Election Predictions, Nov. 2015

by on November 2, 2015

It’s been a long election season in San Francisco. And without further ado, here are my predictions in the key races whose outcome is not clear.

District Three

In 2012, I wrote a story that described Aaron Peskin’s shift from being a potential mayor to a political maverick. I wrote, “Peskin has skills, knowledge and insights that could have helped move the city forward. It’s too bad he’s decided to instead play the maverick, a strictly oppositional role.”

But less than three years later, Mayor Lee’s appointment of Julie Christensen instead of Cindy Wu to replace David Chiu as D3 Supervisor revived Aaron Peskin’s political career. I wrote in January that after Christensen’s appointment “Peskin immediately becomes the favorite to win in D3. He has the backing of 8 Washington opponents (D3 strongly opposed the project) as well as nearly all voters concerned about protecting tenants.”

In the many stories I have since written about the D3 race, Peskin has remained the favorite to win. Three factors have particularly broken his way.

First, the city’s affordable housing crisis is the top issue in the race, which plays to Peskin’s strength.

Second, Julie Christensen has proven to be a very weak candidate. She is not personally engaging, lacks a clear political identity, and has alienated rather than tried to collaborate with those with contrary views. Christensen had ten months to establish her credentials as a strong supervisor for D3 and failed to do so. This is despite Mayor Lee’s mammoth efforts on her behalf, which included attaching Christensen’s name to popular mayoral initiatives like the recent teacher housing plan and regularly bringing her to media events

Instead of trying to cut into Peskin’s base by aligning with tenants and progressive Chinatown activists, Christensen made comments criticizing rent control. She accused Supervisor Jane Kim of falsely promoting eviction horror stories and blamed Supervisor David Campos for tenant displacement in the Mission.

This is the wrong route to winning election in heavily tenant D3.

The third factor that helped Aaron Peskin is personal: he has demonstrated a heightened maturity and calmness throughout this long campaign. These are qualities he sometimes failed to exhibit during his political career.

Part of this maturity comes with age; as Peskin often notes, he was 35 when he ran for Supervisor the first time and is now 51. But I think Peskin has also risen to a  historical moment where many in his district see his election campaign as a fight for the “soul” of San Francisco. They fear that a North Beach long known for its Beats and a Chinatown that has remained low-income could both be transformed by a Christensen victory.

These fears are justified. And Christensen’s decision to stoke them rather than identify herself as the protector of both neighborhoods was a big political mistake.

Peskin won the D3 race in 2000 running as an outsider and an iconoclast; he now sees himself as the representative of a larger cause.

D3 voters want a fighter. They want someone who will work with Mayor Lee but who can be trusted to always put D3 interests first. They want someone who gives D3 a major role in city government, in the tradition of both Peskin and David Chiu serving as Board Presidents.

Aaron Peskin is the candidate that better meets these tests.

I have heard scenarios that have Julie Christensen winning this election. They focus on a low voter turnout, and the immense popularity of Mayor Lee in D3 and particularly among Chinatown voters. Her endorsement by the Sing Tao Daily is seen as adding to what some see as a large Christensen win among Chinese-American voters.

Some believe that Peskin’s public moderate and business support has been artificially inflated by those who say they support him because they believe he will win but will actually cast ballots for Christensen. I’ve also heard that there has been strong absentee balloting in Nob Hill and other areas favoring Christensen, which could carry her over the top in a low turnout race

These pro-Christensen scenarios leave me unconvinced.  Christensen supporters would not be throwing out false claims of voter “fraud” in Chinatown if they believed their candidate was going to win.

These allegations look to me like a campaign whose highly-paid consultants are looking for an excuse for their candidate’s defeat.I see Peskin winning this election.


Vicky Hennessy will defeat Ross Mirkarimi in the race for Sheriff.

Community College Board

I did not cover this race, which has three strong candidates (Wendy Aragon, Alex Randolph and Tom Temprano). I’ve seen more Temprano doorhangers than for the other candidates, but College Board ultimately has come down to name recognition and the candidate on the most slate cards often prevails. I know who insiders think will win but can add no insight to the outcome of this race.

Prop A, Affordable Housing Bond

I am extremely happy to predict a victory for Prop A. What could have been a tough campaign (since a 2/3 vote is needed) avoided opposition mailers or any No on A activism.

Mayor Lee deserves tremendous credit for Prop A’s success. As with the 2011 Affordable Housing Trust Fund ballot measure, the Mayor took an historically divisive issue and reached a broad enough consensus to forestall opposition.

I wish constant critics of the mayor would look at his ability to bring home a $1.3 billion housing trust fund, a $310 million housing bond, and also permanently save the city’s largest supply of low-cost family housing (public housing).  San Francisco has had an affordable housing crisis for decades and no mayor has been able to bring as many new housing dollars as Lee (who will easily win re-election).

With California Governor Jerry Brown denying badly needed state funds for affordable housing, Prop A could not come at a more important time for San Francisco.

Prop F, Short-Term Rentals

San Francisco’s short-term rental law allows hundreds if not thousands of rooms in apartments to be taken off the rental market and is largely unenforceable. Shouldn’t that mean that a ballot measure addressing these problems would easily prevail?

If only politics worked so easily.

Backers of Prop F faced two steep challenges. First, Airbnb was prepared to spend millions of dollars to defeat the initiative (the current total is over $8 million). Second, because the current short-term rental law is so deeply flawed, the drafters of Prop F felt compelled to address these multiple shortcomings rather than target the most egregious.

The complexity of Prop F was a big mistake. The opening it created for the opposition campaign was also foreseeable. Like California’s “Big Green” state measure in 1994, it tried to repair too many problems with a single ballot measure. This gives well-funded opponents the chance to cherry-pick the weakest provisions and get voters to oppose the measure based on that specific weakness.

Prop F will lose, but the battle over short-term rentals will continue.

Prop I, the Mission Moratorium

Prop I involves complex electoral factors. On its face it solely addresses market rate housing in the Mission District. But the initiative implicates deeper feelings about what many perceive as a rapidly changing San Francisco.

Prop I appeals to anyone caught in a traffic snarl in San Francisco caused by adjacent development. Or those encountering a long line when they wanted to go to their favorite San Francisco restaurant, or try to find room on a crammed MUNI car.

San Francisco has become a more crowded city. This has left a lot of voters frustrated. Those happily ensconced in apartments, condo or houses  do not see how new market rate housing benefits them, but they do experience the downsides.

Aas much as activists, developers and political insiders see Prop I as being about the future of the Mission, most voters are looking at it in broader terms. And since change is rarely widely popular in the short run, Prop I had a chance to win despite opponents. large campaign spending edge.

But for Prop I to prevail it had to make greater inroads among westside Chinese-American homeowners. This did not happen. This constituency typically opposes government regulation, and with Mayor Lee, Carmine Chu and Katy Tang all featured on No on I mailings the opposition’s margin out there will be too big for Prop I to overcome.

I also wonder about the wisdom of Prop I backers recently unveiling a “framework” for the Mission Plan that Prop I would create after an 18-month process. No on I responded to this with a mailer that made the plan’s $600 million price tag a potential levee on taxpayers.  This would not happen, but it will stoke fears among  among moderate voters otherwise willing to vote Yes on I because they oppose more development everywhere in the city (Prop A was specifically designed to avoid even a tiny tax increase out of fear it would otherwise lose the support of this constituency).

I see Prop I losing, but activists will continue battling market rate projects in the Mission without pause. As I wrote last week, the loser of this election will place another initiative on either next June or November’s ballot. The winner will also feel emboldened to move forward legislatively or via initiative to increase or decrease market rate housing. Both sides should keep their mailing lists and voter profiles handy.

The battle over who lives in San Francisco defined city politics in 2015. And regardless of who wins on November 3, it will also dominate San Francisco next year.

 Randy Shaw will be speaking about his new book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, on a panel with Gordon Chin and David Talbot at the Howard Zinn Book Fair on November 15.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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