THE DEFEAT OF Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's agenda Nov. 8 was a victory not only statewide but also in San Francisco, where a remarkable alliance of progressive groups pulled together to organize an effort that helped get out the vote and make sure the Bay Area's voice was heard. But looking forward, toward next fall, it's hard to argue that local progressive leadership is on top of its game.
Three of Mayor Gavin Newsom's allies Sups. Bevan Dufty, Fiona Ma, and Michela Alioto-Pier will be up for reelection, and at this point there are no obvious opponents for any of them. Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who has been at best a shaky member of the progressive majority and recently led the fight to bring Home Depot to town, could also use a challenger.
Three members of the Community College board a corrupt and incompetent agency if there ever was one will be trying to keep their seats, and there's a desperate need for new blood. The school board remains bitterly divided and may wind up overseeing a strike not only by classified staff but also by teachers.
Four years ago, even two years ago, the Board of Supervisors presidents (Tom Ammiano and then Matt Gonzalez) seemed to be thinking about recruiting candidates, pulling together coalitions, and preparing to move the progressive agenda forward. But the current president, Aaron Peskin, has been badly, perhaps fatally, damaged by his support for Home Depot and no longer has the credibility to lead any kind of coalition.
In another kind of political system, Peskin would simply step down (or be ousted as leader) and progressives would find someone else to play his role. That's a good idea, but unlikely to happen under the City Charter, the board presidency is a two-year term, and for better or for worse, we may be stuck with Peskin until 2007.
It's not too early to think about his replacement: The mayor and his allies will almost certainly be pushing for Dufty or even Maxwell, neither of whom can do what the head of a district-elected board needs to do: stand up to and challenge the mayor and ensure that the board has at least an equal role in running the city. So the progressive bloc needs to be united behind another candidate and the obvious choice is Ross Mirkarimi. Although he's still new to the job, he's proven himself a reliable, productive, and level-headed legislator who isn't about to sell out to the big chain stores, the developers, or anyone else.
But the more important thing right now is to start thinking about the next year and there's a lot on the table. From the budget (the deficit will again surpass $100 million) to housing policy, the southeast neighborhoods, energy, the waterfront, violent crime, and Muni, the supervisors need to be actively seeking broad policy solutions that amount to more than tinkering. We've already offered a lot of ideas: a moratorium on new market-rate housing. A complete overhaul of the local tax system. A renewed effort for public power. After the Home Depot fiasco, we'd add a city-wide ban on all chain stores of more than 25,000 square feet. These are real initiatives that can make a real difference in the lives of San Franciscans.
Then there's the matter of finding, grooming, and promoting good candidates for supervisor, the school board, and the Community College board.
The San Francisco People's Organization, formed with the help of Sup. Chris Daly, was supposed to be playing this kind of role, but we haven't heard much out of SFPO lately. And nobody else is stepping up to the plate.
The Board of Supervisors is falling in popularity, in part because of in-fighting and a lack of a visible agenda to counter the mayor. There's not a whole lot of time left to turn that around.