Sorting out the Adachi initiative

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Lots of press on the Adachi pension-reform measure, a proposal that would amount to cutting the pay of city workers during a recession. It turns out even Gavin Newsom doesn't like the plan:

The mayor also attacked Adachi's pension plan, arguing that the public defender never discussed it with the employee unions, city officials or others affected by the measure and that it could have "unintended consequences" for the city.

And while I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the Adachi measure "could reshape national politics," Randy Shaw makes a good point:

Adachi’s measure would join with Sean Elsbernd MUNI charter amendment to create a one-two punch against public employees on San Francisco’s November ballot. The national media will have a field day with the prospect of “liberal” San Francisco, and Nancy Pelosi’s home turf, voting to cut public employee compensation.

While this is not the message Adachi wants to send, it will likely be the one that is heard. It emerges at a time when the entire Republican Party and corporate Democrats are in a full-fledged media campaign to redirect public anger over the fiscal crisis toward excessively compensated public employees, and away from banks, oil companies, hedge fund managers, and an under taxed and poorly regulated private sector.

Shaw also says that the campaign will "bitterly divide progressives," and I'm not sure it has to turn out that way. There's always the danger that liberal voters who work in the private sector, and are struggling to keep their jobs and health insurance, will be seduced by the notion that public-sector employees are too well paid already. And the donwtown folks, who will soon be fully on board with the Adachi measure, will seek to divide the nonprofit sector and labor by arguing that nonprofit workers don't get the same benefits as city employees -- and city funding for nonprofits is threatened by the budget deficit. Both those things are true, but it's also true that there's a growing movement to challenge that approach. This battle will be a test for the city's progressive movement, but I think the overwhleming majority of progressive leaders, activists and nonprofits will stick together and oppose Adachi.

The more important political impact will be felt in the tightly contested district-election contests, where city-employee pensions could join the sit-lie measure as wedge issues that the moderates will use against progressives. When Adachi came down to see us, I asked him if he was worried about that; he didn't really seem to think it was important.

But there's a reason we talk about a "progressive movement" (and don't start on the "machine" stuff again, we had that debate over here). We all ought to be concerned about how one campaign affects the larger goal of building a better and more sustainable city. And while I hate to say it, I have to agree with Gavin Newsom: This thing could have "unintended consequences."