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Friday, August 23, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




Machine Shop Saga

Burton/Brown vs. the New Progressive Alliance

You say that you want a revolution. Well, you know. We all want to rule the world.

Ė The Beatles

As usual, it took someone wiser than me to point out the obvious.

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 ago.

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 Burton/Brown supporters.

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.