Guest Editorial: The November Election — a Moderate’s Perspective

by Mike Sullivan on November 15, 2006

There has been a lot written about the recent San Francisco election, both in the press and by local partisans. The election has been portrayed by many as an unabashed victory for San Francisco’s left, and as evidence that the left controls the City’s electorate. The real story is much more complex. First, let’s look at the supervisor races.

Chris Daly won in District 6, but unlike four years ago, when he won outright, this year he needed five passes through the ranked choice voting process before getting to 50% in his race against Rob Black. If votes from the third and fourth place candidates (including the Republican’s endorsed candidate, Matt Drake, whose votes would have gone very heavily for Black) had been counted, the result would have been roughly 53% – 47%, the same spread in the 2003 Newsom/Gonzalez mayoral race that the left trumpeted as a “close” race. And this in one of the City’s more progressive districts, one that includes some of the most left-leaning precincts in the City in the Inner Mission. Daly won this race, but it was closer than anyone expected at the outset, and the electoral trend in District 6 is undeniable – don’t expect a similar result in 2010.

Looking at other races, Sophie Maxwell garnered 55% of the vote – not too impressive against a field of weakly funded opponents. Which of the four supes defending their seats did the best? It’s not even close – it was the two moderates: Michela Alioto-Pier taking a whopping 83% in District 2, and Bevan Dufty winning by two to one over a progressive challenger in District 8.

And District 4? Out in the Sunset, the progressive candidate ran third to two moderates, and in a surprise to virtually everyone, the race was won by the most conservative candidate of all – Ed Jew. Many have gloated that the Mayor “lost” this race and that he won’t be able to count on Ed Jew’s “independent” vote at City Hall. However, I suspect that if Supervisor Jew disagrees with the Mayor on issues, it won’t be in a way that the progressive left likes. Ed Jew has rock-solid moderate credentials, and will be a dependable vote on the board.

As to the ballot propositions, the results looked good for the left. Although Chris Daly’s parking tax went down overwhelmingly, a long list of propositions placed on the ballot by the progressives were approved. But this was mostly about the progressives getting more “at bats” – with seven progressives on the board, and with only four supervisors necessary to place a proposition on the ballot, it wasn’t hard to clog the ballot with lots of last-minute ballot measures that had good “ballot box appeal” but little impact, such as Prop I – asking the Mayor to meet periodically with the board of supervisors. (I suspect that if moderates had asked voters to approve a nonbinding resolution that the City should do more to promote homeownership, that would have been approved as well.) The Mayor also has the power to place measures on the ballot, but the field was left to the progressives this year. To the disappointment of many, Mayor Newsom has not shown much proactive energy in pushing the moderate, quality of life issues that helped get him elected.

There was good news for the progressive left in the school board and college board races, with Jane Kim and Kim-Shree Maufas giving progressives a majority on the school board, and John Rizzo, a green party candidate, winning his college board race. My anecdotal explanation for this result is that moderates are more likely not to vote at all in these races. Pollster David Binder’s turnout statistics showed that less than two-thirds of voters voted in these races, and I think a disproportionate number of those voters were moderates. With the Bay Guardian’s “one stop shop” slate as their guide, the left’s true believers vote the entire slate, including the “down-ticket” races. Moderates really need to figure out how to motivate their voters on these races.

As to the future, it looks good for moderates – for starters, no one seriously expects Gavin Newsom to lose next year’s mayoral election. More interestingly, the following year creates a distinct possibility that the board of supervisors shifts to a moderate majority, as three “Class of 2000” progressives are forced out by term limits in 2008, creating open seats in relatively conservative districts – District 1 (the Richmond), District 3 (North Beach/Russian Hill/Nob Hill) and District 11 (Excelsior/Outer Mission/Ingleside). If moderates can identify quality candidates with grass-roots credibility, they could win all three of these races.

All in all, more of a mixed bag than the media proclaimed last Wednesday. It’s a good time to be a quality of life moderate in San Francisco.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Sullivan is the Chair of Plan C — a moderate political organization in San Francisco that endorsed Rob Black for District 6 Supervisor, Bevan Dufty in District 8, Michela Alioto-Pier in District 2, and did a dual endorsement in District 4 for Doug Chan and Ron Dudum. Sullivan wrote this article as an individual, and not on behalf of Plan C the organization.

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