The next board president

Pub date December 30, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL We’ve had our fights with Aaron Peskin. He’s been on the wrong side of some key votes and issues, and he’s had a penchant for political games. But on balance, he’s been a good Board of Supervisors president. He made sure that progressives controlled the Budget Committee; he kept legislation on track; he helped put together the votes for good bills (and made sure that bad ones died) — and perhaps most important, he established himself as the leader of the loyal opposition, the person who took the front role in fighting the worst ideas of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

That’s a crucial role at a time when the mayor’s office is foundering, when the chief executive is thinking more about his political future than the city’s present problems, and when the center of policy leadership in San Francisco has shifted from the mayor to the board. It’s a job that requires experience and political acumen. And since the progressives fought mightily to keep a majority on the board, the top job simply must go to one of the six solid progressives who will be sworn into office Jan. 8.

Our clear choice is Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. He’s compiled an excellent record in his first term, crafting environmental legislation (like the ban on plastic bags), leading the community choice aggregation (CCA) effort, and pushing effective, progressive approaches to crime. He has a long, distinguished record as an activist and organizer, running campaigns for sunshine and public power and for Terence Hallinan for district attorney and Matt Gonzalez for mayor. He devoted most of his first term to district and a few citywide issues and hasn’t done as much as some other supervisors to build his own political constituency on the board, so as president, he’d have to make an effort to help his colleagues promote their own legislation. He’s made no secret of his interest in running for mayor in three years, and he would have to make sure that his ambitions didn’t overwhelm his ability to keep good working relations with potential opponents on the board.

But he’s shown in his dealings with the police, the community, and the mayor’s office around crime in the Western Addition that he can be a forceful advocate and work toward effective consensus at the same time. And he’s well situated to lead the progressive coalition in developing its own agenda.

Mirkarimi would appoint good committees, make sure that the Local Agency Formation Commission (the center of public power efforts and the only agency focusing on the city’s alarming lack of an energy policy) remains in place (with strong leadership), and have no trouble standing up to the mayor. The progressives on the board should support him.

However, that’s not as simple a prospect as it ought to be. Sup. Chris Daly, who claims he is still angry at Mirkarimi for one vote on one bill several years ago, has told us he wants to see someone else elected board president. That’s foolish, and Daly ought to back off and support the most experienced progressive for the job. Splitting the left like this, and damaging a potential mayoral candidate, would do no good for the progressive movement. And those who argue that Mirkarimi, as a Green Party member, would be less effective are making matters worse — there’s no reason for the Greens and progressive Democrats to be fighting each other. But several of the newly elected supervisors — particularly John Avalos, a former Daly aide — have thrown their hats into the ring. That’s led several supervisors to suggest that a compromise candidate from the more moderate bloc ought to be seriously considered — possibly Sophie Maxwell or Bevan Dufty.

We understand Mirkarimi’s frustration with Daly’s ploy and his disdain for the prospect of putting a Daly ally in the top board position. And we agree with both Mirkarimi and Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who have argued that, with the nearly cataclysmic budget crisis and all the other issues facing the board, it would be risky to put a newcomer in the presidency.

But in the end, the board president ought to be someone we can count on to appoint progressives to key committees and fight the mayor’s regressive policies. And with all due respect to Maxwell and Dufty, we don’t see either of them in that role. So if the balloting drags on and it’s clear Mirkarimi can’t get six votes, he ought to be a statesman, put the progressive agenda first, and vote for another progressive.