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Home Featured A chance at civic leadership, stalemated

A chance at civic leadership, stalemated

Breed could have stood up to the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown and brought the city together to solve the homeless problem. It will be hard for her to go back.


Upon her election as the “moderate” candidate in a very close race against two “progressive” competitors this June, Mayor Breed told San Francisco:

“I’m going to do everything I can to bring us all together … for the purposes of solving our most challenging problems…”

And: “Now is the time for us to come together and work to solve our most challenging problems.”

A chance at civic leadership slips through her fingers

But just four months later, facing her first Really Big Test as mayor — what to do about the city’s highest-profile civic issue, homelessness, as embodied in the Progressive communities’ proposed Proposition C tax on Downtown Big Businesses, instead of “bringing us together” Mayor Breed chose sides:

She chose Downtown Big Businesses and Their Big Money.

Of course it was/is universally understood this is her political base and her leading campaign contributors. So it was politically logical for her to back them up, joined by Senator Weiner, Assemblyman Chiu, and former SF Mayor and soon-to-be Governor Gavin Newsom, in their desire to avoid a $300 Million annual tax increase to fund doubling the city’s homeless housing and support services.

But … the key to genuine civic leadership is knowing just when to transcend such narrow political logic.

And the broader context for the mayor’s position could not possibly be worse:

– The runaway concentration of great wealth in the hands of Billionaires and the National Elite has never been more conspicuous and, in Very Liberal San Francisco, more questioned.

– In particular the Booming Wealth of the Bay Area’s world-leading Tech Industry has never been more evident, and its negative consequences more concerning.

– And to top it all off, this year’s enormous Trump tax cuts for these very same Downtown Big Businesses while at the same time attacking federal health and human services “Safety Net” programs — greatly exacerbating the Nation’s Homeless Crisis — could have never been more obscene.

To make matters even worse, the key to Mayor Breed’s re-election in November of next year has to be making substantial visible progress in addressing San Francisco’s everyday Homeless Crisis. But her current strategy – high-profile “sweeps” of sidewalk encampments that simply push the homeless from one neighborhood to another, and then back again — is not going to meet that test. And soon there will be strong legal counterattacks against even that tactic based on a recent “right to sleep” Federal appeals court ruling.

Any real progress in reducing visible homeless in San Francisco is going to be very costly. There are no cheap solutions, no “innovative” tooth fairy new paradigms. In large part our city has to make up for the federal government’s ongoing abandonment of its responsibilities for the welfare of all the people — housing, health care, treatment for Americans in need.So Mayor Breed had a great opportunity this Fall to personify Civic Leadership:

– She could have told her Downtown backers they have to accept this new tax for the sake of all concerned, to really make a dent in homelessness now. That would have not been any political risk for her – they have no alternative candidate to run against her next year.

– She could have made common cause with her former Progressive opponents and supported Proposition C, taking a leading role in a winning Yes Campaign. That successful “come together” reaching out probably would have made her unbeatable for re-election next year.

Instead, she let the great potential of this turning-point moment slip through her fingers. Because, one must assume, she believed she and the Chamber of Commerce would defeat Proposition C thanks to their perpetual ability to outspend community-based campaigns by 5 to 1 or even more. Then she would make her mayoral call for all sides to “come together” to compromise on some “grand bargain” that she would lead to provide some lesser amount to expand Homeless programs.

Then just three days after Mayor Breed announced her opposition to Proposition C … Lightning Struck! Marc Benioff – San Francisco’s most prominent Tech Industry CEO avatar – announced his passionate support for it!

And pledged millions of dollars to the Yes On C campaign to get it passed!

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be — are you for the homeless or not for the homeless? For me, it’s binary,” [Benioff] said. “I’m for the homeless,” the Chronicle reported.

Benioff’s credibility for this moment was/is unimpeachable – Proposition C’s new tax on his Salesforce Corporation will total more than $10 Million per year.

In the weeks since several other San Francisco Tech companies have joined Mayor Breed in the No campaign: Stripe, Visa, Lyft, Twitter, Square. None have joined Benioff in support.

But the Yes On C campaign has gotten the support of two long-time San Francisco political superstars: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and former Mayor/Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Now, with less than a week to Election Day, Benioff/Salesforce have pumped $7 Million into the Yes On C campaign, meaning for the first time ever a community-driven Progressive campaign will be able to outspend its Downtown opponents by 2 to 1. And the Progressive communities – burgeoning with a new generation of young activists – are passionately mobilized to the highest degree since the pivotal first district supervisors election of November 2000, 18 years ago.

All this came to a very public head at the annual Silver SPUR luncheon this last Monday, where both Breed and Benioff were the featured speakers.

Breed lead off with her basic Homeless issue position. As reported by Joe Eskenazi ““We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a new result,” she said, continuing to unsubtly drop No on C talking points.”But she did not offer any significant alternative to addressing the City’s Homeless crisis, just general assurances she would ‘work with everyone’ to find more resources somehow.

Then Benioff followed with a passionate call to action. As reported by Joshua Sabatini: “Many corporations are generating hundreds of billions of dollars in market capitalization right here, a few blocks from this very building, and yet so much of this wealth is kept at the top and inside the walls of their buildings,” Benioff said. “It doesn’t trickle down. It doesn’t come to the organizations that need it most. It creates a stunning contrast: glittering wealth alongside shocking poverty.” And, again by Eskenazi: “He asked if the gathered swells had noticed homeless people “outside this very building. Did you see them today? I did. Look into their eyes,” he continued. “They are suffering. Right here in this city. They are not strangers. They are our neighbors.””

One of the two stood out as Civic Leader For Our Times that day.

The latest polls have Proposition C within reach of a 60% Yes Vote next Tuesday. No doubt the Mayor will regroup afterward – “the people have spoken.” But it will be very, very difficult to restart.