We hope you enjoyed last week’s cover package, “The Rise of Candidate X,” a parable about politics and the media in San Francisco. While it was clearly a fantastical tale, it also had a serious underlying message that we would like to discuss more directly here. Bold actions are needed to save San Francisco. It will take a broad-based coalition to keep the city open to all, and that movement can and should morph into a progressive campaign for the Mayor’s Office, starting now.
While 22 months seems like an eternity in electoral politics, and it is, any serious campaign to unseat Mayor Ed Lee — with all the institutional and financial support lined up behind him — will need to begin soon. Maybe that doesn’t even need to involve the candidate yet, but the constellation of progressive constituencies needs to coordinate their efforts to create a comprehensive vision for the city, one radical enough to really challenge the status quo, and a roadmap for getting there.
It’s exciting to see the resurgence of progressive politics in the city over the last six months, with effective organizing and actions by tenant, immigrant rights, affordable housing, anti-corporate, labor, economic justice, LGBT, environmental, transit, and other progressive groups.
Already, they’ve started to coordinate their actions and messaging, as we saw with the coalition that made housing rights a centerpiece of the annual Milk-Moscone Memorial March. Next, we’d like to see progressive transportation and affordable housing activists bridge their differences, stop fighting each other for funding within the current zero-sum game of city budgets, and fully support a broad progressive agenda that seeks new resources for those urgent needs and others.
Yet City Hall is out of touch with the growing populist outrage over trends and policies that favor wealthy corporations and individuals, at the expense of this city’s diversity, health, and real economic vitality (which comes from promoting and protecting small businesses, not using local corporate welfare to subsidize Wall Street). The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce recently gave this Board of Supervisors its highest-ever ranking on its annual “Paychecks and Pink Slips” ratings, which is surely a sign that City Hall is becoming more sympathetic to the interests of business elites than that of the average city resident.
This has to change, and it won’t be enough to focus on citizens’ initiatives or this year’s supervisorial races, which provide few opportunities to really change the political dynamics under the dome. We need to support and strengthen the resurgent progressive movement in this city and set its sights on Room 200, with enough time to develop and promote an inclusive agenda.
San Francisco has a strong-mayor form of government, a power that has been effectively and repeatedly wielded on behalf of already-powerful constituents by Mayor Ed Lee and his pro-downtown predecessors. Lee has used it to veto Board of Supervisors’ actions protecting tenants, workers, and immigrants; and the commissions he controls have rubber-stamped development projects without adequate public benefits and blocked the CleanPowerSF program, despite its approval by a veto-proof board majority.
Maybe Mayor Lee will rediscover his roots as a tenant lawyer, or he will heed the prevailing political winds now blowing through the city. Or maybe he’ll never cross the powerful economic interests who put him in office. But we do know that the only way to get the Mayor’s Office to pursue real progressive reforms is for a strong progressive movement to seek that office.
New York City, which faces socioeconomic challenges similar to San Francisco’s, has exciting potential right now because of the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who waged a long and difficult campaign based on progressive ideals and issues. By contrast, San Francisco seems stuck in the anachronistic view that catering to capitalists will somehow serve the masses.
The Mayor’s Office has been a potent force for blocking progressive reforms over the last 20 years. Now is the time to place that office in service of the people.