As usual, it took someone wiser than me to point out the
The 2000 supervisorial races were primarily a reaction
against the Burton/Brown machine. But the 2002 supervisioral races will
be a whole new ballgame.
As John Jacobs points out in Rage for Justice,
the Burton/Brown machine was created in the late 1950s when Phil Burton
put together a coalition which included voters from the African-American
and Chinese-American communities in San Francisco. He helped the first
Chinese American to become a regional postmaster general. He helped many
African Americans, including Willie Brown, to become effective leaders
in the Bay Area.
But that was more than 40 years ago. The Burton/Brown
machine has been running on empty for quite a while. The waning power of
the machine is clearly visible. All but two of its candidates (Leno and
Newsom) were defeated in 2000. The mayorís power in terms of
appointments to the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals has been
curtailed by a board-sponsored vote initiative.
But the biggest indication of the machineís red engine
light was the defeat of Kimiko Burton, niece of Phil Burton and daughter
of State Senator John Burton. Anyone who reads the Call knows that
Kimiko was appointed by Mayor Brown as the Public Defender in January
2001; she immediately fired Jeff Adachi, second in command to the former
Public Defender, Geoffrey Brown. As anyone who has opened a newspaper
knows, Jeff Adachi beat Kimiko Burton in the race for Public Defender by
10% (55% to 45%) in the March election.
The question is this Ė do the Progressives need to use
the specter of the Burton/Brown machine in order to win elections? Or
can they win on their own merit?
The ballot in the election of last March carried a
proposal to use Instant Runoff Voting to determine the outcome of
elections in San Francisco. The initiative was sponsored by Supervisor
Matt Gonzalez, the only Green on the Board of Supervisors. The campaign
was run by Steven Hill and Caleb Kleppner (both of whom are active
Greens) from the Center of Voting and Democracy. It was housed at the
Green Party headquarters in San Francisco and two of its three paid
staffers were Greens. Let me quickly point out that many Democrats
(including Tom Ammiano and Kevin Shelley) also supported IRV. But the
measure was strongly identified as a Green Party initiative. The IRV
initiative won with 55% of the vote Ė just as Adachi won the Public
Defenderís race by 55%.
Greens have been called many things. One of the nicer
imputations is that they are part of the Progressive coalition.
So how did the Adachi win against the Burton/Brown
machine differ from the Progressivesí IRV win?
The first difference was the range of support for IRV
versus Adachiís campaign. Voters either loved or hated IRV, depending on
their supervisorial district.. Voters in District 9 supported IRV by 69%
but only 46% of voters in District 2 and 7 voted for the measure. IRV
was also defeated in District 4 by only 99 votes. But voters from five
of the supervisorial districts approved the IRV by 60% or more of the
vote (District 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10).
The close call in District 4 is interesting, since
according to DeLeonís Index, District 4 is the most conservative
district in San Francisco. In fact, it houses the only San Francisco
precinct that voted for Bush in 2000. Greens and conservatives are not
usual partners in politics, but both are interested in some issues, such
as electoral reforms. This statistic appears to indicate that bridges
could be made between the Progressives and the conservative voters of
District 4 on key issues. This could bode well for Progressive
candidates for the 2002 District 4 supervisoral race, Barry Hermanson
and Joel Ventresca.
Adachiís support from the voters wasnít as varied as
IRVís support. Even though his greatest support also came from District
9, with 59%, he received on average 56-58% of the vote from the
districts. The only exceptions were District 10 (Bayview / Potero Hill)
and District 11 (Excelsior/OMI). These were the only two districts that
Kimiko Burton won, receiving 60% of the vote of District 10 and 52% of
the vote of District 11. This isnít surprising since they are both part
of the territory that her uncle, Phil Burton, represented over 40 years
But both District 10 and 11 voted for IRV. If we look at
this statistic more closely, we find that 62% of the traditional
Burton/Brown machine stronghold, the Bayview / Hunters Point
neighborhood, voted for IRV. Its liberal neighbor, Potero Hill, also
voted for IRV by 62%.
Even though IRV was specifically identified as a
progressive measure, the traditional Burton/Brown machine voters voted
for it. Even though Brown came out against IRV, the traditional
Burton/Brown machine voters still voted for it. Electoral reform is a
key issue in minority neighborhoods. So the vote for IRV shows that
there are links that can be created between Progressives and traditional
Another surprise is that Adachi did so well in other
traditional Burton/Brown territories. He won District 2 (Chinatown /
North Beach) by 54%, District 4 (where 52% of the voters are
Asian-American) by 55%, and District 7 (Parkside and Sunset) by 56%.
Since Brown has many high profile Chinese-American supporters (including
Rose Pak, Julie Lee, and the Fangs), it is interesting that Adachi was
able to garner so much support from districts with a high percentage of
Asian-American voters. This would appear to illustrate that the
Burton/Brown machineís hold on the Asian-American vote has eroded.
The other surprise was that Adachi did not do very well
in District 6, one of the most liberal districts in the city. He
received only 51% of the vote, while IRV won 61% of District 6ís vote.
The voters in District 6 (Tenderloin and SOMA) are fairly mobile. So
they may not know (or care) the history of the Burton/Brown machine and
may have not bought into the anti-Brown sentiment. But since it is one
of the poorest districts in San Francisco, its voters have identified
with the social issues that are part of the Progressive coalitionís
agenda. After all, their supervisor, Chris Daly, is one of the most
liberal on the BOS.
Adachiís win showed that there was still anti-Brown
sentiment out there Ė but his win also showed that Brownís support has
eroded in some areas.
The support that IRV got in the last election suggest
that Progressives don't need to use sentiment against the Burton/Brown
machine to win elections. Rather, the movement has grown to be
identified with its own core supporters, issues, and momentum.
The challenge will be to continue the trend with
Progressive wins in the November 2002 elections.