Democratic Party

San Francisco needs better candidates


The last time we had a major Democratic primary race for state assembly in San Francisco, you didn’t see a lot of head-shaking. In 2002 you were for Mark Leno or you were for Harry Britt, and either way you had very few doubts. Two strong candidates, two people who were eminently qualified to represent San Francisco in Sacramento, two people who had the credentials to be Democratic party leaders.

But I’ve talked to a lot of people about the June 6, 2006, race to fill the spot of Assemblymember Leland Yee, who is trying to move on to the state senate, and what I’m getting is: Gee, well, yeah. Gotta vote for somebody.

The thing is, Sup. Fiona Ma, the front-running candidate, has been absolutely horrible in office, a terrible vote on everything I care about. Her lukewarm supporters say she’d be a good liberal compared to most of the state legislators, and that may be true, but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Her opponent, Janet Reilly, is taking some excellent stands on issues, running hard to the left of Ma but she’s never held any elective office before, and, frankly, not that many people in San Francisco even know who she is. If she didn’t have a lot of money, she wouldn’t be much of a factor in this race.

Then you look slightly southward, at the race for state senate. The candidates: Yee, who has done almost nothing to distinguish himself in the state legislature, and Mike Nevin, a former San Francisco cop and San Mateo County supervisor. I don’t know a single person in the progressive San Francisco world who can get a bit excited about either of them.

San Francisco has got to start doing better.

Leno’s term will be up in two more years. I can think of a lot of great Democratic candidates (Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Robert Haaland), but we all ought to be thinking about it, now, the same way we need to be thinking about the next mayor of San Francisco and the next member of Congress. Otherwise we’ll have a lot of Fiona Mas and Bevan Duftys in our future.

Now this: Speaking of politicians who need to get out of the way, Leslie Katz, the chair of the local Democratic County Central Committee, recently pulled an act of world-class political sleaze. She opposes Sup. Chris Daly’s Proposition C, a measure that would force the mayor to serve on the Transbay Terminal board, but the committee wasn’t quite ready to take a stand. So March 22, shortly after noon, she filed an official no-on-Prop.C ballot argument on behalf of the San Francisco Democratic Party.

In other words, she decided on her own to file a legal document to appear in the ballot handbook committing the party to a position it hadn’t taken.

In the end the party did vote later to oppose Prop. C. But Katz sent a clear signal that she had the committee wired and wasn’t even going to wait for the formality of an actual vote. Nasty business. It sends the exact wrong signal about the local party. She ought to resign in disgrace.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

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So let’s get this straight:

The lieutenant governor is running for insurance commissioner. The insurance commissioner is running for lieutenant governor. The former governor is running for attorney general. The attorney general is running for treasurer.

Round and round and round we spin. Talk about a clusterfuck.

There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when every single constitutional office in California was held by a Democrat. And it’s entirely possible that this fall — with the Republican president and Republican governor in political free fall — the Democrats will actually lose some top jobs in Sacramento.

Let me humbly suggest one reason why: We have a bunch of people running for office who really ought to find something else to do with their lives.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. If you talk to people who think about the future of the California Democratic Party — people who might actually play a role in it, say, 10 years from now — what you hear is this: Why are the same old names bouncing around like petrified Ping-Pong balls?

John Garamendi has been running for some office or other (including unsuccessfully for governor) for the past 20 years. He’s been insurance commissioner twice. Now, since he clearly can’t get the top job, he’s angling for number two.

Cruz Bustamante has virtually disappeared since he dared run in the recall election that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power. Perhaps he can slip into Garamendi’s post for a while, while he figures out what else to do. Bill Lockyer thought about running for governor but realized he wasn’t going to win, and although he’s not a terrible attorney general, he’s decided to run for treasurer, which makes no sense unless he’s waiting around to try another office at some point.

Jerry Brown was governor once, and after a period of self-imposed exile, he decided to run for president (of the United States), then mayor of Oakland. By the way, he’s a lawyer, so now he wants to be attorney general.

None of these people is evil, and the state could do worse — way worse — than electing any of them. But is anyone else getting the distinct feeling that we’re the party of, well, yesterday?

Just thought I’d ask.

One of my favorite political movies is Robocop, the 1987 Paul Verhoeven sci-fi film that is not generally considered a great social statement about anything. But when you pay attention (and watch it with the right, um, mind-set), Robocop is actually a story about privatization: Detroit has turned over its police force to the Omni Consumer Products Corporation, which decides to save money (for the company’s bottom line) by cutting staff and squeezing pay — to the point where there’s inadequate backup when our hero gets into a firefight with the bad guys and almost gets shot to bits. They revive him as a cyborg, and he tries to be an honest cop — but deep in his electronic DNA is a rule that he can’t arrest or harm any officer of the Omni Consumer Products Corporation.

I thought about that when I heard that the patrol specials — a crew of private armed civilians who wear uniforms and badges and walk the streets under a 19th-century tradition — was asking for expanded authority in San Francisco (see page 5). The message that the group recently sent to the Police Commission: Privatization is the wave of the future in urban law enforcement.

Yikes. *

The three-year nightmare


The air of unreality in Washington, DC, is, well, unreal. On Face the Nation March 19, Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed that the war in Iraq is going well, that the insurgency had reached "a stage of desperation" — and that the prediction that Americans would be greeted as liberators was "basically accurate." There’s no civil war, the administration insists, no catastrophic political failure, no evidence that the war is well on its way to becoming the new Vietnam. No, Cheney insists, the problem is just the overcritical news media.

For the record, more than 2,300 United States soldiers are dead. So are as many as 37,000 Iraqis. Countless more have been maimed, lost limbs, seen their lives destroyed. And three years after the invasion, there is no end in sight. More than 130,000 US troops are still fighting in Iraq, and they are utterly unable to keep the peace. The Iraqi forces are poorly trained and can do little to help.

Ayad Allawi, former acting prime minister and a man Bush used to see as a key ally, isn’t mincing words: "If this is not civil war," he told the BBC, "then God knows what civil war is."

To say the Bush administration lied about the invasion is a severe understatement. Bush and his team are lying every day. And at this rate, the US death toll could be in the tens of thousands by the time the nation extricates itself from this morass.

And yet the Democratic Party leadership is still way too tentative about making this the defining issue of the midterm elections. That’s crazy: Even in the red states, the war is increasingly unpopular. And Bush’s insistence on staying the course is starting to sound like Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War.

The truth is, Iraq is an artificial construct, a nation pieced together from three ethnic and religious groups that have never gotten along. If it weren’t for the oil (ah, it’s always the oil), Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis might each have their own states.

Perhaps a working government can still be created with all three parties involved. But the presence of huge numbers of US troops isn’t, and won’t, help that process.

The Democrats need to get behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and demand a timetable for withdrawal of all troops. That might even lead to a Democratic Congress. *



It still boggles my mind: One of the most significant development issues in years came to a head last week at the City Planning Commission — and none of the news media seem to have noticed. G.W. Schulz describes the situation in depth on page 18, but here’s the short version: City planners have acknowledged they can’t allow any more market-rate housing in the eastern neighborhoods for the indefinite future.

At least they seem to have acknowledged that. The real test is still to come, when the next development comes along, but either way this is pretty big news — and I haven’t read a word about it in the Chron or the Ex.

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Now this: The San Francisco Democratic Party is in a bit of a tizzy over something that ought to be basic common sense.

Sup. Chris Daly has put a measure on the June 6 ballot, Prop. C, that would make the Transbay Joint Powers Authority more directly accountable to voters. The TJPA is pretty important: It controls the Transbay Terminal project, which will determine the city’s transit future for many years to come. But right now, two of the city’s three representatives are basically bureaucrats (one from the Mayor’s Office, one from Muni) who answer (it often seems) to nobody.

Daly wants to make the mayor, the city’s representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (currently Sup. Tom Ammiano), and the supervisor from District 6 (Daly, who’s already on the TJPA) serve on the panel.

Sounds like alphabet soup and nothing to make a fuss over — except that the mayor would suddenly have to focus on this project because he’d be on the board. He might even have to go to a meeting or two. And everyone on that key panel would have to answer directly to the voters.

And for some reason (perhaps the thought of actually sitting through a TJPA meeting) this has Gavin Newsom up in arms. The Democratic County Central Committee, which makes policy for the local party, was set to endorse Prop. C last week until Newsom began twisting arms. Then a bunch of people (including state assemblymember Mark Leno and state senator Carole Migden) couldn’t be counted in the yes camp, so the whole thing was postponed until March 21, when Daly, the Sierra Club, and all of the city’s transit activists were set to square off against Newsom and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

It will be a nice test: Can the County Committee stand up to the mayor? Will Migden and Leno?

And this: Caroline Grannan, a normally well-meaning and hardworking advocate for the public schools, is having a strange fit of indignation over our articles on school board expenses. The stories focused mostly on how former superintendent Arlene Ackerman pissed away public money on posh dining and accommodations, but Grannan is mad that we even mentioned board member Jill Wynns, who also spends district money on travel (but has run up nowhere near the sort of tab that Ackerman did).

Her complaint is on page 7, and I think she’s way overreacting here, but she makes one valid point: The school board members are essentially volunteers who earn all of $500 a month. That’s silly. A school board member ought to be a full-time job with full-time pay.

And board members’ salaries and expenses should be very much the public’s business. *