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News + Politics The lessons of the June 7 election

The lessons of the June 7 election

Grassroots organizing works. The mayor is done. And the progressives are well poised for November

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There are three critical lessons to draw from the election results tonight, and all of them are very good news for the San Francisco left.

One: Despite all the money and slick mailers and attack ads, grassroots organizing and GOTV still matters. Sup. Jane Kim was behind by eight points in the early absentee ballots; by the time the Election Day votes were counted, she was within two points, and by the time all the final Election-Day absentees are counted, there’s a chance she could actually finish first.

Jane Kim leads a diverse slate at tonight's party
Jane Kim leads a diverse slate at tonight’s party

That’s stunning. Kim started out well after Wiener entered the race (actually, he’s been running for years), and had less than half the money. A five-point margin in this primary would have been a victory for her, since turnout (disappointingly low at less than 50 percent tonight) will be far higher in the fall.

And the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, with the energy that brought to the race in the final weeks, was (as the senator from Vermont would say), huge.

If you walked around the streets over the past few days, you saw Kim signs and Kim volunteers. You saw doorhangers for Kim and the Reform Slate for DCCC. You saw very little from the other side, which relied on mail and hit pieces.

Two: Coalitions work. The Reform Slate for DCCC appears to have won at least 14 seats – again, despite a brutal well-funded attack campaign – and is poised (if one or two of the Ex Officios go along, and they might) to retake control of the local party. At the very least, Chair Mary Jung got a vote of no-confidence.

Why? In part because all of the Reform Slate candidates worked together, while the Real Estate Slate member promoted themselves. The Reform Slate members all shared endorsements on every piece of literature; I got mailers from the likes of Josh Arce and London Breed that never mentioned another candidate.

The Reform Slate was diverse, organized, packed with candidates who brought a larger constituency to the table – and all the talk of a β€œPeskin Machine” and the attacks went nowhere. In fact, the voters who went to the polls after the nasty hit pieces dropped were even more likely to support the reform slate.

Three: Mayor Ed Lee is already done. The mayor’s allies were all big losers tonight. His candidate for state Senate finished way below expectations. His candidates for DCCC are close to defeat. He didn’t even make much of a showing in the election, because the people he supported knew he was more of a negative than a positive.

I didn’t see a single piece of literature for a single candidate featuring the mayor. It’s as if he is George W. Bush in 2008; nobody wants to be seen with him.

So what does this mean for the fall?

The conservatives who tried to use unlimited DCCC money to get a jump on the Supe races were largely unsuccessful. Josh Arce spent more than $70,000 to run for DCCC, and finished well out of the money; if that was supposed to help him run for District 9 supervisor, it didn’t turn out so well.

Marjan Philhour, who is running for supe in D1, also spent large sums of DCCC money, and didn’t get a seat. Her main opponent, Sandy Fewer, was elected handily.

All of this bodes well for the fall, when turnout will (almost certainly) be higher, and the Democratic Party will (with any luck) no longer be in the hands of the real-estate industry, and if this remarkable coalition can keep up the momentum, the progressives may keep control of the Board of Supervisors.

Oh, there will be more big money attacking the left candidates. But at this point, Kim will be able to challenge Wiener in that category, since she’s close to being a favorite in the November election. And if the coalition that did the GOTV and won this election can keep up the momentum, the progressives are in remarkably good shape.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  31. I definitely agree with you that the mayor’s popularity has faded among people in the City who pay attention to politics and who vote frequently. (People like you and me, yes?) I just don’t read the political tea leaves as indicating a leftward shift. Guess we shall see.

  32. The mayor barely won last November against nobody. He put all of his efforts into re-electing Christensen and Peskin won.

    There are a lot of subtle signs that things are changing.

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  34. Maybe you are right. But I tend to think that San Francisco voters are, in the aggregate, growing a bit more moderate, not more progressive. Why? Because the median age and income of city residents are rising. People tend to vote their own economic interests; a wealthier and older electorate in SF will probably be less friendly to unions, to identity politics, etc. As for the AirBnB vote, I think it has become clearer to residents and supervisors alike that these large vacation rental platform companies were passively resisting compliance and registration, not helping to enforce the law voluntarily. Stronger, more mandatory compliance measures were needed. A single measure like the AirBnB legislation, however, cannot be viewed as a harbinger of an entire city population’s leftward or rightward direction. I think your evidence, therefore, is too narrow for the breadth of your argument’s conclusion.

  35. Clinton was already declared the presumptive nominee. And many progressives like me who supported Sanders were not all that enamored with him.

    In lopsided wealth-distribution San Francisco, the left is gaining power. Just look at the BOS vote on AirBnB – Supervisors who were against it flipped to support it because they fear the groundswell of leftist support.

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  37. I suspect that’s not legal and trying it on the sly would take some very creative accounting.

  38. I think Mr. Redmond’s analysis is part correct and part wishful thinking. The results DO show a weakened, unpopular mayor, at least among the voters who vote the most often and bother to show up for primary elections. The perception of the mayor as uninspiring drained vitality from the moderate DCCC candidates in my opinion. But more important to the moderates’ DCCC weak showing was the inability of most voters to identify whom to vote for, even if those voters were for a more moderate Democratic Party agenda on the local level. By contrast, The consistent slate politics presentation of the self-styled progressives allowed their supporters to identify and vote for progressive names. So, in those respects, Mr. Redmond is largely correct.

    Where his analysis goes off the rails, however, is when he sees a powerful movement toward progressive policy positions or politicians in SF. Instead, what we see is a largely complacent majority in favor of the establishment in SF politics, even if disenchanted with the mayor as a weak and vision poor leader. There was no Sanders victory in SF: the City’s voters voted for Clinton much in the same way as the rest of the state’s cities and suburbs. At the local level, the judge most favored by the establishment, Hwang(?), won handily. All propositions including bonds, guaranteed parks funding, affordable housing mandates, employee leave compensation, a parcel tax for Bay wetlands, etc won by large margins, indicating a voting population feeling generous about funding local and regional government efforts. In wealthy, fully employed San Francisco, there was no groundswell toward a more leftist political agenda. Instead, we saw support for most establishment political figures as well as a willingness to try some stronger medicine to address the dearth of affordable housing and the non-sensical raiding of the budget for SF Parks and Rec. To me, those votes signal a distrust of Mayor Lee, but not a decisive move leftwards.

  39. You don’t suppose he pocketed the money for his run against Hilary Ronen for D9 Supervisor?

  40. I do know that he hired a drag queen lackey to loudly and abrasively canvas for him at the Bernie delegate caucus in May. But I don’t imagine that cost him much of his $70k.

  41. there were some winners no matter what : the people who got paid to produce all that junk mail for those stupid DCCC races. It was a transfer of wealth from big corporations and special interests to local owned businesses. Sure they may have failed in their bid to buy a local party, but hey, someone made some cash off it, right?

  42. If Josh Arce spent $70,000 on his bid for a DCCC seat, I’m hard pressed to see where the money went. I received one not very good mailer from him and three very slick hit pieces against him. When his campaign budget is accounted for it will make an interesting read.

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