Muni Rider Voter Guide Update: Helping Discern Candidate Fact and Fiction

Once a week I plan on doing a short update about the Muni Rider Voter Guide to keep it in the public eye in this last month before the election. As we enter junk mail and advertising season, a lot of people will have a lot to say about Fix Muni Now (Prop. G) and many candidates will start saying all sorts of things about What They’d Do If Elected to Make Muni Better.
One thing to remember is that the Muni Rider Voter Guide was never in the business of issuing endorsements, so trying to tell people what was perceived they wanted to hear wouldn’t work. Candidates were free to answer as openly as they chose on a few questions that try to find out what (if anything) they know about Muni, and how they make tough decisions.
SFist reported a dust-up between two candidates in District 8 about their positions on Proposition G, the Fix Muni Now measure. Let’s look at what the hullabaloo is all about, and what we have on the record at the Muni Rider Voter Guide.
Rafael Mandelman, a candidate in District 8, was apparently upset that a mail piece contrasted his views on Prop. G with that of one of his opponents, Scott Weiner. Weiner claimed Mandelman was against the measure, Mandelman claimed he was “sort of” for it, but with reservations, etc etc.
Let’s look at his answer in the Muni Rider Voter Guide for some clarity, shall we? (Remember, there’s no advantage to placating the audience here):

5. What is the Fix Muni Now charter amendment? Do you support it? (Y/N) Why or why not?
Currently the City Charter provides that driver salaries shall be no less than the average for the two highest paying transit systems nationwide.  Proposition G would remove that provision, I support that change, and it will surely pass. I do have some concerns about the measure. First, proponents argue that by making salaries subject to collective bargaining, we will enable the MTA to secure work rule concessions from the TWU that could save as much as $30 million. Maybe, but that was the rationale for the charter changes in Proposition A three years ago, and at least in that respect, Proposition A was a failure.  Second, I would have preferred to see a broader package of reform on the ballot.  Finally, I am concerned that Proposition G creates an unfair burden for drivers, spelling out burdens of proof for arbitration proceedings that are more burdensome than for other city workers.

This answer, while not saying an explicit “yes” on G, sure sounds supportive. But by not mentioning the voted “No” on G when the SF Democratic Party was doling out endorsements, and was against it when asking for the SF Labor Council’s support, it creates the perception of trying to have it both ways – hence the attack. Mr. Mandelman has said he has had an “evolving” point of view.
I can appreciate that – before researching labor and management troubles for the Muni Death Spiral article I co-authored this year, I was 100% against this measure. Only after I did my own research, did I make the difficult, but necessary conclusion that running things “as-is” was not the best way to run a railroad, and support it. (Read my reasons by following the link, where I debunk many myths about the measure.)
That said, other progressive candidates have given thoughtful and direct answers as to why they are against Prop. G. While I respectfully disagree with their analyses as to why they are against it, I also appreciate the fact that they’re being as clear as possible.
We can agree to disagree and instead find other ways we can agree to fix Muni in the future. Plus, progressives have a tough time on this measure – while popular with the public, organized labor (on whom they rely for financial and organizational support) is dead set against it. Hey, I get it, and that’s fine. It’s no different than candidates being for or against a measure because their allies elsewhere are for or against something too.
So what have we learned today? In a close campaign, the hit pieces go a flying’ and the debates get heated on hot button issues like Muni. Sometimes candidates say all sorts of things in the heat of battle. However, at least on some Muni issues, the Muni Rider Voter Guide helps you, the voter, try and discern what they’re really saying, and compare the campaign rhetoric of today with was said in the past.
For candidates, the best bet is to simply be clear where they stand and not try and make everyone happy – that’s impossible in San Francisco. I would also caution those that are trying to use the “Muni issue” to make their campaigns look good – those of us who care about these issues (i.e. almost everyone in SF) will be looking very closely at what happens after the election too, and those that choose rhetoric over results will have a lot of explaining to do in 2014.

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