Tuesday, January 18, 2022

February local San Francisco election

The ballots have arrived in the mail; the drop box is in place. Why don't I feel excited about the February 15 election? 

I've described my all-round disgust with the portion of ballot which is the school board recall. These are lines A, B, and C. We are also electing a City Assessor -- but there is only one candidate.

Most San Franciscans are also electing a State Assembly Member for District 17. The contenders are David Campos and Matt Haney plus a couple of also-rans building name recognition, Bilal Mahmood and Thea Selby. Maybe some other time for those two ...

It's worth being aware why we are having this improbably timed contest. You see, the incumbent Assembly-17 legislator, David Chiu, quit in November to be named City Attorney by Mayor London Breed. That job is the elected city government's lawyer; Chiu will not face to voters until 2023. The previous City Attorney moved over to be the unelected head of the Public Utilities Commission to make space for Chiu. 

This cute maneuver follows a pattern introduced by wily former mayor Willie Brown two decades ago and much loved by San Francisco civic leaders: entice an incumbent to move along out of the election cycle, when legally able appoint a desired candidate as an interim, then let the interim office holder run as the incumbent. 

(Breed tried this in the 2019 District Attorney race, appointing her preferred candidate in October before the November election. Voters recoiled from this transparent ploy, electing Chesa Boudin -- so the same constellation of conservative city leaders are trying to boot Boudin in a recall -- but that's not until June 7.)

For the Assembly seat opened by Chiu's move, the mayor couldn't replace the office holder, so we're voting now on a replacement. 

This is San Francisco so both candidates say the right thing about standard progressive issues like the minimum wage, access to health care, and public safety. The contest comes down to what sort of person do you want in office and who do you trust, at least some of the time.

Haney is a highly ambitious San Francisco Supervisor, a good neighborhood politician for densely urban District 6, who wants a bigger job. The building trades unions and development interests have thrown down for him. In an election where few are paying attention, that may be enough.

Campos is a former Supervisor for the Mission District-centered District 9. He lost the Assembly-17 election to Chiu in 2014. Since then, he's worked as Deputy County Executive in Santa Clara County and in the San Francisco District Attorney's office. He is currently the Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party. He bills himself as a "civil rights attorney." His background is not that of your standard politician (yet?). He arrived in this country as an undocumented child immigrant from Guatemala, graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School; he's a brainy achiever. 

I'm a Campos voter. But as in the case of our current recalls, I also an unhappy voter who doesn't like seeing the City powers-that-be gaming the system. 

Our local politics are intense, people-powered, and cut-throat. That engaged contentious local democracy is often cited as the reason this city produces an outsized fraction of national leaders. People who come out of here have to learn a thing or two.

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