San Francisco: A Political Petri Dish

The unexpected death of San Francisco mayor Ed Lee on December 12, upset the carefully laid plans of numerous San Francisco politicians. Surprisingly, and cynically enightening, the “Progressives” on the Board of Supervisors were able to stage a coup in which the “up from poverty” Black female interim mayor was deposed in favor of a caretaker white male venture capitalist in order to keep their options open. In the “Queen City of Politics”, the home of one US senator (Diane Feinstein), the frontrunner for California governor (Gavin Newsom), and the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi), and the political birthplace of of a second US Senator and  “female Obama” presidential aspirant (Kamala Harris) things do not happen by accident or without consequence.

The setting:

– By City charter, the President of the Board of Supervisors, “moderate” London Breed,  became the interim mayor, pending a special election in June to fill the term which runs through 2019. Absent action by the Board, she would lead both the executive and the legislative branches of government, hold the pole position into June, and be eligible for two full subsequent terms ending in 2028. Too many power blocs were at risk.

– The field had been anticipating a hotly contested election in November 2019 between former state senator Mark Leno (a gay former legislative leader perhaps better suited to replace Nancy Pelosi if she ever gives up her House seat), Breed (a continuation of the Willie Brown / Gavin Newsom / Ed Lee moderate faction supported by developers and tech titans), younger progressive Jane Kim (a former school board president and current Supervisor), moderate David Chiu (a former Board president now in the state assembly), and a handful of other aspirants.

– The deal – orchestrated largely by Aaron Peskin (former Board chair; former City Democratic Party chair; current Supervisor) – coaxed moderate Mark Farrell (who was in his last year on the Board and had unlikely mayoral aspirations himself) to give up his seat in favor of four plus months as “acting mayor” with the agreement that he would not run in June. The five progressives on the eleven member board jumped at the chance to block the moderate Breed; the sixth necessary vote came from moderate Jeff Sheehey who apparently thought it inappropriate for one person to be concurrently President of the Board and acting mayor. Well played.

The implications:

–  The City will have a caretaker until June who promises to focus on quality of life issues – homelessness, dirty streets, and public safety. He will also nudge forward his long held goal of installing high speeed fiberoptic cabling for all residents of San Francisco. Unless the June winner is an overnight success, Farrell would be able to re-enter the fray in 2019.

– The candidates for the June election and the November 2019 election will have strong incentives to maximize their anti-Trump credentials. In “the City of Saint Francis” a mayor who was jailed for defying Sanctuary City rules would be a saint. Elections will be fought over more money for the homeless, loose rules for the use of marijuana, and “safe houses” where addicts enjoy supervised use of drugs. Anything which has a tinge of federal rules will be a focal point for #Resist.

–  Some flaws of the San Francisco political system have been made clear:

— The circumstance where someone could concurrently be President of the Board of Supervisors, interim mayor, and a candidate for mayor will be corrected.

— With term limits there are too many candidates chasing too few offices. The maneuvering for the next position begins early and rewards political posturing over the solving of real problems. Perhaps a caretaker could actually focus on results.

— The election of supervisors from local districts rather than city-wide promotes small thinking rather than addressing City-wide problems. It also elevates grass roots activists who can provide campaign volunteers in exchange for funding for favored programs.

– And some epochal change is evident:

— With the passing of Mayor Lee (and his patron, Chinatown leader Rose Pak before him), the Chinese lose their first San Francisco mayor. The two state assembly members – Phil Ting and David Chiu – are Chinese and young enough to have a political future, but they are out for this round.  Three of eleven Supervisors are Asian in a city which is 35% Asian.

— Gay leader Mark Leno’s time may be cresting. He was the favorite in a November 2019 election with a large lead in fundraising and a longstanding organization of supporters from his days as a supervisor and a state senator. In time he will be caught by his clone Scott Weiner – same gay following; same supervisor district; same senate position.

— Adding some nostalgia, Angela Alioto, the 68 – old daughter of former mayor Joe Alioto, an anti-discrimination lawyer, and a figure in old school politics,  is staging her last hurrah.

For those interested in a supporting a longshot, I give you Republican Richie Greenberg – a decent fellow who would really try to do something to decrease homelessness, eliminate open drug use, support the school system, and attack burgeoning street crime. Compassion has failed; it would be a good time for solutions.


www.RightinSanFrancisco.com  – 2/2/18