Here in our tiny 7×7 burg, state senate candidate Jackie Fielder has hit the pavement with fervor, flying the Democratic Socialist flag and hoping to channel an AOC-like ascendance against incumbent state Sen. Scott Wiener.
Well, with Fielder taking a strong 32 percentage points and 43,000 votes in San Francisco as of 10:45 p.m. compared to Wiener’s 72,000, The Political Machine might just spring a leak.
To win, Fielder’s counting on a revolution. Another one.
AOC, or rather, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a relatively young woman of color, a newcomer who had never before held office, and a bartender with an arresting message — delivered a stunning knockout to 10-time incumbent Joe Crowley in the Bronx back in 2018.
Much like you often hear any given new app is the “Uber of blank,” every candidate and their second-cousin has since hoped to be the “AOC of” fill-in-the-locale, and Fielder is no different.
And much like AOC, Fielder has impressive progressive stances in her own right, having campaigned internationally against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and having helped usher in a public banking effort in San Francisco that long stood stuck in molasses.
But that narrative only goes far. To be AOC, you need a Joe Crowley — someone who a generational change left behind, whose best times may be far behind him.
Wiener ain’t Joe Crowley.
It’s true: The City’s progressives love to hate him. West Side denizens who hate Senate Bill 50 love to hate him. Lots of folks engaged in the game of politics in San Francisco love to hate him. When you do as much as he does, you undoubtedly cross swords with someone.
But at the end of the day, Wiener is only four years into his term, and already, he’s torn up the state legislature with a flurry of bills that have left his state senate colleagues in the dust.
Barring unforeseen lunacy — to borrow a phrase from a friend — Wiener will emerge from his scuffle in these primaries with newcomer Fielder unscathed.
Fielder ran a campaign with a small merry band of tired-as-hell volunteers fresh from Supervisor Dean Preston’s campaign, among others. By all accounts, they were running on fumes.
“It’s taken a lot,” Fielder told me Tuesday night at her election night party at Barrel Proof on Mission Street.
“No one knew who we were,” she said. “What we’ve been able to do is largely on our own.”
And Fielder spent a drop in a bucket compared to Wiener, about $130,000 compared to his roughly $500,000.
That’s the classic David v. Goliath scenario, and much like that tale, Fielder carried a slingshot for the primaries. But she might carry a bazooka into the November election.
The threshold for Fielder to appear strong against Wiener, to appear to have a fighting chance, is roughly 30 percentage points in San Francisco, many campaign-types in the know (from all political perspectives) told me. That’s assuming a number of things: A Republican candidate in the race drawing votes from Wiener (check), progressives who will always vote against Wiener (check), and the threshold on top of that needed to show Fielder is viable.
Should Fielder cross that goalpost — which early numbers indicated she had — more volunteers and more funding will materialize for her campaign moving into November.
Those volunteers will come from an obvious place: Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign, which has mobilized a small army of progressive San Franciscans who will suddenly find themselves without doors to knock. It also may mean Wiener’s more well-heeled opponents, sensing political vulnerability, coalesce behind Fielder financially.
Fielder will need that bazooka.
“I feel really good about where we are,” Wiener told me Tuesday night, outside his election night party at Cadillac Bar and Grill on Ninth Street.
When speaking to his supporters, he admitted that there will always be some folks who want to take him out politically. That’s because “I’m never controversial, ever,” he said, with a whiff of that patented Wiener sarcasm.
Wiener is a formidable-as-hell opponent, as strong as that meme-ified YIMBY Godzilla — a creature made entirely of scary, dense urban apartment buildings — and like the original Japanese Gojira, I think he just may breathe actual fire.
The WSJ’s “new left urbanist” NIMBY screed is obviously insane but its Hippy Apartment Godzilla art is unequivocally, extremely good.
I think I need to get it framed on my wall. pic.twitter.com/86VQTFSjkM
— Henry Kraemer 🌹🌇🚎 (@HenryKraemer) August 24, 2019
Progressives often underestimate Wiener because they’re familiar with his record locally.
On homelessness, it is abysmal: He supported former Mayor Mark Farrell’s Proposition Q, which made tents that folks without housing would pitch on our sidewalks illegal (without providing proper shelter as an alternative). Wiener also helped the SF Recreation and Parks Department ban sleeping in parks, ostensibly to combat taggers, but really, targeting those without homes.
And yes, he’s taken real estate dollars, and there’s a damn PAC with money from Chevron, of all places, supporting him. That ain’t a good look.
And I remember keenly how he twisted himself into philosophical knots as a supervisor, trying to justify gutting common-sense regulations of Airbnb, which threatened San Francisco’s housing supply, the very thing Wiener has argued for his entire political career.
He lost that fight, because he was wrong, and because he was outflanked. Even locally, roughly a dozen or so candidates Wiener has endorsed have failed miserably — it’s clear he doesn’t have a penchant for winning those hyper-local battles.
But almost in a reverse Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde scenario, the Wiener I have personally lambasted locally — repeatedly — is also among the most progressive lawmakers in Sacramento.
He’s fought for and won net neutrality in California. He even represented the interests of tenants, like banning discrimination in Section 8 vouchers, in Sacramento.
And Senate Bill 50, the bogeyman of San Francisco that saw Wiener seeking to bolster density near transit lines across the state, polls well in San Francisco. Despite the very real, very substantive misgivings about communities of concern, a lot of people like SB50.
“I think SB50 has a lot of support in SF,” he told me Tuesday night. And he’s right.
So yes, I get the critiques. I even agree with them, to a point. But at the state level, Wiener is another animal entirely.
The misunderstandings cut both ways. Much as the progressives overestimate how much San Franciscans are rankled by Senator Wiener, moderates may have underestimated Fielder.
Her campaign has only been burning for three months, versus Wiener, a sitting state senator who has essentially been running for three years, and has held office for far longer.
And in a flip from Jane Kim’s 2016 state senate race against Wiener — where he lost in the primary only to come back far stronger to beat Kim — Fielder has an extra three months to campaign, an eternity in electoral politics, since California’s primary moved back to March from June.
While Fielder ain’t showin’ AOC-level numbers, yet, and Wiener isn’t crashing and burning like Joe Crowley, Fielder’s returns are far stronger than they should be for such a political newcomer.
The Political Machine is far from busted, but he should be sweating WD-40.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.