When I opened my front door on Election Day morning, the first thing I saw was a volunteer. He was walking up and down my street tucking hangers onto doorknobs to remind us all to V-O-T-E. Since I already had my voter pamphlet under my arm and was headed down to the Stockton Street firehouse to cast my vote, I told him to save the paper for the next house. But I thanked him for spending his morning walking up windy hills and steep steps to do the grinding work that it actually takes to make this glorious-sounding thing called democracy actually work.
Election Days are always one of my favorite days, so chock full of potential. I love it when the people are finally handed the big decisions to make after many months of campaign ads stuffing our mailboxes and political posturing bending reality this way and that. On most days, the lobbyists and corporate interests fill the hallways and call the shots at City Hall, the Statehouse or in Congress. But on Election Day an open-ended question hangs in the air, one that voters get to answer any way they want to. All we have to do is show up and be counted.
This Election Day was of special significance to me, as the same race that drew me here 15 years ago — the election for District 3 supervisor — was once again on the ballot. As it was in 2000, this year the District 3 election was a hotly contested race, the most intense political campaign in a highly political city. Also as it was 15 years ago, this year’s District 3 election was not only about who could most effectively represent the high-profile and diverse neighborhoods that make up the northeast corner of The City, but it would also be a bellwether for the direction of San Francisco as a whole. Would the voters of District 3 choose business as usual or would they choose to fight for an affordable and livable city open to everyone?
Midway through Election Day this year, I walked up Sacramento Street to the top of Nob Hill to see what the campaign felt like in a part of District 3 that seemed to have gotten less attention from the competing campaigns then the focal points of Chinatown and North Beach. My wondering if I would see any sign of Election Day up there abruptly ended when I saw Aaron Peskin’s parents, Harvey and Tsipa, marching down the street with their blue and yellow “Peskin for Supervisor” signs on sticks bouncing above them. By all accounts Harvey and Tsipa were again this year — as they were for me in 2000 when I managed the Peskin campaign — the biggest rock star volunteers of all, working tirelessly to let voters know that their son was not the cartoon character that Ron Conway’s money tried to make him but a real person and a good guy. True to form, Harvey and Tsipa were friendly but focused on getting to their next assignment to make sure every last vote was cast and counted before the polls closed and it was all over.
On the rest of my route around District 3 on Election Day I saw clusters of volunteers and workers for all of the candidates holding signs, passing out fliers, and double-checking voter lists at the polls to find out who was left to bother that had said they would vote but hadn’t gotten around to doing it. After 8 p.m. when the polling places shut their doors, the dedicated poll workers who had just spent a long 14-hour day making sure the mechanics of democracy functioned properly tallied up the numbers and sent the information into the Elections Department in the basement of City Hall. By 10 p.m. enough results were in to make it clear we had a winner in District 3, where voters decisively decided to send Aaron Peskin back to City Hall to represent them as supervisor once again. Whether or not you cheered the final result, the District 3 election of 2015 showed Election Day at its best. It’s a very different kind of day from most, one chock full of possibility where anything can happen, and not just the select few who have connections or money but all the people get to show up and decide what happens next. Election Days are magic.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.