Progressives Must Start Waging Citywide Campaigns

by Paul Hogarth on November 14, 2011

With all but a handful of votes left to count in the Mayor’s race, the Department of Elections has released unofficial precinct data – and we can draw a few conclusions. On the one hand, John Avalos can boast that he got more votes in District 2 than Michela Alioto-Pier, vanquished Bevan Dufty and Dennis Herrera in District 8 and crushed Tony Hall in District 7. On the other hand, Ed Lee beat him in eight of San Francisco’s 11 Districts – including his own (District 11) by a two-to-one margin, where Avalos must worry about re-election next year. David Chiu, who likewise is up in 2012, finished a distant second to Lee in his own District 3. Unlike Tom Ammiano or Matt Gonzalez when they ran for Mayor, John Avalos was the first progressive “standard bearer” to lose District 6 – which should be a serious wake-up call for the Left. Progressives cannot win mayoral elections solely by racking up huge margins in their base precincts (as Avalos did in Districts 5, 8 and 9) – while other candidates wage citywide campaigns that carry the day. Here’s our analysis of the mayoral election results, focusing on precinct-level returns.

As any San Francisco political observer can tell you, the City’s most progressive areas are in District 5 (Haight-Ashbury), District 6 (Tenderloin/SOMA), District 8 (Castro/Noe Valley) and District 9 (Mission/Bernal Heights) – whereas the seven other districts are more moderate. Some have dubbed this the “conservative C” and the “progressive core,” while many would rather call it the “donut” that surrounds the “creamy hipster filling.”

While progressives have been able to elect Supervisors from the Richmond (District 1), Excelsior (District 11) and Chinatown (District 3), their mayoral candidates have failed to expand their appeal beyond the four base districts. In 1999, Tom Ammiano lost the Mayor’s race by a 60-40 margin – because he only carried 5, 6, 8 and 9. Matt Gonzalez came closer to winning citywide in 2003 (53-47), but still only won these four districts.

Supporters of John Avalos have been ecstatic over the past week that he came in second place behind Ed Lee – exceeding expectations, and finishing ahead of better funded (and more “mainstream”) opponents like Dennis Herrera, David Chiu and Leland Yee. But while Avalos won the City’s most progressive neighborhoods, he also lost District 6 – finishing first in only Districts 5, 8 and 9. And this should be a serious “wake-up call.”

How Ed Lee Beat John Avalos in District 6

District 6, which Supervisor Chris Daly represented for ten years, has undergone massive condo development that altered its demographics. But Jane Kim proved last year that progressives can still win those voters, if you bother to reach out to them – and expand your coalition to include the Chinese community. Ed Lee won District 6 for much of the same reason.

Just like Debra Walker did last year when she ran for Supervisor, John Avalos carried the North Mission by over 400 votes – the most traditionally progressive part of District 6. That was no match, however, for South Beach and Mission Bay – where Ed Lee beat Avalos by over 600 votes. In that part of District 6, Avalos finished in fourth place.

But it’s way too simplistic (and wrong) for the Left to blame gentrification – and write off District 6 as a “lost cause.” Because in Western SOMA, which remains a progressive stronghold, Lee finished ahead of Avalos. And in the 18 precincts that make up the Tenderloin, Ed Lee came in first place with 1,071 votes – followed by Avalos at 621.

As Interim Mayor for the past year, Lee prioritized economic development in the Uptown Tenderloin and Mid-Market – such as the tax exemption to bring Twitter. And residents in this low-income neighborhood responded favorably by giving him four more years.

Finally, many observers fail to realize how many Chinese voters live in District 6. In the two precincts near Moscone Center (#3627 and #3638), Ed Lee crushed the opposition at 409 votes – with Avalos in fourth place, behind Leland Yee and David Chiu. Last year, these were also Jane Kim’s two most successful precincts – because of the Chinese vote.

How Avalos Beat Everyone in District 8

Like District 6, progressives have long worried that gentrification has made District 8 – which includes the Castro and Noe Valley – less hospitable to their politics. After Bevan Dufty scored an upset in the 2002 race for Supervisor over Eileen Hansen, many on the Left concluded that too many of their friends had been evicted from Harvey Milk’s neighborhood – and in 2006, they did not seriously challenge Dufty’s re-election. In 2010, Scott Wiener handily beat Rafael Mandelman – which confirmed their suspicion.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see John Avalos finish a strong first-place in District 8 – with 900 votes ahead of Ed Lee, and both candidates beating Dennis Herrera and Bevan Dufty. But if you break it down at the precinct level, we once again see the Left focused on racking up huge numbers in their “base” area – while ignoring other neighborhoods.

In the District 8 precincts that make up the Valencia Corridor and Lower Haight, Avalos beat Ed Lee by a very impressive 3:1 margin. In fact, those ten precincts virtually made up Avalos’ entire lead in the District. If you look at D8’s other 55 precincts, it was a tie.

Granted, Avalos did finish first in the Castro – where Ed Lee did poorly, finishing fourth behind Dufty and Herrera. And Avalos also won Noe Valley by about 100 votes. But Lee cancelled out these advantages with Glen Park (where he lives), and the precincts that make up Diamond Heights and Twin Peaks – where Avalos finished in fourth place.

Lee Defeated Avalos in District 11 – His Home Turf

While John Avalos racked up huge margins in progressive precincts, he lost badly to Ed Lee pretty much everywhere else. He got twice as many votes as the Mayor in District 9 (Mission/Bernal Heights), but Lee beat him by a similar point spread in seven other Districts – including the Supervisor’s own District 11, where Lee got 4,717 first-place votes to Avalos’ 2,449. Last week, Lee’s campaign staff e-mailed this data to reporters – and it was not lost on anyone that Avalos now must worry about re-election next year.

Of course, how Avalos fared in “District 11” is partially irrelevant – because before next year’s election, the lines will be redrawn to reflect the new U.S. Census numbers. The Redistricting Task Force has an April deadline to approve a new map, so right now it’s a guessing game how the new District 11 will look like. But assuming the Task Force sticks closely to current boundaries for continuity’s sake, we can make some predictions.

District 11 is one of only three districts that will have to lose population. And because its neighbor to the East (District 10) also has to shrink, it is likely District 11 will shave off part of its Western edge – the Ingleside neighborhood. Which would be good news for John Avalos – according to precinct data, Ingleside preferred Ed Lee by a 3-to-1 margin.

But at the same time, District 11 will likely push its eastern boundary. District 10 also needs to shrink, and its immediate neighbor to the North (District 6) has seen the most population growth. So it’s probable that District 11 will pick up either part of Visitacion Valley (where Avalos came in third place behind Leland Yee, and Ed Lee beat him by a 5-to-1 margin), or a section of Portola (where Lee got three times as many votes.) Under either scenario, Avalos will have to reach out to Asian-American voters to get re-elected.

Lee Defeated David Chiu in District 3 – His Home Turf

Avalos is not the only mayoral candidate who must worry about re-election next year. In District 3, David Chiu came in a distant second – trailing Ed Lee by almost 3,000 votes.

Like District 11, District 3 will look different after the Redistricting Task Force shifts the boundaries – but the impact should be minimal on Chiu’s fortunes. Because District 3’s neighbor to the South (District 6) has to lose population, it’s expected that District 3 will pick up some of its voters. If we add Treasure Island and a couple Tender-Nob precincts into District 3, the result pretty much looks the same – Chiu was a distant second to Lee.

The real story of the District 3 results is not that Ed Lee beat Chiu – but how completely lopsided the vote was in Chinatown. In six precincts that form the heart of Chinatown, Lee got a combined total of 1,110 votes – with David Chiu coming in second with 194. Leland Yee came in third at 169, and no one else broke 100 votes. Chiu was first elected Supervisor in 2008 with a heavy Chinatown base, and now he will have to mend fences.

But the data suggests that Chiu will have fewer problems with his progressive base on Telegraph Hill – who had soured on him in the past year. In the four precincts around Telegraph Hill in North Beach, Chiu finished a strong second behind Ed Lee – and well ahead of Aaron Peskin’s favored candidates in the race: John Avalos and Dennis Herrera.

Leland Yee’s Weakness Exposed

Before this race, State Senator Leland Yee had never lost an election. And he had been on the ballot in San Francisco for 23 years, much longer than any other candidate in this mayoral field. And yet, he finished in an embarrassing fifth place. As Randy Shaw had reported, Yee had been viewed as stronger contender than he really was – in part because he never had particularly strong opponents, and because he’d never faced another Asian-American.

The precinct-level data bore this out very clearly. Yee did come in second-place in the Sunset (District 4), which he had represented on the Board of Supervisors. But he also finished nearly 5,000 votes behind Ed Lee there – losing by a four-to-one margin. In the 12th Assembly District, which he represented, Yee came in third behind Lee and Avalos.

And in the State Senate District which he currently represents, Yee only got 6,898 votes to Ed Lee’s 26,483. Last year, Yee spent over $1 million to get re-elected with no real opposition – in a move to elevate his profile for the Mayor’s race. At the time, consultant Jim Stearns said the money was only used in the Senate district. Given how the Mayor’s race ended, it means that Yee spent over $150 per voter before filing to run.

Yee did have pockets of support in Chinese-American precincts throughout the City – mostly in the Richmond, Sunset and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods. But this was overshadowed by Ed Lee’s larger vote totals. Meanwhile in Chinatown, where Yee has long had a tenuous relationship with community leaders, he ended up with only 8 percent.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth supported and actively campaigned for Jane Kim’s District 6 race in 2010. He also applied to be on the Redistricting Task Force earlier this year, but was not selected.

Filed under: Archive