Back in the early days of this column, I would occasionally get letters from irate readers over my latest rant telling me in less-than-flowery terms to go back where I came from.
So you can understand when I told them that I was actually from San Francisco, that it would annoy them even more. In this label-happy town, I was either too liberal or conservative, too gutsy or weak, or too full of things that can’t be reprinted here.
Yet while being a native offers bragging rights, it doesn’t inherently add anything else journalistically, except some perspective. And that can only come from being here long enough to remember when Republicans walked the earth (here) and there was actual debate on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
And that is why this week’s election was so interesting, and one, most likely, the city of San Francisco won’t see the likes of again. That’s because, barring an extended lapse in sanity, it will likely revoke the ability for candidates to grab taxpayer money to run for office unless they can reach some simple benchmark, like breathing.
Without going on about the evils of ranked-choice voting, however, some truisms were unveiled and some myths debunked during the campaign for mayor which may offer a path of enlightenment for those people whose ambitions far outpace their abilities.
For starters, let’s toss the idea offered to me on election night that Mayor Ed Lee didn’t get enough votes to run The City with a “mandate” (not to be confused with man-date, another topic entirely). Lee kicked the stuffing out of the field, for all intents and purposes, sweeping all but three districts and beating runner-up John Avalos in his own supervisorial district by a nearly 2-1 margin.
Lee is hardly the type to run victory laps, and he won’t have to for another four years. But that’s worth noting because barring a major seismic event that The City can’t recover from, Lee is almost certain to be a two-term mayor because San Francisco likes two-term mayors — at least toward the end of their second term. Lee not only has links to Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, he’s more than likely going to outdistance them by serving for nine years.
This is no doubt disconcerting to the other 15 people who were lined up to beat Lee this year because history (at least before RCV and maybe even with it) says that when it comes to mayoral races in San Francisco, you only get one shot. You can shoot for more — many do — but no candidate who has lost a mayor’s contest has ever come back to win one.
So while Avalos is being propped up by his supporters as the so-called progressive standard-bearer, he might as well enjoy his brief moment in the limelight because that won’t be the case eight years from now when Lee is finishing his second term, the longest stretch in office since his good pal Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Which brings us to another election topic, the myth that San Francisco is a “progressive” city, a notion perpetrated by propagandist wags. While it’s true that The City does play home to people who call themselves progressives, reality says that San Francisco is a city dominated by liberals, the majority who define themselves as moderates — a trait voters extend to the office of mayor.
Only one “progressive” has won the mayor’s job in thepast 50 years — a stint memorable only for the creation of a tent city outside City Hall — that has all but ensured that the only occupier of Room 200 will be someone who governs from the center, like Feinstein and those who have succeeded her.
Certain factions have drawn up schemes to win political power in San Francisco — district elections, ranked-choice voting — but all it has shown is that in order to win a citywide race, you must understand that while The City may tinker with social experiments, its voters don’t want it to become one. That could change over time, but this election proved, it’s probably a decade or two away.
History shows that San Francisco “values” are much talked about, but they’re rarely understood.