At a time when The City faces an economic crisis, increasing taxes and a loss of jobs and basic service, the political direction of San Francisco’s legislative body could dramatically shift with five seats on the Board of Supervisors up for re-election in November.
There are 11 members of the Board of Supervisors, each representing a defined district. Currently the board is viewed as having three moderates, six progressives and two swing votes — middle-of-the-line supervisors who cross the traditional boundaries when voting.
During the past seven years, the board has operated with a progressive majority that is often at battle with the moderate policies of Mayor Gavin Newsom and the board minority. The only balance of power is Newsom’s ability to veto legislation, a power he could lose during 2011 if progressives can gain more allies on the board by switching over seats traditionally held by moderates. Equally, the mayor could gain some allies if traditionally progressive districts, such as District 6, or swing-vote districts such as District 8, elect more-moderate supervisors.
Elections for board seats occur every two years, alternating between races for the odd-numbered districts and the even-numbered districts. Voters will determine on Nov. 2 the outcome of the five even-numbered districts. Winners would take office January 2011. Of those five districts, four of the supervisors are termed out and one is seeking re-election.
To date, 47 candidates are in the running, with 17 candidates filed to run in the District 6 race and 14 candidates in the District 10 race.
The results of these hotly contested races will determine if Newsom has the political backing to execute ideas in his final year in office, as well as set the direction of policies for development, parking, public safety and government spending. They will also determine the cast of characters San Francisco’s new mayor would have to work with come January 2012, when Newsom is termed out of office.
Currently on controversial legislation, moderates can quell the progressive tide by garnering at least four votes. It takes eight votes to override a mayoral veto, and in its current makeup the progressive bloc on the board cannot count on those eight votes. From Newsom’s perspective, he needs at least four allies on the board to ensure his veto of legislation is successful, and he has generally operated under those conditions since assuming office.
Board members often do not see a point — or want to expend political capital — in pushing legislation for it to be vetoed. However, at times, they test those limits.
One of the most recent political battles was over legislation about The City’s sanctuary policy. Supervisor David Campos gained enough votes to pass the controversial legislation 8-3. The hotly debated issue, one of the most raucous political disputes of 2009, ended with Newsom vetoing the legislation, even though it would be overridden, and then vowing not to implement the policy change.
Debates such as that could change in the future with the five seats up for election — two moderate seats and two swing-vote seats.
“The board can flip. Newsom could lose his veto-proof majority,” said David Latterman, a political analyst who is working with moderate candidates in the supervisorial races.
Of the five November races, four are open contest with no incumbent running. Supervisor Carmen Chu, a Newsom ally, is expected to be re-elected to her District 4 seat. In District 2, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, a Newsom ally, is termed out of office and the seat could turn over to more progressive-friendly candidate Janet Reilly, although she may face a battle from moderate Joe Alito-Veronese, who is reportedly taking “strong look” at running.
With Reilly having picked up influential endorsements, the pressure for moderates shifts to the campaign battles in Districts 6, 8 and 10.
District 6 is currently held by Newsom’s most outspoken critic, Supervisor Chris Daly — and moderates are looking to fill his seat with a conservative. Progressives are hoping to gain allies in the District 8 seat, held by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and the District 10 seat, held by Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. Dufty and Maxwell have, at times, voted with the progressives, while at other times voted with Newsom.
“If you look at the possible outcomes from the election, you could see the fulcrum of the board shift pretty dramatically,” University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook said. “There is potential for the mayor and his allies to end up with five seats.”
“It looks like they will be hotly contested races that will go in any direction. It’s hard to think that it would shift any worse for [Newsom],” Cook added.
Jim Lazarus, who is the senior vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’d like to see that we have a few more moderate voices on the Board of Supervisors. It’s really been an uphill battle.”
“Fortunately, we’ve had mayors with enough votes to sustain a veto,” Lazarus said.
“If the board goes further to the left, we lose that moderating influence,” Lazarus said. “That’s obviously of great concern.
The Board of Supervisors election in November includes four races in which the incumbent is termed out of office. The fifth district, District 4, is represented by Supervisor Carmen Chu, who is facing re-election but currently lacks an opponent and is expected to be re-elected
Neighborhoods: Presidio, Cow Hollow, Marina, Pacific Heights and portions of Inner Richmond
Current supervisor: Michela Alioto-Pier
Political stance: Moderate
—Alioto-Pier has proven to be a strong ally of Mayor Gavin Newsom and has voted in line with the mayor’s moderate political agenda. Newsom appointed her to the post in January 2004. The loss of Alioto-Pier, who will be termed out of office, means the moderate minority on the Board of Supervisors could lose a key seat.
Neighborhoods: Tenderloin, South of Market, North Mission, South Beach and Treasure Island
Current supervisor: Chris Daly
Political stance: Progressive
—Daly has been Newsom’s most outspoken critic. Progressives will look to put into office someone who can walk in Daly’s footsteps. Daly was elected into office in 2000, and won re-election twice. Moderates are hoping to “flip” the seat and gain a moderate vote with the changing demographics, as more middle-class residents move into the skyscrapers that have emerged in recent years.
Neighborhoods: Castro and Noe Valley
Current supervisor: Bevan Dufty
Political stance: Swing vote
—Dufty has set his sights on becoming San Francisco’s next mayor, and has carved out a special place on the board as the middle-of-the-road vote. In some instances he has voted in support of the progressive cause, and in others he has supported the more moderate position — although more often siding with the moderates. Dufty began his second term in January 2007, after being first elected to the post in 2002.
Neighborhoods: Bayview-Hunters Point and Potrero
Current supervisor: Sophie Maxwell
Political stance: Swing vote
—Maxwell, who was easily re-elected in 2006, has sided with the progressives on the board, while also demonstrating more moderate tendencies by backing the mayor as well. In recent years, Maxwell has helped lead the charge to shut down the polluting Mirant power plant. As chair of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee, she led the way to developing new planning regulations for the eastern neighborhoods.
A moderate or progressive veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors has a direct impact on key policies such as budget, public safety, housing and taxes.
Moderates: Lean toward making cuts in spending to balance the budget instead of adding new fees and taxes; embrace spending for public safety departments; advocate for long-term rainy-day funds.
Progressives: Attempt to make cuts to public safety departments to help offset cuts to social services; lean toward new taxes and fees instead of cuts.
Moderates: Emphasize home ownership, especially among middle-class workers by allowing more condo conversions, allowing more development and extending tenant protection in a more limited manner.
Progressives: Advocate for more affordable-housing units in developments, extension of tenant protection laws, limiting condo conversions and extra taxes on development.
Moderates: Support parking reform but aim to balance the needs of raising the price with the negative effects it would have on area businesses; some approve of the congestion pricing for driving downtown, but generally in its most scaled-back form.
Progressives: Support increasing parking-meter rates to raise city funds and discourage driving; approve of a congestion-pricing scheme that would charge people who drive downtown.
Candidates in race: Eight
RACE GLANCE: One person who has emerged as an early strong candidate is Janet Reilly — who is expected to side more with the progressives. Reilly, who has worked in public relations and is married to Clint Reilly, a leading political consultant — has already picked up important endorsements, including those of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.
Reilly joins seven others who have filed to run for the seat: Attorney Kat Anderson; venture capitalist Mark Farrell; business management consultant Vilma Peoro; environmental design/architect Robert McCullough; retiree Allen Zigman; federal attorney Abraham Simmons; and Michael Breyer, a small-business co-founder and president.
Also ramping up to run is Joe Alioto Veronese, a former Police Commission member who could be a formidable opponent to Reilly and a moderate voice to her progressive in the conservative Pacific Heights-Marina district.
District Issues: Traffic flow related to Doyle Drive and Golden Gate Bridge; future of the Presidio; small-business diversity
Candidates in race: One
Race glance: To date, no one has filed to run against current Supervisor Carmen Chu in the district that covers the Sunset and Parkside. Chu has been a moderate voice on the board and a strong ally of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who appointed her to the seat in 2007 following the bribery scandal of her predecessor, Ed Jew. She was easily re-elected in 2008 and has tackled such issues as illegal massage parlors, marijuana growing operations and quality-of-life issues connected with Golden Gate Park.
District issues: Homelessness and excess event noise in Golden Gate Park; traffic calming along avenues; small-business survival
Candidates in race: 17
Race glance: Two possible contenders have not made their runs official yet, but they could end up as the two heavyweights battling it out in this traditionally progressive district: Theresa Sparks, former chair of the Police Commission and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s appointee to head the Human Rights Commission, as the moderate, versus progressive Jane Kim, vice president of the San Francisco Unified School District board of education.
Those who have officially filed and who are well-known progressives at City Hall include James Meko, a self-employed commercial printer who chairs the Western SoMa Citizens’ Task Force, and artist Debra Walker, who sits on the Building Inspection Commission.
Other candidates are: Harold Brown, retired teacher; Dean Clark, teacher; Christopher Dahl, system analyst; Matthew Drake, small-business owner; Jeff Gustavson, student and software developer; Rodney Hauge, disabled-community activist; Elihu Hernandez, shelter client advocate; Anna Glendon, activist, drag queen and unemployed; James Keys, health program director; John Markhan, community activist; Mark Schwartz, writer and poet; David Villa-Lobos, nonprofit director; John Weber, transition aged youth director; and Elaine Zamora, attorney.
District issues: Crime; drugs; Transbay Transit Center development
Candidates in Race: Seven
Race glance: Four strong candidates have emerged to make the race to represent Noe Valley and the Castro one to watch. It is shaping up as a heated contest between moderate Scott Weiner, who works in the City Attorney’s Office; progressive-leaning attorney Rafael Mandelman; Laura Spanjian, assistant general manager with the Public Utilities Commission; and Rebecca Prozan, assistant district attorney. Others who are in the field include William Hemenger, of Oracle USA; James Boeger, a therapist; and Starchild, escort and exotic dancer.
District issues: Development along Market Street; parks; Muni
Candidates in Race: 14
Race glance: With more than a dozen in the race to represent the Bayview-Hunters Point and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, the race is bound to be a raucuous debate about the redevelopment and economic issues plaguing the district.
The candidate list includes Geoffrea Morris, social worker; Malia Cohen, small-business owner; Kristine Enea, attorney; Dewitt Lacy, attorney; Cedric Akbar, executive director of an outpatient program; Rodney Hampton, program director; Marie Franklin, semi-retired; Espanola Jackson, retired; James Calloway, educator; La Vaughan Morre, construction trucking company owner; Steven Moss, professor; and Eric Smith, director of Green Depot; Diane Welsey Smith and Edward Donaldson.
Among those thought to be considering a run is Lynette Sweet, who sits on BART’s Board of Directors.
District issues: Jobs; Bayview-Hunters Point and Candlestick redevelopment