You couldn’t drive down Valencia Street on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008. You couldn’t get through the intersection of 18th and Castro, either. All over the east side of the city, people celebrating the election of Barack Obama and the end of the Bush era launched improptu parties, dancing and singing in the streets, while the cops stood by, smiling. It was the only presidential election in modern history that create such an upwelling of joy on the American left — and while we were a bit more jaded and cautious about celebrating, it was hard not to feel a sense of hope.
That all started to change about a month after the inauguration, when word got out that the big insurance companies were invited to be at the table, discussing health-care reform — and the progressive consumer advocates were not. From that point on, it was clear that the “change” he promised wasn’t going to be a fundamental shift in how power works in Washington.
Obama didn’t even consider a single-payer option. He hasn’t shut down Guantanamo Bay. He hasn’t cut the Pentagon budget. He hasn’t pulled the US out of the unwinnable mess in Afghanistan. He’s been a huge disappointment on progressive tax and economic issues. It wasn’t until late this summer, when he realized he was facing a major enthusiasm gap, that he even agreed to endorse same-sex marriage.
But it’s easy to trash an incumbent president, particularly one who foolishly thought he could get bipartisan support for reforms and instead wound up with a hostile Republican Congress. The truth is, Obama has accomplished a fair amount, given the obstacles he faced. He got a health-care reform bill, weak and imperfect as it was, passed into law, something Democrats have tried and failed at since the era of FDR. The stimulus, weak and limited as it was, clearly prevented the recession from becoming another great depression. His two Supreme Court appointments have been excellent.
And the guy he’s running against is a disaster on the scale of G.W. Bush.
Mitt Romney can’t even tell the truth about himself. He’s proven to be such a creature of the far-right wing of the Republican Party that it’s an embarrassment. A moderate Republican former governor of Massachusetts could have made a credible run for the White House — but Romney has essentially disavowed everything decent that he did in his last elective office, has said one dumb thing after another, and would be on track to be one of the worse presidents in history.
We get it: Obama let us down. But there’s a real choice here, and it’s an easy one. We’ll happily give a shout out to Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party, who is talking the way the Democrats ought to be talking, about a Green New Deal that recognizes that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be doing radically better on employment, health care, the environment, and economic justice. And since Obama’s going to win California by a sizable majority anyway, a protest vote for Stein probably won’t do any harm.
But the next four years will be a critical time for the nation, and Obama is at least pushing in the direction of reality, sanity and hope. We endorsed him with enthusiasm four year ago; we’re endorsing him with clear-eyed reality in 2012.
UNITED STATES SENATE
Ugh. Not a pleasant choice here. Elizabeth Emken is pretty much your standard right-wing-nut Republican out of Danville, a fan of reducing government, cutting regulations, and repealing Obamacare. Feinstein, who’s already served four terms, is a conservative Democrat who loves developers, big business, and the death penalty, is hawkish on defense, and has used her clout locally to push for all the wrong candidates and all the wrong things. She can’t even keep her word: After Willie Brown complained that London Breed was saying mean things about him, Feinstein pulled her endorsement of Breed for District 5 supervisor.
It’s astonishing that, in a year when the state Democratic Party is aligned behind Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, Feinstein can’t find it in herself to back away from her decades-long support of capital punishment. She’s not much better on medical marijuana. And she famously complained when then-mayor Gavin Newsom pushed same-sex marriage to the forefront, saying America wasn’t ready to give LGBT couples the same rights as straight people.
But as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein was pretty good about investigating CIA torture and continues to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. She’s always been rock solid on abortion rights and at least decent, if not strong, on environmental issues.
It’s important for the Democrats to retain the Senate, and Feinstein might as well be unopposed. She turns 80 next year, so it’s likely this will be her last term.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 8
The real question on the minds of everyone in local politics is what will happen if the Democrats don’t retake the House and Pelosi has to face two more years in the minority. Will she serve out her term? Will her Democratic colleagues decide they want new leadership? The inside scuttle is that Pelosi has no intention of stepping down, but a long list of local politicians is looking at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to run for a Congressional seat, and it’s going to happen relatively soon; Pelosi is 72.
We’ve never been happy with Rep. Pelosi, who used the money and clout of the old Burton machine to come out of nowhere to beat progressive gay supervisor Harry Britt for the seat in 1986. Her signature local achievement is the bill that created the first privatized national park in the nation’s history (the Presidio), which now is home to a giant office complex built by filmmaker George Lucas with the benefit of a $60 million tax break. She long ago stopped representing San Francisco, making her move toward Congressional leadership by moving firmly to the center.
But as speaker of the House, she was a strong ally for President Obama and helped move the health-care bill forward. It’s critical to the success of the Obama administration that the Democrats retake the house and Pelosi resumes the role of speaker.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 9
Barbara Lee represents Berkeley and Oakland in a way Nancy Pelosi doesn’t represent San Francisco. She’s been a strong, sometimes lonely voice against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a leader in the House Progressive Caucus. While Democrats up to and including the president talk about tax cuts for businesses, Lee has been pushing a fair minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and an end to subsidies for the oil industry. While Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was struggling with Occupy, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was moving to evict the protesters, Barbara Lee was strongly voicing her support for the movement, standing with the activists, and talking about wealth inequality. We’re proud to endorse her for another term.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 12
Speier’s an improvement on her predecessor, Tom Lantos, who was a hawk and terrible on Middle East policy. Speier’s a moderate, as you’d expect in this Peninsula seat, but she’s taken the lead on consumer privacy issues (as she did in the state Legislature) and will get re-elected easily. She’s an effective member of a Bay Area delegation that helps keep the House sane, so we’ll endorse her for another term.
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 13
Tom Ammiano’s the perfect person to represent San Francisco values in Sacramento. He helped sparked and define this city’s progressive movement back in the 1970s as a gay teacher marching alongside with Harvey Milk. In 1999, his unprecedented write-in mayoral campaign woke progressives up from some bad years and ushered in a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors that approved landmark legislation such as the universal healthcare program Ammiano created. In the Assembly, he worked to create a regulatory system for medical marijuana and chairs the powerful Public Safety Committee, where he has stopped the flow of mindless tough-on-crime measures that have overflowed our prisons and overburdened our budgets. This is Ammiano’s final term in the Legislature, but we hope it’s not the end of his role in local politics.
STATE ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19
Phil Ting could be assessor of San Francisco, with a nice salary, for the rest of his life if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s done a good job in an office typically populated with make-no-waves political hacks — he went after the Catholic Church when that large institution tried to avoid paying taxes on property transfers. He’s been outspoken on foreclosures and commissioned, on his own initiative, a study showing that a large percentage of local foreclosures involved at least some degree of fraud or improper paperwork.
But Ting is prepared to take a big cut in pay and accept a term-limited future for the challenge of moving into a higher-profile political position. And he’s the right person to represent this westside district.
Ting’s not a radical leftist, but he is willing to talk about tax reform, particularly about the inequities of Prop. 13. He’s carrying the message to homeowners that they’re shouldering a larger part of the burden while commercial properties pay less. He wants to change some of the loopholes in how Prop. 13 is interpreted to help local government collect more money.
It would be nice to have a progressive-minded tax expert in the Legislature, and we’re glad Ting is the front-runner. He’s facing a serious, well-funded onslaught from Michael Breyer, the son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer, who has no political experience or credentials for office and is running a right-wing campaign emphasizing “old-style San Francisco values.”
Not pretty. Vote for Ting.
SENATE DISTRICT 11
Mark Leno wasn’t always in the Guardian’s camp, and we don’t always agree with his election season endorsements, but he’s been a rock-solid representative in Sacramento and he has earned our respect and our endorsement.
It isn’t just how he votes, which we consistently agree with. Leno has been willing to take on the tough fights, the ones that need to be fought, and shown the tenacity to come out on top in the Legislature, even if he’s ahead of his time. Leno twice got the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, he has repeatedly gotten that body to legalize industrial hemp production, and he’s twice passed legislation that would give San Francisco voters the right to set a local vehicle license fees higher than the state’s and use that money for local programs (which the governor finally signed). He’s also been laying an important foundation for creating a single-payer healthcare system and he played an important role in the CleanPowerSF program that San Francisco will implement next year. Leno will easily be re-elected to another term in the Senate and we look forward to his next move (Leno for mayor, 2015?)
BART BOARD DISTRICT 9
San Francisco has been well represented on the BART Board by Radulovich, a smart and forward-thinking urbanist who understands the important role transit plays in the Bay Area. Radulovich has played leadership roles in developing a plan that aims to double the percentage of cyclists using the system, improving the accessibility of many stations to those with limited mobility, pushing through an admittedly imperfect civilian oversight agency for the BART Police, hiring a new head administrator who is more responsive to community concerns, and maintaining the efficiency of an aging system with the highest ridership levels in its history. With a day job serving as executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich helped create Sunday Streets and other initiatives that improve our public spaces and make San Francisco a more inviting place to be. And by continuing to provide a guiding vision for a BART system that continues to improve its connections to every corner of the Bay Area, his vision of urbanism is helping to permeate communities throughout the region
BART BOARD, DISTRICT 7
This sprawling district includes part of southeast San Francisco and extends all the way up the I-80 corridor to the Carquinez Bridge. The incumbent, San Franciscan Lynette Sweet, has been a major disappointment. She’s inaccessible, offers few new ideas, and was slow to recognize (much less deal with) the trigger-happy BART Police who until recently had no civilian oversight. Time for a change.
Three candidates are challenging Sweet, all of them from the East Bay (which makes a certain amount of sense — only 17 percent of the district’s population is in San Francisco). Our choice is Zachary Mallett, whose training in urban planning and understanding of the transit system makes up for his lack of political experience.
Mallett’s a graduate of Stanford and UC Berkelely (masters in urban planning with a transportation emphasis) who has taken the time to study what’s working and what isn’t working at BART. Some of his ideas sound a bit off at first — he wants, for example, to raise the cost of subsidized BART rides offered to Muni pass holders — but when you look a the numbers, and who is subsidizing who, it actually makes some sense. He talks intelligently about the roles that the various regional transit systems play and while he’s a bit more moderate than us, particularly on fiscal issues, he’s the best alternative to Sweet.