By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
Welcome (back) to the Machine: In 1987, as Congresswoman Sala Burton was dying of cancer -- she was literally on her deathbed -- she called then-Democratic Party fund-raiser Nancy Pelosi to her bedside. There, she anointed Pelosi as the favored successor to her congressional seat. Sala herself had inherited the seat from her husband, Phil Burton, who had defined S.F. politics for the two preceding decades until his death in 1982.
Dramatic, sure. But not unusual. Such is the way of political machines. The mantle is passed privately, and only later are voters called in to validate. In Pelosi's case, she had to win the election in 1987. Unchallenged by any credible candidate, she has won all four elections since.
This coming Tuesday, San Franciscans will be asked to rubber-stamp more machine anointments. A complex arrangement was concocted last year when party leaders, Willie Brown and Pelosi included, decided who would run for every available state and national seat in S.F., thus preserving the machine into the next century. Here's the machine-preservation plan:
Nancy Pelosi runs for a fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 8th District, which takes all of the city except the Sunset, West of Twin Peaks, and Lake Merced neighborhoods; those areas are covered by San Mateo-based 12th District Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos.
Carole Migden -- the former supervisor, local party chair, and fund-raiser who won election in March to fill out Willie Brown's Assembly term -- runs for a full four-year term this time around. Her 13th Assembly District covers the eastern slice of the city from the Presidio in the northwest around the horn clockwise through downtown, Chinatown, the Haight, and the Mission, ending up in Bayview-Hunters Point to the south.
John Burton, Phil's brother and a former congressman, is forced from his Assembly seat by term limits. So he takes over -- uh, runs for -- the 3rd District state Senate seat vacated by Sen. Milton Marks; that covers the same area as the 13th Assembly District.
Kevin Shelley knows term limits will soon come into play at the Board of Supervisors, where he currently serves as board president. So, the former Phil Burton aide and son of former S.F. Mayor Jack Shelley runs for Burton's vacated 12th District Assembly seat, which covers the west side of the city, running from the Richmond District in the north down through the Sunset and West of Twin Peaks to the Excelsior, Ocean View, Merced, and Ingleside neighborhoods in the south.
Remember: None of these candidates face any real opposition. Barring an act of God, the four candidates (and Lantos) will win their elections.
Count on Pelosi to continue shipping in cargo holds full of AIDS, transportation, and housing money to the city through her powerful Appropriations Committee station as she tries to fend off Republican deregulation schemes, budget-slashing initiatives, and social engineering of the anti-gay, anti-abortion-rights variety. (If the Democrats retake the House, Pelosi will become a chair of a powerful budget subcommittee.) Burton, Shelley, and Migden will perform similar duties in Sacramento, where Republicans will no doubt continue their assault on S.F. tax revenues and push a socially conservative, lock-'em-up agenda.
Viable reasons to vote against the Democratic posse are plentiful: an innate objection and/or distrust of machinated power; a belief in term limits; Republican party membership.
However (and please don't use this as an excuse not to vote), the sad truth is that your choices here will matter only symbolically. Every one of these folks is headed for waffle-stomping victory.
The Board of Supervisors
A distinctive choice will be rendered on Nov. 5 when voters choose from among 28 candidates for six seats on the S.F. Board of Supervisors. If polls are on the mark, the presidency will go to one of the two incumbents seeking re-election.
Sue Bierman presents a tried-but-tired veteran of the hallowed days of grass-roots battles to curb the influence of big money on city politics and land use. Barbara Kaufman arrived on the political scene four years ago as the peppy guardian of real estate and downtown business interests. The winner gains authority to form legislative committees and name her chairmen -- real clout for an adroit pol.
A one-time Republican turned Democrat, Kaufman has built an extensive legislative record since 1992 -- and not just on the expected fiscal management front. She gained respect across the city's political spectrum by showing the intellect and grit to craft and deliver a top-to-bottom reform of the city charter. It shifted swaths of government into the mayor's control and increased board authority on budget matters, which eliminated officials' old excuse that the charter tied their hands. Her fund-raising ties to downtown interests continue to plague her among some activists.
Bierman, celebrated as a civic treasure by her backers, has unmatched local political experience. Appointed to the Planning Commission in 1976 by former Mayor George Moscone, she anchored the slow-growth, neighborhood-preservationist perspective until she was removed in 1992 by then Mayor Frank Jordan. As a prospective board president, however, her energy and mental acuity are questionable -- particularly on a legislative body sorely in need of establishing a measure of political credibility independent of Mayor Willie Brown.
Affecting that outcome, however, might require a sophisticated vote. The charter awards the presidency to the top vote-getter among all the candidates. Hence, voters seeking to elevate either Bierman or Kaufman may want to leave one or the other off their card, even if they support both.
Handicapping the race, political consultant Robert Barnes, former president of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club, says Democratic Party voter turnout could be key in a race too close to call. "If liberal Democrats feel President Clinton is in trouble and get out to vote," says Barnes, "it will help Sue." A heavy female vote, however, might boost Kaufman; she has distinguished herself of late by pushing S.F. judges to be more exacting in punishing perpetrators and protecting victims in domestic violence cases.
With Bierman and Kaufman shoo-ins, the race for the last four seats on the 11-member board is competitive. A trio of challengers -- prostitutes-rights activist Margo St. James, former S.F. School Board President Leland Yee, and Police Commissioner Jose Medina -- are giving two mayoral appointees to the board, Leslie Katz and Michael Yaki, a serious run. One of these five will be the odd man or woman out.
St. James, alone, stands out. Unlike Katz and Yaki, who literally owe their seats to Brown, and Medina and Yee, who worked to elect the mayor, St. James personifies Do-It-Yourself style. If nothing else, she'd be expected to keep her own counsel on the board.
Brown-appointed incumbents Katz and Yaki are striving to move out from the mayor's shadow. Former Community College Board member Katz has undertaken a nuts-and-bolts project to coordinate Public Works, electrical, cable television, Water Department, and Municipal Railway maintenance schedules to eliminate waste and minimize street noise and traffic disruptions. Yaki, Rep. Nancy Pelosi's former district manager, has laid claim to youth-related issues.
Interestingly, Yee is talking child-related issues, too. It's a natural for Yee, a child psychologist, and serves to crystallize his competition with Yaki, who is the other major Asian-American candidate. Meanwhile, Medina is a longtime S.F. civil rights and Latino community activist. A union representative by day, Medina can speak with authority on the stump about social-justice issues.
Moderate Donna Casey, a former library commissioner, and progressive Victor Marquez, a civil rights lawyer, join Carolene Marks, wife of retiring state Sen. Milton Marks, in a second tier of dark-horse prospects. With Marks trying to parlay voter familiarity with her name into a serious campaign, Marquez and Casey look to be setting themselves up for future runs. But remember, in a six-seat race among 28 contenders, anything can happen.
Municipal Court Judge, Office No. 1
The runoff election for Municipal Court judge boils down to a simple matter of qualifications, in the eyes of the San Francisco Bar Association: Kay Tsenin is qualified; Matthew Rothschild is not.
Politically, this is a choice between two apparently similar candidates -- both are Democrat, liberal, and gay. But the surface is where the similarities end. Tsenin's experience is mostly legal, Rothschild's is primarily political.
Tsenin, 49, has extensive legal credentials and courtroom experience. A neighborhood lawyer in S.F. for 22 years, Tsenin has also served as a Municipal Court judge pro tem for 10 years. She has been endorsed by Roberta Achtenberg and the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Club, among others. Her resume shows a roster of volunteer work as well, from serving as counsel to California NOW (the National Organization for Women) and as director of the AIDS Emergency Fund to founding the Marin Abused Women's Services.
By contrast, the politically well-wired Rothschild's legal experience is much more amorphous. The 37-year-old deputy city attorney -- and former chair of the city's Democratic Central Committee -- lists 10 years of civil litigation on his resume. But he has never conducted a jury trial. (Rothschild counters by listing other San Francisco judges who also were not trial lawyers.) Among his other qualifications, he lists "attorney for fair housing" at HUD -- though he admits he held the job for only one month. His endorsements include Mayor Willie Brown and the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club, where he was president in 1993 and 1994.
The winner of this race will succeed Judge Lillian Sing, who left the Muni bench for a Superior Court judgeship earlier this year. Sing's successor will rule on civil matters with $25,000 or less at stake, including evictions and all parking and traffic violations. Municipal Court judges also preside over preliminary hearings for cases ranging from fraud to murder. If plans to consolidate the Municipal and Superior courts ever go through, this Municipal Court seat would be even more important. Under a merged judicial system, Muni Court judges could preside over Superior Court cases, and would rule on larger civil and criminal cases ranging from probate and family law to the death penalty.
The Board of Education
Few issues evoke as much passion as those involving children. In the case of public schools, large sums of money and sizable numbers of jobs help raise the stakes. With 64,000 pupils, a budget of $530 million, and a payroll of 4,138, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has all the ingredients for political controversy. And the seven-member Board of Education controls all three elements.
The SFUSD faces some daunting challenges. More than half of its students live in what the federal government officially considers poverty. About 73 percent come to school speaking a first language (collectively, a multitude of languages) other than English. Too many students lack simple literacy skills. Meanwhile, California is below the national average -- 39th in the nation -- in funding its public schools. Across the board, student test scores in the SFUSD have increased during the past four years. However, some minority groups, specifically African-American and Latino children, are lagging behind their peers by as much as a third.
All that said, this election is dominated by a single issue. The SFUSD's politics split like a fault line between United Educators of San Francisco (the teachers' union) and Superintendent Waldemar Rojas. Shortly after Rojas arrived in 1992, the SFUSD began reconstituting low-performing schools -- a process that involves essentially removing the entire staff from the principal on down and starting over. Staffers lose their positions at the school but remain employed in the district, thanks to their existing union contracts. Backed by a federal desegregation order, Rojas believes it a long-overdue jump-start. Teachers, meanwhile, see it as heavy-handed punishment with unproven results.
Thus far, however, the union has been unsuccessful in persuading the court to let it become a player in the desegregation case that sanctioned reconstitution. Nor have the teachers been able to gain an anti-reconstitution majority on the board. Consequently, the power rests with school board members. And because four of the seven board seats are up for grabs, it could very well be a winner-take-all contest between the union and Rojas.
The two incumbents are at least making a show of supporting the teachers' union, as are four challengers. Meanwhile, the pro-reconstitution (or at least not-anti-reconstitution, which is enough to label one in a category here) faction has three contenders.
Board President Steve Phillips has supported reconstitution in the past, but campaigned for re-election vowing to require a thorough analysis before supporting it again, which earned him the blessing of the teachers' union, which supported him in the 1992 election.
Not surprisingly, United Educators also is firmly backing incumbent Jill Wynns, a longtime board member and teacher supporter. Wynns has consistently opposed Rojas' reconstitution plans.
As for the challengers, the union has thrown its weight behind City College faculty members Juanita Owens and Eddie Chin, along with Jason Wong, a criminal investigator, and Mauricio Vela, administrator of a San Francisco youth center. And, of course, all six of the union-approved candidates also carry endorsements by Democratic heavy hitters such as Mayor Willie Brown or Assemblyman John Burton. That's the way it works.
On the other side of the fence, former Pacific Business Review Publisher Adam Sparks is running with the endorsement of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, former Mayor Frank Jordan, and Sen. Quentin Kopp. He's running a back-to-basics campaign and has blasted the teachers' union for protectionism and court-mandated desegregation via busing.
Mary Hernandez also carries the Kopp seal of approval, along with an endorsement from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Hernandez, a lawyer, didn't pass the union's litmus test on reconstitution, but leans closer to the middle than Sparks.
Also on the ballot is Tom Yuen, whom the union has virtually ignored. Yuen is a San Francisco policeman remembered for absconding with issues of the Bay Times in 1992 under orders from former Police Chief Dick Hongisto. The paper contained an article critical of the chief and cover art depicting him apparently masturbating with a police baton. Yuen's explanation: "I was just following orders."
The Community College Board
Seven people guide San Francisco's piece of the largest education system in the world, the California Community College System. The San Francisco Community College District Board of Trustees oversees a $120 million system, which handles 77,000 students at classes around the city.
Eight candidates, including three incumbents, are vying for the four seats up for grabs. The incumbents carry most of the major endorsements. As races go, the Community College Board doesn't command a lot of attention, which adds to endorsers' clout.
For the most part, the Community College District operates without much controversy. Even the hiring of a new chancellor went by without uproar. One of the district's most problematic issues is the non-credit classes that fall under its jurisdiction. Many used to be administered under the category of "adult education" in the K-12 public school system. In more recent years, however, they've been shifted to the Community College District with less funding than is allocated to traditional college-credit classes.
This is perhaps more important in San Francisco than anywhere else in the state. More than 16,000 people -- primarily immigrants -- are enrolled in non-credit English as a Second Language classes around the city.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union representing most of the community college teachers here and a key player in this race, has its eye on money allocated to salaries. While the AFT concedes that starting pay remains competitive, it has campaigned consistently to improve the salaries of longtimers, who are "topped out." The faculty is also seeking a greater voice in running the district, which makes it likely to be suspicious of any candidate who even sounds like a top-down manager.
The AFT has officially endorsed well-connected challenger Natalie Berg. Chairwoman of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, a longtime Jewish community activist, and former director of employee relations in the district, Berg is also dean of the School of Health and Physical Education at San Francisco City College's John Adams campus, a position she will vacate if elected.
Another union and Democratic Party favorite is incumbent Rodel Rodis, an attorney and former member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. He comes with the support of some of San Francisco's highest-ranking Democrats, including Assemblyman John Burton and Mayor Willie Brown. Rodis has been a vocal supporter of expanded facilities and improved technology.
Incumbent Jim Mayo boasts an endorsement list that reads like a who's who of elected officials in San Francisco. He got the blessing of the AFT's executive board, but not the general membership, and tends to lean pro-faculty when the voting counts. Mayo is Northern California director of the United Negro College Fund and sits on numerous other community boards.
Attorney Fernando Tafoya, a community college teacher and former executive director of the AFL-CIO Immigrant Assistance Project, also is making a notable run for the board with the blessings of Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, and Michael Yaki.
On the flip side, incumbent Robert Varni, an eight-year veteran of the board and president of a software company, tends to appeal more to the bean counters. Varni is more politically moderate than a good deal of the rest of the ballot, especially in financial matters and strategic planning.
The BART Board
BART's $1.2 billion plan to build an extension to SFO by the year 2000 obviously will be the board's primary obsession for the next four years. The project is destined to go forward -- but basic questions like "when" and "how" remain.
BART's plan: to build a station at the airport's new international terminal, and another with a sizable parking garage farther south in Millbrae. But transit activists and environmentalists want a BART station connected with CalTrain and the airport's people mover, located outside the airport. They have sued BART, saying that the environmental review that BART directors approved is flawed.
Plans to start building this fall have been bumped back, since Congress decided to hold onto the $750 million earmarked for BART -- roughly two-thirds of the money it needs for the project -- until the legal issues are resolved.
BART, District 7
On a map, BART District 7 looks like a grade-schooler's cut-and-paste job, with one-third of the district in S.F. and the rest spread around the East Bay, from Richmond to West Oakland. Given the district's geographic character, representation is a key issue in this race.
The incumbent is former S.F. Supervisor Willie Kennedy, who was appointed to the BART board in August. She replaced BART Director Will Ussery, who resigned suddenly in June -- shortly after the FBI began investigating political donations to BART directors from potential contractors. (Ussery insists that the timing of his resignation was purely coincidental.)
During her 15 years on the board, the 72-year-old Kennedy was known more for speaking out on black community issues than for any bold legislative feats. A self-described political "middle-of-the-roader," Kennedy is again campaigning as a "Voice for The People."
But critics say that Kennedy is little more than a voice for the S.F. politicians who want to exercise their influence over BART. She is endorsed by the San Francisco Democratic Party machine -- and what looks like every African-American political group this side of the Sierras.
Kennedy's challengers are El Cerrito attorney and former Mayor Howard Abelson, S.F. businessman Mike Garza, and West Oakland community activist Kathryn Washington -- listed in order of political experience, from most to least. Kennedy's main rival is Abelson, who is known in East Bay political circles as a progressive and an all-around good guy.
Abelson has criticized the incumbent's ties to S.F. politics, and says he wants to bring "Good Government" to BART. He promises to serve only two terms. Abelson, 52, was appointed as an interim BART director for eight months in 1988, but lost the seat in the subsequent election.
Garza owns an auto parts business, and claims to be the only candidate with transit experience. He was a co-owner of North Gate Transit, one of the predecessors of SamTrans. The 64-year-old Garza has no endorsements, and says he decided to run at the last minute.
Washington describes herself as a grass-roots community advocate (by profession, she is a bookkeeper and a notary public). With no government or transit experience, Washington points instead to a rather meager record of community service in West Oakland that includes work with West Oakland Community Advisory Group.
BART, District 9
Several BART directors have come under fire in recent months for accepting campaign contributions from BART contractors, prompting an FBI probe. District 9 Director Michael Bernick's name has come up more than a few times.
Bernick, first elected to the board in 1988, has an impressive resume that includes endorsements from such notables as Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Independent state Sen. Quentin Kopp. He also used to help run the National Transit Access Center at UC Berkeley, a transit think tank. Equally impressive are Bernick's past campaign contributors -- Bechtel Construction, Gannett Fleming Engineers, Dillingham Construction, to name a few -- who also happen to be BART contractors.
Environmental activist Tom Radulovich is Bernick's main competition; third candidate David Jennings is a relative unknown. Radulovich has strong gay and "green" ties -- his endorsements include the Sierra Club and the S.F. Democratic Central Committee. Vice president of the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, Radulovich is active on a number of community transportation and environmental groups. He says he will work to ban contributions to BART directors from BART contractors.
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