A Victory for People Power … and the Democratic Party Slate Card

by Paul Hogarth on November 5, 2008

San Francisco’s a progressive town. It’s election nights like these that remind us that no matter how much money the Realtors throw in attack ads, and no matter how much we fear the City’s changes spell disaster for lefties, the voters always seem to pull in for us. David Chiu easily won the District 3 Supervisor’s race despite having the most expensive opposition—and while races in Districts 1 and 11 will be finalized via Ranked Choice Voting, Eric Mar and John Avalos both look good. Progressives kept a majority on the School Board with Sandra Fewer and Bobbi Lopez, and Chris Jackson knocked long-time incumbent Rodel Rodis off the College Board. But the local proposition results were the most encouraging, demonstrating the power of the SF Democratic Party slate card—and its progressive take-over this year. Mayor Gavin Newsom had some unpleasant surprises on the local initiative front; and while progressives did lose some major propositions, the power of the slate card minimized most of these losses.

With control of the Board of Supervisors at stake as the Class of 2000 nears retirement, Downtown business interests targeted races in Districts 1, 3 and 11—hoping that the bogeyman of Chris Daly will sink progressives. But they overplayed their hands—sending mountains of glossy mailings that stuffed voters’ mailboxes, TV ads on local cable stations and controversial robocalls. Voters were sick and tired of being inundated with election material, creating a law of diminishing returns for each additional hit piece sent.

It’s no surprise that the progressive candidate who best weathered that storm was David Chiu in District 3—whose campaign of personal contacts contrasted with the impersonal deluge of outsiders. John Avalos also survived in District 11, as his years of experience as a “community organizer” produced a ready-made army of volunteers—giving him the largest field campaign of the election season. Both were greatly assisted by independent efforts of the Central Labor Council.

District 1’s Eric Mar was presumed dead 24 hours earlier in progressive circles—as attacks from the Asian-American Contractors and JROTC supporters only further compounded the usual Downtown assault. But Mar’s neighborhood-focused effort may have won the day, although it’s too soon to tell. He still has a ten-point lead in “first-place” votes over Sue Lee, but supporters of Alicia Wang (who came in third) are expected to favor the moderate Lee over Mar. We will know by the end of the week if a Mar victory concludes another progressive “sweep” for the Board of Supervisors.

In District 9, David Campos has a six-point lead over Mark Sanchez among “first-place” votes—with Eric Quezada further behind. In the true spirit of Ranked Choice Voting, the “second-choice” votes of Quezada supporters will pick the ultimate winner—but it won’t affect the balance of power at the Board. All three candidates were very progressive.

But progressives did not confine their success there. In the race for School Board, it looks like seats currently held by Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez (who both quit to run for Supervisor) will stay in progressive hands. Parent advocate Sandra Fewer won a seat on the Board, and 30-year-old Latina activist Bobbi Lopez is in third place. School Board member Norman Yee also won re-election, and the fourth seat will either go to Rachel Norton—or incumbent Jill Wynns. Late absentees can still change the outcome.

The Community College Board has always been a low-profile body that generates little excitement; but starting with John Rizzo’s victory in 2006, progressives are starting to take control. Last night, 25-year-old labor policy analyst Chris Jackson won a seat—ousting incumbent Rodel Rodis. Incumbents Milton Marks and Natalie Berg also won re-election, while late absentees will pick the fourth seat.

In June, progressives won control of the Democratic County Central Committee—which makes official Party endorsements. This year’s long ballot (with 22 local propositions) made the Party “slate card” that much more influential—even when it took controversial positions deemed to be risky or unpopular. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s allies had complained that such endorsements would not go down well with the electorate.

But voters rejected Proposition L—Newsom’s Community Justice Center—which the Party controversially took a “no” position on. They also destroyed Proposition P—the Mayor’s power grab on transit policy. Even on issues where progressives lost, my read of last night’s election results tell me the Democratic Party slate card minimized these losses. Proposition H (the Clean Energy Act) lost 60-40, despite having $10 million of PG&E money thrown at it. Proposition K—the prostitution measure—only lost 42-58, although a similar Berkeley measure in 2004 got crushed by a wider margin.

The JROTC measure—Proposition V—passed, but only by a 53-47 margin. Again, the Democratic Party slate card probably blunted the “yes” campaign’s massive financial advantages. Because Prop V is a non-binding advisory measure, it will be up to the new School Board to decide whether to reinstate the program or not. After all, Mayor Gavin Newsom set the precedent with Question Time that elected officials need not follow these things.

One measure that remains in doubt is Proposition B — the affordable housing charter amendment — which is currently down by 2,000 votes. But as Debra Walker told me last night at David Chiu’s party, “the new progressive Board could just legislate it.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth volunteered—outside of work hours—for David Chiu’s District 3 campaign, but did not play an advisory or strategic role.

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