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Rebels with a Cause: a â€¦
John laforge and bonnie Urfer
Q & A
War & Peace
Henry A. Giroux
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Slippin' & Slidin'
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Upset in San Francisco
Mayor Willie Brown recently donated one of his famous fedoras for a time capsule that will show future San Franciscans what their city was like in 2000. The mayors generosity may have been prompted by the feeling that he hasnt such a great need for the fancy chapeaus since the voters handed him his head in the runoffs of the citys first district Board of Supervisors elections in two decades. Despite all of the advantages money could buy, Brown- backed candidates won but two of eleven seats on the new board, while those backed by Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano won seven.
Although only two races were settled in the November 7 preliminariesBrown-backed incumbent Gavin Newsom ran unopposed and Ammiano drew 69 percent against 4 challengers including one supported by the mayorit was already clear that things would be quite different on the new board.
Due to the law allowing the mayor to fill vacancies, five members of the old board had first gained their seats via appointment by Brown. They generally hadnt forgotten who brought them to the dance, even if he had once referred to the lot of them as pantywaists. As a result Ammi- ano frequently wound up on the short end of eight to three votes, and on major matters was either forced to go directly to the voters via initiative, as was the case with his proposal (successful, but currently tied up in court) to end the practice of double-charging by banks for ATM transactions, or gathering the signatures to go to the ballot and thereby forcing a settlement, as occurred with the citys Living Wage ordinance.
But still, the mayor appeared to be in fair shape after the first roundof voting. One of his appointees Newsomwon, another missed victory by only five votes, and overall his candidates won or made it to the finals in nine districts and led in five. He and his well-heeled friends would have plenty of money to spend over the next five weeks. However, some of the spending proved downright embarrassing. Groups close to the mayor offered free parties, motorized cable cars rides, pizza, cookies, and Teletubbies and Robo- Dino action figures for the kids to voters who would cast their votes before election day, as is allowed in California.
For San Franciscos insurgents, the December 12 runoff elections proved to be an embarrassment of riches. In one of the districts targeted for voter giveaways, Browns candidate, former planning commissioner Linda Richardson, held a 33-21 percent preliminary lead over union electrician Sophie Maxwell. By the last pre-election campaign finance reporting deadline, Richardson had also become the beneficiary of $314,042 in soft moneyexpenditures made on behalf of a candidate by committees not under the candidates controlthe highest total in the city. Maxwell, who was endorsed by Ammiano in the final, received none, and yet was elected by a 56-44 percent margin.
Amos Brown, a minister appointed to the board by Willie Brown (no relation) lost by a 62-38 margin in a district he had moved into by evicting an elderly tenant from a house he owned. Another Brown appointee, Michael Yaki, a former aide to Congressperson Nancy Pelosi, had seemed a shoo-in. After leading in the preliminary round, Yakis op-ed pieces in the New York Times appeared to indicate a greater concern with negotiating his return to Washington, DC than to San Franciscos City Hall. He lost. The only Brown-supported candidate to win a runoff, Mark Leno, who had just missed election in the first round, got less than 52 percent.
All in all, it was hard to say which of the races was most astounding, but Matt Gonzalezs election is certainly a contender. The deputy public defender had done very well in the first round, leading Browns candidate, School Board member Juanita Owens, by 44-28 percent. But that was before he switched his registration to Green. Some opined that not waiting to make that change until after the final election was evidence of the mans political death wish. He was elected by a 66-34 margin.
Certainly San Franciscos political left was invigorated by Tom Ammianos remarkable 1999 insurgent mayoral campaign. Although he ultimately lost that race by a 60-40 margin, the fact that he made it into the final by gathering an astonishing 25 percent of the preliminary vote on write-in ballots went a long way toward transforming the citys politics from a spectator to a participant sport.
The past two years of electoral insurgency stem from something deepera widespread belief that while the city has been awash in dot com money, for many, if not most residents, this has meant little more than increased housing costs that would ultimately force them to leave their prosperous city. It was this belief, along with the perception that the arrogance of the citys mayor and business community had passed beyond all reasonable bounds, that has given San Francisco a dramatically new look at City Hall.
San Francisco may be starting to realize its political potential. While the political left has been less than the sum of its parts throughout America, in few places was this more so than here. It is generally agreed that the 1978 murder of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by former Supervisor Dan White was in large part responsible for the voters decision to end the citys experiment in district elections after only two terms. But while it is generally foolhardy to psych- ologize a city, it does seem hard to deny that the tragedy may also have effected a political timidity from which the city is only now beginning to emerge.
Of course, it would be a mistake to characterize the new majority on the Board of Supervisors as one of the left, and it is not even clear that those members who could legitimately be called leftist will always agree. For instance, one of the newly elected leftists is eager to pass a new housing bond, while another opposed a recent library bond. After all, it is a legitimate debate whether the use of bonds represents the only available means of financing construction beneficial to the majority of a citys residents or whether it constitutes a transfer of income upwardor both.
Yet there is ample reason to hope that the new Board will facilitate one of the central goals of the lefta fair fight on the issues, free of the overwhelming dominance of corporate cash. Ammiano suggests taking the power to fill board vacancies away from this and any future mayor and giving it to the voters; a city commission proposes allowing the voters to decide whether to establish a municipal utilities district to take over power distribution from Pacific Gas and Electric, a move blocked last year despite the filing of the required signatures. This new board would seem likely to let both ideas go forward.
Oh yes, newly elected Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval told Willie Brown that it might be a nice idea if the taped greeting to visitors at the new international terminal at San Francisco Airport were to come from the supervisors as well as the mayor. The mayor said that he would take it under consideration. Z
Tom Gallagher is a long-time activist and a freelance writer.