San Francisco’s Political Machine
By Kevin Frazier
The gears of the machine that is San Francisco politics are turning in the Richmond District.
Confronted with a potential recall election, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer has yet to confirm whether she’ll run for re-election. In the fog created by Fewer’s ambiguity, the supervisor and her team are greasing the wheels to let Fewer’s preferred successor ease into office. Rather than make an explicit announcement, Fewer is simultaneously staving off potential contenders for her seat while also tacitly putting her support behind Connie Chan.
Though Chan has the credentials for a strong, independent campaign, this smoke and mirrors effort by the Fewer folks is unbecoming of a City that aspires to have transparent, fair politics. Richmond residents deserve a chance to mount a challenge against Fewer’s political family. Richmond residents deserve a clear answer from Fewer: will you stay or will you go?
Though the current recall effort against Supervisor Fewer started after her profane election night chant against the Police Officer’s Association (POA), the rationale for a recall stems mainly from San Franciscans being fed up with “boss” politics. In this system of politics, victors have to be cynical and vicious. It follows that successful “boss” politicians muscle their opponents, look out first for their friends, and have no problem undermining their enemies. Supervisor Fewer evidenced such behavior by demonizing the POA and now continues to do so by refusing to be transparent about her political future.
Boss politics create factions, not communities. That’s why it is so important that Richmond residents have a chance to vote on whether they want this system to continue; they should not stripped of their self-determination by having Fewer slide her selected candidate onto the ballot and into office. Supervisor Fewer should announce her decision by the end of January. This timeline will provide Supervisor Fewer with ample time to think about her political future while still preserving the ability for community members to back candidates who understand their concerns and share their aspirations.
San Franciscans are becoming all too familiar with the drawbacks of decisions made behind closed doors. Community groups rightfully called out Mayor London Breed for her appointment of Suzy Loftus to district attorney in the heat of an election for that seat. The mayor’s maneuver was just another example of officials in this City using their power to try to advance political priorities more so than the community’s aspirations. Every day that Fewer refuses to clearly state her intentions is another day that she mirrors the mayor’s behavior.
The current recall effort is about far more than Supervisor Fewer using the F word. This is just the beginning of a growing coalition of San Franciscans who are tired of politics better suited for Chicago in the 1950s. It’s true that the odds of a successful recall are low, but those organizing for today are already thinking about the battles of tomorrow. The days of City Hall being run by entrenched community groups that wield outsized political power by virtue of deep pockets are numbered. San Franciscans deserve more than having a special few operate the gears of an outdated approach to governing a modern city.
Kevin Frazier is a law school student at UC Berkeley and a Richmond District resident.
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