Talk of political losses permeates progressive “Thanksgiving”

On Guard column header Joe

For politically progressive San Franciscans, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club’s annual “Gayla” is like a political Thanksgiving. Old friends, long-time political allies and shiny newcomers gather and break bread while dishing on the latest wins and losses.

In attendance were a veritable who’s who of progressives: supervisor candidate Aaron Peskin, City College trustee-hopeful Tom Temprano (a past co-president of the Milk Club), some Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (sans nun-garb) and union officials, among others. Assemblyman Phil Ting and Sen. Mark Leno glad-handed as well.

This year’s gayla at Chinatown’s New Asia Restaurant was punctuated by many joyous moments, but also had the air of attending Thanksgiving after a funeral.

In the wake of an avalanche of tech cash, the local political progressive movement is ailing in San Francisco. This is not news, but those who run left of The City’s more “moderate” conservative democrats, like Mayor Ed Lee or Supervisor Mark Farrell, for instance, are in a period of waning power.

That’s a shame for anyone else who wants to see politicians tackle San Francisco’s Rwanda-level of income inequality. (It’s true! Google it.) But it’s great news for real estate agents, developers and tech-friendly politicians who hear the song “San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate” and believe they’ll find gold in our 47-named hills — and who donate in abundance to moderates to help them find it.

Political power ebbs and flows, of course, but a political year filled with the death of Ted Gullicksen, the closing of the loudly lesbian Lexington Bar and the continued exodus of many progressive activists in The City cast a pall on a night of reflections.

As lion-dancers hopped acrobatically on balance beams, progressives downed brews and whispered political fears.

For instance, even the possible win of progressive-powerhouse Peskin in District 3 may have had folks energized only with a caveat: the Board of Supervisors is split 6-5, with moderates locked in a majority vote, essentially castrating any progressive efforts (like reining in Airbnb, or the Mission Moratorium).

If Peskin won, that balance of power would tilt — perhaps only briefly, one politico noted to me on background.

November 2016 is when the true tilt may occur, as some supervisor seats are up for grabs. Progressive supervisors David Campos, John Avalos and Eric Mar will all be termed out, and moderate London Breed will face re-election. Moderates and progressives are already lining up horses for the race, and rumors floated around these potential progressive politicos.

One rumor reads thusly: Perhaps some progressives may be too spooked to run because of billionaire tech investor Ron Conway and his cadre of cash. Notably, Conway’s money-fueled endless election flyers erroneously linking assembly-candidate Campos to murderers of women last November.

Campos lost.

Fearing a repeat performance from Conway is all too understandable. Who the hell would want to run for supervisor when your opponent is backed by more money than God? Even if you disagree with progressives, it’s a shame to think one man may have the power to chill local democracy.

At the Gayla, it was hard not to note that aggressive activists and progressive-political hopefuls are now priced out of San Francisco. Oakland isn’t a bad place to live, but residence there puts a legal “nope” on running for office in San Francisco, and a strain on activism in The City.

There were bright spots at the Gayla: Tim Redmond won a community ally award for his decades of progressive reporting, which he carries on at Miss Major, a staunch transgender activist for decades, was also honored with a lifetime achievement award.

Still, the political gamesmanship under The City’s dome is taking its toll. To some, fighting against the endless sea of tech money can feel like a hopeless slog.

We’ll only have to look as far as November to see if progressives can rally their spirits in time to make a difference.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at

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