The attack on district elections begins

|
(1)
SF electoral districts
Beyondchron.org

I knew it was coming. After ten years of district-elected supervisors promoting progressive policies (minimum wage and sick day laws, universal health care, tenant protections, public power, development limits, affordable housing etc.) downtown has finally figured out how to launch a counter-attack. It was announced this morning in the pages of the Chronicle

I knew it was coming. After ten years of district-elected supervisors promoting progressive policies (minimum wage and sick day laws, universal health care, tenant protections, public power, development limits, affordable housing etc.) downtown has finally figured out how to launch a counter-attack. It was announced this morning in the pages of the Chronicle

The idea is to replace some of the district supes with at-large representatives – say, four of the 11. That Chamber of Commerce is doing a poll on the issue. Expect a November ballot initiative.

C.W. Nevius chimed in, too, arguing in favor of the “hybrid” (sounds so much like an eco-friendly car) system.

The line is going to be this: District supervisors don’t pay attention to citywide issues.

"People like the idea of being able to talk to a district supervisor about neighborhood problems, but also feel that they want someone they can go to with broader, citywide concerns," said Steve Falk, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Or as Nevius puts it:

The truth is that San Francisco has more supervisors than any county in California. Is it too much to ask that a few of them have the entire city's best interest in mind?

Let’s consider for a moment what this is really about.

For starters, get rid of the nonsense about a “citywide perspective.” Even Nevius didn’t try to push that too hard when I emailed him with the facts, to wit: Over the past ten years, district-elected supervisors have devoted themselves to a long string of exceptional citywide reform measures and have been guilty of very little district pandering.

Consider a few examples:

Healthy San Francisco
The Rainy-Day Fund
Reforming the makeup of the Planning Commission, Police Commission and Board of Appeals
Restricting the use of plastic bags
Minimum wage and sick day laws
A citywide infrastructure plan and bond program
Community choice aggregation and green energy
Campaign finance reform
Sanctuary city protecting for immigrants

The list goes on and on.

You may agree or disagree with what this board has done, but nobody can honestly say that the district supervisors have ignored citywide issues or that they don't have a citywide persoective. No: This has nothing to do with citywide issues vs. district issues. It’s entirely about policy – about the fact that district supervisors are more progressive. About the fact that downtown can’t possibly get a majority under a district system – because with those small districts that Nevius complains about, big money can’t carry the day.

In a district system, grassroots organizing – the stuff that labor and nonprofits and progressive groups are good at – is more important than raising money. So district supes are accountable to a different constituency.

I watched an at-large board for almost 20 years, and it was, by and large, a collection of sold-out hacks who did exactly what the mayor and the downtown donors said. It was really pathetic.

The polls have consistently shown that people like have district supes, so now there’s this “hybrid” effort.

Here’s what it means:

Right now, there are three districts that will generally elect a more conservative representative – D 2 (Michela Alioto-Pier) D- 4 (Carmen Chu) and D-7 (Sean Elsbernd). Districts 8, 10, 11 and 1 are swing districts, and the rest are going to go generally progressive.

So the odds are under this system that the left-leaning constituencies will have at least six votes, and in good times, as many as eight.

Now take four of those votes away, pretty much forever. Set it up so that four supervisors, elected citywide, will be guaranteed downtown call-up votes. Then add in one or two more from the more conservative districts, and you’ve got a majority.

That, my friends, is exactly what this is about, and any effort to frame it as anything else is just spin.

I asked Nevius what the hell he was doing buying the bogus argument that we need citywide perspective – since the district board has already demonstrated that, consistently. Here’s his response:

First, I'd envision the city-wide supes as made to order swing votes. When a district supervisor had a good idea, let's say Healthy San Francisco, it might not be an issue of critical interest for a district supervisor. But it would be right in the wheelhouse for a city-wide official, who is looking for broad stroke issues to back. And, although you didn't advance the idea, I'd reject the notion that whomever it was that was elected city-wide would be incredibly conservative and obstructionist. The most moderate politician we've elected in this city is Gavin Newsom. Although the Guardian doesn't agree with him much of the time, he's still advanced some very progressive ideas. Everyone jumps on the Chris Daly example as why district elections are a problem, but I think we can look beyond that. I think he's been an aberration. District supes like David Campos and David Chiu have proved they can compromise and govern so I think that's a good thing. I would never advocate that we get rid of representation in the neighborhoods. But c'mon, 11 little districts in a very small city? As Jim Stearns said, some of the districts are no more than a mile square. Combining some of them would still let residents have someone they could call to get the potholes fixed, but also spread out the areas.

Okay, I didn’t say citywide supes would be conservative. Sean Elsbernd is (relatively) conservative. He’s also independent of any big-money interest and does what he thinks is right. He doesn’t need half a million dollars to get elected in his district.

What I say is that citywide supes would be in hock to big money. I've seen it, lived with it. Suffered from it.

And guess what: Healthy San Francisco didn’t need any citywide supes; it passed just fine with the district board.

So what this is about is money and political control, and it’s about the political direction the city is going and who’s going to set that direction. Let’s get that straight and be honest about, and then we can have this discussion.

Comments

there's no guarantee district elections automatically = progressive supervisors. but if downtown is going to run a worthless arrogant dipshit like asha safai'i , well no amount of anything will get him elected. and even city wide races wouldn't mean he'd win, he's still an asshole. and didn't Ammiano win citywide too?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2010 @ 10:40 pm