At a recent event featuring candidates endorsed by the up-and-coming group SF Berniecrats, the political air buzzed with potent reminders about what’s at stake locally on Nov. 8 — and what it means to be “progressive” in a town where nearly everyone trots out the label to win votes.
Two cliche phrases feel highly apropos this local election: “when the rubber meets the road,” and “the bottom line.” Not the business bottom line, but the line in the sand protecting us all from runaway inequality and the profits-before-people policy tilt that has come to dominate City Hall.
When it comes to picking our city leaders, voters should consider who has the courage and integrity to challenge the corporate power and intense inequality that have made San Francisco an increasingly elite and untenable city for so many people. Ask not whether a politico says they “care” about our city, but what and who they are willing to stand up for to make this a more livable, socially just and sustainable city for a more diverse group than just the “upwardly mobile” and millionaires and billionaires.
These are the real “tough decisions.” Who will challenge the next unnecessary and costly corporate tax giveaway? Who will stand up to the ultra-powerful real estate industry and SF Apartment Association lobbies, which relentlessly oppose basic reforms to protect renters from runaway rents and unwarranted evictions? Who will confront Ron Conway and other big-money titans who seek — with much success thanks to their City Hall supporters — to run the city as a profits-first, trickle-down zone?
These choices became especially palpable when Dean Preston, a surging candidate for District 5 supervisor, spoke about how affordability and housing rights define our city — who lives here, who votes here and how we live. Housing affordability and tenants’ rights, Preston reminds us, is not a single issue; it touches every aspect of our lives and our communities. Who will fight for maximum developer accountability and maximum affordability? Who will push the envelope on living wages and fair taxation of corporate profits and wealth, even when there is powerful opposition? Preston, founder and director of the statewide Tenants Together, is not alone in fighting for a more affordable and diverse city. Leading candidates Hillary Ronen in District 9, Kimberly Alvarenga in District 11, and Sandra Lee Fewer in District 1 offer vision, experience and policy smarts that consistently support those who need government’s help the most. There may be other “nice people” running who may care about their communities, but their track records show they are not willing to buck corporate power or the political establishment when push comes to shove.
Equally important is the choice between Jane Kim and Scott Wiener for state Senate, which again comes down to a question not of purity or perfection, but power. We all know who has disproportionate and inequitable power in our society, and a big part of government’s job is to help balance the playing field for everyone. Kim, whose policy history is very much in line with Sen. Mark Leno, will bring balance and fairness for workers, working families, renters and working- and middle-class people. Wiener is a smart, effective politician — yet consistently scapegoats homeless people and opposes any meaningful challenge to corporate power or the real estate or tech industries, which have backed him hugely.
This is what it comes down to. Who and what will candidates fight for? Nobody fights for everyone — the question is, who needs government’s help the most to make our city and society equitable, fair, balanced and sustainable? Who is willing to challenge the corporate profit imperatives (whether it’s Big Tech or the real estate or finance industry) that continually push our city and society wayyy out of balance?
Rent control, eviction protections, limits on real estate power, fair taxation of corporate profits and extreme inequitable wealth, and homes for homeless people rather than attacks on people surviving in tents — these are not just “progressive” causes, these are matters of life and death and societal priorities. Are candidates brave enough to insist we tax extreme wealth and provide real housing solutions for homeless people, instead of opportunistic scapegoating and criminalization that doesn’t solve anything?
Ask yourself: Who will stand up for workers, working families, renters, middle- and working-class people, and vitally needed public services, when push comes to shove? This is what’s really at stake on Nov. 8.
Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author who has lived in San Francisco’s Mission District for 25 years.