San Francisco Election Briefs: Seven Days to Go

by Paul Hogarth on October 28, 2008

With just a week left to go, San Francisco is bustling with election activity in Districts 1, 3 and 11—where control of the Board of Supervisors is at stake. Rather than write an in-depth article about one particular race or issue, I’m breaking down today’s column into various thoughts I have about the local scene. While PG&E spends over 8 million dollars to defeat Proposition H, the Realtors have swamped the Supervisor races with independent expenditures against progressives — totaling $363,000 as of last week. That’s more than twice what any other group has spent this cycle, and more than half of all I.E. money spent to promote moderates and attack progressives. In other news, Barack Obama’s pending victory now means every local candidate wants to be a “community organizer” — while District 11 candidate John Avalos pays homage to the late Senator Paul Wellstone. There’s more than meets the eye in the Battle for Board President, while Ethics Commission reports reveal more about Joe Alioto’s well-financed campaign.

REALTORS THROW THEIR WEIGHT AROUND: After last week’s protest at the Association of Realtors, a friend asked me if the Realtors dominate the “independent expenditure” wars in every election cycle like they have this time around. It certainly wasn’t the case two years ago when BOMA, GGRA and San Francisco SOS dominated the show in District 6—in what David Binder called a “major deforestation plan.”

As of last Friday, the Realtors have spent $363,000 to promote candidates like Sue Lee, Joe Alioto and Ahsha Safai—while attacking Eric Mar, David Chiu and John Avalos. That’s more than twice what any other group has spent so far—with the San Francisco Labor Council coming in second at $150,000. After Chiu successfully got the Realtors to pull false TV ads that cost them $83,000 to produce, they simply spent more money to re-shoot the ad without mentioning prostitution—making the commercials technically accurate.

Realtor money constitutes 58% of independent expenditures this cycle used to support moderate Supervisor candidates and attack progressive ones—dwarfing groups like BOMA, Plan C, the Coalition for Responsible Growth, and the SF POA. Progressives have gotten help from the SF Labor Council and Democratic Party, but these efforts have been collectively outspent by a more than three-to-one margin. The Realtors have also spent money opposing Propositions B (affordable housing), Prop N (real estate transfer tax) and even Prop F (even-numbered election years)—but City law doesn’t require the same level of disclosure as independent expenditures dealing with candidates.

EVERYONE’S A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: With Barack Obama poised to become our next President, every candidate wants to say they’re a “community organizer.” District 1 candidate Sue Lee even has a mailer touting the need to have a “Community Organizer for Supervisor”—where she says she “helped ordinary people build influence to counter to power of special interest groups and achieve real progress.” Given that her prior job was Vice President of Public Affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, I guess that anyone can be a “community organizer.”

Lee also says in her mailer that she helped lead a “grassroots effort to create the Richmond District Neighborhood Council,” a claim that some neighborhood residents (like Dennis Kelly) take issue with. Her opponent, Eric Mar, can also claim the title—having worked at the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Chinese Progressive Association and having been a shop steward for SEIU. “Community organizer” is such a loose term that every candidate will claim to be one when they run for office.

SLOW DOWN, JOHN AVALOS: October 25th was the six-year anniversary of Senator Paul Wellstone’s death. And in District 11, John Avalos—who’s also running as a “community organizer” —created this video clip on YouTube to highlight his various accomplishments for the neighborhood. It’s an homage to Wellstone’s ”Fast Paced Paul” TV commercial in 1990—where the Minnesota progressive said he’d have to talk fast because he didn’t have as much money as his opponent.

Ironically, District 11 is the one targeted Supervisor race where independent expenditures haven’t triggered a lift of the voluntary spending cap—at least not yet. Which is okay by Avalos, because the campaign has already paid for enough literature and phone lines to keep the race going to November 4th. Avalos has the largest field operation in the City, giving him enough volunteers to make phone calls and distribute pieces to get out his message. But more hit pieces could alter the outcome … UPDATE: The Ethics Commission announced today that the cap has been lifted.

BATTLE FOR THE BOARD PRESIDENCY: Everyone knows the outcome in Districts 1, 3 and 11 will choose the next Board President—who would possibly become the City’s next Mayor. The conventional wisdom is that a moderate Board would pick Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whereas a progressive Board would choose Ross Mirkarimi. So I find it very interesting that Dufty isn’t supporting moderate favorite Ahsha Safai in District 11—but has instead campaigned heavily for Randy Knox.

Knox was non-committal at a candidates’ forum in September when asked who he’d vote for Board President—and even said he may just vote for himself. But it’s clear to me that Knox would probably vote for Dufty. Which leads me to wonder if the moderates have another Board President candidate in mind should Ahsha Safai win the District 11 race … like Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

CHECKS RETURNED, CHECKS CASHED: Speaking of Randy Knox, when his campaign received an unsolicited contribution from Andrew Zacks—San Francisco’s most notorious eviction lawyer—he promptly returned the check. Now Ethics Commission reports filed last week show that Zacks gave to District 3 candidate Joe Alioto—as did his law partner, Paul Utrecht.

Unlike District 11 (which has the highest homeownership rate in the City), District 3 is a tenant-heavy district that includes Chinatown, North Beach and Polk Gulch. And Zacks’ firm has done various Ellis Act evictions throughout the District—uprooting families who lived in the neighborhood for years. Alioto still hasn’t filled out the San Francisco Tenants’ Union questionnaire, although tenant activist Dean Preston confronted him about it last month outside a landlord fundraiser for his campaign.

But that’s not the only controversial donor from Alioto’s recent haul—which includes donations made between October 1st and the 18th. The best-funded candidate of the election cycle also received two $500 checks from businessman Howard Leach and his wife Gretchen. A prominent Republican donor who fundraised for George W. Bush, Howard Leach was on the University of California Board of Regents during the affirmative action controversy—and was U.S. Ambassador to France during the run-up to the Iraq War.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth has volunteered—outside of work hours—for David Chiu’s District 3 campaign, but does not play an advisory or strategic role. He did not consult with the Chiu campaign when writing this article.

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