The young progressive from D6 talks about broadening the movement to include jobs and safe, clean streets
Despite fears that a candidate backed by downtown could replace firebrand progressive leader Sup. Chris Daly in District 6, in the end it was the two progressive candidates — Jane Kim and Debra Walker — who finished far in front of the large pack of candidates, with Kim winning the race. And she thinks that says something about how the progressive movement has matured.
"To have the two leading candidates be progressives says a lot about the progressive political community," Kim said. "The race was really between Debra and me in end."
Kim, a 33-year-old attorney and the outgoing president of the San Francisco Board of Education, has been active in progressive politics in San Francisco for many years, from doing community organizing with the Chinatown Community Development Center to running the short-lived San Francisco People's Organization, which Daly helped create.
Yet part of her campaign strategy, and the message that she's sending in the wake of an election that divided the progressive community, focuses on issues and themes that are more common to political moderates: job creation, clean streets, public safety, and neighborhood services.
"I think it's important for progressives to cross over, and I don't think it should be viewed as selling out," Kim told us. "Progressives need to do a good job at maintaining voters' faith in the progressives' ability to lead."
In addition to courting progressive groups and voters, Kim's campaign aggressively targeted residents of the residential condo towers in Rincon Hill and Eastern SoMa, voters who are generally more affluent and newer to San Francisco than the typical progressive constituencies.
"It's a lot of new residents who don't feel like they're a part of any political faction and they're really open," Kim said. "People just want to see that things are better. They want the streets to be clean and safe."
With a new mayor and new blood on the Board of Supervisors, Kim said this is an important political moment for San Francisco, "a huge opportunity" to redefine San Francisco politics in the wake of Mayor Gavin Newsom and progressive supervisors such as Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, Tom Ammiano, and Daly.
"The Class of 2000 was able to show how progressive we can be with policy. They really pushed the envelope," Kim said, citing new worker and tenant protections and programs such as Healthy San Francisco. Now, she said, the challenge for progressives in the Classes of 2010 and 2008 is to show that they can provide effective leadership in realms like public safety and economic development. "If we're able to lead on those two issues, it would really firm up our leadership of the city," Kim said, noting that it would also affect the dynamics of next year's mayor's race.
While Kim didn't go into detail about how she intends to deal with what she says is the biggest challenge facing the new board — a budget deficit of $700 million over two years, coming at a time when all the easy cuts have already been made in recent years — she said the city needs to be aggressive in boosting the local economy and ensuring San Franciscans get most city contracts.
"We need to figure out how we can partner with small business to create a diversity of jobs in San Francisco," she said, noting that the average San Franciscan has more faith in the moderates' ability to create jobs, something that progressives need to address. But how can she help break the grip that the conservative San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has on small businesses?
"Part of the problem is that small businesses aren't organized," Kim said, noting how that hurt Sup. David Chiu's ability to win support this year for his business tax reform measure that would have helped most small businesses and made some large corporations pay more taxes. "They're busy running their businesses and they don't have the time to look at the details, so they just read the briefing of the Chamber of Commerce."
Kim said she respects the leadership role Daly has played in progressive politics and that she'd "like to be part of the moral compass of the Board of Supervisors." But she also said that Daly's sometimes abrasive style unnecessarily hardened the opposition of moderates to important progressive issues.
"He made it harder to talk about affordable housing," Kim said, noting that the city's dearth of affordable housing should be an issue that's important to middle class voters, noting that it includes housing for people who earn up to 120 percent of the median income for the region. But after Daly hammered on the issue, "It was like a bad word coming out, and people would turn off to the issue."
But she thinks it's a fixable problem if she and her allies do the hard work, an ability they demonstrated this year by defeating Walker, who had been running for the seat for years and lining up all the key endorsements. "Voters do respond to campaigns that work really hard, and that bodes well for progressives," Kim said, noting that she intends to reach out to Walker's supporters. "I don't think I can be successful as a supervisor if I don't work with all the camps in the progressive community."