The attack on the SF left

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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.