About Us

Contact Us


Party Time

What happened after 2000?

By Betsey Culp

Sometimes modern technology interferes with life’s simple pleasures. The place the Call calls home has been visited recently by a mischievous ghost that delighted in playing games with the electricity. Madly flickering lights and frequent outages were the order of the day, and publishing a web page — even answering email — became a frustrating impossibility.

In the silence, I rediscovered an older pleasure: reading. I read the Call. In the fall of 2000, to herald the election of supervisors by district, the Call visited every district, traveled up and down every street, looked carefully at every candidate, and published 11 articles in its print version to chronicle the journey. For some reason, the series was never put up on the web. It’s there now.

It reads like something that was written long long ago.

Much has changed since November 2000. It’s easy to remember the big stuff. For instance, the United States selected a new president that fall, following one of the country’s more astonishing elections. And less than a year later, thousands of people lost their lives during attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ushering in a permanent state of terrorist alert at home and war abroad. But much of the little stuff has gotten lost, as though that clever old fiend who lurks in the details has thrown up a cloud of forgetful dust.

Try to recall the San Francisco of 2000. The city was tossing and turning, beset by dot-com fever. The biggest local issue was development run amok, and the election turned into a referendum on Willie Brown’s “legacy.” A year earlier, progressives had begun to flex their muscles, using a write-in campaign to propel Tom Ammiano into a run-off for mayor. Brown won, but he lost in 2000, as one by one his candidates for supervisor bit the dust.

District elections brought a new group of local politicians to City Hall, people who lacked the name recognition and financial backing to get elected in a citywide election. Gavin Newsom (who was part of the Class of 2000) worries that district-elected supervisors get into “little niches.” But it was district elections that called neighborhood issues to the attention of the general public. Before 2000, how many voters outside District 7 knew of Lake Merced’s problems? How many outside District 10 knew of the health hazards created by power plants there?

And despite present-day critics who argue that our city government is paralyzed by perpetual in-fighting, most of the new supervisors worked well together. They shared a common perspective, insisting that, first and foremost, City Hall must be responsive to the wishes of the neighborhoods. They created a new atmosphere for Board of Supervisors meetings, where policies that had once been rubber-stamped were now debated and hammered out in public.

In case you’ve forgotten, the dot-com fever passed. Already reeling, San Francisco’s economy received another blow when 9/11 curtailed tourism. Downtown began to worry. "In the opinion of a lot of people, the city is just sliding," fretted investment banker/philanthropist Warren Hellman. Not one to fret for long, Hellman got busy. In October 2002, Matier & Ross reported that he, along with like-minded people such as Gap founder Don Fisher, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and former Silicon Valley Democratic fundraiser Wade Randlett, had organized a quality-of-life group called. SFSOS. Its first move was to get behind Newsom’s Care Not Cash approach to homelessness, which sailed to victory in the November election.

But the progressives continued to progress. In the mayor’s race of 2003, many abandoned Tom Ammiano, whom they saw as their father’s Oldsmobile, in favor of Matt Gonzalez’s shiny Green hybrid. An entirely new generation of voters entered the scene. Observers began to wonder how far they would take this new stage in San Francisco politics.

But then the party began.

San Francisco — a city governed by representatives of the left and the far left, a city with non-partisan local offices — was suddenly visited by every major Democratic politician in the country. It’s easy to imagine the consternation of the Dems, already reeling from the presidential defeat in 2000, when they realized they might lose a major urban stronghold as well. One after another, from Al Gore to SoCal Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, from California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Democrats appeared on San Francisco’s doorstep in support of Newsom, a mayoral candidate who had aligned himself with the New Democrats against the Green Party threat.

Goliath won.

Now we are engaged in another district election of supervisors, testing whether that system can long endure. More than 60 candidates left the starting blocks in seven districts. Six are incumbents; four belong to the original class of 2000. Those four — McGoldrick, Peskin, Sandoval, and yes, even Ammiano — endorsed Gonzalez in his run for mayor. Those four are being targeted for defeat by SFSOS. And in District 5, Gonzalez’s old district, the leading contenders are Democrat Robert Haaland and Green Ross Mirkarimi.

But this year’s election has an added, unpredictable twist: ranked choice voting. For the first time in San Francisco, voters will choose not one candidate but three, in order of preference. Nobody is willing to predict how the new system will affect the results.

In District 5, for example, will voters choose Haaland and Mirkarimi as their first and second choices, making the election a showdown between the two frontrunners? Or will voters follow party lines, giving less popular candidates a chance to surge ahead in the final rounds?

In District 9, Ammiano is under siege from both Renee Saucedo, to the left, and Miguel Bustos, to the right. Bustos, a gay Latino who served under Vice President Gore in the Clinton administration, has taken up the old plaint expressed by candidates on the west side of the city in 2000, that City Hall has ignored the district. Under ranked choice voting, can he — or Saucedo — manage to capture the support needed to win? Or will Ammiano manage to garner enough first- and second- and third-choice votes to pull off a victory?

Clever Old Scratch is indeed prowling through the details of this election. And so will we. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, it’s time to get down and party. You’re all invited.


Friday in the Call: Proposition 62 — An end to the party?