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With a plethora of diaries on national and state politics, let's try something more local. I'll contribute to this with a diary on my hometown: the great City and County of San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge
Enter, all ye who can afford the skyrocketing rent.

The 14th largest city in the United States, San Francisco consists of about 800,000 people stuffed onto a roughly 7-mile-by-7-mile square. Once the largest city on the West Coast, it still commands outsized economic, social, cultural, and political influence. It is still the center of the San Francisco Bay Area, home to 7.1 million people, and is home to the California Supreme Court, Twitter, and the Sierra Club. Bank of America and Wells Fargo both began here, and the city is filled with numerous Web 2.0 startups, corporate headquarters, mom-and-pop shops, and interesting personalities.

The city's politics is as complicated as its neighborhoods, microclimates, and inhabitants. New interest groups and constituencies have been added to the mix through the years, but established players still hold much sway. While conservatives may love to portray San Francisco as a place full of nude stoned gay hippies eating tofu salad out of compostable boxes (and I'm sure a few of them exist here), politics here is much more multifaceted than that.

San Francisco City Hall 1
No person or political issue shall be deemed odd or unseemly in these chambers.
Facts on the ground
  • San Francisco is both a city and a county. It has its own jail and sheriff, and can (or must) do many things other cities can't do under California law. Its highest office is the mayor, and its city council is called the Board of Supervisors (the term used for county governing councils in California).
  • Virtually all elected officials in the city are Democrats. This shouldn't be too hard to grasp. The only non-Democrat is Republican James Fang, who sits on the BART Board of Directors (BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, is the major commuter rail system for the Bay Area). Virtually all elected officials, from the most conservative to the most progressive, support (in word, at least) the usual mill of liberal causes: marriage equality, universal healthcare, woman's right to choose, etc. The last major Republican politician from the city was Milton Marks, Jr., who served in the state senate until switching to the Democrats in 1988. The Green Party used to be a formidable force, but after Matt Gonzalez, a Green supervisor, lost the 2003 mayoral race to Gavin Newsom, it started withering away, and is pretty much moribund these days.
  • A "San Francisco progressive" is quite different from a "progressive" in national or even state politics. A corollary is that a "San Francisco moderate" is also quite different from a "moderate" in other places. More on that below.
  • Generally, higher voter turnout means more moderate outcomes, while lower turnout means more progressive outcomes. This usually applies to ballot propositions rather than elected offices. Progressives are much more highly organized than moderates, but they tend to lack numbers.
  • Most elected officials in San Francisco aren't locals. Only a third of the city's inhabitants were actually born and/or raised in the city. Also, born-and-raised locals who get elected tend to more moderate, while many progressive politicians moved into the city during adulthood. Running on local roots or "old-fashioned San Francisco values" doesn't get a candidate very far, since most people have no concept of what they are or it's perceived as an attack on them.
  • The city uses ranked-choice voting (otherwise known as instant-runoff voting, but we call it ranked-choice voting here) in municipal elections. Approved by voters as Proposition A in the November 2002 election and instituted in 2004, a voter is allowed to rank at most three candidates in a race (to see what a San Francisco ranked-choice ballot looks like, see here). This was a reform pushed by progressives to both save money and to allegedly maximize their power. While it did eliminate costly runoff elections, the alleged "progressive boost" failed to materialize and has been a wash for both moderates and progressives.

The players

There are three main factions that hold significant sway in San Francisco politics. The lines between them are sometimes fuzzy, and people and politicians shift between the groups, but they are roughly coherent and it's just easier to understand things this way. Other groups exist, but any elected official that wants to get ahead usually garners support from one or more of these groups.

  • The moderates are more or less the establishment. They tend to be pro-business, pro-development, and advocate lower fees and taxes. They like big projects and focus on citywide issues, except for neighborhood schools (a contentious issue in a city where neighborhoods are often defined by race and class). They tend to center their views on pragmatism and fiscal prudence, pushing change where need be but holding back in other times. Their strongest constituencies are the upper- and middle-class neighborhoods in the city's northern tier and the steep hills in the center.

    For the longest time, they have held the mayor's office, but they currently can't hold it now without outside help (more on that later). The most prominent moderates in city politics are supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Scott Wiener. On a more macro level, moderates include Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Gavin Newsom.

    Wait, what? Pelosi and Newsom, moderates? No, I'm not kidding. The titans of liberal politics are considered moderates in this city. Insert "only in San Francisco" cliche here.

    Dianne FeinsteinGavin NewsomScott Wiener
    Pictures of Dianne Feinstein and Gavin Newsom by Freedom to Marry. Picture of Scott Wiener by Jennifer Low.
  • The progressives, for lack of a better term, form much of the political opposition to the establishment. They tend to be more pro-tenant, pro-neighborhood, and anti-development. They advocate more city funding for social services, especially for the homeless and the poor. While not exactly anti-business, they tend to advocate for better worker protections and business restrictions (both big and small business, varies depending on the issue). They tend to revolve around the principle of social justice writ large and small, be it drug rehabilitation or foreign policy. They draw their inspiration for figures such as Harvey Milk, the late supervisor and activist.

    Almost all challenges to the political status quo begin here. Former congressman Phil Burton and former mayor Willie Brown started their careers here, defeated the establishment of their time, and became the new establishment. Some challenges are successful, but many are not. Local progressives include state assemblyman Tom Ammiano, sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, and supervisors David Campos and John Avalos. Their strongest constituencies are the middle- and lower-class neighborhoods in the city's core.

    Tom AmmianoDavid CamposJohn Avalos
    Pictures of Tom Ammiano and David Campos by David Campos for Supervisor. Picture of John Avalos by Robert B. Livingston.
  • The moderate progressives (confused yet?) are the newest kids on the block. This group emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the moderates began to wane and the progressives began to gain power. The faces of this group tend to be heavily Asian due to it coinciding with rising Asian American political power in the city, though this faction also includes people of other groups, most notably supervisor Malia Cohen, who is African-American. Like other progressives, they are pro-tenant and advocate for more social services to the poor. However, they have pro-business and pro-development tendencies and tend to focus on streamlining bureaucracy and effective government.

    They currently form the swing bloc in San Francisco politics, having sided with the progressives in 2008 and the moderates in 2010, eventually taking control of the mayor's office in 2011 with the help of moderates. Prominent members of this group include current mayor Ed Lee, consultant and community activist Rose Pak, and supervisors David Chiu, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar. The base of this group include the heavily Asian neighborhoods in the city's northeastern corner and the western and southern peripheries.

    Ed LeeDavid ChiuJane Kim
    Picture of Ed Lee by Ed Lee for Mayor. Picture of David Chiu by --Mark--. Picture of Jane Kim by Jennifer Low.

More names you should know:

  • Willie Brown is a former mayor (1995-2003) and former Speaker of the California State Assembly (1980-1995). His political start was in the 1950s and 1960s under then-Congressman Phil Burton and alongside now-California Democratic Party chair John Burton (Phil's younger brother). Winning his first political office in the state assembly in 1964, time and experience connected Brown with influential big-moneyed interests and sharpened his political skills, becoming the self-styled "Ayatollah of the Assembly." As Speaker, he controlled everything from the flow of bills to a member's parking space to campaign donations. He even had Republicans on his side, converted through small favors or caucus infighting fallout. As mayor, he was pro-development and anchored the pro-business moderate wing, leading to projects such as the development of Mission Bay and the revitalization of City Hall, often alienating progressive groups and neighborhood interests. Today, he runs the Willie L. Brown Institute on Politics and Public Service, a nonprofit oriented towards careers in local government, and is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. His deep connections to business, labor and the social scene makes him an still-influential force in the city's politics.
  • Ron Conway is a tech investor, and his main contribution is money. Squarely in the moderate camp, he has many connections in the business world, and he isn't shy about showing who or what issues he supports. He is a monster networker and fundraiser, and he is probably the biggest reason why San Francisco is undergoing a massive tech boom (and the perks and problems that come with it). As a major investor in Twitter, he was instrumental in getting it the (in)famous payroll tax break from the city in exchange for staying in San Francisco. Of course, he benefits from all of this financially too, but welcome to politics.
  • Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin are stalwarts of progressive politics in the city. Serving on the Board of Supervisors in the 2000s, they were the core of any progressive movement and led the opposition to the mayoral administrations of Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom. As they and their allies controlled a majority of the board when they were in office, they forced the mayors to compromise with them on a host of issues, lending a progressive bent to otherwise moderate policies. Now out of politics, they hold nominal but waning influence even on the progressive scene.
  • Kamala Harris is the California Attorney General and the former district attorney for San Francisco. In 2003, she defeated incumbent district attorney Terence Hallinan, a progressive. Interestingly (and as many Californians here are aware), she holds many progressive positions, such as opposing the death penalty and new approaches to fighting crime. She straddles the moderate-progressive divide, having endorsed (and received the endorsements) of both sides. Incidentally, she dated Willie Brown in the 1990s.
  • Mark Leno, Leland Yee, Fiona Ma, and Tom Ammiano are San Francisco's representatives in the state legislature: Leno and Yee in the state senate, Ma (soon to be replaced by current San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting) and Ammiano in the state assembly. They hold a varying amount of influence in the city's politics, with Ammiano holding sway in progressive circles while Ma, an extremely effective fundraiser, and Leno being more identified with the moderates. Yee is a maverick, too progressive for the moderates but alienated from both progressive wings, especially the Asian moderate progressives. He sort of does his own thing, having been "kicked upstairs" in a way. Leno is rumored to run for Congress whenever Pelosi decides to retire, Yee is running for California Secretary of State to succeed termed-out Debra Bowen, while Ma is running for the Board of Equalization to succeed termed-out Betty Yee. Ammiano might run for Leno's state senate seat, but he's 70 and may decide to just retire from politics, having been an elected official since 1990.
  • Rose Pak is a consultant for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. But that title understates her immense influence in San Francisco politics. A journalist by trade, Pak brokered connections between Chinatown nonprofits and groups, especially the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), and mobilized them for political action. Pak also holds immense influence in the Chinese American community due to her ability to get the city to pay attention to their interests, which were neglected for a long time. She is instrumental to the rise of the moderate progressives and is willing to ally with or spurn both moderates and progressives as it suits her purposes. Pak is quite a personality, openly criticizing her opponents and mocking politicians in profane tirades before the press and the public. She is also very pro-PRC (mainland China), which accounts for a relative lack of pro-Taiwan or Chinese democracy sentiment on the side of the moderates and the Asian progressives.
  • The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Labor Council are the bigwigs in business and labor. Naturally, the CoC is moderate while the labor council (read: unions) lean progressive. However, the building trades unions are considered moderate (they have to be pro-development in order to stay employed). The largest union in the city is the SEIU, specifically SEIU Local 1021.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner are the two major newspapers in the city. The Chronicle is much larger than the Examiner, with the Chronicle being the usual paper and the Examiner, once the more dominant of the two, relegated to free tabloid format. Four years ago, the Examiner endorsed McCain over Obama, erasing the little credibility it had. It has improved a lot since then, but it has a long way to go. Prominent alternative weeklies include SF Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a progressive paper. The two aforementioned weeklies have a longstanding feud.

Note: You often hear of the "Willie Brown-Rose Pak machine" in San Francisco politics, which came into vogue when Ed Lee was appointed mayor in 2011. This is a marriage of the moderate wing (who had a ton of money) and the heavily Asian moderate progressive wing (who had the boots on the ground), forming a formidable bloc. For the most part, this alliance of sorts have held the most sway in City Hall. However, this isn't a completely true representation of San Francisco politics, since there are numerous conflicts between the two. The "Rose Pak" side of the machine is actually a progressive one, with Asian American moderates chiefly subsumed under the broader moderate wing. Therefore, it's best to understand the landscape by visualizing three groups whose alliances shift constantly (think George Orwell's Oceania-Eurasia-Eastasia).


The city is divided into 11 supervisorial districts, shown here. For shorthand, I will abbreviate district names with "D(number)", which is how it's done here. When in Rome...

Map of San Francisco supervisorial districts
  • District 1 consists mainly of the Richmond district and Golden Gate Park and has a nearly even mix of whites and Asians. The district is full of duplexes and apartment buildings and largely middle class. Politically, it tends to vote for progressive supervisors and moderate on ballot measures. The current supervisor is former school board member Eric Mar, who is squarely in the moderate progressive camp and was propelled into office with the help of progressives.
  • District 2 is the bastion of old-time San Francisco. Consisting of the Marina, Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, Laurel Heights, and Seacliff (plus the Golden Gate Bridge), it is home to the city's wealthiest residents, both long-established families and newer young professionals. The homes of Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi are located here. Not surprisingly, this district is one of the most conservative in the city. The current supervisor is venture capitalist Mark Farrell, a moderate.
  • District 3 is what tourists think of when they see San Francisco. Cable cars, Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, North Beach, and the Ferry Building are all located in this district (ok, Lombard Street is across the street in D2). It is extremely diverse, from the high-rises in the Financial District to the alleyways in Chinatown to the steep slopes of Nob Hill. This district generally votes progressive, but it does slip to the moderates on propositions every so often. The current supervisor is attorney David Chiu, elected with the help of progressives in 2008.
  • District 4 is the Sunset District. It consists mainly of Asian middle-class families in single-family homes: the quintessential bedroom community, the prototype of the Asian suburb. Staunchly moderate, its supervisor is Carmen Chu, first appointed by then-mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007.
  • District 5 is home to the world-famous Haight-Ashbury (now generally called Upper Haight or Cole Valley). It also includes Japantown, the Fillmore, the Western Addition, Hayes Valley, NoPa (short for North of the Panhandle, with the Panhandle being a block-wide extension of Golden Gate Park), and the Inner Sunset (distinct from the Sunset in D4). This is a progressive stronghold, and moderates don't tend to see the light of day here...until this year. A split progressive field allowed London Breed, director of the African American Art and Cultural Complex and the most moderate of the candidates, to win, knocking off appointed incumbent Christina Olague, a progressive with moderate hues (I guess she was paying her dues to the mayor, who appointed her).
  • District 6 consists of the Tenderloin, SoMa (South of Market), and Mission Bay. This district has changed to most of any district in the last twelve years. In 2000, it mainly consisted of single-room occupancies and apartments, with much of the district filled with empty lots or warehouses. The arrival of AT&T Park and UCSF into Mission Bay hastened development and gentrification in the eastern parts of the district, attracting young professionals and people with the means to purchase prime waterfront views. Once extraordinarily progressive, the district has moderated substantially, though progressives are still strong here. The current supervisor is former school board member Jane Kim, supported by the moderate progressives against Debra Walker, who have the full-throttle support of the more established progressive wing. This particular election alienated many Asian progressives (and the Asian community as a whole) from the progressive faction, driving them into the alliance with moderates that still holds today.
  • District 7 consists of West of Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Heights, West Portal, Forest Hill, Sunnyside, Parkmerced, Lakeshore, and St. Francis Wood. Essentially, it's full of rich and upper-middle-class people. Needless to say, this district, along with D2, is one of the most conservative in the city. Parts of this district actually voted for Steve Cooley over Kamala Harris for Attorney General in 2010, which is probably as Republican as you can get in this city. The current supervisor is termed-out Sean Elsbernd, a former aide of then-mayor Gavin Newsom who was appointed in 2005. Like D5, this year's election for this seat produced a surprise winner: school board member (so many school board members!) Norman Yee, the most progressive of the candidates, narrowly won election over labor leader FX Crowley and thoroughly beat moderate candidate Mike Garcia.
  • District 8's most famous neighborhood is the Castro, but it also includes Noe Valley, Glen Park, Diamond Heights, and parts of the gentrified Mission District. Most people think of this district as Harvey Milk's district, but D8 has been the home of moderate supervisors since its creation in 2000. D8 does have a penchant for voting progressively on propositions, though even that is slowly slipping away as the Castro gentrifies. The current supervisor is moderate stalwart Scott Wiener, former chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.
  • District 9 (not to be confused with the movie of the same name) is home to Bernal Heights and the heart of the Mission district. It also has the Portola neighborhood attached to it for population purposes. Why so derisive a description? Because the Mission and Bernal Heights form a progressive stronghold of whites and Latinos, while the Portola, tacked onto the district over two redistricting cycles, is small, heavily Asian, and conservative. D9 is currently the only supervisorial district in the city with undisputed progressive cred right now, and it shouldn't change anytime soon. The current supervisor is David Campos, who came from Guatemala when he was 12 as an undocumented immigrant and subsequently graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law.
  • District 10 is a hodgepodge of disparate neighborhoods on the eastern side of the city. It combines gentrified Potrero Hill, mostly African American Bayview-Hunters Point, and heavily Chinese American Visitacion Valley into a melting pot. This district is one of the poorest and the most crime-infested in the city. The district's neighborhoods tend to be parochial about the candidates they support, resulting in tangled messes whenever this seat opens up. The two supervisors it ever elected, Sophie Maxwell and Malia Cohen, were swingy votes who tilt moderate, especially Cohen. Both draw on the active African American base in this district, but the exploding Asian American population, especially in the Bayview, may start to assert itself. On propositions, this district often serves as a bellwether for the city. The current supervisor is Malia Cohen, who won a 21-way race.
  • District 11 consists of the Excelsior, Outer Mission, Crocker-Amazon, Ingleside, and Ocean View neighborhoods. Over half of the district is Asian (mostly Filipino and Chinese), but there is a significant Latino mark here, and its most prominent politicians tend to be Latino. This district, like D1, tends to elect progressive supervisors but votes more moderately on propositions, though not to the extent as D1. The current supervisor is John Avalos, a former supervisor's aide who ran for mayor (and came in second) against Ed Lee in 2011.

Political bases and strategy

The moderate strongholds in the city are D2 and D7, with D1 and D4 further to the left but often firmly in their column. The progressive strongholds are D5 and D9, with D6 and D8 also serving as reliable players. D3, D10, and D11 are the swing districts, being diverse ethnically and politically.

Political strategy usually centers around two maps.

SF moderate mapSF progressive map
The map on the left is the "conservative C" used by moderates to win citywide races and ballot propositions. It takes in the moderate bases of D1, D2, D4, and D7, and pulls in the swingy D3, D10, and D11. This tends to be seen in mayoral races and major mayor-backed initiatives, especially in the 2000s.

The one on the right is the "progressive block" used by progressives to win races. It takes in the progressive bases of D5, D6, D8 and D9, along with the swingy D3, D10, and D11. This tends to be seen more in ballot propositions.

With the blurring of political lines and the ascent of Mayor Ed Lee, these maps have faded away, especially in initiatives. As moderates and progressives have shied away from confrontation, most ballot propositions tend to be supported by both business (moderates) and labor (progressives) or opposed by both. Especially in this year's elections, the seven propositions saw lopsided citywide margins, with all the districts uniformly for or against. However, it remains to be seen whether this trend will hold up.


There are many resources if you want to keep up with San Francisco's ever-changing political scene. Much of this information was picked up by me over my years of living here, but even I'm still learning new things daily. Some useful places include:

  • The San Francisco Department of Elections has one of most accessible websites of any elections department. It has election results stretching back to 1995 and voter information pamphlets dating back to 1907 (courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library). It also has a new eData tool for some of your statistical needs.
  • Usual Suspects, operated by Barbary Coast Consulting, is a one-stop shop for the latest San Francisco political news, candidacy rumors, and the like. An important resource for any political junkie interested in San Francisco.
  • Linda Post is a blogger who has an ability to catalog every single scheduled political event in the city. Her posts detail when the event is, who's the main attraction, who's hosting, and where it is. A good way to get free food and networking opportunities.
  • Of course, there's the newspapers: the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. There's also the SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian.

Feel free to contribute your knowledge below!

Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 1:04 PM PT: A shoutout to SF Usual Suspects for posting this diary on their front page. Thanks!

Originally posted to kurykh on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:11 AM PST.

Also republished by California politics and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  runs the political gamut from m to mp (8+ / 0-)

    All the way from moderate through progressive to moderate progressive.  

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:25:00 AM PST

  •  Really great analysis! (17+ / 0-)

    It's pretty interesting how SF considers Pelosi and Newsom "moderates." I also knew someone who worked on the Breed campaign and talked to me for awhile about how SF politics work. It was really good info.

    For more election analysis and redistricting maps, check out my blog CA-2 (former CA-6) College in CA-37

    by Alibguy on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:38:53 AM PST

  •  Awesome diary (10+ / 0-)

    But it's missing one thing: a link to Laundromats marked for budget tourists!

    Whenever I visit, I do my laundry around Chinatown/North Beach so I can pack fewer clothes and travel light, and have fun hanging with the locals as the spin cycle does it's thing.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:39:19 AM PST

  •  Bay Area-centric to the last, I guess, (16+ / 0-)

    I am tipping and rec'ing this diary. Hello from Oakland :) We have half your population here, in approximately double your square miles. They get the atrocious crime problem here under control, I believe Oakland's population will spike, big-time, and this place will skyrocket in terms of real estate values, the way SF has.

    Thanks for the substantive report.

    Now, you ready for a big surprise? San Jose has beaten you out for population. It's up to a million now. Which I can hardly believe, having been raised an hour or so to the south, and being able to remember so clearly when the population was just half that. Technically, it's now the population center, the "big city" in the Bay Area--NOT SF.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:41:44 AM PST

  •  Well done. (11+ / 0-)

    The average San Franciscan seems to take politics as seriously as people in other cities take sports.  We root for our team, know the players (and the farm teams) and spend a lot of time on pre- and post-game analysis.  

    I'm in District 4, which chalked up the first big casualty of ranked-choice voting - the whole Ed Jew fiasco.  Before that, I don't think people were taking their second and third choices too seriously, but now they do.  And that's good - people are taking the time to read about all the candidates (just in case) which probably benefits those with less name recognition.

  •  Well done! (14+ / 0-)

    An excellent primer on SF politics.

    An interesting current-y event is the Sherriff's imbroglio regarding his pleading guilty to 'Unlawfully detaining" his wife-or 'beating her', depending on your interpretation of the events. What a mess. But tailor-made for a tv movie. A South American novella star, a Sheriff, a 'one night stand', and bruise marks on a wife. Sheesh. Throw in politics, a political machine, a sheriff who was almost removed from office, an ongoing attempt to have the sheriff removed from Domestic Violence enforcement, nosy Lawyer neighbors, and The Progressives having to defend a 'wife beater' as not a 'wife beater'...oh, and some naked guys wandering around. MAN, I miss that City!

    A really great read, thanks for writing a fine, fine diary!

    "The better I know people, the more I like my dog."

    by Thinking Fella on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 09:32:55 AM PST

  •  I visited SF in October for the World Veg (10+ / 0-)

    Festival at Golden Gate Park. I think there were at least 3 or 4 more festivals and conferences held that weekend so the city was rocking.

    I stayed at a hotel close to Union Square and got around exclusively by BART, Muni and of course, the world famous cable car system.

    The weather was great, there were just a ton of people walking about the streets. The cafes, neighborhood restaurants and pubs were jammed full. People were wedged in like sardines on the Muni. It was one big party town. People were smiling, laughing, and having a good time.

    I LOVE S.F. and can't wait to come back.

    Great Diary - kurykh.

    It takes time to practice generosity, but being generous is the best use of our time. - Thich Nhat Hanh.

    by Frank In WA on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 09:58:46 AM PST

  •  Additional background (25+ / 0-)

    The city currently has district elections but this is a recent development, or to be more precise, RE-development. When I moved to SF in 1986 all supervisors were elected at-large. This was itself a relatively recent change; I believe it took place somewhere around 1980. Prior to that there were districts, with boundaries different from the current ones. The areas comprising the current Districts 4 and 7 were, back then, the white, ethnic working-class area of San Francisco and the most conservative. They were the ones responsible for electing Dan White to the Board of Supervisors. You may recall that it was White who resigned from the Board (because at that time, Supervisors were paid less than $20,000 a year and he simply couldn't afford the job) and then attempted to change his mind. He was rebuffed by Mayor George Moscone and recently-elected Supervisor Harvey Milk. In response, he snuck back in to city hall and murdered both of them. If I recall correctly it was partly because of this that the city went to at-large elections for supervisors.

    Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected as Supervisor, indeed among the first to be elected to public office anywhere in the nation. Following his assassination he was replaced by another gay man, Harry Britt. There has been non-stop gay representation on the Board of Supervisors since then; sometimes as many as three or four of the eleven sitting supervisors have been gay, lesbian, or bisexual. We've yet to elect a transgender person to city-wide office.

    Personal notes here: current state senator Mark Leno is an acquaintance of mine. I have an extraordinarily high opinion of him and would be happy to seem him run for federal office. He's 61 years old (a few months younger than I am as it happens). During her recent interview, Nancy Pelosi noted that she became a member of Congress in her late 40's which she considered to be relatively late in life. In 2014, Leno will be 63. Even though Leno's politics are a bit more moderate than mine in many respects, I would happily vote for him for ANYTHING.

    My supervisor, Jane Kim she lives in the same building as I do though I don't really know her.

    Two other things of note as well: San Francisco is a small town disguised as a world-class city. Where else can you see your elected officials, past and current, strolling the streets and be able to say hello to them as though they were your best buddies? Politics is, and for a very long time has been, a blood sport here, possibly more so than in any other city I can think of. We have a highly-informed, highly involved electorate and because the city is so compact, the level of personal connection between elected officials and the population at large is unprecedented for a place with such a large population.

    San Francisco politics has a long and colorful history. It was infamously corrupt through much of the 19th Century and well into the 20th. While we are not saints by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, things are probably more transparent here now than at any previous time in the city's history.

    And only in San Francisco would someone like me, who's been here a mere 26 years, having moved here as an adult, be able to think of himself as virtually a native.

  •  lived in district 5 for 13 years (9+ / 0-)

    1999 - 2012

    really miss it.

    moved to NY due to new wife, family and work... (sigh)

    without a doubt the best place i ever lived.

    and I concur with whoever posted that Oakland would be a major contender for great place to live in the Bay Area in the forseeable future.

    i have tons of friends who are starting to filter out to the East Bay and Bay View/Hunter's Point area due to the insanely high rent.

    giving up my $2k large one bedroom in Lower Haight was one of the saddest experiences of my life.  landlord immediately put on the market in June for 3k and could probably have gotten more for it.  many of my friends simply rented rooms in shared space, but in SF one is never home.  the City itself is your living room.

    A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

    by No Exit on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 10:44:42 AM PST

    •  I thankfully am in a rent-controlled (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      No Exit, MichaelNY, Redneck Aeschylus

      apartment for many years so the explosion of prices in the rental market hasn't hurt so bad.

      It is a good idea if you are moving to the city to check out places that are rent controlled especially if you plan on staying for awhile.

    •  Hello, neighbor! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      No Exit

      I think I lived there at almost the identical time period as you, and in the exact same neighborhood, too! Hello (former) neighbor! Yes, I think the day I gave up my apartment on Haight Street between Scott and Pierce was one of the saddest of my life. After living in the same place for nearly ten years I knew all the local shopkeepers and would run into friends walking down the street every day. There's no place in the world like San Francisco ... not even close!

      •  it's funny (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        i first moved to SF in 99 and all i could get was a crappy studio in Hayes Valley in the formerly pink, now beige, building on Octavia in between Oak and Fell.  lived there for about 5 years moving into larger apartments as money and circumstances dictated.  finally, had to move when they started construction on the Octavia Street Blvd and tore down the Fell Street Exit which was pretty much right outside my window.

        wound up at 17th and Church a block off the foot of Dolores Park (which I miss the most).   stayed there for five years with a lemons, oranges and figs in my backyard and a highly coveted washer dryer.

        then met someone needed more space and lucked into one of the nicest apartments i have seen in SF on the corner of Page and Pierce.

        noc noc, mad dog, upper playground, international cafe, jazz at international cafe, dubose park, the wiggle, zeitgeist, alamo square, alamo square sunsets... truly a magical city.

        A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

        by No Exit on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 11:47:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What a nice read! I live in Dictrict 1, and I can (7+ / 0-)

    certainly attest to the redefinition of "moderate" and "progressive" here. I never know how to count myself. I would be "progressive" anywhere else. Here, I'm probably half progressive. I don't feel very moderate though, and I never supported the mayor, especially after he ran when he said he wouldn't.

    I was glad to see Eric Mar win, while his opponent was being pushed by the "establishment". You wouldn't believe the electioneering that went on in our District.

  •  thanks. very enlightening. (3+ / 0-)

    lots of "ah, that's interesting" moments.

  •  I love how they fight over everything in SF. (12+ / 0-)

    I think they argued for three years over whether or not palm trees were the appropriate choice for planting along Market and Castro streets. They finally decided they were, and in my humble opinion they look fabulous.

  •  Great diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zack from the SFV, MichaelNY, No Exit

    San Francisco is the only west coast city I've visited.  Beautiful city, though.

    I know Feinstein and Newsom are moderates, but Pelosi?  She has to be pragmatic and practical in national politics, but I think she's a liberal at heart.

    VA-03 (current residence) NC-07 (home)

    by psychicpanda on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 11:35:43 AM PST

  •  Wow thanks for writing this up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Very comprehensive and I generally agree with most of it. Great work. Of course anyone is going to take issue in something that is this comprehensive.

    I take issue with Mar being in the moderate progressive camp, based on his history as a radical activist type. I know that he moderated a bit for the election as he had to and the 8 Washington vote gave him Rose Pak's troops on the ground during the election. I don't think he would have made that vote if he was in his 2nd term, but it is what it is. He also has sided with the asian bloc on the Board at times on issues that are not as progressive. I would expect that to continue, but I would also not expect him to be voting for any more 8 Washington type deals now that he will be termed out.

    Who do you think will be Board President for the new term? It would seem like Kim would have the votes if she wants it and Chiu decides to stand down (Avalos, Campos, Mar, Chiu, Yee). I suppose Farrell, Chu, Wiener, Breed would support Cohen. Wiener is probably too conservative to get Chiu's vote but Cohen might be seen as a compromise choice for him. However, I know he and Kim are good friends and go back a long way so it would seem unlikely he would vote against her.

    Also and are decent local political blogs.

    •  Eric Mar hasn't moderated really (4+ / 0-)

      It's just where his roots are. I put him under the moderate progressive camp because that's where he's from and that's where he got his start. Gordon Mar, his twin brother, is head of the Chinese Progressive Association. In the last election, Rose Pak and her team pulled out all the stops to ensure his reelection, even diverting resources from Norman Yee (who barely held on in D7) to help Mar.

      After the Mirkarimi vote, Kim might have rendered herself radioactive. Cohen will defer to Chiu, simply because Chiu was one of the few electeds to endorse her during her 2010 run. Wiener isn't going to be board president unless there's an outright moderate majority. We don't even know if Chiu is stepping down, because he might end up being the only acceptable compromise choice.

      Chiu and Kim do go a long way back; they used to be roommates.

      22, D, CA-12 (old CA-08).

      by kurykh on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:57:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  CPA (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Isn't CPA the most progressive of the chinatown orgs though? Certainly more so than CCDC and CAA.

        Like I said I really appreciate the write up, because politically interested friends sometimes ask me to explain SF politics to them and I will definitely steer them here. Funny thing is I'm sure we've met in real life a number of times.

        •  The Chinatown nonprofits (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          like CCDC, CPA, Asian Law Caucus, and CAA are really tight-knit, especially after Rose Pak came into the picture, so they're usually of the same mind. It's also the only way they can survive politically.

          And thanks for your kind comments! Yes, we probably might have met somewhere along the way.

          22, D, CA-12 (old CA-08).

          by kurykh on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 04:07:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I was wondering about the influence of the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, Jacques Kallis, MichaelNY

       SF Democratic Party and various party clubs. Isn't Aaron Peskin now the head of the SFDP (or am I years out of date)? I used to be acquainted with him back in the '80s at UC Santa Cruz. Do the Democratic clubs matter very much anymore?

        San Francisco politics are livelier than almost anywhere else. Lately the only story that has gotten play outside the city is the Weiner Bill to outlaw nudity in most public places. There was a story on it in the LA Times today. Here in the Southland metropolis we are about to go into election season but it doesn't seem to get very much interest outside of political junkie circles. We will have a new Mayor and several new councilmembers but few are paying attention yet...

    Diehard Swingnut, disgruntled Democrat, age 54, new CA-30

    by Zack from the SFV on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 12:10:00 PM PST

  •  D8 Represent! (0+ / 0-)

    Huge supporter of Supervisor Wiener.  He has a pretty difficult job balancing the progressives and moderates in his district.

    He often gets called a 'conservative plant', which as the diarist mentioned, only a gay, left of center Democrat who supports all the bog standard progressive values gets called a conservative.

    Also, I can kill you with my brain.

    by Puffin on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 12:13:33 PM PST

  •  Should be required reading here in SFBAY (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thinking Fella, MichaelNY

    Wow!  This is an excellent piece and I will be goading my friends into reading this.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HAM RADIO OPERATORS! Come to the LEFT side of the DIAL join our new group: Amateur Radio at Daily Kos

    by jackspace on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 12:19:37 PM PST

  •  I can't stand Chris Daly (3+ / 0-)

    I'm sorry but as a resident of San Francisco for three years and apart of the Bay Area, I was never a fan for Chris Daly and I supported every chance possible for anyone to have challenged him when he was a Supervisor.

    The problem is, Chris Daly is way too much of a partisan.  He really cares a lot and I agree with a lot of his politics but his actions are just so exclusive it's not funny.  A number of times the Board of Supervisors reprimanded Daly for his conduct and I'm glad they did.  Serves him well.

    Seriously, he doesn't have a worldly understanding of business and it's no wonder because he doesn't come from a business background.  I'm not saying Daly should come from a business background but he's been too ingrained in social justice and has not taken the time to read up or understand the simple concept of "knowledge," whether his views change or not.  I doubt Daly has even read many issues of the San Francisco Business Times.

    On the other hand, I do believe it's fair to say that mom 'n' pop shops need to exist and not be forced out due to an unfair playing field, let alone have to deal with costs they never dealt with in the first place due to new potentially big businesses taking over communities.  Those big businesses might not even understand those communities.

    On the other hand, a Whole Foods location opened up on Haight St. but that didn't stop people from going down Haight and shopping.

  •  Great diary! (3+ / 0-)

    I for one was glad when Chris Daly finally rode off into the sunset and to his home in Fairfield. That man truly was a waste of space on the Board of Supervisors who was focused more on throwing bombs than getting anything done.

    Personally I lie on the moderate progressive bloc of San Francisco politics. While I don't like the way how Ed Lee broke his promise to not run for a full term and his connections to Rose Pak and Willie Brown, he's done an good job so far.

    The Republican party is now an extreme right-wing party that is owned by their billionaire campaign contributors. - Bernie Sanders

    by ehstronghold on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:02:43 PM PST

    •  Good to see another Daly hater (0+ / 0-)

      I don't mind progressives of all kinds but Daly was WAY too much of a partisan.

    •  People forget (3+ / 0-)

      Daly-haters and progressives alike forget that Daly was very involved in making Rincon Hill and the new Trinity Plaza happen. Not to mention all the legislation that helped SRO residents, those folks liked him for a reason.

      That doesn't mean he wasn't an over the top bomb thrower (especially in the later years) but those who think he never got anything done during his 10 years on the Board are mistaken. The Chronicle loved to hate him and play him up as a boogeyman, he continued to play up that caricature perfectly (which I would argue hurt the movement) but as usual the truth is more nuanced.

  •  Something else to know about San Francisco: (5+ / 0-)

     Budget:  $8.7 billion
     Population:  2.7 million
     Expenditure per resident: $3,074

    San Francisco
     Budget:  $7.3 billion
     Population: 812,000
     Expenditure per resident: $8,981

    •  you got that right..., but the people pay for it. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it's one of the most expensive places i've ever lived as well.

      A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

      by No Exit on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 09:22:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  why is the california supreme court in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    san francisco when the capital is sacramento?

    •  I don't know myself (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Zack from the SFV, MichaelNY, wu ming

      so I looked it up. This seemed to be the best explanation.

      Trivia: The California Supreme Court is 6-1 Republican. It's a legacy of California only having five Democratic governorships (four Dem governors, because of Jerry Brown) in the past 100 years. The GOPers on the highest bench are mostly moderates though. This was the court that legalized marriage equality, after all.

      22, D, CA-12 (old CA-08).

      by kurykh on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 04:12:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a very interesting diary! (4+ / 0-)

    I really like these local analysis diaries, because they're good at explaining why different areas tend to produce different sorts of politicians. I expected Pelosi to be considered moderate by San Francisco standards, but didn't expect San Francisco politics to be quite as combative as you describe them. Tipped and Rec'd BTW.

    I'm actually thinking of doing this sort of diary for either Nashville, TN or Madison, WI. I could probably describe the factions better in Nashville (though there are a lot of them), but could get better data for Madison, as precincts in Nashville tend to cut across cultural divides. Does anyone here have any input on which one they'd rather see?

    Male, 22, -4.75/-6.92, born and raised TN-05, now WI-02. "You're damn right we're making a difference!" - Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin)

    by fearlessfred14 on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 04:43:59 PM PST

    •  Nashville (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fearlessfred14, MichaelNY, bumiputera

      I'd be very interested in hearing your take on Nashville. Cooper always seemed too conservative for the area (though he doesn't seem to undermine the party publicly these days, maybe as the district got more progressive?).

      I figure there was never really a legitimate primary challenger other than Karl Dean more recently and would he even be to the left of Cooper? I also remember when the business community lined up against the English only ballot measure and defeated it handily. Would be kind of interested in the backstory on that.

      •  I think I will do that diary (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jacques Kallis, MichaelNY, wu ming

        Though as a teaser, here are the short answers:

        1) Nashville has a very long moderate tradition, and tends not to be friendly country for hardliners on either side (the suburban counties are a very different story). This is why it elects a Blue Dog like Cooper. Karl Dean would probably be a bit to his left, but he's too establishment to primary Cooper. I'll go into this more, but Cooper would be very hard to dislodge, even though he'll be a real thorn in our side in the fiscal negotiations (he hates deficits with a singular passion).

        2) The business community wants to maintain Nashville's reputation as a welcoming city, and tends to be decently supportive of immigrants' rights. They are not liberals by and large, but tend to be pragmatic about advancing their interests and don't accumulate social baggage from movement conservatives. Again, this is a big contrast with conservatives in the suburban counties (particularly Wilson, Rutherford, and Williamson), some of whom are freakishly right-wing.

        Male, 22, -4.75/-6.92, born and raised TN-05, now WI-02. "You're damn right we're making a difference!" - Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin)

        by fearlessfred14 on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 01:13:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I live in District 7 and really appreciate your (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit, MichaelNY

    diary.  I love SF politics... Some parts of the city are extermely progressive..  Only here would there be  discussions about whether or not we allow public nakedness and it seem pretty normal.  My family members visiting from Oklahoma of all places are still very disturbed after our ride through the Castro. They will go on and on about it to this day and they were here a while ago.   I've totally gotten used to seeing bare asses around the City and don't even pay attention to it anymore.

  •  The one San Fran figure I cant stand (0+ / 0-)

    is Kimberly Guilfoyle. She is such a sell out, fraud, and phony. Thank God, Newsom got rid of her. She be on Fox and tows the line on every right wing talking point, and always drubbing up phony outrage. While she struts her legs.

    But she doesn't tell viewers who her former husband was, and she was part of the Democrat machine in the Bay Area. With most of her cases working in the DA we're left leaning.

    Anybody who sells out they're beliefs in order to tow the line to make a quick buck, I view them as scums.


    Moderate Progressive, Born in Cairo, Raised in NY-11, Living in NJ-13.

    by BKGyptian89 on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:07:01 PM PST

  •  i miss SF. w00t districts 5 & 8!! (0+ / 0-)

    and, btw, since nobody in the bay area is actually from the bay area after 9 months transplants can refer to themselves as native. its in the welcome packet.

    seriously, Lord? legalizing weed finally gets momentum two weeks before Twinkie production stops? kind of a dick move there, Yahweh...

    by bnasley on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 09:14:52 PM PST

  •  Outstanding diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I lived in SF for ten years until just a few years ago and miss it like mad. Incredible city with incredible politics, and impossible to truly understand unless you've lived there.

    My friends used to say how wonderful a place it is to visit, and I'd reply that it's an even better place to live. You can't say that about many places IMHO.

  •  Yep, my version of Progressive (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, wu ming

    is probably more in line with SF Progressives, being in area myself and not knowing other Progressives. I frequently have been surprised by what is considered Progressive (reading on this site) since these would not be, in my life, considered as such. Particularly some of the more Libertarian stuff is in distinct contrast, I think, to SF style Progressivism, although it's perhaps more common in other parts of the country?

    Great diary illuminating the regional differences here.

  •  PRC? Not many Taiwanese-Americans? DAMN (0+ / 0-)

    80 % of Success is Just Showing Up !

    by Churchill on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 06:51:34 AM PST

  •  Wonderful - thx! A native here, with a tale .. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, bumiputera, wu ming

    That was just excellent. Thank you!

    Some may enjoy the following SF citizen vs. policy story from 40 years ago.

    My wife - almost, but not quite a native - was injured (shot in the arm, in fact..) while working as a civilian clerk at an SF Police Station in the early 70's.

    The city said they wouldn't pay her while she was recovering (about 4 months) and unable to work. Her union claimed, incredulously, they could do nothing about it. She was a single parent, with a deadbeat ex-husband/father, in the days when (unionized) Safeway told her, as an applicant, "You're a single mother, who'll be at home taking care of your child when she's sick. We won't hire you."

    The Mayor of SF at the time, Joe Alioto, wearing one of his tailored, black Italian silk suits, visited my wife in the hospital, asking if there was anything he could do for her. She explained her financial situation and the positions taken by the city and her union.

    He said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of it." A week later, her pay was re-instated, after civic legislation, named after my wife, was introduced and immediately adopted by the Board of Supervisors, addressing her situation. She still has the certificate, signed by the President of the Board, Diane Feinstein. That's government in action.

    Postscript... after the above transpired, my wife refused to pay dues to the useless union in which she was required to maintain membership. She successfully withheld the nominal payment, even after being told it was mandatory. How? She threatened the president with picketing the union's office, her arm in a sling, daughter in tow, and her good arm carrying a sign:

        on the Job.
    Union Worthless.
    He acquiesced.

    Individual creativity, as well as the influence of politicians in expensive suits, should never be underestimated., where did I leave my torches and villagers?

    by FrankSpoke on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 07:57:52 AM PST

  •  Thank You - N/T (0+ / 0-)

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 12:48:44 PM PST

  •  Pretty cool diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, wu ming

    this is a side comment but I still think it's hilarious that the guy who wants people to put clothes on in the Castro has the surname "Weiner."

    But I am a juvenile 30-something, I am.

    pseudoscience can kill

    by terrypinder on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 12:57:12 PM PST

  •  Just spectacular... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY someone who has been following SF politics for several decades, I know how hard it is to write rationally and thoughtfully about our city's pushes and pulls. This author has done a simply masterful job of writing up a balanced and friendly cheat sheet that illustrates where things stand.

    I would bet that most veterans of city politics would take exception to some of the theses found herein. But I'm also confident that almost all would agree that the generosity and lack of mean-spiritedness in this essay make it a valuable addition to our civic discourse - small quibbles notwithstanding.

    Kurykh, I'd love to buy you lunch or cocktails. Happy to keep your identity secret if you like. I think you know how to find me.


    - Alex Clemens

  •  Thank you for this... (0+ / 0-)

    My girlfriend (now fiancé) and I moved from Santa Cruz to San Francisco during the summer of 2011. We're starting to feel a little more settled and at home here, but there's still a lot we have to learn about the city.

    We're still discovering new places and the best ways to GET between those places. The job hunt has been absolutely brutal (we moved here in part because she got a job offer, which didn't work out well but did indirectly lead to a position that she loves; I, however, have wound up at the mercy of two different abusive employers in succession, the second of which went bankrupt while still owing me two months' pay). Also, coming from a much smaller environment, we have a LOT to learn about the machinations of SF politics... about which we know very little.

    Your guide was very informative, and while we still have a lot to learn, it gave us a great framework upon which to build.


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