With the advent of district elections 10 years ago, a new group of neighborhood activists emerged to challenge the development-fueled politics of City Hall. It was an unforeseen event with unexpected consequences, one that created a bitter divide under San Francisco’s famed gilded dome.
The battle centered on the perceived power of the mayor versus the Board of Supervisors, first aimed at dismantling “the machine” under Willie Brown and then directed at the popular appeal of Gavin Newsom. The new board members, all part of a group that called themselves progressives, spent their time plotting and planning new ways to seize power and expand their base, grabbing commission appointments and promoting like-minded advocates for other boards and organizations.
Depending on one’s political bent, it was either a well-timed masterstroke or a maddening partisan display, but it did occupy center stage in The City’s political theater, creating an often-poisonous atmosphere of personal attacks, threats and bullying. It was infamously summed up by bombastic Supervisor Chris Daly, who once called himself a member of the “opposition party.”
And here we thought our city’s leaders were all Democrats.
But the result of the pitched battles was that San Francisco took several steps back, politically, financially and philosophically. The City has experienced nearly a decade of historic deficits and subsequent budget fights that have all ended the same way — with elected officials kicking the can down the road while ignoring the reality of a government too big to maintain and a business support structure too strained to survive.
The board majority has been determined to seek fixes through continually higher taxes rather than necessary cuts. Fees for average citizens for every public service have skyrocketed. Supervisors have been determined to maintain the status quo by ignoring market forces for housing and job development.
And it has just gotten worse. Only the voters can fix it.
The mayor will be gone in a year or less, but four supervisor seats will decide the balance of power and help determine the near future for San Francisco. Only a shift toward the center offers hope for a more prosperous and less antagonistic period, which is why we’re fortunate to have a number of qualified candidates who could help bridge deep political divisions.
District 2 is particularly well-served with several intelligent and appealing candidates. Abraham Simmons and Kat Anderson are poised and knowledgeable and we hope they continue to push for roles in public service.
However, in this moderate district, two other candidates stood out for their level of community outreach and their grasp of the most pressing issues facing The City.
Janet Reilly has spent years working on district issues and is our top choice. A former candidate for the Assembly, she acknowledges the need for more centrist board policies.
As a member of the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation District, Reilly has shown an ability to work with officials from disparate counties that have vastly different interests and reach tough decisions on budget and transit issues.
Mark Farrell has proven to be the most articulate candidate about issues facing the board and rightly points out the need to get back to basics and not get lost in the fog of ideology that has seen supervisors reach down to legislating toy packages from McDonalds.
Farrell registers as a close second pick, and the former investment banker-turned-venture capitalist has a level of financial expertise that could help guide our fiscally challenged supervisors.
In District 4, Supervisor Carmen Chu is running unopposed, and she remains one of the board’s most exemplary members.
District 6 is one of the more challenging ones in San Francisco, stretching from the Tenderloin to the emerging new neighborhood in South Beach. The district has gone through a considerable transformation in recent years and clearly begs for more balanced representation than it enjoyed under the hyperbolic Chris Daly.
Theresa Sparks is our top choice to lead the district. As the former president of the Police Commission, she brought insight and keen instincts to the job, and it was under her watch that the panel’s familiar pyrotechnics ended. Sparks led the lengthy selection process for Police Chief George Gascón, a stellar pick for a sliding department.</p>
Sparks would bring more moderate values back into a district that needs them as well as a small-business background missing from most of her compatriots. During the campaign she has been by far the most articulate and informed candidate.
We also like Jane Kim, who is running on a progressive slate that we usually don’t support. However, Kim has shown valuable leadership as a member of the San Francisco Board of Education, and her ability to work with her colleagues — like-minded or not — would be a welcome trait on the board.
District 8 has long been a moderate stronghold, and our choice to replace the even-handed Bevan Dufty is former Democratic Party head Scott Wiener, who has proven to be a strong community advocate, consensus-builder and independent thinker. Unlike some of his opponents, Wiener would represent all the stakeholders in the district.
Rebecca Prozan would be a worthy second choice for the district — as Dufty’s former longtime aide, she has a wealth of experience. We don’t agree with her stance to increase the hotel tax or her non-position on the civil sidewalks measure, but Prozan would bring compassion and smarts to the job.
The challenges facing District 10 are many, which may be why 21 candidates are vying to represent the fast-changing area. We think district native Malia Cohen is the best choice for the seat, since she brings a wealth of knowledge, having served as the mayor’s neighborhood liaison there and has the correct focus on keeping district residents working.
BART board member Lynette Sweet would be a good second choice with her background as a Bayview community banker and her work on redevelopment issues that are key to the district’s future.