Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Leftist political chat at HANC meeting

Last week's Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council meeting (Dec. 8) was advertised as "an evening of political chat and analysis," featuring Calvin Welch (HANC Board Member), Robert Haaland, pollster David Binder, and Tim Redmond (Executive Editor of the SF Bay Guardian). Binder, alas, was a no-show. His polling data would have been welcome in what turned out to be a rather open-ended bull session among Welch, Haaland, and Redmond. Some of what was said by the panelists:

As it turned out, Calvin Welch provided the only hard data, distributing a handout with the voting patterns in the Haight-Ashbury in last month's election, along with some comparisons to the rest of the city and California. Since the meeting turned into a hand-wringing bull session about the status of the city's political left, it's worth noting that, as Welch's handout pointed out, "Conservative and moderate voting areas turned out marginally better than left liberal areas. Some 62% of the total SF vote was cast in moderate or conservative areas, while 38% were cast in the left liberal precincts of the City." Hence, the first problem with the city's left is that it didn't come out to vote in very large numbers in the city, even though overall turnout in SF was a relatively high 51%, compared with an average of 36% in off-year elections since 1972. 

Welch expressed some disappointment at the defeat of Prop. D---it lost even in the Haight---that would have given the Board of Supervisors three appointments to the Metropolitan Transportation Board, ending the mayor's power to appoint the whole board, though, as it stands, the BOS approves the mayor's nominees. Welch thought the defeat of Prop. D was a little surprising, since it was only the latest in a line of measures giving the BOS more appointments to important city governing bodies, like the Planning Commission and the Police Commission. Welch thought too that Phil Ting's victory over Sandoval in the Treasurer's race was a defeat for city progressives. After years of red-ink budgets, Welch described the city's public sector as "very brittle." The next round of cuts---should they come---will begin to affect youth services, senior services, and drug treatment programs. There are already 22 schools closing. 

Mayor Newsom's housing program, according to Welch, essentially means turning housing over to the private sector, which is building housing mostly for "the super-rich," turning SF into a bedroom community for the wealthy in the Bay Area. In sum, Welch thought SF was like "New Orleans without the flood," since gentrification is almost like we've been hit by a hurricane. Mayor Newsom is presiding over "radical change" in SF. "What are we going to do about it?" he asked. Welch defended Supervisor Maxwell on the Home Depot vote, saying that she has been on "the people's side" on every other important issue. Welch showed some talent for soundbites again when he said that "Liberals are hopeless without leftist leadership on ideas and issues." He cited Bologna, Italy, a city evidently ruled by Marxists, as a good example for San Francisco. He thought that Don Fisher and the Committee on Jobs has the mayor's staff "eating out of their hands." Newsom's administration reminded him of the Jordan administration. "This administration believes in press but not in governing."

Comment: Progressives lost on Prop. D because they didn't convince voters---at least the voters that came out to vote---that giving the BOS more picks on the MTA Board would help Muni, and that Muni's hike in fares and cut in services had anything to do with the political composition of the present MTA Board. Voters seemed to understand that Muni's big budget deficit was not the fault of the board. Welch correctly noted that Mayor Newsom's housing program is nothing more than turning developers loose to build high-end housing. But Welch, like the others, didn't mention how progressive Supervisor Daly gave gentrification a big boost when he supported---as did Mayor Newsom---the 3000+ luxury condos in the Rincon Hill area. And Supervisor Mirkarimi voted for it. This reflects a no-fault progressive approach to city politics; leftist leaders are never singled out and criticized for anything, even something as appalling as Daly's Rincon Hill developments.

Tim "Ideology" Redmond painted another dark picture ("an ugly political time") of the city though, oddly, he conceded that Mayor Newsom was good on the gay marriage lissue, the hotel strike, the school strike, and the statement he just issued that day on the Cops Gone Wild kerfuffle. But what has Newsom done on homelessness, the gun homicides, and Muni? Redmond thought the Gonzalez (2003) and Ammiano campaigns for mayor (1999) had "a feeling that they had a different vision." Newsom is basically a staus quo mayor, giving a green light to special interests, like the condo builders. Yes, Redmond conceded that Mirkarimi did well on the marijuana issue. 

But what is really needed, according to Redmond, is a complete transformation of the city, taxing the rich to help the poor, figuring out how to make Muni free instead of raising fares. Things are not essentially okay in SF; we are just tinkering around the edges of our problems. He admitted that he is an "ideologue," which, to him, evidently means a leftist who clings to a Marxist perspective no matter what. He suggested a "blue ribbon committee" to find out how public money in SF is raised and spent. He complained that there is no plausible progressive candidate available to run against Newsom next time, even though that race doesn't happen until 2007. Redmond thinks we need to ask where we want to be politically in five years. The problem is that Newsom is not saying that we need to find a way to keep working people and poor people in the city, which is what we need to do. But progressives are just reacting to Mayor Newsom, and he doesn't detect any alternative vision coming from the BOS. Redmond deplored Peskin and the BOS vote to allow the Home Depot in Maxwell's district.

Comment: Redmond has chutzpah even mentioning "the vision thing," since, as political editor of the SF Bay Guardian, he has failed to present city progressives with anything but the most banal, politically correct approach to city issues. The Guardian's biggest failure over the past 10 years has been on homelessness. Like progressive leaders Ammiano and Gonzalez, the Guardian focused on defending the "rights" of the homeless in SF, failing to offer an alternative to Care Not Cash both before and after the advent of Gavin Newsom. Typically for city progressives, both Welch and Redmond are in denial on the homeless issue, questioning both Newsom's motives on the issue and the positive results he has already achieved in the short time he's been in office. Redmond defended the left's knee-jerk opposition to the Home Depot in Maxwell's district, even though there was a large furniture store on that site before and Home Depot has promised to give 100 jobs to the people in the Hunter's Point area. Redmond's brand of airy leftism is a large part of the left's problem in SF---a lot of radical rhetoric combined with poorly conceived fringe positions on the issues.

Robert Haaland thought that the reason Prop. D failed was that the pro-D campaign was only an "endorsement" campaign, not the kind of grassroots campaigns that won the Supervisors nominations on the Planning and Police Commissions. There was a "no on D" campaign but no real "yes on D" campaign. Haaland disagreed with Welch on the Sandoval/Ting race, saying that Ting was not just a "corporate hack" as portrayed by some of his opponents. Rather, he has serious connections in the Asian community. He chided Welch and Redmond for their ultra-left electoral politics, telling them that they "need to grow up" politically, though he said it with a smile and no one took offense. Haaland praised Mirkarimi's work on the marijuana club issue as a "credible progressive style of leadership." He thought most of the political energy in this election was expended on the state campaign, fighting the propositions put on the ballot by the governor. 

Though Haaland sounded a note of moderation overall---compared to Welch and Redmond, that is---he thought that Democrat Susan Kennedy, who the governor recently hired as his chief of staff, "should be ashamed of herself" for taking the job. But Haaland defended Peskin on the Home Depot vote, pointing out that he was merely supporting Maxwell on a project that was located in her district and that would bring jobs to the area.

Comment: As a Democratic Party stalwart, Haaland was more reality-based than either Welch or Haaland. Except for the Kennedy remark, Haaland was a voice for moderation during the discussion, leaving one with the conclusion that the problem with the city's left is that leftists are trapped in an ideological box of their own construction. More often than not, their ideology has no relevance to city issues.

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