District Elections 2016: The Force Awakens

Aaron Peskin scored a progressive victory in his run for District 3 supervisor, but the progressives as a whole are going to have to do better if they want to govern The City. (Gabrille Lurie/Special to S.F. Examiner)

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As if on cue, the election results came in and San Francisco’s chatterers got carried away. For progressives, Peskin’s victory is a huge deal. It’s the only contested election progressives have won in San Francisco since 2008, except for the reelection of Supervisor Eric Mar in 2012. Don’t call it a comeback.

Indeed, neither Airbnb nor Mayor Ed Lee should be too smug. Winning an election with the most money is no more an accomplishment than being licked by a puppy. The default state of elections is that the side with the money wins. Any pearls of wisdom or hot takes from the better-funded side boil down to “MAKE IT RAIN.”

That’s why Airbnb can put its foot in its mouth while cutting off its nose to spite its face while frying eggs on its face and still eke out a victory.

On the other hand, we lost Prop. F. “They outspent us 25 to 1 to win by less than ten points.” True. Noble. Also, not good enough. The 1 percent has plenty of money in the budget to spend on staying the 1 percent.

That’s what class warfare is. We need to win, too.

The map of the defeat of Prop. F was worse than the map of defeat of Prop. G (the speculator tax) last year. We won’t win for working-class people if they don’t vote for us. If people of color being displaced as we speak prefer Airbnb to progressives, we’re doing it wrong.

Progressives hope the Peskin win signals a sweep of open seats next year. We want Peskin reelected while electing progressives in Districts 1, 9 and 11 where the incumbents will be termed out. There will probably be a left challenger to Supervisor London Breed.

Maybe it’ll be a wave, but don’t count on a wave. A wave implies that we don’t have to work for it. History will take care of us. Never underestimate the boundless capacity of the left to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Progressives could totally sweep, or end up with President Donald Trump.

The narrative that the tide turned against the mayor, while it may be true, skirts the perfect recipe and heroic work that went into Peskin’s victory. Progressives win elections against a better-funded opposition only with enough money to be competitive, a candidate with a base in the district, an opponent with identifiable negatives, policies that polarize the electorate, unity between key community organizations and progressive unions, and an effective campaign and independent expenditure committee.

That’s all it takes to win. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Progressives need to stop talking about ourselves as a tribe or a political party or a brand. If you believe in using government to protect people from market-based greed and ensure most people have a shot at a decent life, you are a progressive. Speaking otherwise risks alienating natural allies.

Propositions F and G did best in the usual turfs in Districts 5, 8 and 9. Progressive voting patterns promise that at least we’ll consistently win when rising sea levels flood moderate neighborhoods. Progressives need a program to unite ideological progressives on bicycles in the Mission with working class families of color in southeastern neighborhoods and peel off moderate white homeowners. I met both Republicans and socialists who supported Peskin for the same reason, because he showed up and listened to them.

Progressives can’t treat politics like preschool potato-sack races, as usual, where everyone wins a prize. The Board of Supervisors needs to show the electorate that progressives are more than a loyal opposition. They need to show that they can govern better. With a majority, progressives can also “get stuff done” and “bring people together,” without premature capitulation to corporate greed.

We can win in 2016 if we learn the lessons and do the work now. The people we care about depend on it.

Nato Green is a comedian who, if we’re being totally honest, is better at afflicting the comfortable than comforting the afflicted. Catch him live Saturdays at Cynic Cave or @natogreen.

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