There's $90 million earmarked for supportive housing, to help homeless people get their lives on track and to help those at risk of becoming homeless stay off the streets. Another $60 million would pay for building new rental housing for people earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income, which is currently $39,900 for an individual and $57,000 for a family of four. The rest would be used to build ownership housing and to offer loans to those looking to buy as long as they earn no more than the median (that's $66,500 for an individual, or $95,000 for a family of four, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
Since Prop. A would authorize the sale of general-obligation bonds, you'll pay for it through your property taxes (or through your rent), which is why some housing advocates were at first loathe to support it. But when you break it down, it's not much money. The city controller estimates that for a home with an assessed value of $300,000, for example, the maximum annual tax would be about $52. That's about $4 a month, which isn't much to pay to help keep the city from becoming a place where only the rich can live.
Prop. A needs a two-thirds majority. Vote yes, and make sure your friends do too.
Historical preservation bonds
YES Proposition B would authorize the sale of $60 million in general-obligation bonds to provide money for seismic safety and disability access to public landmarks badly in need of repair. Among the buildings that could be fixed with the money: Coit Tower, the school district's Nourse Auditorium, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Old Mint/City Museum, and the Bayview Opera House. The Board of Supervisors would have to authorize a specific work plan for each project before the money could be spent. There's no credible opposition.
Health service system
YES For years a quiet scandal has been brewing at the Health Service System, the agency that manages city employee and retiree health benefits. Sometimes, supporters of Proposition C tell us, the agency's trust fund, a stash of about $43 million that's fed by member contributions, seems to grow and shrink and nobody can account for the changes. Retirees who monitor the system say they live in a constant state of watchfulness, afraid the trust fund will dip to a level too low to sustain their health care.
Control of the system has been a political football over the years: as part of former supervisor Barbara Kaufman's package of City Charter changes in 1995, the agency was moved under the city's Department of Human Resources. Since then, retiree advocates have developed a list of complaints, including allegedly mismanaged funds and out-of-department decision making, that they say has weakened the system.
Prop. C, a charter change put on the ballot by eight supervisors to begin to remedy the situation, would remove the agency from the DHS's purview and create a new department just for the health system, with the goal of protecting the trust fund. It would also alter the composition of the Health Service Board, to give users of the plan a greater say in how the fund is managed. It's a good idea to hand control of the system over to those who use it. More important, this is a trust fund for employee benefits, not a pot of gold for the mayor to raid in tight budget years. Vote yes.
Changes to the City Charter
YES The multipronged Proposition D is good on two levels: the micro and the macro, the practical and the symbolic. It's a commonsense way to improve government accountability and a political move that helps correct the imbalance of power that has long marred San Francisco government.
Traditionally, the city's mayor has enjoyed extraordinary power to run things as he or she sees fit, which gave rise to an unresponsive and corrupt patronage system under Willie Brown that progressives began attacking through ballot measures in 1999.
The mayor's complete control over the various city commissions was broken by establishing fixed terms and giving the Board of Supervisors some appointment authority, but Brown found and exploited a loophole, one our current mayor has also used. When commissioners' terms expired, Brown would neither reappoint nor remove them, thus giving him authority to remove them at any time for failing to do his bidding. This measure closes that loophole by limiting such "holdover appointments" to 120 days.
It also reduces legislative gridlock by including recusals and absences in the equation of how many votes the Board of Supervisors needs to take action. Right now, to override a mayoral veto, the board needs eight votes, or a two-thirds majority. But if some supervisors can't participate due to a conflict of interest or a vacation, the board still needs eight votes, allowing just a couple supervisors to dictate the board's will. Prop. D would allow a majority (or two-thirds in some cases, like a veto override or property condemnation) of those supervisors participating in the vote to decide what the body does.
The third important thing the measure would do is remove from the charter the dictate that each supervisor have just two aides, instead making staffing arrangements subject to the normal budget process, just like at every other department. This would give the supervisors more flexibility to better staff key positions like the board president or chair of the Budget Committee (which is now dependent on the mayor's large budget staff), or to create field offices to better handle constituent needs.
Finally, the measure would expand the authority of the commissions on aging and the environment and would change some deadlines so the mayor can't use recesses to sneak vetoes through before the board can respond. Prop. D is an important reform. Vote yes.
Police and firefighter survivor benefits
NO In San Francisco there are some things you can always count on. One is that at least every other year, the cops and firefighters some of the best-compensated civil servants in town will mount a ballot measure begging for more money.
This time around, they want higher payments for the survivors of officers and firefighters killed on the job. It sounds like a worthy goal, but at the risk of sounding heartless, we're taking the unpopular stance of opposing Proposition E, in part because we're utterly sick of the tin-cup routine.
Municipal services and city jobs are being slashed all over the place. So, unfortunately, everybody even public safety employees is going to have to share the pain. And while the cops and firefighters are always looking for more of the pie, they're never around to help when activists try to raise more public revenue through higher taxes, public power, or increased franchise fees.
It's particularly hard to give more money to the San Francisco Police Department when it has repeatedly proved itself incapable of performing basic tasks like investigating incidents in which cops shoot civilians and when the police union is resorting to unacceptable bullying tactics to intimidate its political foes.
The survivors of cops and firefighters killed in the line of duty already get 75 percent of the late employees' pensions. We'd love to increase that if the cops and firefighters would help identify where the money's going to come from. For now vote no.
Noncitizen voting in school board elections
YES, YES, YES Proposition F would allow noncitizens who have kids in San Francisco schools to vote in school board elections. It's hardly a radical idea: cities in Massachusetts, New York, and other states have been doing it for years. But it could have a huge impact in this city, where close to one-third of all students enrolled in its schools are children of immigrant parents. Many of these children face serious educational barriers including a lack of linguistically and culturally competent instruction and resources, as well as the kinds of extra hardships associated with being from a low-income family. High school dropout rates are highest among children of immigrant families. And study after study shows students do better when parents are actively involved in their schools.
Introduced by Gonzalez, Proposition F would alter the City Charter to allow immigrant parents to vote in school board elections in 2006 and 2008, after which the Board of Supervisors would have to review the pilot program and vote to extend the law into future years. The proposal has gained the support of 9 out of 11 supervisors and the unanimous support of the school board.
We acknowledge that the measure might face a legal challenge but this is something worth fighting for. And the Department of Elections should figure out a way to make this pilot project work without holding school board elections on a separate date from general elections.
Health plans for city residents
YES The nation's health care system is a wheezing dinosaur that desperately needs change. Unfortunately, few political leaders have the courage to create a system that's about keeping people healthy rather than keeping health insurance companies swimming in profits. San Francisco can take a leadership role in the national debate by passing Proposition G, which would change the City Charter and allow city officials to explore expanding the city employee health system to include all residents.
The measure wouldn't actually create anything new, but it would empower the Health Service Board, by a two-thirds vote, to design a comprehensive, citywide plan that could help the approximately 130,000 San Franciscans who live without health coverage. If at least eight members of the Board of Supervisors approve the plan, then it could move forward. Prop. G doesn't force the city to pay for the plan either; it would be up to the mayor and the supes to decide how, or whether, to fund it. So essentially, a vote for Prop. G is a vote for exploring how realistic it is for the city to provide universal care. It's a great idea. Vote yes.
Naming the stadium at Candlestick Point
YES In a sense this measure is already moot, at least for the moment: the city and the 49ers have already given Monster Cable the rights to the name of what used to be known as Candlestick Park, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera says this measure wouldn't affect that deal. Which is too bad: the city bought into the ongoing, relentless commercialization of public life for a mere pittance. San Francisco will get less than $1 million a year for letting a private company turn a public facility into a giant billboard.
But we're still supporting this proposal by Gonzalez, which simply states that the name of the city-owned stadium at Candlestick Point shall be Candlestick Park. At the very least it'll send a message to City Hall that the voters are sick of seeing everything in public life bus sides, BART stations, museums, schools, and who knows what next become marketing vehicles for private businesses. Vote yes.
Economic analysis of legislation
NO At first glance, Proposition I may seem fairly benign. After all, as long as you don't mind the relatively modest $500,000 a year it would cost, what's wrong with giving the Board of Supervisors more information on which to base their decisions?
But the main problem is that this measure would make every action the Board of Supervisors takes about economics and the hallowed buzzwords business climate rather than about progressive social values.
Prop. I is the brainchild of Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, who has disappointed us with her inability to speak publicly in anything but Chamber of Commerce-style sound bites. Every position she takes and every statement she makes keep coming back to business climate, as if nothing else mattered. And by creating a new Office of Economic Analysis that would subject everything the board does to this narrow economic yardstick, she and her business community allies would never run out of ammunition for attacking everything progressives try to do as costing too much.
The board already has a budget analyst who breaks down the costs of its legislation. It doesn't need to hire two full-time economists to help the already well-heeled business advocates shoot down the progressive changes this city, state, and country so desperately need. Vote no.
Sales tax increase
YES We don't like sales taxes. Taxing consumption is among the most regressive ways of raising public money: the poor, who can afford it least, pay a far larger share of their income in sales taxes than the rich do. And a wealthy city like San Francisco, which is home to at least 11 billionaires and plenty of healthy, profitable big businesses, ought to be able to raise the revenue it needs to fund basic city functions without putting additional burdens on the already struggling people on the lower end of the economic spectrum.
So this proposal from Mayor Gavin Newsom wasn't, and isn't, our first choice for solving the budget crisis. But thanks to state law (and a well-funded, greedy downtown establishment), it's hard to pass any new taxes at all in this town, and the city desperately needs money. This 0.25 percent increase in the local sales tax (that's a penny extra on every $4 sale) would bring in $33 million next year cash that would save crucial public services. Half of the money, according to city estimates, would come from business-to-business transactions, and since food, clothing, shelter, and medicine are already exempt from sales taxes, the poorest of the poor won't pay much of it. The average family's burden would amount to about $34 a year.
If Proposition J doesn't pass, health clinics, libraries, and parks will take a hit. If it passes (and so does Proposition O; see below), then the city will, as a matter of policy, designate the money for programs for low-income people, the homeless, seniors, children, and the disabled. Hold your nose and vote yes.
YES Proposition K is the second part of Newsom's revenue package, and we don't love it either. The measure would add a temporary .01 percent tax on the gross receipts of local businesses and would close a loophole that lets some partnerships and limited-liability corporations avoid paying any city taxes at all. It's the result not only of the current budget crisis but also of a lawsuit filed by some of the biggest businesses in town several years ago that invalidated part of the city's previous business tax structure.
The problem with this tax is that it would hit small businesses just as hard as big ones: the Gap and a small corner grocery store would both pay the same percentage of their revenue (although companies with less than $500,000 in receipts would pay nothing). Combined with Prop. J, it's a half-assed, Band-Aid approach to the city's budget crisis, and it doesn't in any way address the structural inequities in local taxation. And while the sales tax increase would be permanent, this one would sunset after 2008 meaning it would just put off the problem for later.
But it is, at least, a new tax on business one that downtown has agreed to swallow and it would raise $43 million next year (and $30 million the year after that). Vote yes.
Use of hotel tax to preserve movie theaters
NO Please read the fine print on this one. Proposition L isn't about preserving neighborhood movie theaters. It's about taking more than $10 million a year from the city's General Fund and giving it to a private nonprofit organization, run by Prop. L's sponsors, with no public oversight and no strings attached. Most of the arts groups and preservationists in town are opposing this ill-conceived plan, and so are we.
Sure, it's worth saving neighborhood theaters. But is it worth starving all our other public programs hospitals, libraries, public transportation to do it? Vote no on L.
This measure has been withdrawn
Withdrawing U.S. military personnel from Iraq
YES San Francisco emerged as the epicenter of the antiwar protests in the United States when Bush first began bombing Iraq based on false pretenses. Now San Francisco has the opportunity to take a similar lead on the electoral front. Proposition N would make it official San Francisco policy to urge the federal government to withdraw all troops and military personnel from Iraq. Backers hope passing Prop. N might help build political momentum against the Bush administration's ongoing war in Iraq, as other municipalities follow suit. It's a tactic borrowed from the Vietnam years. And it should be implemented now too.
Use of sales tax funds
YES Proposition O, authored by Ammiano, is a policy statement that would put the city on record as wanting to spend the new Prop. J sales tax money on services for seniors, low-income people, children, the homeless, and people with disabilities. Given the vagaries of state law, this is the closest the supervisors can legally come to earmarking that revenue for the needy. Vote yes.
BART earthquake safety bond
YES We don't love the idea of giving the comparatively wealthy BART system a whole lot of extra cash when the rest of our public transit system remains sorely underfunded. But the arguments in favor of passing this bond are compelling. Most significantly, if there's a major earthquake that shuts down the Transbay Tube the tunnel that carries thousands back and forth between San Francisco and the East Bay it's important that the system be up and running again as soon as possible, especially if the Bay Bridge suffers serious damage from the same quake. Right now BART managers say they don't think the system is an unsafe ride, but they aren't sure they could be back on track right away after a sizable quake.
This $980 million bond would pay to bolster, seismically retrofit, and upgrade existing BART facilities in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties, including the Muni metro system, which was originally built by BART. The money won't pay for any system expansion.
As this is a general-obligation bond, it would be paid off through the property tax base but because the bonds wouldn't be issued in San Francisco, the city's rent pass-through laws wouldn't apply, according to the city attorney. So landlords who want to pass through costs will have to petition the Rent Board, and many may not bother meaning a lot of tenants may never have to pay for it. Vote yes.