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Friday, November 8, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




Progressives Could Learn from the Conservatives

Or, How to win friends and influence voters

Like all of the other SF Call columnists, I have been mulling over the results of this fall's election. As a progressive, it is difficult to get past the win of Proposition N. Here we live in a city known throughout the world for its compassion (as a city named after St. Francis of Assisi would seem to imply) and yet we pass a proposition that reduces the benefits of the truly needy. It would make St. Francis weep and ask us to change our name as soon as it is conveniently possible.

That being said, I wanted to bring attention to a conversation that I had with someone who just moved here from Fayetteville, Arkansas. He wanted to know why the progressive politicians in San Francisco don't get along.

I thought about it for some time and have created this list on what progressives could learn from the conservative/moderate side of City Hall.

1. Keep your friends close. Willie Brown is known to help out his friends and cronies. He must have spent his entire midlife at the baptism font. Because his numerous godchildren are all employed in some capacity at City Hall. While this is the worst sign of cronyism, it also shows that he is extremely loyal. As Joe Alioto told me once, "There are three groups of people that I could appoint from - friends who are qualified, strangers who are qualified, and enemies who are qualified. Being a friendly sort of person, I never ran out of friends who were qualified."

The progressives on the other hand, appear to forget that it is a lot easier to win as a team than as individuals. As an occasional visitor to the Board of Supervisors' offices, I hear the rumors of supervisors fighting among themselves and maneuvering behind the scenes to hurt the legislation of another progressive. Guys, there is enough to do. Do we really need to expend our energy in fighting? Wouldn't it be easier if we actually worked together???

Another thing - it is easier to keep people motivated about doing the good work that progressive politicians want us to do if we think that our efforts are appreciated. I have done projects for progressive supervisors and moderate/conservative supervisors. I've always gotten a thank-you from a moderate/conservative supervisor - but I have yet to be thanked by a progressive supervisor. It makes me wonder at times if I am in the correct camp.

2. Keep your enemies closer. Let's face it. Every politician has enemies. They can destroy your reputation, the public's perception of you and/or your legislation. Yet our progressive supervisors don't appear to pay much attention to those who could truly destroy them.

A case in point is, again, Proposition N. The issue of homelessness has always been out there. It was one of the issues that destroyed Agnos' bid for a second term. It derailed the public's honeymoon with Brown when he messed up on the encampment of the homeless at Golden Gate Park. But has any of our progressive supervisors really addressed the homeless issue with any meaningful legislation in the last two years? No, it was Gavin Newsom who took the sentiment of the public and created legislation that we will unfortunately have to live with.

I realize that Supervisor Ammiano created Proposition O. But let's face it. He dropped it fairly quickly in the election campaign. I didn't see any organized efforts to get it passed. I didn't see any scheduled debates, very little campaign activity, and very little commitment on the part of any of the city's politicians to get it passed.

Are there issues that the progressives are not addressing - that their supporters want them to address? YES!!! Let's start with anything from on-demand substance-abuse treatment programs to expansion of health services at the SF General Hospital, from resources for the Day Laborer Program to better shelters for the homeless.

3. The Bible didn't state that money is the root of all evil. It stated that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Campaigns do not run on blood, sweat, and tears alone. You have to actually reach the public through precinct walks, literature, phonebanking and/or slate cards. This all requires money. If you want people to support your cause / initiative / point of view, they have to know your point of view. This requires dissemination of literature - which requires money.

This doesn't mean that the progressives have to get in bed with downtown interests. But it does mean that you have to raise enough money to keep the momentum going. People like being part of a movement to help their city. Sending checks of $5 to $10 is one way that they can do it. Asking them for these resources is one way to keep the movement going.

Proposition D did not pass because there were very little resources given to the effort. Ross Mirkarimi did a great job with the few resources that he was given. I want to applaud his efforts in keeping the momentum on Proposition D against great odds. Energy translates into money, precinct walking, visibility opportunities, press releases, op-ed pieces, and rallies. Ross is a great campaigner - but even he can't win an election without help from key supporters.

So let's summarize. To keep the progressive momentum going in this town, you can't take your friends for granted, you must invest in initiatives that are vital to the progressive movement, and you can't ignore your enemies.

Remember Progressive Team of San Francisco, we all need to work together to get a kinder, gentler, more compassionate San Francisco.