This week, I’m giving a guest spot to reporter and Boalt Hall law student Savannah Blackwell, formerly of the Bay Guardian, who has written an excellent piece that analyzes both the prospects of a Chris Daly for Mayor Campaign, and how we got here in the first place. It’s an excellent read, with news and views you won’t find elsewhere. I’ve added links when necessary. Enjoy!-GSD
By Savannah Blackwell
Twenty minutes into “Big Love” on the last Monday in July, the call came in.
Normally, nothing can tear me away from HBO’s polygamist drama, but having heard late that afternoon from a well-placed source that word was former supervisor Matt Gonzalez would not make a second run against Mayor Gavin Newsom, I was on red alert. I had prepared a story looking toward a Gonzalez v. Newsom race, and I was waiting only for an update from the Green Party activist.
But as the city’s progressives and so many other voters hoping to see Newsom face a serious challenge now all know, Gonzalez, the source told me, decided not to go for it — after more than seven months of flirting with the idea. And I, like many, was deeply disappointed.
Fast forward to Monday, August 6 when Supervisor Chris Daly told the Fog City Journal that he was considering seriously taking on the task, and my outlook changed considerably.
Sure, the frequently embattled Daly has the slimmest chance of the city’s top progressive leaders to actually beat Newsom – or even come very close. But seven years after a slate of neighborhood activists and hard-core progressives swept the city’s freshly implemented district elections, and at a time when the murder rate is soaring, MUNI is a mess, the homeless problem clearly is not solved and Newsom’s personal problems nearly have cost him the support of some very key and high-ranked leaders in the Democratic Party as well as leaving many in his own administration wondering if he really can handle the job, it just seemed unbelievable – ridiculous even, that there would be no serious challenge from the left.
That’s not good for “the movement,” and it’s not good for the city. As SF Bay Guardian Editor Tim Redmond pointed out back in February, “for a long list of reasons, there has to be a real mayor’s race this fall..We need to keep Newsom on the defensive, to hold him accountable not just to his donors but to the rest of the city.”
Given that recollection of nearly losing to Gonzalez in 2003 likely influenced Newsom’s decision to make important progressive moves such as implementing gay marriage and supporting Hotel workers as well as Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s health care package, a lack of a serious progressive challenge might make Newsom listen only to the Don Fishers of the city. And that would be disastrous.
Although longtime Daly confidante and supporter Richard Marquez cautioned his friend against a run –“because the opposition and the press likely will threateningly depict Chris to voters as Charles Manson out on bail if he enters the race,” Marquez also feels strongly that “Daly’s entrance, however, would speak to the realities of what the other San Francisco – and especially the powerless, the vulnerable, the scorned and despised — struggles with every day.”
For his part and with less than 48 hours remaining before the deadline to file, Daly says he will sign on only if he feels that doing so will unify the city’s fractious progressive community. He hopes to make the decision by tonight – after meeting with key organizers.
“That’s really what it comes down to,” he said.
Let us pause and reflect on how we got to this point.
(Click below to read the rest of the story)
On February 1, when news broke that Newsom had some sort of affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, the troubled wife of Newsom’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Tourk and Newsom’s secretary, some of Newsom’s well-healed supporters, many in his administration and others at City Hall were well aware that the mayor had been more or less AWOL from the job for quite some time – drinking too heavily and drowning in depression — likely resulting from his failing marriage and dislike for some of the more politically tricky and psychologically challenging nuts and bolts aspects of the job.
Embattled department heads could not get their calls returned. Neither, apparently, could key local players such as higher-ups in the San Francisco 49ers, who have been threatening to take the team away from the city, and even key national players, such as Howard Dean, the chairman of the national Democratic Party.
According to sources close to Dianne Feinstein, the U.S. Senator was dismayed at the revelations, and was already concerned that perhaps Newsom could not handle the difficult challenges of the role.
Willie Brown, who appointed Newsom to the Board of Supervisors in 1997, had lost respect for the guy and was also feeling shut out of Room 200, according to sources close to the former mayor. “He told me a few times he was disappointed with him and that I had better access, which is really saying something,” said one source who remains a close ally of Brown but is no friend of the current mayor. “I picked up in conservation that Willie has a real dislike of him.”
One day before Rubygate hit the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Leah Garchik quoted Brown telling those gathered at a swanky Nob Hill luncheon, “Newsom needs to cut down on the social stuff and focus on city issues.”
“It is damaging politically, said Brown…that the mayor’s been seen with so many women and that people are talking about his drinking too much,” Garchik wrote.
Add to the mix the machinations of powerhouse consultant Jack Davis, who took Brown to victory in 1995, and Newsom was skating on some very thin ice. He may have sounded ok when he spoke to supporters at a low-key campaign kick-off later that month (which occurred after former state Sen. John Burton came to his rescue to help the young mayor overcome his ahem, alcohol problem), but when one department head later asked him in private how things really were going, he shook his head and said, “ I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Not long before Feb. 1, Davis had let it be known that he likely had lined up a formidable challenger, an outsider to City Hall — former 49ers President and CEO Carmen Policy.
Policy’s wife, however, soon made it clear she was far from thrilled with the idea, and so it was scuttled. Even so, Davis was still talking about squeezing Newsom from the left and from the right-center. He courted Gonzalez, even showing him a mock-up campaign mailer focusing on four major problems facing the city. The idea, which jibed with what even Newsom’s pollsters knew was possible, was to run a campaign based on the issues – and convince voters that regardless of whether they cared about the mayor’s sex life – the upshot was that he was not doing the job.
“Gavin is so f—ed up in his own head that he will self-destruct,” Davis told me in late February.
While Gonzalez mulled, other progressive politicians could not be convinced (or were reluctant given the possibility of a Gonzalez run) to jump in.
Jeff Adachi, who is widely liked and respected, could not be torn away from the job he truly loves – running the city’s public defender office.
Aaron Peskin, the highly competent president of the Board of Supervisors (who probably does more to run the city than Newsom), was never a contender. Peskin’s better half, planning activist Nancy Shanahan, has long disliked the inevitable nastiness of the San Francisco campaign trail.
Consultant Jim Stearns, who took District Attorney Kamala Harris to victory in 2003, have said that in some ways, the progressive for whom it would be easiest to craft a narrative with which to court voters, would be District Five Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.
Mirkarimi, as Stearns and other consultants have noted, clearly is out front on the city’s homicide crisis — having pushed legislation requiring more cops to patrol their beats on foot — to the board’s override of Newsom’s veto. This is a guy who goes to the scene of every shooting in his district and once even chased down a purse-snatcher. But if Mirkarimi were to run, he faced some serious problems – including having enraged leaders in the medical marijuana community who played a significant financial role in his 2004 supervisorial bid. He did so, they said, not so much by tackling the issue of the proliferation of pot clubs, but by rebuffing attempts to stop him from enacting regulations that would undermine the longstanding clubs’ financial viability.
“The reasons why Ross has lost our support is that he took a very defensive attitude,” pot community leader Wayne Justmann said in June. “It was defensiveness, and then coldness – and then shutting us out when we needed to talk to him about the problems we’re having actually complying with the legislation…Our pleas fall on deaf ears.” Justmann did note that Mirkarimi had recently offered an apology – which Justmann said he appreciated.
Supervisor Chris Daly, meanwhile, was hard at work trying to convince Gonzalez to enter the race.
Having told the San Francisco Chronicle that Newsom would face a serious progressive challenge by June, in hindsight it is clear that he was overly optimistic about his ability to get Gonzalez to commit. Less than a week before the “Progressive Convention” on June 2, he had given up on Gonzalez and turned up the heat on former Mayor Art Agnos.
Thursday evening before the convention (and having concluded during the interim that Agnos would not jump in anytime soon), he was due to meet with Agnos and Mirkarimi with the hope of convincing Mirkarimi to announce at the convention that weekend. But that evening, Daly got a call from Mirkarimi aide Boris Delepine telling him that Mirkarimi said, “there was no need to meet.” Unclear as to what that meant, Daly tracked Mirkarimi down the next day and walked away thinking he had convinced his fellow supervisor (with whom he had traded more than a few barbs) that he should go for it. But the next morning as Daly headed into the convention, Mirkarimi made it clear it was a no-go, and the D5 supe gave a speech saying “somebody – whomever it may be….somebody should begin to speak in terms that that will lead to solving the city’s problems…The people cannot wait another four years.”
Daly departed the convention leaving the press with the notion that he himself might run. But on Monday, he announced that he would not – out of consideration for his young son, Jack, and his pregnant wife, Sarah. He was clearly still hoping that Gonzalez would enter the race.
During the roughly two months that followed, Gonzalez gave the idea serious thought, while hoping that Agnos would step to the plate.
Gonzalez met with key supporters and attended more than a handful of house party/fundraisers organized by the Residential Builders Association that gave him the opportunity to meet with more conservative-minded voters who have been unimpressed with Newsom’s performance. The RBA’s former head honcho, Joe O’Donoghue, had been urging Gonzalez to mount a second challenge to Newsom – really since Gonzalez’ near-win in 2003 — and was ready to dedicate their considerable resources of the RBA to a re-match. The organization ponied up $180,000 to help the Gonzalez effort four years ago, according to O’Donoghue.
But Gonzalez’ obvious ambivalence, while understandable – given that a mayoral campaign would take him away from the work he loves at his law office and face a strong chance of ultimate defeat — was confusing and even dismaying to some loyal supporters as well as those who were inclined to come to his aid.
Less than one week before Gonzalez announced his final decision, O’Donoghue had phoned the attorney and told him, as the Irishman — never one to mince words — put it to me, “to shit or get off the pot.”
Gonzalez climbed off “the pot” while revealing that a poll conducted on his behalf showed that voters are concerned about the city’s serious problems but are not inclined to blame Newsom.
According to sources who funded the Gonzalez poll, Gonzalez’ favorability rating came out at 66 percent. The same sources said that a poll conducted by supporters of Agnos showed Newsom with a favorability rating of 67 percent. Neither number reflects likely election results for either candidate. (You can’t take the 66 percent or 67 percent, subtract from 100, and say that’s the percentage the opponent would garner.)
What those numbers mean, is that after educating voters more on Newsom’s failures and telling them positive things about Gonzalez and Agnos, in the Agnos poll 67 percent said that overall, they still had a favorable perception of Newsom, and 66 percent in the Gonzalez poll said they had a favorable opinion of the former supervisor.
What both polls do not measure is how a challenger ultimately would fare if — with a well-run and well-financed campaign — they were able to make voters see that Newsom should be held accountable.
Even in Newsom’s own polls, that often-quoted 70 percent approval rating is a soft number. Only about half of that is solid. The rest is ripe for picking.
Moreover, the decision made shortly after the Jan 2004 inauguration to make the Newsom mayoralty about Newsom the person rather than about the long list of issues that his campaign focused on, may turn out to be a gift for a challenger.
“We never made the campaign about Gavin Newsom,” said Jim Ross, who played a key role in Newsom’s 2003 race. “It was all about ‘Great Cities. Great Ideas….That was because we wanted to create a policy basis for this guy after election. But then it became about his personality.
“While it’s true he has a formidable public persona – He’s articulate. He’s charismatic — that’s a very dangerous strategy,” Ross said. “It hasn’t been about a team approach. Instead they’ve been promoting this, ‘Gavin Gives’ message, but that has the potential to be a real problem. You don’t beat him by attacking him. You beat him by coming up with an issue-focused agenda. That’s really what people want: a vision, a plan, a program.”
So what would it take to get a Daly bid up and running – virtually overnight – and mount a serious challenge?
Daly said he feels confident he can raise enough dough to get $850,000 in matching funds from the city – the top amount available. That would give him nearly $1.4 million to run the campaign – one that hopefully would include television cable and radio ads where Daly, with the backing of Sarah and young Jack, could go far in shaking off the press’s demonic image of him.
Daly would need to make amends with some colleagues who clearly have grown weary of his bare-knuckles approach to politics. He would need to work hard to win over the ethnic media. He would need to aggressively court absentee voters, register new ones, and focus on the districts where support for him is solid – or pretty much so – while not completely ignoring the opportunity to woo those voters in more moderate districts who know they should hold Newsom responsible or could be convinced to do so.
And even if he only captured barely 40 percent of the vote (or less), it’s difficult to see how that would be more damaging to efforts to push a progressive agenda and stave off potential losses on the Board of Supervisors in 2008 than not putting up a fight at all. That just feeds into the cynical line of Newsom spinmeister Eric Jaye — that the city’s progressives are “in total collapse.”
Let us show Jaye that he is wrong, and while we may not have a candidate with a real shot at winning, we know that it’s more important to lose and still “get our message out” (as activist Julian Davis put it recently) than to forfeit altogether.