This June’s primary election has generated more fact-free comment and analysis than any in recent memory. From banner headlines to “think pieces,” the June 7th vote has been misinterpreted by the media in part because the coverage was not based on an analysis of the vote nor its political significance. The coverage was based on less than 50 percent of the actual vote and missed a key political theme of the election: the continuing political incompetence and vulnerability of Mayor London Breed.
The media has not caught up with the full implication of the shift to mailed ballots and thus continues to base its analysis on the election night count, which in this election, proved to be misleading.
The Impact of Universal Mailed Ballots
This is now the fourth election in which mailed ballots, sent to every voter whether requested or not, have been used. The media seems unable to comprehend that they take time to count.
The ballots must be “prepared” before they are counted, that is to say, they have to be opened, separated and signatures verified before they are counted. This June, a little more than half of the votes were counted by election night, 127,000 out of some 229,000 actual ballots.
Moreover, some 110,000 of the 127,000 were “early” mailed ballots received in large measure from the more conservative voting districts in northern and western San Francisco. Almost half or more of the total votes cast in conservative voting D2 (the Marina), and D7 (West of Twin Peaks/Forrest Knolls), D4 (the Sunset) and moderate voting D3 (Russian Hill and the Embarcadero) and D11 (Crocker Amazon) were counted early, while only 43 percent of votes from the left progressive voting D5 (the Haight-Ashbury and Western Addition) and D9 (the Mission and Bernal Heights) were among the early votes counted. Department of Elections data indicated that 137,000 mailed ballots were received between June 1 and June 7, fewer than than 40,000 of which were counted by Election Night.
The media is still used to a majority of the votes being counted on Election Night and report the significantly skewed partial results as they did when a majority of the votes were actually cast in polling places and well more than half of the mailed ballots had been received and counted on election day.
This lag in counting mailed ballots two years ago contributed to Trump’s charge of a “stolen election” because early vote totals shifted as the time-consuming process of counting and verifying mailed ballots. This was simply not explained by the media.
What happened in San Francisco two years later was even worse in that the media reported partial results as being final when they were far from it. The media announced that the recall was a massive defeat of the current district attorney when, in fact it was far tighter than the polls the same media was reporting.
Boudin got 100,000 votes against his recall, which dwarfed the 68,000 votes that elected him in 2019. In fact, No on H actually won the “late count vote” 59,217 to 57,686! These facts were simply not reported as they did not fit the “narrative” a lazy and incurious media was spinning.
Boudin’s problem: explaining bureaucracy
The City and County of San Francisco has 35,000 employees. It is the biggest single employer in San Francisco. It has 42 departments with 41 commissions. It has 18 elected officials (the Unified School District and the Community College District, with their elected commissioners, are separate government entities and not part of the CCSF).
Eleven of the elected officials are supervisors. Of the remaining seven elected officials, four—the mayor, the district attorney, the sheriff and the public defender (the only elected public defender in California) have a major role in the criminal justice system.
The mayor appoints a majority of the Police Commission and the commission formally selects the candidates for chief of police, although the final decision is always with the mayor. The three other officials have no commissions and run their departments directly.
The fifth player in the criminal justice system is the courts, which are, in fact a state mandated entity with 52 judges locally elected in San Francisco.
The police arrest people (or, with distressing regularity, shoot folks), the district attorney charges people with crimes, the public defender defends people charged by the DA, the courts try and sentence (or release) people charged with crimes and the sheriff holds people arrested (and not convicted of anything) for trial or imprisons some who are convicted of minor crimes.
In short, the criminal justice system is a complex bureaucracy involving multiple agencies with a myriad of rules and laws regulating not only those charged with crimes but the relationship each has with the other. Just who is in charge (or at fault when the system fails) is a complex question that defies easy answers. “It depends” is probably the best and most accurate answer.
The problem is that “it depends” is not a politically saleable answer.
If one has, say $7 million to spend cherry-picking examples and then mailing them to voters with a simple message, it becomes very difficult to explain an individual example of the complex working of the “criminal justice system” in a manner that does not appear to be confusing and/or evasive.
That’s what happened to Chesa Boudin.
The press doesn’t do a good job in reporting complexity and bureaucratic details. It does do a good job in disseminating a story, a narrative even if the narrative is factually incorrect. “Talking points” become “facts.” Boudin simply could not find a narrative that countered the “talking points” of the other side. As we become an ever more bureaucratized society, the press’s preference for “narratives” makes it more vulnerable to well-funded manipulation, and that’s what happened in San Francisco.
The Boudin campaign was a bit slow to realize what it was up against. “Right wing Republican money” simply did not hit with the same impact with voters that the “talking points” marshaled by his opposition threw at him: he fired crime fighters, he coddled drug dealers, he hated the police, and that he has done nothing to stop rising anti-Asian attacks. He was saddled with trying to explain a system that he actually sought to change, yet being part of it and facing a well funded opposition, he was forced to try to explain his part in it and he simply couldn’t in a convincing manner.
His recall followed the recall of the three members of the Board of Education. Like them and unlike Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also faced a recall, Boudin had no opponent to run against. Unlike two of the Board of Education members recalled, he did not make absurd statements or bizarre votes on the public record.
Instead, he was forced to defend a “system” that is hard to explain. He was forced, because of huge amounts of right-wing Republican money, to tell voters that the true facts were not what they were told but depended on other facts .
What was clear was that by the time his campaign engaged, the narrative of his opponents had taken root. Voters in only three of the supervisor districts, ( 5, 8 and 9) rejected the recall, by margins too close (51 percent in D5 and D8, 52 percent in D9) to make a difference.
That D1,3, 6, 10 and 11 voted in the low 60’s to recall him was decisive and needs to be analyzed, for these (with the possible exception of D6 which has been heavily gentrified) neighborhoods are too crucial to citywide left liberal candidates and issues to be ignored.
D1, D3 and D11 have large Asian populations and it seems likely that the well-funded recall campaign’s massive mailing effort persuaded many Asian voters that the San Francisco DA was somehow responsible for the national spike in Anti-Asian violence, a proposition that shows the political impact of a false “narrative” that money can buy.
But just as Breed’s appointees to the School Board have no idea how to address a bureaucracy that can’t even pay teachers, her appointment of new DA will not “solve the crime problem” because it is not the DA’s problem to solve.
It is far more accurate to hold the police and the mayor responsible for the “crime problem,” but the media seems reluctant to do so and so nothing much will change other than an ever-deepening mistrust of governments ability to address real folks real problems.
Breed’s political incompetence .
June 7th was not a good night for Mayor Breed, even if the media ignored the fact.
The most obvious shellacking Breed got from the voters was the rejection of the “Muni and Street Safety Bond,” as it was officially named. Breed and her allies’ pro-development agenda simply cannot exist without a robust Muni transit system. You cannot cut off street parking requirements for market rate developers, support “carless” public streets aimed at enhancing real estate value, and support high-density residential development without a robust public transit system. Bikes, scooters and walking will not replace nor reduce reliance on a well funded, well staffed and reliable public transit system. Moreover, as the downtown workforce appears to have permanently reduced itself, the entire transit system needs to be re-aligned providing more neighborhood-to-neighborhood and less neighborhood-to-downtown service.
Yet Muni has yet to recover from Covid, with daily boarding about two-thirds of pre-Covid levels. In addition, and un-related to Covid, Muni’s inability to attract, train, and retain drivers is a major continuing problem. Julie Kirschbaum, head of Muni, told the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council that the reason the 6 and 21 lines were delayed in returning to service was due to a shortage of drivers.
Muni operations—that is keeping drivers and buses “on line”— is about to take a major hit once the long delayed “route-to-nowhere” Chinatown extension becomes operational, as both hardware and drivers will have to be diverted from already under-staffed existing lines to run it.
The driver crisis has its roots in a 2010 ballot measure (Prop. G) when Breed’s current chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd, then a supervisor, headed up an effort to repeal Muni drivers’ charter-mandated wage levels (basically the same that exists for cops and fire fighters) and give managers increased power to assign, deploy, and schedule drivers.
In a bruising campaign, SPUR, the Chamber of Commerce and western neighborhood groups organized by Elsbernd, directly attacked drivers for all of the ills of Muni. It was a deeply ugly campaign with racial overtones as overwhelming white groups directly attacked the overwhelming Black and Asian Transport Workers Union and the rest of organized labor.
The measure passed, driver pay was effectively frozen and the notorious “split shift” was instituted with drivers working morning and evening commute hours with no-pay “free time” in between.
Breed, after her election, replaced the head of the Municipal Transportation Agency with her own guy, Jeffery Tumlin, a former transportation consultant whose operational experience consisted of running Stanford’s campus bus line. Tumlin was appointed because he was a proponent of “transit-oriented development” breathlessly promoted by Breeds allies Sen. Scott Wiener and the Yimbys.
Then Covid hit, and Tumlin’s response, irony of ironies, was to propose a plan to permanently cut Muni service. All through last year, a heated battle was fought Muni line by Muni line in virtually every neighborhood in the city to save Muni service from its “transit oriented development” guru. Breed took the absurd position that “some of these Muni lines were a hundred years old” and needed to be changed like an old pair of shoes.
The fact that the city street grid hasn’t changed in 150 years seemed to have escaped the mayor.
Tumlin, going with what he knew, called in an old consultant buddy who came up with a plan that ignored not only the wishes of Muni riders who understandably wanted to continue to have a bus to ride but also ignored the fact that the City of St. Francis has hills.
The fact that the 5 McAllister, the 21 Hayes and the 6 Parnassus ran parallel ignored the fact that a set of steep hills between the three lines made keeping only the 5 an absurd proposal to all but Tumlin and his buddy consultant.
Finally, after major community organizing in support of existing lines, SFMTA surrendered and agreed to keep Muni lines as existed before Covid. As of this date, nearly a year after the agreement, the full restoration of Muni’s pre Covid service has yet to occur, even though Wiener and the Yimbys are still busy pushing “transit oriented development” of market rate housing along “transit corridors” that have less transit than before Covid.
Spending 2021 proposing cutting Muni service and doing little to recruit, train and deploy new drivers, with Muni providing less operational service than it did two years ago, Mayor Breed and her backers inexplicitly decided that 2022 would be a good year to place a $400 million Muni bond on the ballot.
Breed and her staff then compounded their political incompetence by choosing to place the measure requiring a two-thirds approval from the voters on the same ballot as a right-wing themed recall of the DA. They could have selected the November general election with a higher turnout than the June primary. The recall campaign was pending $7million to get out the most conservative vote it possible could to vote. Make no mistake, a conservative San Francisco voter is the same as a conservative voter elsewhere in the nation: they rarely vote for taxes and a general obligation bond is a tax and all conservatives know that. In a laughably predictable outcome, the chair of the recall campaign submitted a paid argument against the bond, which was paid for by the same guys who paid for the recall!
Seeing the measure as a “star turn” run up to re-election her handlers decided to spend a good part of the campaign budget on TV ads featuring the mayor. These ads made no direct appeal to the pro-recall voter and were simply “face time” for Breed.
As can be seen in the table below looking at both the early vote (that made up most of the medias reporting on the election) and the “final provisional ” count nine days later, in a majority of supervisor districts (1,2,4,7,10 and 11), voters supported recall and opposed the Muni Bond. In only the core “left/liberal” districts (5,8 and 9) did voters reject the recall and pass the bond. In two districts, 3 and 6, with a significant portions of the residents being transit reliant, voted in favor of the recall but also approved the Muni bond. Early votes made up a majority or near majority of the total votes cast in District 2,3,6,7,and 11 .
Early Vote and the Final Vote (BOLD) on Muni Bonds and Recall
|District||Early Count||Total Count||A (66.6%)||H|
|1||10,018 (46%)||21,581||Y 58% (60%)||Y 64%(Y57%)|
|2||12,151 (50%)||24,018||Y 61% (62%)||Y 71%(Y67%)|
|3||8,095 (51%)||15,623||Y 70% (69%)||Y 65%(Y60%)|
|4||10,453(46%)||22,380||Y 49% (51%)||Y 71%(Y66%)|
|5||9,876 (43%)||22,539||Y 76% (76%)||N 51%(N58%)|
|6||8,231 (52%)||15,634||Y 74% (74%)||Y 64%(Y58%)|
|7||12,405 (48%)||25,649||Y 55% (57%)||Y 68%(Y63%)|
|8||14,617 (46%)||31,467||Y 74% (75%)||N 51%(N58%)|
|9||8,179 (43%)||18,773||Y 70% (70%)||N 52%(N59%)|
|10||7,465 (45%)||15,469||Y 63% (63%)||Y 61%(Y54%)|
|11||7,703 (48%)||15,944||Y 55% (56%)||Y 65%(Y59%)|
|CITYWIDE||109,193 (22%)||229,122 (46%)||Y63.9(Y65.1)||Y61%(Y55%)|
The bigger picture missed: huge votes against corruption in Breeds San Francisco
The most astounding error of the political media both local and national was the absolute silence on the vote on three (yes THREE) measures prompted by the seeming endless and ever spreading scandal of the Breed administration. There was little mention and no analysis of the measures placed on the ballot by the supervisors, (without a ballot argument in support submitted by the mayor as she did for the Muni bond) that addressed specific problems in city government uncovered in the now two-year-old investigation of ongoing scandals riddling Mayor Breed’s administration.
The list now totals six department or division heads either forced to resign or actually indicated for corruption, the most recent removed two months before the election. Mayor Breed herself admitted last August that she violated local law in using her title to seek the release of her brother from prison for murder, robbery, and car-jacking; sought illegal donations from indicted “fixer” Nick Bovis; and accepted personal gifts totally some $5,500 from convicted former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru (see the extraordinary August 9, 2021 stipulation Breed offered to the commission.)
The three measure reformed three separate aspects of the sprawling corrupt practices revealed in both local and federal investigations of the Breed Administration: a rather mild reform of the Building Inspection Commission which, heard nothing, saw nothing, and did nothing as fixers and developers did as they pleased with the department (Proposition B); a ban on “friends committees” used by at least two city departments to, in effect, shake down Recology as they oversaw granting it an oversized exclusive city contract (Proposition E); and Proposition F, which reformed the bidding process for Recology in the future allowing the city to, perhaps, actually give what is in effect a no bid lifetime contract to a private company, to someone else, perhaps a municipal entity.
The chart below shows the resounding support voters across the city gave to these anti-corruption measures. Each passed with a higher percentage vote than did the recall, citywide. In districts 1,3,5,6, 8,9, and 10 each got a higher percent of the vote than did the recall. And most astounding, in D 1, D4 and D7 each got a higher percentage of the vote than did the MUNI bond!
Votes on anti corruption measures
|District||B (BBI Commission Change)||E (Behested Payments)||F (Recology Reform)|
This a not good news for London Breed, and shows the depth to which voters are both knowledgeable and disturbed about the corruption that has occurred on her watch.
Nobody spent $7 million—nor a tenth that—on all three measures combined in some effort to fool voters. The media paid little attention to any of any of them. The only attention paid to them was from voters. And so, as if saying, “move on, nothing to see here,” the media and our pundits said nothing about the massive support they got from voters after the election. The New York Times, with its eyes firmly set on its navel, never mentioned them. Again, the only folks that cared to look and vote were the people of San Francisco.
One reason Breed gets to appoint the next district attorney is because Sup. Aaron Peskin, the supposed wily City Hall insider, chose not to ban Breed from making appointments after successful recalls in his “reform” of the recall process in the City Charter he and six other supervisors put on the ballot as Proposition C. He did so to increase its chances of winning. It didn’t work.
But making the same odd decision as the mayor in placing a recall reform on the ballot when a $7 million recall was on the ballot instead of waiting for November, he lost big. Prop. C lost even in his own District 3, by 60 percent, when losing by 58 percent citywide after a rather pathetic campaign. It lost in every district except D9.
Given the huge votes against corruption under Breed, perhaps Peskin should have gone after the mayor . Maybe courage is the better part “wiliness” in San Francisco politics, at least this year.
What Does It Mean?
First, progressive field campaigns work, as Boudins 100,000 votes were almost totally the result of his campaign’s direct outreach to voters. It simply started too late, which is hard to understand given that it was a very long campaign given that it had to get signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Second, universal mailed ballots tend to favor well funded campaigns which can start mailing to voters early and often. This places real pressure on field-based campaigns usually conducted by left/progressive forces. Field campaign have to start much earlier than in the past and keep track of who has cast early ballots and concentrate on those precincts AS WELL as more traditional “base precincts.”
It means that a robust voter contact campaign must be underway 30 days before the election moving from “swing” moderate precincts which seem to mail their ballot early to the base which seems to mail their ballots later. What this means is that left/progressive politics cannot be limited to only elections, but must be linked with ongoing organizing issues— Muni, housing, services—at the community level that identifies and mobilizes people on a regular basis, not just election times.
As the old saying goes, “when you need a friend its too late to make a friend.” We need to make friends with our neighbors long before election day.
Third, with both Districts 1 and 4 voting for recall and against the Muni bond, the re-election of the progressive Supervisors Gordon Mar (this year) and Supervisor Connie Chan (2023) takes on new meaning. These votes, added to the changes within both districts as a result of the disputed 5-4 vote of the Redistricting Task Force on new district boundaries, means that the two districts are significantly different than the ones that elected both Supervisors. In District 4 Asian voters, mostly Chinese voters, who supported both the recall of the School Board and the DA and know Mar didn’t, have been added to his District. District 1 has added the upscale Seacliff and Presidio Terrace, neighborhoods which shifted the socio-economic dynamic of the district. Both areas supported the recall and helped the defeat of Prop. A. Chan was anti-recall and supported the Muni bond.
Fourth, corruption matters to San Francisco voters and left/progressive forces must begin to address that issue in a more profound way than simply saying that “they are all corrupt,” which undermines the essential argument of the left that government can solve real peoples real problems. We need to show how corruption as practiced in San Francisco is how developers and their allies, in and out of office, actually work. It is no accident that much of the corruption that exists in the city is in the development and project approval process. We must link that corruption with why we can’t get housing that most San Franciscans can afford, while developers get more than they can sell.
We must link that corruption to why SFMTA can afford literally billions on construction projects but can’t fund a driver-training program that attracts local drivers paid a living wage. We must show how campaign “donations” to front-running “moderate” candidates are simply “pay to play” down payments on future contracts and approvals.
Finally, we must understand the old political saying that “you can’t beat somebody with nobody” and that Breed, like her or not, is “somebody.” If progressives want to see a change at the top, they will need to find a serious candidate, soon.