Control of S. F.’s Board of Supervisors up for grabs in 2008 Read more:San Francisco Chronicle
December 24, 2007
Forget the presidential election - the hottest race in San Francisco next November will be for control of the Board of Supervisors, as a majority of seats are up for grabs in contests that could determine the direction of city policies over the next decade.
Although the election is 11 months away, a multitude of candidates have jumped in and some already are campaigning and raising money. The races will be the first since 2000 to significantly challenge the power of progressive politicians who have controlled the board for nearly eight years.
"This is going to be a huge deal for the city," said David Latterman, a political analyst following the supervisor elections. "This will be a defining moment at least for the next political cycle."
Six of the 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors will be on the ballot. Four of those seats are being vacated by supervisors who are being termed out of office, leaving them open for a host of candidates. An additional seat - District Four in the Sunset - may also be part of the election depending on the outcome of legal proceedings against suspended Supervisor Ed Jew, who was elected from that district in 2006 but faces criminal prosecutions on extortion charges and for allegedly lying about where he lived.
Many of the supervisors who are leaving office because of term limits are referred to by City Hall insiders as "the Class of 2000" because that was the year the self-styled progressives took control of the board after campaigning as a group and promising to challenge the power and pro-development policies of then-Mayor Willie Brown.
They succeeded, but upon leaving office are nervous about protecting their gains.
"This is the moment the downtown business titans have been waiting for," said Board President Aaron Peskin, who for the past seven years has represented District Three, which includes North Beach, Chinatown, Russian Hill and the Financial District.
Candidates have until Aug. 8 to jump in, but some observers already are predicting the contests will quickly become a referendum on the city’s future.
Alex Clemens, a political consultant whose Web site www.sfusualsuspects.com already is tracking the so-called Battle for the Board, said he thinks the election could become a competition between slates of candidates.
"This represents the most open seats in the past eight years, and it looks like the progressives and moderates are staking out their battleground positions," Clemens said.
During their years of control, the progressives slapped tighter controls on real estate developers, strengthened protections for tenants and moved Mayor Gavin Newsom to the left on shared goals such as providing health care for the uninsured.
While there are six seats up for election, two are held by incumbents, Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Sean Elsbernd in Districts Five and Seven, respectively. Both are perceived to be safe bets to win second terms, and no challengers have filed papers to run.
But big fights are expected over the seats being vacated by four-term Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and by three members of the Class of 2000, Peskin and Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick. (Ammiano’s tenure started prior to the city’s return to district elections in 2000, which reset the clock on the board’s limit of two four-year terms.) All four supervisors are part of the solid six-member progressive bloc on the board. Moderates would need to pick up three of the four open seats to take control and perhaps elect one of their own as board president.
So far, the major challengers for Ammiano’s District Nine seat - encompassing Bernal Heights and much of the Mission District - are ardent members of the left-leaning progressive camp. They include Police Commissioner David Campos, Board of Education President Mark Sanchez, and housing and community planning advocate Eric Quezada.
Though the likelihood of the seat being won by a relative moderate more aligned with Newsom is considered low, the race is expected to be hard fought among candidates allied with different segments of the progressive political community.
Put simply, Latterman, the analyst, said, "District Nine is going to be a bloodbath."
District One, encompassing the Richmond District and Golden Gate Park and currently represented by the progressive McGoldrick, could end up being a race that hinges more on identity than ideology, observers say.
The district’s large Chinese American population gives some advantage to Chinese American candidates. Four people have filed initial paperwork to run in that district, including educator Alicia Wang and school board member Eric Mar, who has been a progressive stalwart.
In District Three, Claudine Cheng, who has been reappointed to the Treasure Island Development Authority Board of Directors by Newsom, is probably the biggest name in a race that seems sure to draw a candidate backed by the outgoing supervisor, the progressive board President Peskin.
Perhaps the clearest battle between progressive and moderate candidates is expected in District 11 in the Excelsior district of southern San Francisco. There, Supervisor Chris Daly’s aide John Avalos has declared his candidacy and is expected to face off against Ahsha Safai, an aide to Newsom, though Safai has yet to file any candidate paperwork. Also running is Cecilia Chung, a transgender rights advocate and a member of the city’s Human Rights Commission.
The November election is likely to be the first in decades in which candidates generally don’t have clear links to Brown or former state Sen. John Burton, both of whom cultivated a loyal following of politicians to appoint to government posts and run for local office.
"This will be the first election in probably 30 years where it’s not done in the context of the San Francisco machine politics," said political consultant Jim Ross, who manages candidate and ballot measure campaigns.
Some observers also predict the old San Francisco dichotomy of "downtown versus neighborhoods" may not be a major campaign theme. Instead, the races are more likely to be intensely focused on the interests of each district’s residents, even among candidates backed by the traditional downtown power brokers, according to Eric Jaye, a political consultant who ran Newsom’s two mayoral campaigns.
"Both sides try to give this a citywide theme at their own peril," Jaye said. "The successful candidates in this election are going to be focused on what neighborhoods want to see, not the political imperatives of the Board of Supervisors or the right wing of the business community."
Although some are cautioning against making district races about citywide issues, Peskin said the differences between progressive and moderate candidates are clear. Victories won over the past seven years by progressives - on issues such as development, health care, affordable housing and the environment - could be in jeopardy, he said.
"Where the rubber hits the road, is it will be open season for any kind of development in San Francisco," Peskin said of a potential loss of a progressive majority.
Whatever the outcome, the politicking over the next year will be fun to watch, Clemens said.
"We like our political drama in San Francisco," he noted. "Fortunately, there will be plenty of it served up."
See this article in the San Francisco Chronicle