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Runoff election; Fangxaminer Watch monitors amusing errors

Wednesday, Dec 6 2000
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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."

Ammiano's idea is that voters would rank their three favorite candidates in order of preference, so that even if no candidate won an initial majority, after a complex series of recounting exercises someone would emerge as the winner of the overall popularity contest. This, of course, would save voters having to pay for a whole new election, complete with voters' handbooks and absentee ballots and vote counters and so on -- and having to drag themselves back to the polls two weeks before the Christmas holiday. Santa Clara County approved a similar system last year, and there probably weren't even 87 candidates running for 11 seats on the San Jose City Council, although we'd have to check on that and quite frankly we don't care enough about Santa Clara County to bother, so just consider the point made and let's move along.

But Supervisor Michael Yaki, who also supports the instant runoff scheme, notes San Francisco voters don't understand the proposed system well enough to support it -- yet. "If we try to put it on the ballot now it wouldn't win," he says. "We can't force it on people. We might need to have a series of workshops."

Ooh, workshops -- we can't wait.

An alternative was proposed during last year's mayoral campaign, when Willie Brown suggested the elections be moved up to September or October, so as to hold the runoff on the first Tuesday in November; Yaki thinks this would confuse voters even more. "What other counties do is they have the election at the time of the primary, and the runoff in November. There's a huge time period between March and November, but it gives you the certainty of a good voter turnout."

One of the worst problems with the current runoff system is that the huge drop-off in voter turnout means the city spends what Yaki says is "an inordinate amount to get those few thousand people to the polls."

Still, apparent need for reform notwithstanding, the apathetic masses probably need to get off their ... oh, internal rhyme just never works. But as District 3 candidate Aaron Peskin notes, "If there's one lesson we should have learned from the national election, it's that your vote really does count."

Stepping Into the Twilight Zone

And speaking of the national election, will we ever find out who our next president is going to be? It's like we're trapped in some unpleasant time warp -- and correspondent Mark Rosenmoss may know why.

I can harbor this evil secret no longer, writes Rosenmoss. The cursed genesis of our bizarre election quagmire lies not in Palm Beach or Miami, but in Glen Park at the corner of Diamond and Chenery, in front of the Higher Grounds Coffee House. The heart of the vortex is a damaged New York Times kiosk. Evidently struck by a vehicle and jammed shut, it perpetually displays a front page frozen on Monday, Nov. 6. Atop the beaming faces of two hapless candidates poised eternally on the brink of decision day, the headline blares: "Focus is on Crucial States in Campaign's Final Hours." The subheads: "Gore Rallies Base" and "Bush Hits Florida."

Forget the Supreme Court. This is a case for Rod Serling and Fox Mulder.

Dawn of a New Error

Finally, allow us to introduce an all-new Dog Bites feature: Fangxaminer Watch, in which we monitor the new paper's more egregious and amusing mistakes. We'll continue until the F-Ex burns through its $66 million -- some of that wire copy is expensive! -- or we get bored, whichever comes first. And no, before you ask, we won't be able to feature every error in the Fangxaminer; we'd have to start a whole new column for that.

On the other hand ... no. No! Bad Dog Bites.

Wednesday, November 29

Paper misspells Associate Editor Warren Hinckle's name as "Warren Hinkle."

Paper misspells Managing Editor Robert M. Porterfield's name as "Robert M. Porterfiled."

Paper misspells Wednesday as "Wenesday" on front page.

Thursday, November 30

Spellcheck bonanza as many new and surprising words appear in subheads throughout paper, including "utlity district," "reccomendations," "resumbit," and the front-page "common deminator."

Mysterious series of dots replaces names of comic strips.

Thought-provoking headline in arts section: "Harris finds own words in new"

Friday, December 1

Several of our more juvenile readers e-mail to point out front-page head "State's Butt Battle Pays Off." Yeah, all that time on the cross-trainer was worth it.

Cliffhanger headline: "Lack of Flu Shots Reaches Critical Stage for Neediest in City's"

Chopped-off story in sports section: "Miami (2-3) opened its home"

Second chopped-off story in sports section: "The International Olympic Committee selects the"

Sunday, December 3

Less scope for amusement today, though scrambled headline "Armstrong, U.S. Team Postal Face Drug Scrutiny" and accompanying punctuation-free story have a certain word-puzzle appeal.

Monday, December 4

Sports section head: "Jockey Dead of Apparent Homicide." Hmm.

Arts section head: "Unfortunate Events Is Unfolding." Hmm again.

And, sure, rely on wire copy for civic coverage, but maybe somebody should have read that Associated Press report on Page 3 about San Francisco's elections before running it: "Ten of the city's 11 districts will see a runoff. Only incumbent Tom Ammiano gained more than 50 percent of the vote."

Note to Fangxaminer staff: Better make that nine districts -- Gavin Newsom ran unopposed.

About The Author

Laurel Wellman

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