What happened after 2000?
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
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
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
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.
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
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?