Olague's antics on RCV alarm her progressive supporters

Sup. Christina Olague is handling the pressures of her divided loyalties very well.
Steven T. Jones

As Sup. Christina Olague was being appointed to the District 5 seat on the Board of Supervisors by Mayor Ed Lee in January, we noted how difficult it might be to balance loyalty to the moderate mayor with her history as a progressive and someone running for office in one of the city’s most progressive districts.

By most indications, Olague doesn’t seem to be handling that balancing act -- or the pressure that goes along with it -- very well at all, to the increasing frustration of her longtime political allies. And that’s never been more clear than on the issue of repealing the city’s ranked choice voting (RCV) system.

As you may recall, earlier this year the board narrowly rejected an effort by its five most conservative, pro-downtown supervisors to place a measure repealing RCV on the June ballot. So chief sponsor Sup. Mark Farrell tried again in March with a ballot measure for November, this time just for citywide offices, and Olague surprised progressives by immediately co-sponsoring the measure, giving it the sixth vote it needed.

Since then, she’s offered shifting and evasive explanations for her actions, telling RCV supporters that she would withdraw her support then going back on her word. Sources close to Olague say that she’s been taking her marching orders on the issue directly from the Mayor’s Office, even as she tries to appease her progressive supporters.

Even trying to get a straight answer out of her is difficult. Two weeks ago, as the Farrell measure was coming to the board for a vote, I called her on her cell phone to ask whether she still supported the measure, and she angrily complained about why people care about this issue and said “you’re going to write what you want anyway” before abruptly hanging up on me.

I left her a message noting that it was her support for repealing RCV that had raised the issue again, that I was merely trying to find where she now stood, and that we expect accountability from elected officials. She called back an hour later to say she was still deciding and she denied hanging up on me, claiming that she had just run into someone that she needed to talk to.

At that week’s board meeting, she offered an amended version of Farrell’s proposal – which would replace RCV with a primary election in September and runoff in November for citywide offices – repealing RCV only for the mayor’s race. She has not directly addressed the question of why she supports a September election, which is expected to have even lower voter turnout than the old December runoff elections that RCV replaced.

So RCV supporters worked with Board President David Chiu to fashion an third option, this one maintaining the ranked-choice election for all offices in November, but having a December runoff between the top two mayoral finishers.

Going into this week's board meeting on the issue, nobody was quite sure where Olague stood on that proposal or the overall issue, again because she’s been making different statements to different constituencies. And as the issue came up and various supervisors stated their positions, Olague stayed silent, as she has remained since then, refusing to return our calls or messages on the issue.

But because of technical changes to the three measures requested by the City Attorney’s Office – which Farrell made to Olague’s option, which he said he would support if his is defeated – consideration was delayed by a week to this coming Tuesday.

RCV supporters and Olague’s progressive allies didn’t want to speak on the record given that she is still the swing vote on the issue, but privately they’re fuming about Olague's squirrely temperament, lack of integrity, and how she’s handling this issue (as well as her bad votes on the 8 Washington high-end housing project and her role in the Lee perjury scandal).

But rival supervisorial candidates like Julian Davis – who came to the hearing at City Hall Tuesday and proclaimed his unqualified support for RCV – are less reticent.

“Silence or avoidance are not acceptable, so we’re calling for her to explain why a low-turnout, plurality election in September is good for San Francisco. Help us understand,” he said, noting that such a election especially hurts minority groups and other progressive constituencies that don’t vote as reliably as conservatives. “Why should Christina Olague have anything to do with it? You and the rest of San Francisco deserve an answer.”

Meanwhile, Davis recently won the endorsement of local Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin, while fellow progressive candidate John Rizzo announced his endorsement by Assembly member Tom Ammiano. And there are rumors that some prominent progressives who have already endorsed Olague are considering withdrawing their endorsements because of her recent behavior.

All of which make for some interesting dramas going into Tuesday’s RCV vote.


Who cares what you think?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 12:43 am

Some times she voted with the left and sometimes with the moderates. Same with Kim. That's what I want from a Supe i.e. to think about each issue on it's own merits rather than a kneejerk vote from ideology every time.

I want Olague to be independent, of both the mayor and the extreme left. She's doing that and this D5 voter is comfrotable with her.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 5:16 am

Is this the Olague campaign talking? I've seen plenty of talk about independence (the Chinatown dinner, for example) but precious little evidence of independence in action. Has there been a single issue where Olague bucked the Mayor when it counted or could have been decisive. Kabuki independence is something else.

I think the real problem here is that Olague doesn't represent the interests of D5 voters. And why should she? She wasn't elected. Instead, she represents the Mayor and pragmatic establishment progressives like Calvin Welch who are making early bets on her being on the winning side. Call it what you want, but it sure ain't democracy in action.

Posted by gust on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 11:02 am

Sure, D5 has some bad neighborhoods, where support for a socialist might be more likely. But then it also includes the million dollar mansions of Cole Valley, Upper Haight, Duboce Triangle etc. where many wouldn't feel so much affinity with a kneejerk leftie like Avalos.

Probably only D6 has changed it's demographics more than D5, and of course D6 rejected Walker in favor of the more moderate Kim, last time out.

I'd expect that D5 isn't nearly as lockstep with the Avalos anti-business agenda as you might like to think. Olague's value is as a bridge between the moderate majority and the leftish fringe. She does a decent job of that and hasn't always voted as Lee would wish.

Idealism framed with pragmatism and consensus is not at odds with the D5 zerigeist that I know.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 11:37 am

Could be wrong, but I'm not sure there are any socialists in the race.

My point is not that Olague is shunning the "bad neighborhoods." It's that she is shunning all of them--including the "million dollar mansions."

And I'm still waiting for an example of Olague voting against Lee's wishes. Come on, give it your best shot!

Posted by gust on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

I was simple saying that D5 isn't as shallow and one-dimensional as you were claiming. Most of my neighbors are moderates and have no sympathy for extremists like Avalos and Daly.

Olague has solid support among the streets I walk every day.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 4:57 am

I'm sure there will be a Bevan Dufty type job waiting for her after the 1 year waiting period. The progs will never be able to compete at the level of a Willie Brown.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 7:25 am

It's time for our friendly neighborhood progressive newspaper to do a dispassionate, nuts and bolts piece about RCV--not based on whether certain progressives or conservatives "like" it--but whether it actually influences voter turn-out, results, etc. That would make a far more interesting piece than the personality driven ones of late.

I disagree with the RCV reform legislation as it is written because voting in September is a recipe for low-turnout. However, questioning RCV should not become the litmus test for how progressive is defined. There are plenty of good questions to be explored on whether this is optimal system to use. You should be able to ask these questions witthout having you integrity questioned.

Posted by James Tracy on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

I've written many pieces analyzing RCV and its results, but there simply isn't a clear way to analyze it in the objective way you're calling for because it depends on what you value. It has saved money from fewer elections, and it has worked just fine on a technical level. But beyond that it's hard to say how it has altered election outcomes or their tenor because that depends on a number of variables that are nearly impossible to isolate, set against a comparison to other voting systems, all of which have some flaws. But we have aired arguments by progressives against RCV, including Calvin Welch piece on Friday. For us, relative to our new supervisor, it isn't a matter of litmus tests as much as the expectation that elected officials will explain themselves if they change their positions on an issue, otherwise we have reason to question their integrity and motivations.

Posted by steven on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

James, dispassionately, September is not a recipe for a low turnout, although I realize that you have been fed that belief for a long time.

Many cities rely on September Mayoral primaries and have for decades. Boston, New York, Washington DC....these are not lazy complacent cities that are too stupid to realize that they have a problem.

Have you heard much about cities abandoning September primaries?

It's easy to cherry pick bad primaries for any month, especially in Mayoral races where popular candidates are unopposed. BTW, we just had a clunker primary ourselves a few weeks back. Remember?

Sorry, but you've been had, my friend.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2012 @ 11:30 am

I remember Christina from over a decade ago and having discussions then with many in the progressive community who found her integrity to be sorely lacking. Counting on her is like waiting for Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Both are complete wastes of time.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2012 @ 9:56 am