Mark Leno took a huge political gamble this spring, and if he had lost, he would have lost big.
It was hard enough challenging an incumbent state Senator in a Democratic primary (and pissing off a long list of people, some of them powerful and all of them with long memories). But when it became clear that Joe Nation a centrist (at best) Democrat from Marin was joining the race, Leno was facing a dramatic challenge.
Imagine if Nation had won. Imagine if a progressive (if sometimes ethically challenged) lesbian from San Francisco had been tossed out of office and replaced with a straight white guy who was pals with the landlords and the insurance industry. The rap on Leno would have been vicious: he would have been the one blamed for losing a San Francisco seat, a queer seat, a progressive seat … it’s not fair, of course, since Carole Migden was the one who made herself vulnerable, but politics often isn’t fair.
And this would have been ugly. I was wincing to think about the comments the next day. Leno’s political career would have been toast. And this is a guy who loves politics, loves holding office. Talk about going all-in.
But Leno pulled it off, putting together a coalition of progressives and moderates and winning convincingly. And his job is only beginning.
Leno has to mend a lot of fences. A lot of people still don’t think he should have taken on Migden, and some of her supporters are going to be bitter for quite a while. Many think his victory empowered the wrong side of the Democratic party: the Gavin Newsom wing, the squishy center. A lot of people (including me) wonder how Leno will come down on the key contested supervisorial races this fall, when Newsom’s forces and the progressives will be fighting literally for the future of San Francisco.
If Migden had won, there would be no doubt about the future alignments: people who were with her would be in the game, and people who opposed her would be punished. That’s how she operated, for better and for worse. Leno is different; he’s willing to work with people who opposed him and try to build bridges. He tells us he’s not always going to be with Newsom on local issues and endorsements and if that’s true, and if he keeps in mind that he needed the progressives to win (and that Newsom’s buddies at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the big landlords groups did their best to bump him off) we may see some fascinating new political coalitions emerging. (We may also see more issues like Propositions G and F, in which Newsom, Leno, and the entire power structure supported the Lennar Corporation’s land grab.)
But first, there’s the Democratic County Central Committee.
The DCCC controls the local party, and the party’s money, and the party’s endorsements, all of which will be critical this fall. The progressive slate organized by Sups. Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly did very well, and now could control the committee.
But Scott Wiener, part of the more moderate wing, is still the party chair. Wiener’s a decent and fair guy, but he likes Plan C (a group that has horrible pro-downtown politics). Someone’s going to run against him. Then we’ll see what side everyone’s on.