Election Wrap-Up Nov. 2004

By Savannah Blackwell, SFProgressive.com Editor


As we all know, Supervisor Chris Daly doesn’t exactly mince words. 

On the matter of the poor showings of the initiatives and candidates backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Nov. 2, Daly pretty much said it all when he told the San Francisco Examiner, “He’s more popular than God, but he’s got no coattails.”

Here we get into a good thing/bad thing scenario. 

It’s a good thing – in that most of the Newsom loyalists running for supervisor – with the exceptions of Sean Elsbernd in district seven and Michela Alioto-Pier in district two – didn’t make it. 

And so there remains a healthy check and balance between the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors. For example, Lillian Sing failed to unseat Jake McGoldrick in District One, the Richmond – despite the expenditure of an estimated $500,000 by downtown and corporate-backed interests toward that effort. In addition, the downtown forces that tried to oust Gerardo Sandoval in District 11, the Excelsior, and spent something like $200,000, failed as well. 

With the victory of longtime progressive activist Ross Mirkarimi in district five, the Haight, the composition of Newsom loyalists to progressives on the board remains the same as before the election. 

Newsom’s candidates failed in other races as well. His backing didn’t get his appointee Heather Hiles onto the school board. Indeed, all that money (she was the first school board candidate to break the spending limits) and perhaps, the high level of ire she aimed at progressives on the board worked against her. (Not a good idea – progressives, along with Chinese American voters – form the block of those who actually vote in the school board race.)

But Newsom’s lack of coattails translated into a bad thing in that the city faces an unfortunate loss and some serious problems from the defeats of proposition A (the housing bond) and propositions J and K (the business and sales tax package), respectively. And it shows that concerns about the economy largely colored the results on local issues.

(Other factors were at play as well. Some housing activists have said Newsom did too little for prop A. Other campaign insiders say he focused on props J and K too late and should have crafted initially a proposal in which large corporations would bear a bigger share of the brunt than small businesses.)

Housing activists and elected officials will have to go back to the drawing board to try and come up with a more modest proposal that can get two-thirds support from the electorate. And now the city faces some severe cuts in service thanks to the loss of props J and K. (Prop K would have reinstated the city’s tax on businesses’ gross receipts, and Prop J would have raised the local sales tax to 8.75 percent). Worse, some worry the mayor won’t be inclined to ask the business community to ante up again.

Overall, the results of the Nov. 2 local election were decidedly mixed. As pollster David Binder put it at his Nov. 3 “morning after” wrap-up at the downtown headquarters of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, “83 percent of San Francisco voters voted for (John) Kerry, a guy who said he might raise their taxes, but two local tax measures failed to get 50 percent. On the school board, the progressive block won, but the housing bond failed to reach 67 percent.”

“How did all this happen? And what does all this mean? I don’t know,” he joked.

Binder's power point presentation is online.

One thing’s for certain. It’s good Newsom has recently created good will with labor – with his decision last month to show up on the hotel workers’ picket line after threatening to do so if both sides didn’t agree to a 90-day cooling off period. 

He’ll need that as he gets ready to axe services and jobs. (The loss of J and K translates into a roughly $97 million shortfall in the city’s general fund over the next 18 months. Newsom has announced he’ll hand out some 200 pink slips and cut $26 million from the Department of Public Health, MUNI and fire department budgets as well as other city agencies.)

Bill Barnes, former aide to Supervisor Chris Daly and one of those who ran for district five supervisor, has an interesting take on how the cuts should be handled.

He points out that the measures were largely supported on the city’s east side. And he also points out that it’s residents on the east side of town, where more tenants and services are concentrated, who will bear the brunt of the cuts and suffer the worst – if things go according to Newsom’s plan. 

He argues that instead of cutting across the board, Newsom should “engage in a more introspective process,” he told the SF Progressive.

“When you cut each department by a certain percentage, the unspoken compact is that when things look up, these services will be restored,” Barnes said. “But now there’s not a reasonable expectation that that can happen.”

Barnes says Newsom and the supervisors should look at the core services the city provides and see what can be eliminated. 

“We should ask, “Are these functions of government that are not necessary helpful,” Barnes said. “Like the number of permits that are handled by the police department. Can we eliminate that function (there) and switch it to the City Administrative Office? For that matter, is every commission necessary – especially when the alternative is to close a health clinic?”

City Hall, are you listening?

--Email SFProgressive editor Savannah Blackwell at savannah.blackwell@gmail.com

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