I feel like was just getting over the 40th anniversary party, and now here comes 45. Guardian anniversaries are like birthday parties; they keep creeping up on you. Except that, in this case, getting older isn’t something to worry about. It’s a sign of strength that a weekly paper founded with a little money scraped together by two Midwesterners in 1966 has survived, grown, and become a standard-bearer for the alternative press in America.
I missed 15, but I was here for 16, and 20, and 25, and 30, and 40, and I’ve watched the Guardian — and San Francisco — emerge and change. And I can say, after almost 30 years as a reporter and editor here, that the demise of the old Brown Machine and the advent of district elections in 2000 were the most important advances in modern local political history.
District elections diffused power at City Hall. You didn’t need a huge downtown-funded campaign war chest to get elected supervisor. You didn’t need the support of the power brokers. And all parts of the city were represented.
By the time Willie Brown left office in 2004 — mostly in political disgrace — a long era of corrupt machine politics was ending. He had lost control of the Board of Supervisors. Almost none of the candidates he endorsed got elected. His approach to running the city was utterly repudiated by the voters. It was like the city drew a collective breath of very fresh air.
Yeah, we had to fight with Gavin Newsom. Yeah, we lost some critical battles. Yeah, the city’s till building housing just for millionaires. But at least with Brown gone and district supervisors calling the shots, I always thought we had a chance.
And maybe we will with Mayor Ed Lee, too, if, as projected, he wins in November. Maybe he can show some independence. Maybe the Ed Lee who started as a tenant lawyer will arise again in Room 200.
But Brown doesn’t think so. Neither do the billionaires and lobbyists and a cast of dozens from the old Brown Machine. They think they’re coming back into power.
And these folks are savvy, experienced and clever. They don’t put this sort of money and personal clout into candidates unless they’re pretty damn sure they’ll get a return on their investment. That’s how it works in Willie’s World.