by Sam Lew
Following the November 5 election, moderates and progressives held their breath at 4 p.m. for several days, anxiously awaiting election results as ballots were counted. It was a low-voter turnout election, with less than 42% of registered San Francisco voters voting, and for two races — the run for District Attorney and District 5 Supervisor — it was going to be close. Very close. Saturday afternoon the winners were declared, and this time around, San Francisco’s progressives won big, beating out two of the Mayor’s endorsed candidates, who were also mayoral-appointed incumbents. According to last Sunday’s Elections Department tally, District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown was defeated by tenants’ rights attorney Dean Preston by a mere 188 votes; District Attorney incumbent Suzy Loftus, who was appointed by the mayor mere weeks before the election to outcries of corruption, was defeated by public defender Chesa Boudin by 2,825 votes.
To put this into context, Preston’s win is bigger than simply having another progressive on the Board: His win is a huge hit to Mayor London Breed. There will now be a supermajority of progressive supervisors, with Preston joining the ranks of Supervisors Sandra Fewer, AAron Peskin, Gordon Mar, Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Norman Yee and Shamann Walton. If progressive supervisors are able to play nice with each other, they’ll be able to pass legislation that will be veto-proof from the Mayor. That’s a big deal, considering that the mayor and progressive supervisors have been at dueling ends of multiple pieces of legislation that have had to do with housing, mental health care and homelessness.
Newly elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin is another strike to the mayor’s power. Boudin, a public defender, ran on a platform that strays far from Breed’s tough-on-homelessness agenda. The son of incarcerated members of the Weather Underground, a militant radical leftist organization, he has committed to decriminalizing homelessness and poverty, ending mass incarceration and investing in restorative justice. Boudin’s race became nationally recognized and received several big name endorsements, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, singer John Legend and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, while going up against $700,000 in spending by the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Interestingly enough, a large chunk of that $700,000 came from police officer associations outside of the city, including $150,000 from LA and $25,000 from Seattle. The District Attorney’s office is in charge of prosecuting people who commit crimes, and the Public Defender’s office is in charge of defending those people who are being prosecuted by the city. With Boudin in charge, this could mean a dramatic shift in the way that homeless/poor/disabled/queer/POC/undocumented communities are treated by the criminal justice system.
The question for progressives now is: Will they be able to harness this shift in power? It’s no secret that it is much more difficult to keep elected officials accountable to community once they are in office. In just the last two elections, progressive have shown that can harness people power and a winning strategy to get candidates in office even in the face of hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money being spent against them. That’s how Supervisors Haney of District 6, Mar of District 4 and Walton of District 10 were elected. But perhaps what is lacking is a clear progressive agenda that can be moved forward by supervisors — and mechanisms for holding supervisors accountable when they begin to place politics over people.
A unifying vision could include agreements from progressives that they will place community first, recognizing that social change does not start or end with an elected, progressive electeds must be conduits for movements to achieve real lasting change. A vision could include basic principles, such as relying on progressive revenue to fund change, to center decision making on community via oversight and commissions, and to ensure fundamental rights, such as dignified housing, healthcare, childcare and living wage jobs.
Two housing measures passed with flying colors. Proposition A, a $600 million affordable housing bond, and Prop. E, which streamlines that process and makes more parcels of public land available for affordable housing. It’s important to note that bond money means there are certain restrictions around how that money can be spent — namely, that it can only be spent on the acquisition, building and construction of buildings, but nothing on maintenance and operation. We’re hoping that the bond prioritizes affordable housing for those who need it most: families who are extremely low-income (including homeless families) and low-income. Unfortunately, we’ve seen far too often that affordable housing remains unaffordable for many. A quick search of affordable housing that is currently available (a total of eight units for the entire city!) shows that a one-bedroom apartment would rent for $1,293 per month.
Prop. D, a tax on ride-hailing companies, scraped by the required two-thirds threshold with 67.65% of the vote. The measure is slated to raise $30 to $35 million annually, half of which will go to fund Muni improvements and the other half to fund improvements in bike and pedestrian safety.
And last, but certainly not least, Prop. C, backed by San Francisco-based vape company Juul, was defeated by nearly 82% of the vote. Prop. C would have repealed the city-wide ban on flavored tobacco that was enacted by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year. Even though Juul spent over $11 million to pass the measure, San Franciscans clearly were able to see through it — and beat it neatly.