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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, Sept. 12-18: A plea for political honesty

The Agenda, Sept. 12-18: A plea for political honesty

No, there are not two progressives in D9. In D5, London Breed is an ally of the mayor. Can't the candidates admit what their political affiliations really are?


The hits just keep on coming, and they are going to continue into the fall. Attack ads and attack websites and negative campaigning are part of life in San Francisco, and it’s hardly news that some of the allegations are going to be largely bogus or inflated or misrepresent someone’s record.

We will be fact checking this slime as the races continue, but I would like to start with a call for at least some level of honesty: Why can’t the candidates just admit who they are?

Well, not really.
Well, not really.

Some of Sup. Scott Wiener’s attacks on Sup. Jane Kim are misleading at best (more later this week), but at least Wiener doesn’t claim he’s a progressive. He has never tried to hide his politics, which are to the right of his opponent; he will argue forever that his policies are better, and that’s fine, but he doesn’t say that he and Kim are in agreement about most things – because they aren’t.

This week I got a piece of mail in D9 that has a picture of Josh Arce and a picture of Hillary Ronen under the headline “A pair of progressives.” The front of the piece, which was produced not by the Arce campaign but by an IE group, says “Joshua Arce and Hillary Ronen have a lot in common.” Both, it says, have worked as civil rights lawyers. Both “believe in a progressive role for government in our city.”

The difference? Frankly, a load of crap about how Arce is a “problem solver” and how Ronen is “the chosen successor to a failed and termed out Supervisor Campos.” (Failed? David Campos has a long record of legislative accomplishments. That’s just a silly as calling Wiener a “failed” supervisor – agree or disagree with their positions, both have been very effective board members. More important, Campos is really popular in the district, and attacking him makes little sense.)

But here’s the truth: Ronen and Arce have very little in common politically.

There are, for better or for worse, two teams in the city right now, the equivalent of two political parties, and they have very different visions of how the city should be run. One side is aligned with the mayor, supports the tech industry’s role in the city, and basically looks to market-driven solutions to problems like housing. The other side thinks the mayor has done a generally terrible job mitigating the problems that his tech boom has created and favors much stricter regulations on developers, tech-shuttle operators, Airbnb, and landlords.

That’s not a perfect description, and on some issues, there are people on both sides who shift (just as, in better days, there were Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the state Legislature who moved to the middle on a few things.)

But overall, it’s a battle between two very different visions, and Arce and Ronen are on opposite sides.

I could point out again that Arce – in a slimy move that still makes my stomach turn – personally undermined an attempt at passing a police-accountability measure at the DCCC, and that he has the (indirect) support of the police union. But it’s more than that: Arce is the candidate of the people who side with the mayor and the real-estate industry and the tech titans.

He has a record in office. He was appointed to the DCCC by the former chair, Mary Jung, who is a lobbyist for the Board of Realtors. He has voted consistently with Jung and her allies – and against the progressives. That’s his right as a public official – but let’s at least be honest about it.

Campaign contributions and endorsements don’t tell you everything about a candidate. There are all sorts of reasons why people give to political campaigns; some donors are just personal friends of the candidate, and some are lobbyists who give to all sides to be sure they have access, and at the local level, it’s hard to imagine that any candidate who is raising amounts in the six figures can be “bought” by a $500 contribution. Endorsers play a lot of games, including returning favors (you supported me, now I will support you, even if I think you vote the wrong way on the key issues). In San Francisco, almost everyone gets some real-estate money, because the developers want to be sure that, no matter who wins, they aren’t cut out of the deal-making.

But if you look at the overall patterns, you can see a few things. If most of the real estate industry supports one candidate, it’s likely that the people in that line of work think that candidate will best represent their interests. If the more conservative politicians support a candidate, it’s most likely because they and their allies think that person will more likely support the causes and issues the care about.

As I said: There are exceptions everywhere. But there are also patterns.

Josh Arce is endorsed by Gavin Newson, David Chiu, and London Breed. They are all part of the side that likes what the mayor has been doing. He has money from Tony Winnicker, one of the mayor’s top advisors, Tom Hsieh, one of the most conservative members of the DCCC (so much so that some of us can’t believe he’s actually a Democrat), Michaela Alioto, who was one of the most conservative members of the Board of Supes in the old days, and Gwyneth Borden, who works for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which has fought against a higher minimum wage.

Maybe they are all his personal friends. But again: Patterns.

If you look at who is supporting Hillary Ronen, it’s pretty much a list of all of the progressives in the city. If that word means anything – and I think it does and it should – nearly everyone who is identified in that camp is with Ronen.

There’s nothing wrong with staking out a political position that is more to the center of the city’s spectrum. I may disagree with Sup. Wiener, but if he believes his approach to policy is better, that’s how politics works.

This Arce mailer wasn’t produced by Arce’s campaign, but it carries the same message he has been trying to put out. D9 is a left-leaning district, and the mayor is highly unpopular, and running as someone who is about the same politically as Scott Wiener is difficult.

But to pretend you are a Democrat when you have been a Republican all your life is a bit bogus. And for Arce’s supporters to say that he’s a progressive when he’s been with the other camp consistently is just wrong.

The same thing is going on in D5, where Sup. London Breed has been telling people that she “ran against the mayor’s appointee” four years ago and has been doing everything she can to distance herself from Ed Lee. (THIS SECTION HAS BEEN UPDATED TO CORRECT INACCURATE INFORRMATION) The reality is that four years ago, the mayor’s appointee for D5, Christina Olague, had lost the mayor’s support before the election. Lee showed up at her kickoff, at which point Breed had filed, and he continued to appear campaign events. So it’s true that she ran against the mayor’s appointee, and the mayor. But by election Day, the mayor’s close ally Ron Conway and his wife Gayle had put up more than $50,000 in an IE to defeat Olague. In the past four years, on the vast majority of contested votes, Breed has been on the side of the mayor’s 6-5 majority (until last year, when the majority shifted and a tenant lawyer, Dean Preston, challenged her from the left).

Breed was visibly, actively, in support of Julie Christensen when Aaron Peskin ran against the mayor’s candidate for the D5 seat. She was at rallies with the mayor and Christensen. She worked hard to try to make sure that the mayor kept his majority on the board.

She is, in other words,  the candidate of the side that has long supported the mayor’s agenda. Again, that’s fine: I have never said, nor do I believe, that Breed has “sold out” to her campaign contributors. Even if we stipulate that she has always voted for what she thinks is best for the district and the city, she’s been an ally of the mayor most of the time, and she should be honest about that.

Let’s take this to a citywide level. If you think the tech boom has been good for the city, and you like the way Mayor Ed Lee is running things, and you think the best solution to the housing crisis is to let the private market build a whole lot more housing and maybe the affordability will trickle down, then you should vote for candidates who agree with you.

If you think that the majority that controlled the Board of Supes until last fall was running the city well, you should vote to return that side to office.

If you think the mayor’s policies are wrong, and the city has been better over the past year with a progressive majority on the board, you should vote for the candidates that are part of that alliance.

But do it with open eyes.

Since when does City Planning do PR for politicians?
Since when does City Planning do PR for politicians?

Speaking of Wiener: I recently received a nice press release talking about the supervisors’ plan for green roofs. We all love green roofs – that is, living plant spaces on the top of buildings. And I’ve got nothing against what Wiener is proposing, which is legislation to allow some of the space the city currently mandates be used for solar panels to instead be used for “living roofs.”

But here’s the unusual thing: The press release didn’t come from Wiener’s office (which is quite adept at putting out press releases). It came from the City Planning Department – which is not supposed to get involved in local politics.

“Supervisor Wiener to introduce groundbreaking green roofs legislation,” it says.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a press release from a city department touting the work of an individual supervisor who just happened to be in a heated electoral race. Last time, about a year ago, it was former Sup. Julie Christensen getting the bump. She, like Wiener, was supported by the mayor.

Gina Simi, the Planning Department’s spokesperson, told me:

As you know, Planning has spent a great deal of time working to develop the best strategies to make living (green) roofs a more viable option for existing and planned buildings in San Francisco. Planning, along with the Department of Environment and SPUR, coordinated with Supervisor Wiener’s office in developing earlier legislation to require solar panels on new construction, and Planning worked with the Supervisor’s office to develop the living roofs legislation – as is common practice with many proposed ordinances at the board.  As such, Planning coordinated with their office on the press release, and Director of Current Planning Jeff Joslin is quoted, as you can see. This new legislation supports the Department’s efforts to take advantage of the economic, social, and environmental benefits that living roofs have to offer and that San Franciscans deserve. We did not “put out a press release for an elected official,” but forwarded the one issued by their office, as did the Department of Environment, in support of our collective efforts toward the bettering of San Francisco and its environment.


Sure, fine. Except that Wiener is running for state Senate against Sup. Jane Kim, and the mayor, whose appointees run the Planning Department, is the mayor’s candidate, and you’d think that there would be some understanding that you should avoid making it appear that a city department is promoting the interests of one candidate over another.



The long-awaited appeal of the Beast on Bryant is on the agenda for the Board of Sups Tuesday/13. It’s been delayed for more than a month while the developer and the community talk. If it’s continued again, that will be a sign that there is progress. If not, the supes will have to decide if they are with a major development project that much of the Mission community opposes.


Fifty years ago, in September 1966, the killing of a young Black man by a white cop sparked three days of rioting in Hunters Point. The SFPD essentially declared martial law, and at one point the cops opened fire on the Bayview Community Center. Darrel; Rogers lived through the riot, and will trace the history of SF’s Black community from then until now along with Rheema Calloway of the Last 3% Coalition and Ariana Camarena, who will talk about transforming police practices. It’s part of the Shaping San Francisco fall calendar. 7:30 to 9:30pm, 518 Valencia. Free.


If you’ve got a political action or event that ought to be on The Agenda, send it to tim@48hills.org

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
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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