San Francisco’s New Political Line-Up: What to Expect in 2013

by Randy Shaw, 2012-11-19

With Norman Yee’s victory in the D7 Supervisor’s race, the new Board line-up for 2013 is in place. Many believe that “progressives” have lost their longtime Board majority with London Breed’s replacement of Christina Olague in D5. But the frequently used “progressive” vs. “moderate” labels have become far more ambiguous in San Francisco. Such contentious issues as 8 Washington and the Mid-Market tax exemption passed 8-3, and the only major 6-5 vote in the past two years was on Parkmerced--- and progressives lost. A new Board President will add to the city's more unified political terrain, with an outsider candidate the potential winner. Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee, whose pledge of political cooperation with the Board has paid great dividends, will continue to be described as a “moderate” while primarily pursuing progressive policies.

With Norman Yee replacing Sean Elsbernd and London Breed voting instead of Christina Olague (and Ross Mirkarimi before her), the so-called Board’s moderate “takeover” is actually closer to a wash. After all, the Bay Guardian felt Olague was insufficiently progressive to merit any of its top three D5 endorsements, while Yee is certainly more progressive than his predecessor.

“Moderate” v “Progressive”

The terms moderate and progressive have lost so much meaning in San Francisco that the chief remaining distinction emerges around tenant protection issues. Yet for two decades nearly all the major gains tenants have won on rent control and eviction protections have come at the ballot, not from purportedly "progressive" Board majorities.

Development issues are also often described as part of the moderate/progressive divide, though there is dispute whether opposing all market rate projects is "progressive." The biggest development issue before the Board in 2013 involves CPMC's Cathedral Hill project, which will move forward early in the year if at all.

We will not see any so-called moderate/progressive split on this development, and I will predict right now that if Sutter Health proceeds, it will not be decided by a 6-5 vote. Contrary to what has been reported elsewhere, the project's delay has been all about Sutter considering a smaller hospital due to a changed health care environment; the city has had nothing to do with this delay.

The Warriors arena could well get a unanimous vote, now that UNITE HERE Local 2 is on board and Mayor Lee got an historic local hire agreement.

It used to be that a big Board political divide involved taxes and revenue. But after Mayor Lee---with help from Supervisor John Avalos--- got labor and business to support a business tax reform measure that raises $28 million annually in new money (Prop E), that division may have less tangible impact on Board actions.

Clearly, there are issues involving private interests in which a set of supervisors are more likely to be supportive. But Mayor Lee has shown time and time again that he does not want to govern through 6-5 votes, and the Board’s new composition will not change this in 2013.

The Mayor and the Board

Mayor Lee enters 2013 with a strong relationship with the Board. He is personally closer to Norman Yee than he was to Sean Elsbernd, though Elsbernd backed the mayor on key issues. Lee backed Olague over Breed but his relationship with his appointee was strained. Breed has no reason to avoid building a good relationship with the mayor and that should happen soon after she takes office.

I have no inside information about whether the Mayor will pick Carmen Chu as Assessor to replace Phil Ting, but as I have previously written, Chu is the obvious choice. This means the Mayor has a chance to appoint a replacement in D4, and you can be sure that this time he will pick someone with whom he personally has a track record.

Unlike prior mayors, who nearly all had at least one supervisor with whom they had public conflicts, Mayor Lee has respectable relations with the entire Board. And the 2013 Board has nobody like former Supervisors Peskin and Daly who spent their days securing votes from their colleagues; in fact, the mayor has better relations with Board members than any one of them has with a majority of their colleagues.

The Board Presidency

It looks like a 3-way race between incumbent President Chiu, Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. And if none can get a majority, Malia Cohen could be the consensus choice.

Let’s assume Avalos, Campos, Yee and Mar go with Kim. This leaves her one vote short. Assume Wiener has Farrell and Chu (this assumes she does not leave Board until after vote so Lee’s appointee can serve ten years rather than six). Wiener then needs Cohen, Breed and Chiu to win the Board presidency.

Chiu’s bid for a third term as Board President would violate past tradition and it’s hard to see how he gets to six votes. Chiu is Kim’s most likely sixth vote, and this likely would have occurred had Kim’s vote to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi not complicated matters. Many believe Chiu is planning an Assembly run against David Campos, and his ability to use Campos’s reinstatement vote against him might be weakened if he is the deciding vote for Kim as Board President.

If Chiu does not go with Kim and Wiener cannot secure six votes, Malia Cohen may be the next Board President. She would be the first second African-American Board President (Doris Ward was the first) and the first from D10.

Because the Board President makes three appointees to the Planning Commission and two to the Board of Appeals (as well as other appointments), the decision matters far beyond deciding supervisor committee assignments. Kim would made the most pro-tenant appointments as Board president, with Cohen likely to favor those connected to D10 and/or business and development interests and Wiener making more realtor friendly appointees.

Mayor Lee had a remarkably active first year in 2012, putting multiple, far-ranging initiatives on the
November ballot. Expect his next wave of major ballot measures to wait for 2014, while he focuses in 2013 on getting CPMC's new hospital and the Warriors arena moving forward, and increasing the efficiency of city departments.

The Mayor's top priority for 2013 will remain the same as it has been since he became interim mayor: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. And all Supervisor's likely share this focus.