Dog Bites

Runoff election; Fangxaminer Watch monitors amusing errors

A Few Modest Proposals

We've been fighting this cold that's going around for a couple of weeks now -- special thanks to everyone who's coughed or sneezed on us during that time; we really appreciate it -- and we're kind of in a bad mood. So come away with us now to the magical land of civic electoral politics, where Dog Bites can violently bore those of our readers who claim they'd much rather hear about our shoe-shopping experiences and the little epiphanies we have at the gym than anything germane to the public life of San Francisco.

Look, we have to take it out on somebody.

Actually, on Thursday after work we were, in fact, shopping, albeit in the boring necessities-of-life sense, when we stopped by the Walgreens at Divisadero and Lombard to buy shampoo and a Chronicle PM. We can't help it; we like an afternoon paper, probably because we grew up with one that was delivered so late we used to have to break repeatedly from homework to make obsessive checks of the doormat for its arrival, since if it showed up before our father got home from work we could have the front section first.

God, and people wonder why we turned out to be such a geek.

Anyway, there we were in the hair care aisle, briefly confounded by the plethora of Neutrogena products, when we saw a familiar-looking figure. Was it former Mayor Frank Jordan? Yes it was; we shook hands. "Delighted to meet you. Delighted," he said. "Delighted."

Driving back up Divis and reflecting on this pleasant encounter we had a sudden wave of nostalgia for Jordan-administration San Francisco. Gas was so cheap in those days we used to go hiking at Point Reyes some weekends, and you couldn't get anyone from here to believe that live-work lofts were a bad idea. In fact, it seems only yesterday Jordan was mayor, though our sense of time may be distorted by the fact that some signs from the Brown-Jordan runoff of 1995 lingered for several years on lampposts and utility poles.

Here might be a good place for a digression and a modest proposal: Dog Bites would like to suggest that the next election include a ballot measure specifying how long people are allowed to leave campaign signs up; as far as we're concerned, six weeks is plenty to look at both Christmas trees and "Yes on K."

Aesthetic questions aside, though, we've been a little shocked to find that voter apathy about the Dec. 12 runoffs actually seems to be increasing. "What election?" demanded one of our acquaintances, irritably. "We just had an election."

OK, yeah, you could say this pretty much any time in San Francisco and you'd be right, but this year people are especially confused. "We've certainly noticed it," says District 8 candidate Eileen Hansen, who's trying to catch up with popular incumbent Supervisor Mark Leno. "We thought we'd be able to build on the momentum we generated in the first election, but we're now finding people aren't very aware."

In fact, many otherwise well-informed people who read the papers and watch way too much MSNBC are surprised to hear that nine of the 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors are still up for grabs. And can you blame them? Now that the ballot propositions have been decided and the populace has had its say on whether it wants JFK Drive closed on Sundays, most of the major issues appear to be off the table, and everyone's tired of the very word "election."

"I don't think the mess in Florida has helped," says Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano, from the happy position of having been handily returned to office. "People are a little turned off. They're fed up with the national stuff."

Mind you, this does leave the local field clear for the professionals to devote themselves to such endearing mischief-making as hiring people to tear down their opponents' campaign signs; out in the Sunset, District 7 underdog Tony Hall, who's running against Supervisor Mabel Teng, claims about 25 of his 4-by-8-foot billboard signs have disappeared, as have around 200 smaller signs. In at least one case, he adds, someone would have had to have used a stepladder to remove a large sign from a constituent's house. "It's just not worth getting into office if you have to go through this," sighs Hall.

And as Matier & Ross reported last week, Gerardo Sandoval has struggled with the same problems in District 11, where he's running against incumbent Supervisor Amos Brown. Someone removed nearly 750 of Sandoval's campaign signs, which cost about $2 each. "That money represents $20 a grandma gave me, $50 a local business gave me," says Sandoval. "So in some sense they're really robbing the community."

Meanwhile, estimates are that administering the runoff election itself will cost city taxpayers a million dollars. All in all, we have to wonder: Wouldn't it be a little more efficient to do this some other way?

Well, as a matter of fact, we're not the only person wondering. Ammiano gave his instant runoff scheme a plug; it was rejected by the board last year on the grounds that it was too complicated. "I pushed for it," he says. "I think it would be a great thing for the city, and it would save money."

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