Progressives in Trouble in District 10 Supervisor Race

by Randy Shaw on October 27, 2010

With less than a week before Election Day, Steve Moss and Lynette Sweet appear to be leading the District 10 Supervisors race despite being targeted by progressive groups for defeat. Malia Cohen is the candidate with some progressive backing that has the best chance of defeating the two frontrunners, with Eric Smith retaining an outside chance. The unexpected rise of Moss and Sweet is primarily attributed to questionable endorsement strategies by key progressive entities. The San Francisco Democratic Party made DeWitt Lacy their top choice in D10 – but he currently has a negative cash balance, no visible campaign, and no chance to win. The Bay Guardian made Lacy its second choice, reserving the top spot for Tony Kelly – a close friend and ally of the paper’s editors, but a candidate who cannot beat Moss in Potrero Hill and lacks the resources to effectively compete elsewhere. Progressives now must hope that the still large group of undecided voters in the district swings their way.

When 2010 began, Lynette Sweet was the clear favorite to become District 10’s next Supervisor. She had name recognition, money, the backing of Willie Brown (who remains popular in much of the district) and most importantly, the pledged endorsement of incumbent Sophie Maxwell.

But after revelations on September 1st that Sweet owed back taxes to the federal government and the IRS had placed a lien on her Bayview home, her candidacy seemed dead. I wrote on September 27 that Sweet had “dropped from the pack,” and while there seemed wide agreement on this – which is why progressives began primarily targeting Moss – the same factors that initially made Sweet the frontrunner now give her a real chance to win.

Maxwell’s public endorsement of Sweet two weeks ago has been key. While Maxwell long ago indicated she would support Sweet, her public announcement reinstated Sweet’s political viability.

Progressive Missteps

Progressives knew from the outset that Sweet was the favorite, and that they needed a candidate to defeat her. San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin read the political tea leaves, and concluded that Malia Cohen was the candidate he could support who had the best chance to defeat Sweet.

Peskin’s assessment has turned out to be correct. But many of his progressive DCCC colleagues were uncomfortable with Cohen (she lacked any history of working with local progressives), and sought an alternative for the DCCC top spot.

The progressive DCCC majority landed on civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy, giving the little known candidate its top endorsement (followed by Cohen and Smith). Lacy also became the Bay Guardian’s second choice, and the third choice of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The DCCC assumed that its endorsement would propel Lacy, who at the time lacked the funding or political base necessary to win. Instead, Lacy’s campaign has gone nowhere – and the DCCC finds its top choice with no chance to win.

Having been rejected in his correct assessment that labor and progressives could unite to elect Cohen, Peskin joined the Bay Guardian and San Francisco Tenants Union in aggressively promoting Tony Kelly. Kelly, however, has little connection to voters outside Potrero Hill, and will likely get far fewer votes in his base neighborhood than Steve Moss, editor of the Potrero View newspaper.

Malia Cohen, the candidate who Peskin long ago foresaw as the best progressive option, was skipped entirely by the Bay Guardian and Tenants Union.

Progressive Vote-Splitting and Moss’s Rise

My original view of the District 10 race is that it would be a contest between Sweet and the leading African-American progressive. What I did not anticipate was that such a candidate would not emerge.

I thought that Chris Jackson had been anointed to this position when he announced his candidacy last spring, after earlier telling others and myself that there was no way he would run. But Jackson was snubbed by the DCCC, failed to get the Bay Guardian or Tenant Union’s top slot, and now has virtually no chance to win.

Why the DCCC promoted the little known Lacy over Jackson – who has already won a citywide race for Community College Board – will be a major topic of second-guessing should either Moss or Sweet prevail.

When it became clear that Jackson was not favored, I thought that longtime Beyond Chron contributor Eric Smith could get the DCCC nod, given that his environmental record made him the strongest progressive African-American candidate in Potrero Hill. But Peskin and the DCCC ultimately favored Lacy over Smith.

With Kelly, Smith, Lacy, Jackson and to a lesser extent Cohen all fighting for the same progressive votes, and with several other candidates also drawing first place votes from this constituency, Moss and Sweet are really only competing with Cohen for moderate votes.

The San Francisco Tenants Union sent out a powerful mailer attacking Moss for being anti-tenant and anti-rent control, but he was never going to get the support of D10 voters who prioritize such issues. Moss has so little competition for the votes of high turnout non-progressive Potrero Hill homeowners that he could get elected without much support elsewhere.

I’ll save my prediction for the District 10 winner for my regular Election Predictions article on November 1st. But I have talked to many sources about this race, and the uniformity of their assessments – upon which this article is based – is striking.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

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