This weekend I got a copy of Street Fight. Although the title suggests it’s a Hong Kong action flick, in fact it is a great documentary about the 2002 Newark Mayor’s race. It has as much drama and tension as any Scorsese film, and it has more eye-opening and jaw-dropping moments than I can remember.
Why all the drama? In this case, the battle was between Councilman Cory Booker, a young African American attorney (and Stanford grad!) who was serving his first term on the Newark City Council, and incumbent Mayor Sharpe James, who’d been in office for decades.
Watching the film, and the amazing abuses of police power, democracy, and how easily an American city can toss the freedoms we take for granted into the dumpster, was really something to watch. In the face of such adversity, most people would give up, or lose it as the endless BS piled up against them, and who would blame them?
Instead, it was both the personal integrity Booker had, along with his strong sense of self and true belief in what he was doing, that kept him going through these really tough times. The film does an excellent job of showing behind the scenes moments in a campaign few people get to see, and by the end you’re really rooting for the guy.
More to the point, spinning, politicking and talking points were not the way to win this race – it was standing up for something, saying what you meant, and doing something tangible as a result. I seriously doubt the James or Booker campaigns spent endless hours whining about Newarkist.com – they were too busy having a street fight.
Although he lost to James by a few points in 2002, he came back to win in 2006 (scaring James out of the race). He would never have won in 2006 had he not run so closely in 2002, and pretty much started up another campaign about a year or so after he lost.
After watching this film, I started thinking about our own local political scene, and contrasted it with the Booker/James race. Frankly, the only term I could come up with was “Dork Fight.” And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Seriously. We’re supposedly this educated, cosmopolitan, smart city, and the best election we can come up with as we face Big Issues that will shape San Francisco for decades to come is, well, a bunch of dorks running around town acting silly.
Our idea of “mean” campaign behavior is a bunch of dorks in chicken suits critiquing the dorky mayor because he doesn’t like conversing with people sans script – instead we have these city-sponsored forums (aka bore-rums). Crime, MUNI meltdown 2007, housing? What are those?
Make even a mild comment that the Mayor isn’t perfect, you get ripped a new one for being “mean.” Oh, the irony. Then there was that other fumble that kept the blogs fueled for a while. Compared to Newark, this is really, well, dorky.
There’s plenty of dorkiness to go around. The so-called “progressives” have spent years passing countless new rules to supposedly help Their Guys – gimmicks like IRV/RCV, and more recently, public funding of mayoral elections. And yet, now with the a serious crime problem, and new MUNI-screwed commutes, not one progressive has stood up and been willing to put their name on the ballot and challenge the Mayor. Why?
Progressives need to put up or shut up. If after all of this the only thing they can do is run around in circles, ponder endlessly What Will Matt Do (note: he’s not running and never planned to), and spend endless hours on blogs and chatrooms, instead of putting up a credible candidate, well it’s time to take down the circus tent, shut down the progressive calliope, and get out of the way of the Mayor. He may not be perfect, but you can’t spend 6 months talking smack and have no one as an alternative.
In the end, it’s not the Mayor who’s a loser, or the progressive politicians and politickers. They get to keep their paychecks and their jobs, and laugh at us while we’re stuck waiting for MUNI to show up, etc.
We’re the losers, becuase we have to see our great City of the 21st Century become the New York of the 1970s, all because neither side is willing to engage in a true “street fight” like they do in Newark, which a this point, we’d all benefit from. At least we’d get a chance to ask some questions, right?