Yee is board president — what does that mean?

Some progressives side with moderates to elect a cautious, compromise leader -- but Ronen emerges with a powerful political base.

I ran in to Sup. Norman Yee last night, outside of the Chinatown banquet honoring the four newly elected progressive supervisors. I asked him what was going to happen today, and he shrugged, and in his self-effacing way, said:

“I guess I am going to be the president.”

Sup. Hillary Ronen and her staff (Carolina Morales, Amy Beinart, and Carolyn Goosen) protest sexism in the selection process

By then, it’s now clear, the votes were lined up. And this afternoon, progressive Supes Sandra Lee Fewer, Rafael Mandelman, and Aaron Peskin sided with all of the moderates to elect Yee on a 7-4 vote.

The three newly elected members – Matt Haney, Gordon Mar, and Shamman Walton – voted with Ronen.

The majority chose a cautious, noncontroversial approach, electing a low-key leader who has no future political ambitions and will serve as a caretaker president for the next year or two.

But Ronen actually emerged as a winner, in a different way.

Ronen was clearly the underdog, from the start. But she didn’t accept the likely outcome quietly.

Although there has been talk of Mandelman or Walton, only two names were put forward in the nominations. Fewer nominated Yee; Haney nominated Ronen.

For more than two hours, Ronen supporters – at least 100, from community groups, neighborhood groups, and labor – spoke in favor of her candidacy. Perhaps half a dozen spoke in favor of Yee – probably because his supporters knew he already had the votes lined up.

The message they sent, over and over, was clear: This city is in a crisis, and business as usual – cautious, incremental change – isn’t enough. The speakers wanted a fighter, and they saw Ronen as their champion. It was moving and powerful; as community organizer Buck Bagot said, you rarely hear all these nice things said about you while you are alive.

It was by far the longest public comment on a board president election I’ve ever seen.

After public testimony ended, the supes did what I expected them to do. Peskin talked about how the current board has “an embarrassment of riches” (and indeed, there are lot of good supes now). “These are the problems we like to have,” he said, saying that when the vote was over, the progressives would come together, as they have in the past.

Ronen echoed that theme: “Norman and I love and respect each other,” she said.

But she also put her candidacy in a larger political context. From her first day on the board, she said, she decided that “I want to use my position to fundamentally shift the wealth and power from the super-rich to the working people of this city.”

She also said: “This has been a sexist process.” Heather Knight’s column in the Chron today endorsed that perspective.

Haney argued that the city “is in a crisis” and that Ronen is “passionate, bold, and a fighter, and that’s what we need in this city.”

Board President Norman Yee takes his seat next to Mayor Breed.

Yee took a conciliatory tone, acknowledging that the outpouring of support for Ronen showed that “we have a lot of work to do.” Fewer noted that “all of us on this board see the huge inequities. All of us have to come together because there are thousands of people who are depending on us.”

Then the vote went down the way it was going to go before the hearing and the public comment.

But there’s a larger message here. Ronen didn’t win the presidency, but she came out looking like the leading progressive fighter on the board. The publicity her campaign received was dramatic, and the impacts will be lasting.

Ronen’s statement:

I’m not going to say I’m not disappointed. But I was taught to organize by brilliant Mission activists and one of the tenets of Mission style organizing is “you don’t always win but you never give up.”

My first job after law school was to wake up at 6 am in the morning and bang on the door of contractors who were cheating day laborers out of wages. 

I’m 5 foot 4 inches and more often than not I got that money. I learned that nothing good ever comes from deals made behind closed doors — that much of the power structure in America is held in place by people staying quiet… that banging on the proverbial door and demanding what’s owed you is often the only way to deal with bullies.

Women often don’t advocate for ourselves because we don’t want to seem divisive or difficult — Don’t fall for it ladies! The excuse we’ve heard hundreds of times in our life of “we would’ve given it to you, but you were to pushy,” is simply bullshit. Don’t believe it, and don’t repeat it.

My district only ever wins resources from City Hall because me and my constituents aren’t afraid to stand up and be loud. And from day one of my campaign for President I was told by my colleagues that this is the quality they most dislike about me: too loud, too pushy, demanding too much.

I couldn’t disagree more. San Francisco deserves Supervisors who are loudly fighting for clean streets,  who are pushing relentlessly to end street homelessness, and who are demanding housing be built in San Francisco. 

The good news is now we have three new Supervisors on the board who I believe feel the same way. New Supervisors Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, and Gordon Mar are already showing that they are ready to demand, push, and fight for their city and that means it’s going to be a great year. 

As long as I’m on the board you’ll have a loud clear voice who doesn’t believe in the veil of secrecy in City Hall. You may not always agree with me, but you’ll know that I’m not going to be quiet. I’m going to be telling the full truth as I see it and I’m going to loudly fight for the people who need it the most. 

I wish President Yee good luck and I’m looking forward to working with him.

The progressives will come together after this; the stakes are too high, the agenda too important. Yee is an honest, principled politician, but he won with the support of the moderates. We will see who he puts on the key committees (will he appoint a strong progressive budget chair? If he wants to bring everyone together, what about Hillary Ronen?).

As Ronen noted, there are plenty of issues coming up – housing and homelessness, a public bank, Clean Power SF and weaning the city off PG&E, and so much more.

In the end, the board chose a president who will focus on consensus and compromise over a fighter. If that’s the overall direction the supes take in the next two years – seeking consensus with the mayor instead of challenging her priorities – a lot of activists who spent a lot of time electing this board will be disappointed.

But the board president has only limited power and Yee won’t try to push his own agenda over anyone else’s. And, as several speakers pointed out, Ronen was able to pack the chamber.

She got a lot more positive press and community support than anyone else I’ve ever seen on the losing end of a leadership battle. So she enters 2019 with her own base — and that could be just as important as the gavel.