By Steven T. Jones
Pollster David Binder was about to begin his regular election post-mortem in the SPUR offices this afternoon when I ran into Mayor Gavin Newsom’s press secretary, Peter Ragone. “Not a very good night for the mayor, huh?” I noted.
But rather than admitting the obvious, Ragone began to spin and dissemble like crazy, shrugging off the defeats of supervisorial candidates Rob Black and Doug Chan – who Newson endorsed and campaigned heavily for – and the approval of a slate of progressive ballot measures that the centrist mayor opposed.
“We endorsed them, but didn’t put a lot into it,” Ragone said, despite the fact that Newsom spent the last two weekends campaigning for Black and Chan (who finished in fourth place) and obviously made a high priority of defeating his main political nemesis of recent years: Sup. Chris Daly.
“The real key for us was Hydra Mendoza, who won [a seat on the school board],” Ragone said. “From my perspective, we now have the mayor’s education advisor on the school board. It’s a good thing.” Perhaps, although I noted that even with support from the mayor and lots of mainstream groups, Mendoza still finished behind a green: Jane Kim. He shrugged again, sticking to his line.
But Ragone can’t spin away the fact that, as Binder said a few minutes later, “I don’t think Newsom had a very good night.”
It was a night for the progressives, with Daly and most of his ballot measures winning decisively and San Franciscans proving themselves to be way to the left of even the leftward national trend. One indicator among many was that nearly 60 percent San Franciscans approved Prop. J, urging Congress to pursue impeachment even though soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she’s taken it off the table.
“It showed that we had a progressive turnout and this is a progressive town,” Binder said.
How big was last night? Boris Delepine, a campaign veteran and Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s board aide, told me, “This election ranks up there with the 2000 supervisorial races as far as I’m concerned.”
In other words, progressives battled the downtown interests and won. “It does show that San Francisco has strong progressive positions,” Binder said.
But that doesn’t necessarily translate into Newsom’s days being numbered. “Does this mean he’s vulnerable in 2007? Not necessary,” Binder said, noting that Newsom’s approval ratings are still high and that his centrist stance would be difficult to challenge from either the left or the right. The best bet to defeat him, Binder said, would be someone off the radar coming from a non-political profession.
In dissecting this election, Binder said national issues and the desire for big picture change were the main motivators for voters, not anything on the local or state ballots. “We basically had a boring election,” he said.
But its aftermath could be interesting, particularly during Friday ranked choice voting runoff in Dist. 4 where either Ed Jew, Ron Dudum, or Jaynry Mak could win. “Mathematically, it doesn’t seem possible that Doug Chan will win,” Binder said. “Clearly, the mayor’s candidate did not do well in 4.”
There are still about 70,000 absentee and provisional ballots to count citywide, which will determine which candidates in D4 get knocked out first and have their vote redistributed. Because of their shared Chinese ancestry, Binder said Mak could get many of Chan’s voters and move ahead of Jew, then capture his voters to win. Or, as some of Binder’s earlier polling data shows, current frontrunner Dudum is likely to be the second choice of lots of voters, which could give him the margin of victory.
“But the bottom line, we have no idea what’s going to happen here,” Binder said, although he thinks it’s most likely to be either Dudum or Jew.
The most exciting race was in D6, where Daly’s expected reelection was thrown into doubt a few weeks ago by some polls and the onslaught on downtown attacks on Daly (which Binder jokingly referred to as “a deforestation project” for all its negative mailers).
Yet that just served to galvanize Daly supporters who stepped up a vigorous campaign in the final push. “It was very efficient and very effective,” Binder said. That campaign probably caused the wider that expected margin of victory, although Binder said another detail in his previous polling research was also a factor: even though people had concerns about Daly and his sometimes abrasive style, they generally liked what he stood for.
“This is still a progressive district and they want someone who is going to fight for progressive issues,” Binder said.
In District 8 (disclaimer: my sweetie is candidate Alix Rosenthal, so factor in my obvious biases), Bevan Dufty had a sizable margin of victory over Rosenthal for a couple reasons, according to Binder. For one thing, D8 has a higher percentage of registered Democrats that any district in the city and Dufty locked down party support early on. And even though Dufty’s voting record was less progressive that his district, “Bevan Dufty has always had a reputation as a due diligence supervisor.”
“There are people who think he doesn’t vote the right way on the issues, but nobody thinks he doesn’t try hard,” Binder said.
Binder didn’t have much to say about Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who won by the biggest margin of the night, except to note that she wasn’t perceived as having strong challengers. On the school board, he attributed the strong finishes by Jane Kim and Kim-Shree Maufas to their endorsements by the Guardian, the Democratic Party, and other lefty supporters. Binder was surprised that John Rizzo, a green, appears to have (the absentees could still change the outcome) edged out incumbent Johnnie Carter, but most on the left weren’t. Rizzo had a lot grassroots support and ran a strong campaign.
Similarly, Mirkarimi – who attended the briefing along with fellow supervisor Daly – didn’t agree with Binder’s line on the school board, noting that the defeat of longtime incumbent Dan Kelly and the election of Kim and Maufas were strong endorsements for the stand that the current board lefties – Mark Sanchez, Sarah Lipson and Eric Mar – have taken against positions by autocratic former superintendent Arlene Ackerman and her downtown backers.
“We got four votes on the school board,” was how Delepine put it, adding, “President Sanchez, man.”