It's nice, sometimes, to be in Sacramento. You can run for local office without having to vote on local issues. Witness State Sen. Leland Yee, who didn't have to take a formal position on the Park Merced project -- and now can bask in the wonder of seeing David Chiu hand him thousands of tenant votes.
Here's the deal: Chiu and Yee are both fighting for progressive voters in the mayor's race. Most progressive groups will endorse John Avalos, but Yee and Chiu want those second-place votes, badly. Yee's already got his West-side base, and getting a number two nod from, say, the Milk Club or SEIU 1021 won't hurt him a bit with those voters. But he's not strong with Chinatown leaders (Rose Pak despises him) and he's in a race with three (so far) Asian candidates. He's also contending with a bunch of other center-moderate types (Dennis Herrera, Bevan Dufty) in a very crowded race.
His strategy -- and it's smart -- is to court the left, get those second- and third-place nods on the East side of town and emerge from the pack when all the votes are counted. Problem is, that's Chiu's natural constituency (or should be) -- he talks about "our shared progressive values," was elected as a progressive and, frankly, can't win this race just by sticking to the center. It's just too crowded there with too many people who have won citywide races.
And Chiu just gave up a huge chunk of the city's left by alienating every tenant group in town.
As Dean Preston of Tenants Together put it in BeyondChron (which is generally quite friendly to Chiu):
Chiu reached a backroom deal with the developer and provided the crucial sixth vote to approve the largest demolition of rent-controlled housing in San Francisco since the redevelopment of the Fillmore. Despite a good record on tenant rights issues before his work on Parkmerced, Chiu has now earned the distrust of tenants across the city.
The tenants aren't always a solid bloc. Mitchell Omerberg of the Affordable Housing Alliance and Ted Gullicksen at the Tenants Union don't always agree on candidates or issues. But there was no division or dissent on this one. Omerberg, who has been known to slide to the center, was adamant that Chiu's vote -- the swing vote to move the project forward -- was "deeply disappointing." He told us: "In general it's an unwise, immoral plan to demolish a neighborhood. When you demolish people's homes, you always regret it later."
So now Yee can go to progressives and say -- as he did at the Democratic County Central Committee -- that he has all kinds of concerns about Park Merced and make it sound as if he opposes it, and use that leverage to peel some endorsements and votes away from Chiu. It's ironic: When he was on the Board of Supervisors, Yee was hardly known as a pro-tenant vote. His record on tenant issues, while ancient history in political terms, was going to haunt him with some progressives (and still may). But now he's gotten a boost -- if only because he and Chiu are the ones most agressively working to get endorsements from progressive groups, and Chiu just shot himself in both feet.