With nude protests at City Hall and a steady stream of consumer-product bans, it’s not a stretch to say that San Francisco’s politics are unconventional. But this year’s supervisorial races added a new chapter — with a moderate Democrat and former Willie Brown protege winning one of The City’s most leftist districts, and a progressive candidate narrowly leading the most conservative district.
London Breed pulled off a shocker last week when she beat out a cavalcade of progressives in District 5, which includes the Fillmore, Western Addition and the former hippie haven of Haight-Ashbury. In a race that pitted a bevy of left-leaning politicians against each other in a contest to determine who was a “true progressive,” none of them will end up on the 11-member board.
In San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system — which allows voters to choose their top, second and third-place picks, and redistributes those votes in a so-called instant runoff when candidates drop off in rounds of counting — many of the second- and third-place votes cast under progressives ended up going to the moderate Breed. University of San Francisco politics professor Corey Cook said that represents a big mistake in the world of ranked-choice tabulation, where loose coalitions among like-minded candidates are necessary to build and sustain an ideological faction.
“She ran the best campaign and she outperformed her opponents at debates,” Cook said of Breed. “That meant progressives had to line up behind a choice, but they did not select a standard-bearer, and so those votes got splintered.”
Former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin — still considered a progressive leader — said Breed beat out incumbent Supervisor Christina Olague partly because voters couldn’t get past the latter’s status as an appointee of the moderate Mayor Ed Lee.
“This was as much a referendum on Ed Lee in District 5 as it was on progressives in
District 5,” Peskin said. “Ed Lee lost.”
Cook and Peskin refuted the notion that Olague lost simply on her crucial and controversial vote to reinstate fellow progressive Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi after his protracted domestic-violence scandal, which sparked an effort by Lee to remove him from office. The difference, they said, was less dramatic.
“It’s not so much an indictment of ranked-choice voting, it’s the failure of campaigns to use ranked-choice voting,” Cook said.
The same could be said of progressive Board of Education veteran Norman Yee’s narrow lead over labor leader F.X. Crowley in the relatively conservative western District 7 — which is being vacated by termed-out “fiscal hawk” Sean Elsbernd. The two most moderate candidates — Elsbernd’s preferred candidate, Mike Garcia, and journalist Joel Engardio — came in third and fourth, but could possibly have prevailed had they formed a common cause.