Supervisor Jane Kim's state Senate campaign may owe a debt of gratitude to the "Bernie Bump." (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Jane Kim’s startling senate support shows money isn’t everything

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The woofers pounded, and happy sounds crowed from the crowd of progressive democrats. The Jane Kim supporters jammed, boogeyed and laughed at The Oasis, on 11th street.

The newest election numbers arrived just as the sound system cried, “Won’t you take me to, funky toooooown?”

Funky indeed — Supervisor and State Senate candidate Jane Kim trailed Supervisor Scott Wiener by less than 2 percentage points, a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes.

78,343 votes for Scott, and 75.542 for Jane, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting. That’s a hell of a narrow lead for Scott, especially considering he outspent her three-to-one.

But despite Scott’s thousands, Jane narrowed the race. Most political experts On Guard spoke with over the past week agreed, if Jane lost to Scott by any more than 5 or 6 percentage points, the enthusiasm for her campaign would vanish.

Poof. Gone. Funders, volunteers, many would turn away.

Instead, what we have is this: A roaring crowd, and San Francisco progressives re-energized.

Maybe it was the Bernie Bump (Kim’s recent alliance with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders). Maybe it was her ground game (probably not, Scott is known for his door-knocking prowess). Few had concrete answers.

When Kim heard how neck and neck the votes came, she was standing just in front of me, answering questions from a scrum of reporters. She jumped up and down, one hand in the air, and cried out.

I asked Kim if she thought Wiener should be worried.

“I think when you outspend someone three to one, and have only one point between you [and your opponent], you have reason to be scared,” she said.

Now let’s be frank. No matter how bitter moderate and progressive Democrat politics can get in San Francisco, Wiener is no mustachio-twirling villain.

Both Wiener and Kim have genuine platforms. But despite the crowing of some election-watchers, their differences are in many ways profound.

On homelessness, on police, on transportation, and especially on how to approach The City’s housing crisis, both Kim and Wiener draw stark lines.

“I think she really understands the question of affordability,” said Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. He had to shout to be heard over the election-party music.

Marti sat through Kim’s negotiations for the housing development pushed by the San Francisco Giants in 2015. Kim argued hard for affordable housing there and elsewhere. That, Marti said, is the sharpest division between her and her opponent.

Wiener, in contrast, is focused on just building as many units as possible – a different strategy, Marti said.

Kim’s win wasn’t the only progressive crowd pleaser this election night. The Democratic Party’s board, the Democratic County Central Committee, is a key battleground between politicians in San Francisco.

It’s there that vital endorsements from the Democratic party are made – and also where thousands of dollars in unlimited campaign donations funnel in.

Moderate democrats – backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars from the San Francisco Realtors Association, Facebook, Instagram, Google and billionaire angel investor Ron Conway – control the board’s majority now.

But tonight’s numbers show that control slipping.

As of this writing, progressives won 14 out of the 24 seats.

“I’m happy to announce we’re taking back the Democratic Party from Ron Conway!” Supervisor David Campos shouted to the crowd at Oasis, to cheers.

And that’s the lesson from election night — as concentrated as money has become in politics, those with money don’t always win.

By the time the votes are all tallied, “I hope to tell you that my confidence in the people of this town is unshaken,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told me.

“We were outspent,” he said, but still, progressives won.

“Welcome back San Francisco,” he said.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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