What Happened to San Francisco?
San Francisco used to be called “the city that knows how.” We put on international expositions and tamed the sand dunes. We had good, smart politicians who worked together for the greater good. We were a destination for fortune hunters, bohemians and entrepreneurs.
Now, we can’t do anything right.
We’ve become a mecca for homeless people; there is a mental health crisis on our streets; drug dealers kill a couple of people a day with fentanyl and other dangerous drugs; three members of the School Board had to be recalled because of gross malfeasance; the district attorney had to be recalled because he thought he was still a defense attorney; the SF Municipal Transportation Agency is purposefully making it as difficult as possible to drive a vehicle; the SF Recreation and Park Department does whatever it wants; the FBI’s investigation has turned up crime and fraud in numerous city departments; the SF Board of Supervisors is comprised of members who don’t have the mental capacity to run a large city; ditto for the accidental mayor, whose biggest accomplishment before taking over a $13 billion city budget was running a community center on Presidio Avenue; labor unions have banned non-union firms from doing some work in the city, leading to fewer firms bidding on city business and significantly driving up city costs (It is no longer OK to pay “prevailing wages,” a slap in the face for working people); Laguna Honda Hospital might be forced to shut down; more than half of the city’s once flourishing African-American community has left the city (the Hispanic population is declining too); criminals are openly plying their craft without fear of repercussions; businesses are struggling to survive and City Hall is non-responsive and punitive.
I could go on all day. Finding faults with San Francisco today is like shooting fish in a barrel.
So, how did we get here? And how can we make our City work again for everyone?
Politics has a lot to do with it.
San Francisco was a Republican town until the early 1960s. The Republican National Convention was held at the Cow Palace in 1964.
In the ’60s, the City’s population evolved to become a Democratic Party majority.
Today, 63% of city voters are registered as Democrats.
But within the San Francisco Democratic Party, there have been two factions battling it out for decades – liberal (so-called corporate) Democrats and progressive (so-called socialist) Democrats. It’s no surprise that the city’s problems have grown significantly with the rise of progressive ideologies, which ride high on ideals, but are not always grounded in reality.
For example, it is easy to pass laws that require every vehicle in California and all appliances in every home to be 100% electric. It’s more difficult to create the transmission lines and megawatts of electricity that would be required to power all of these devices, especially in an eco-sensitive manner.
After Mayor Willie Brown beat progressive SF Supervisor Tom Ammiano for mayor in 1996, the progressives started to get organized. Today, a majority of the Board of Supervisors is considered progressive. As well, progressives now dominate many of the City’s boards and commissions that make important decisions in city government.
So, how did the progressives become the dominant force in San Francisco Democratic politics?
Seize the DCCC
Progressives took control of the SF Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), which controls important candidate endorsements and donations. Many Democrats take the DCCC slate card seriously and follow its recommendations.
There is an arcane process where candidates for the DCCC line up a slate of candidates and encourage supporters to vote, usually on a Sunday at a union meeting hall in the Mission District.
Control of this committee was crucial to the building of the Willie Brown and John Burton political machines, and today it is crucial for the progressives to maintain. The process also gives labor and allied non-profits an outsized influence since they turn out their members to vote.
Divide and Conquer
The Democratic Party pushed for district elections about 20 years ago, leading to our small City being divided into 11 districts. The candidates coming out of this process have been less than desirable – in the Sunset District, we got two supervisors who went to prison (Leland Yee and Ed Jew) and in the Richmond District, one supervisor who narrowly escaped a recall attempt (Jake McGoldrick). The quality of candidates running for supervisor has deteriorated exponentially.
One of the worst decisions the Democratic Party led us to ranked choice voting. The process is confusing and leads to thousands of San Franciscans’ votes being “exhausted,” or thrown out.
The recent recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin is a case in point. After the initial first place votes were counted, Boudin was an afterthought. But after the extra votes were redistributed from the three leading candidates, surprise, Boudin won. About 22,000 votes in the election were “exhausted.” It’s no wonder he got recalled since he didn’t spend time on the west side stumping for votes. He just worked his base and let the magic of numerology take over.
Ranked choice voting is one of the most important tools for socialist Democrats since it allows them to win elections without 50% of the vote. If you can’t get a majority at the polls, discard votes from favored candidates until you do.
Eliminate the Competition
Proposition 14 was put on the 2010 statewide ballot by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenerger, who hoped to open up the primary contest to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. It passed, which now limits only the top two vote getters in the primary election to move on to the general election in November. The CA Democratic Party did little to oppose the proposition.
The proposition favors the largest political parties, the Democrats in urban areas and Republicans in rural areas. Today, it is most likely two Democrats will be on the statewide ballot because of the dominance of Democratic politics in California.
Due to the passage of Prop. 14, political organizations in the state – including the Green, Peace and Freedom and Libertarian parties – were rendered moot after the primary elections and are now struggling to survive.
When it comes to suppressing the vote, Democrats have shown they are just as good as any other party in doing so. With district elections, ranked-choice voting, an open statewide primary election and the progressive takeover of the DCCC, our candidate options are limited at the voting booth and our votes are eliminated in a bizarre voting scheme.
Sliding Down a Rat Hole
With progressives firmly in control, numerous bad decisions have been made in the past two decades, taking us down a route of urban decay and lawlessness.
We’ve taken the wrong fork in the road on many issues, including the production of housing in the City, the forfeiture of large areas of the City for open drug dealing, the treatment of the mentally ill and the incessant pandering to the political left.
As a lifelong Democrat, I am disappointed in the direction my party has taken in our one-party town. Why is it so difficult to run a town with less than a million people? Why do we make so many bad decisions?
Unfortunately, the rise of progressive politics in San Francisco has a lot to do with it.
We’ve taken some bad turns, but it’s never too late to correct course. We just have to realize our follies and start electing smart politicians who make smart decisions that benefit everyone, and not just pander to a chosen few.
Paul Kozakiewicz is an editor and former publisher of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.
Well said, thanks Paul!
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Excellent analysis of SF. Bill Maher on his show Friday referred to SF as Poop City. That’s about it. Thank you for speaking the truth, especially about ranked choice voting.
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“…the accidental mayor, whose biggest accomplishment before taking over a $13 billion city budget was running a community center on Presidio Avenue…” That quip made me laugh. Beyond that the entire column is just more Westside sour grapes sowing from the Generation which passed it by decades ago.
Thanks for the gripefest!
These problems are shared by every big city in the country. Sometimes worse.
It would be more productive to look at why that is the case…
An excellent commentary. I’ve been so dismayed over what is happening not only in San Francisco but around the country. I also think people confuse Liberals with Progressives. I believe we are very different. Shared to friends on Facebook.
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Wow, good summary. Agree.
Born and raised in The City and lifetime Democrat.
Well spoken Paul! We have an incompetent mayor, a flock of stupidvisors, and six figure dummies in appointed positions running the city departments.
Great article. Lots of knee jerk politics thrown in with COVID, abject drug abuse, homelessness, economic changes. We need to restart a pattern of respect and responsibility back into our city.
Come on Paul. You should know this.
Those elected as “Democrats” are not really Democrats, but mouthpieces for the donor classes that buy them to pretend they are “Democrats”.
And please don’t even hint that district elections have “caused” the issues facing the city. These issues existed before and after the various meanderings into district versus city-wide supervisor elections. These issues are persistent regardless because the issues that face the city are not relevant to the donor classes except insofar as they can use it to pillory voters minds with a dysfunctionalism that they are not really interested in fixing. Blaming those in power on the crimes committed by the lower classes and pointing at bureaucracy is a winning strategy, so long as the voters don’t realize their politicians are actually doing the sullied work of giving the donor classes what they really want — no regulations and lower taxes and carte blanche to do whatever they want as regards property ownership to the point where vacancies isn’t a concern either.
And I wonder, what do you mean when you say elect “smart” politicians? Because “smart” is a relative term. I am “smart” for not digging out of the garbage can for food (for example) but that all depends upon my degree of hunger and whether their is “food” in the garbage can. Likewise, a politician can be considered “smart” because he or she sides with you ideologically in ways that can be categorized as “successful” politically — even when the actual “results” don’t follow. The premise begets the conclusion.
As a result, mouthpieces for the oligarchy have a tendency to get accolades they don’t deserve.