The attack on the SF left

Who's calling the shots?

If I were a political consultant hired by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the big developers and the landlords and Mayor Newsom, and my job was to launch an effective attack on the progressive movement in the city and undermine progressive control of the Board of Supervisors, here’s what I’d do:

1. I’d attack district elections. See, every time the downtown folks have tried to run candidates in swing districts under the existing system, they’ve lost. That’s in part because the business types can’t seem to find decent candidates, and part because money doesn’t rule in districts, so progressives who can mobilize at the grassroots level have a better chance.

So when you can’t win the game you try to change the rules. You can’t do it too directly, because the polls show that people like having district supervisors, so I’d come up with a “hybrid” plan -- say, seven districts and four at-large supervisors. Since anyone who runs at large in this city needs gobs of campaign cash, that would pretty much guarantee that four board members would be accountable to downtown. Then draw the districts to create two moderate-conservative seats, and the progressives have lost control.

I’d launch this by planting stories in the San Francisco Chronicle about a “growing movement” to change the way the supervisors are elected -- even thought there is no real grassroots movement.

But that creates the appearance that’s needed to begin raising money and preparing for a ballot initiative. It’s not hard to get the Chron to bit on something like this; C.W. Nevius, the local columnist who lives in the East Bay suburbs, never liked district elections, so he’ll play along and the Chron’s corporate ownership, which is close to the Chamber folks, never liked the system either. You can expect an editorial from the Chronicle Feb. 28th calling for a partial repeal of district elections.

The argument won’t have anything to do with the fact that the Chron doesn’t like the policies this particular board has passed; it will be all about the need for a “citywide perspective.” Now, that’s just horseshit, since the district boards have done an immense amount of work on citywide issues (like mininum wage and health care) that the at-large boards would never do.

But “citywide perspective” is a term that’s been focus-group tested and sounds good.

2. I’d look for a nice wedge issue for the November elections -- something that could be used against progressives in swing districts. When Newsom ran for mayor the first time, he used “care Not Cash” -- a well-funded attack on homeless people.

And gee, guess what? There’s another nice anti-homeless measure that’s recently been floating around, and it comes from the media-savvy police chief, George Gascon. It’s called a “sit-lie” law -- legislation that would criminize the act of sitting on the sidewalk. It’s got a lot of populist zing to is, particularly since Gascon is talking about the need to clean up Haight Street, where some ill-behaved young people have been bothering the merchants and shoppers.

A November ballot initiative on a sit-lie law would allow downtown to raise a lot of money -- and attack people like Rafael Mandelman and Debra Walker, candidates for supervisor in districts where a simplistic attack on the homeless might play. 

3. I’d try to split the city’s labor movement and drive labor away from the progressives. The obvious tactic: Construction jobs. I’d get every construction trade union member to campaign in District 10 for a supervisor who will support Lennar Corp.’s redevelopment project, and I’d attack any supervisor or candidate who supports limits on, say, buildings that shadow the parks and call them anti-jobs.

4. I’d launch a quiet effort to raise a big chunk of money to push pro-downtown candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. The DCCC used to be something of a political backwater, but under progressive control, it’s become a significant force in local elections. The DCCC controls the local Democratic Party endorsements and money -- which can be a big factor in district supervisorial races.

Now: I have no evidence that any individual consultant has created any such plan -- but it’s sure an interesting coincidence, isn’t it?

What I see right now is a coordinated, orchestrated attack on the left -- and I’m getting a little nervous that our current leadership on the Board of Supervisors isn’t doing enough about it.



May be its just that the Board of Supervisors are unpopular and have let the average working guy/gal down?
The Uber left should not forget that there are working folk who want safe streets, good schools and nice parks. I'll happily pay more taxes if I thought the money would go on any one of those and not wasted on efforts like sending messages to NRA, George Bush or who ever is currently the bogey man of the day.
Also the Boards stuckiest attitudes toward development and economic progress have alienate many.
Progressive should mean attaining progress, unfortunately not in SF.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Feb. 23, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

San Francisco has many of the same problems as any other major city. Progressive should mean attaining progress in a *forward* direction, not going backwards in a regressive direction. But that's often how the word "progressive" is used by the rabid regressives who despise this City, because they would like to progress *back* to at least the 1930-40s. And the rabid regressives---especially that backwater cesspool crowd on SFGate---would like for San Francisco to look like and be like every other backward place on the planet. Fortunately, we're not there yet but some people keep chipping away at the progress we have made thus far.

The corporations have let the average person down by outsourcing thousands and thousands of their jobs in this nation to Asia and India, and the Board of Supervisors really have very little to do with that. Progressives want safe streets, good schools and nice parks too, it's not just something that the rabid regressives have a monopoly over wanting. And I don't consider it progress to want corporate box stores on every street corner.

As for the "boogeyman," what about the Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein "boogeyman?" Huh? The rabid "right" own the trademark for cooking up boogeymen and people that they claim we must go hunt and kill for (most often people of colour and who have oil under their sand). The neocon Project For the New American Century document/agenda might be helpful and informative reading for some people. It's all about boogeymen, especially page 51 of that document. Check it out.

As in most cities, it's very difficult to get any building project passed regardless of who is on the Board of Supervisors. It has more to do with earthquake safety, shading or blocking someone's view or apartment, traffic congestion, those kinds of things. It doesn't have much to do with the Board of Supervisors or even "left" and "right."

Also, as for that CW Nevius guy at SFGate, why does anyone give him any attention at all? Who cares that someone who doesn't even live in the City doesn't like district elections here?! Why doesn't that man focus on the hell hole where he lives in the East Bay and write about that? Why doesn't he find a job *there* so he doesn't have to commute to a city that he can't stand and is frequently whining about? Has he never heard of the concept of living close to where you work?

Posted by Sam on Feb. 23, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

You left out that Nevius works for a newspaper that loses a million dollars a week for a reason - no one reads it...except for people who live outside the city based on their comments sections.

Posted by M.E. on Mar. 13, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

Tim, I'm disappointed in your piece above. The implication is that anyone who disagrees with any of your dogmas is part of a evil right-wing plot.

I remember a similar phenomenon, but from the other side of the coin, in the 1950s in a small town in PA. The religious right there insinuated that anyone who disagreed with any one their dogmas was part of an evil left-wing plot.

Sect-think, whether on the part of the left or the right, impedes rationality and progress. Let's act like intelligent adults and have informed, nuanced discussions of issues.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 23, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

Arthur, why do you have to be on the flip side of the wrong coin with every one of your opinions. Sit...sit...lie! Good business lapdog!!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

In point 1 of this article, Tim Redmond suggests that district elections are good because "money doesn't rule in districts" and candidates can win as a result of grassroots mobilizing. In point 4, he argues that progressives need to focus on the DCCC because "[t]he DCCC controls the local Democratic Party endorsements and money -- which can be a big factor in district supervisorial races."

So district elections are good because money doesn't rule in districts, but money does rule in districts if that money comes from the DCCC (so long as the DCCC is controlled by progressives)?

Posted by Patrick on Feb. 23, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

I think control of endorsements, not money, is the bigger issue with regards to DCCC. Whoever controls the DCCC, decides who gets the official Democratic Party endorsement, which can swing 5% of the vote.

Of course money is always a factor, just not as much of a factor in district elections.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

At the DCCC, endorsements are far more important than money; the DCCC doesn't directly give money to candidates, but does send out a slate card, and the Democratic Party endorsement is significant.

Arthur, I don't think you are involved in any plot at all; you're just doing your thing on Haight Street, which I disagree with. But I do think that some powerful folks who ARE trying -- not in terms of some evil plot, just in terms of real life politics -- to change the direction of city politics are going to use the sit-lie stuff as a wedge issue.


Posted by tim on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 9:33 am

In a post above, Greg says:

"some powerful folks who ARE trying -- not in terms of some evil plot, just in terms of real life politics -- to change the direction of city politics are going to use the sit-lie stuff as a wedge issue."

There are several power blocks at City Hall. Each is trying to influence the direction of city politics. Here are the major ones:

Downtown Corporate Interests

They want to revert to the old at-large system of electing supes, which gave them more clout. Their principal goal is looking out after their own profits.

The Nonprofit Political Complex

They prefer the newer district-elected system of electing supes, which gives them more clout in certain districts. They have shown SF how to put the profit back in nonprofit.

The Unions

They prefer the newer district-elected system of electing supes because it gives them more clout in countering downtown corporate interests. All they care about is more money for their members and more clout for their own officers.

The Cannabis Capitalists

They don't care much about either system of electing the supes as long as they can create a system of laissez-faire capitalism for themselves - no taxes, no quality control, and no regard for employee-protection laws.

* * * *

The Rest of Us

Anyone who is not affiliated with any of the four power brokers listed above will have trouble making his or her voice heard at City Hall.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

If you're an average San Franciscan who is not part of any power bloc, you have NO CHANCE of getting your voice heard under at-large elections. I lived through that system for many, many years. The ONLY voices the at-large supes care about are those who can give money or have major political clout.


Posted by tim on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

Tim, we agree that the old system of city-wide elections for supes was bad. But we disagree about the current system. You see total improvement. I see partial improvement.

A mid-course correction is needed. Some supes should be elected city-wide.

Reason: Under a system that is exclusively elected by districts, if a supe disregards certain constituents and their needs, they have nowhere to go.

That's the current problem with Ross Mirkarimi in district five. He has been M.I.A. in dealing with the public safety crisis that emerged in the Haight Ashbury.

The residents of the Haight Ashbury should be able to find a supporter at the board for their needs. But all the other supes are concerned with their own districts. They don't want to hear about the situation in the Haight.

Mirkarimi's leadership failure on public safety has brought the flaws of a totally district-elected board into the limelight.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

Arthur, what you say simply isn't true. When I lived in the Sunset, I often found that my own supervisor was completely hostile to my concerns. I simply turned to another supervisor, often the Richmond supervisor.

If you want to bash the homeless, you'll always find a receptive ear. Just ask Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, or Michaela Alioto-Pier (when she's actually at work), and I'm sure any one of them will be perfectly happy to help you demonize the homeless.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 10:11 am

Tim, you say:

"If you want to bash the homeless, you'll always find a receptive ear."

I don't want to bash the homeless. Where did you get that from?

I want to get some control over the new breed of street thugs who are colonizing public spaces in the Haight, and threatening and attacking people.

It's true that some other supes might be receptive to the idea of doing so. However, supes from other districts are reluctant to go to bat for an issue in a particular district when the supe from that district is hostile to the idea. That's the way the current system of territoriality works down there at City Hall.

Nothing beats having a supe who is willing to stand up and go to bat for issues in his or her own district. District Five does not have such a supe in regard to public-safety. We have Ross Mirkarimi.

If the current board had a few at-large members, problems such as this would be easier for ordinary folks to handle when they got stuck with an M.I.A. supe.

Not to mention all the problems many residents in district six have with Chris Daly. I feel very sorry for those folks. They, too, would be helped if we had a few at-large supes to turn to.

It's time to reform the board of supes. Please stop blocking the road to reform.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

Has anyone else noticed how "progressives" refer to any questioning of their uninterrupted leadership of the Board of Supervisors and the decisions they've made as an "attack?" Mere questioning is viewed as tantamount to "assault" and must be dealt with appropriately - which always begins with one of these "to the barricades!!!" editorials written by either Tim or Steven and ends with some wild-eyed conspiracy theory about "downtown" and "reactionary" forces.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

I used to think district elections were a decent system until it dawned on me that someone elected with just several thousand votes from one district can so easily derail legislation that affects the City as a whole. Case in point was Eric Mar's effort of a couple weeks ago to amend the pension reform measure by giving the SEIU a 7% raise, which would increase pension costs. Pension liabilities are a City-wide problem, and having one guy from the Richmond district try to mess up a reform measure was pretty galling. I watched the Rules Committee meeting where Mar made that proposal and it was clear he didn't even understand what he was doing. It was embarrassing. Having watched some full board meetings, both Alioto-Pier and Mar really don't seem to have sufficient competence for the job.

I also have a hard time seeing how district supervisors are focused on their districts. My supervisor has no visibility in my district. Many of the other supervisors seem more interested in advancing their agenda rather than watching out for their districts. That's a problem when you're just a citizen who wants his neighborhood clean and pothole-free and some comfort that the City won't end up in Chapter 9 because the board can exercise some spending restraint.

I realize City-wide elections favor candidates who can raise the most money, which isn't a good thing. But on the flip side, I have a hard time believing any of the current board members (except for maybe David Chiu) could have been elected in a City-wide election even if they had all the money in the world.

Posted by Patrick on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

Could it be that demonizing the most vulnerable and lying to the public are cynical enough to warrant being called an attack? Could it be that what's being attacked here isn't "the left" (whatever that is), but democracy itself? Politics has gradually come to mean manipulation, rather than deciding together. Sad.

You might say that "the left" does its share of manipulation, but I'd say you're fudging. Progressives are working within a deteriorating system that corners them into using stupid tactics, but in SF I am impressed (compered to the national Democratic disaster) with how fair they try to be. There's a clear difference between trying to push the mechanisms of power toward power for people who do not traditionally have it, and lying to get more power for...giant powerful interests. How painful. If "the left" were willing to lie and distort to the degree that the right is (just read the position papers of the corporate-hired strategists!), then they'd be 1) no longer "left" and 2) immediately courted by powerful lying interests, just as Obama's team is.

Posted by Joel P on Feb. 26, 2010 @ 9:51 am

Patrick Monk.RN.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

Has anyone else noticed how "progressives" refer to any questioning of their uninterrupted leadership of the Board of Supervisors and the decisions they've made as an "attack?" Mere questioning is viewed as tantamount to "assault" and must be dealt with appropriately - which always begins with one of these "to the barricades!!!" editorials written by either Tim or Steven and ends with some wild-eyed conspiracy theory about "downtown" and "reactionary" forces.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Feb. 27, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

Arthur, if you don't like the supervisor you have in District Five, there's an excellent solution: elect somone else. Ross Mirkarimi won re-election not because he had a political machine behind him (he didn't even have the Democratic Party, since he's a Green) but because the voters liked his record. When his term is over, you can run yourself or find a candidate who supports your point of view and work to get him or her elected. The good thing about district elections is that the barriers aren't high; you don't need to raise huge amounts of money or get powerful politicians to back you. If you're right and the majority of your neighborhood agrees with you, then do something about it -- run for supervisor or find a like-minded candidate.

If we had citywide elections, that would not be an option.

Posted by tim on Feb. 28, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

When I moved to the Bay Area in 1983, I was between surprised and shocked to learn we had citywide elections. This was in Berkeley. In that city, many progressives opposed district elections for city council because they gave more representation to the more conservative people in the hills. San Francisco is a flip of that situation, but the same analysis applies: District elections are far more representative than citywide ones, because 1) the smaller the electorate, the more intimately and accurately it is represented, and 2) the less influence moneyed interests have over the election. (Berkeley's "weak mayor" form of government is also far more representative than that of San Francisco, though I never heard of that before I moved here, either, and had to educate myself about how it works. But that's a slightly different issue.)

I'm from Chicago, so maybe citywide elections for city councils and boards of supervisors are a California or western thing. But they're hideously unrepresentative and just provide a phony excuse for those with money and power to ride roughshod over the rest of us. A hybrid election is just a proposal from those with money and power and those who support them to take back some power in the City, by putting more right wingers on the Board. We don't need hybrid elections. What we might need is even more and smaller districts and a weak mayor system so that there are no more tyrannical vetoes by someone who is accountable to no one except for his campaign contributors.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Mar. 07, 2010 @ 12:38 pm