Beneath the glare of the midday sun, about 150 people have gathered for a ribbon-cutting at the city's newest affordable housing project — sandwiched between a freeway and a rail yard in Mission Bay — and to listen to dignitaries, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, wax poetic about the project's merits.
Among the orators is Newsom's archnemesis, Supervisor Chris Daly.
Unlike the mayor, who has arrived — 30 minutes late — in a black limousine, and looks spiffy in a blue suit and tie, the boyish, 35-year-old Daly projects the air of a bike messenger. He's dressed casually, with open shirttail, and with a document pouch slung over his shoulder, having pedaled his way the two miles from City Hall.
The mere presence of the popular mayor and his über-progressive, quick-tempered antagonist near the same microphone suggests unsettling possibilities. For much of the summer, Daly, has, if anything, intensified what was already a drumbeat of scorn aimed at the man whom the city's progressives resentfully view as an opportunistic interloper into their sphere, whether it be Newsom's support for gay marriage, universal health care, or even his brief appearance in 2004 on a picket line with striking hotel workers.
The animus has become personal, as typified by Daly's well-publicized remarks, before a packed Board of Supervisors meeting in June, that appeared to link Newsom to cocaine use, something the mayor vehemently denied.
There are no fireworks this day. But neither is there a truce.
When it's his turn to speak, the mercurial Daly still gets in a lick. In a private meeting with Newsom barely a week earlier, on the eve of Daly's tortured decision not to challenge the mayor in the fall, Daly made a pitch for Newsom's support for a city charter amendment that would raise real estate taxes as a way to pay for more affordable housing.
The Chronicle portrayed the meeting as an attempted quid pro quo in which Daly suggested he'd stay out of the mayor's race in return for Newsom's support for the measure, something Daly says didn't happen. Considering the mayor's popularity and Daly's high negatives, there's little reason to believe Newsom would have lost sleep over Daly's entering the race. Rumors were that the Newsom camp even relished the idea of Daly's running as a chance to embarrass him — and progressives — in advance of next year's all-important supervisors' races.
In any event, Newsom rebuffed Daly's housing maneuver.
Now, with the 236-unit Crescent Cove apartments at the foot of Berry Street as the backdrop, and with the mayor standing a few feet away, Daly makes an open appeal for the measure. In a barely disguised jab at Newsom, he points to the shiny new apartment edifice and declares, "This is the kind of thing we should be doing more of in San Francisco."
By almost any measure, it's been a rough summer for Chris Daly.
He caught flak for the cocaine remark. A "convention" he spearheaded to draft a big-name progressive challenger to Newsom in the fall went bust. He was dumped as chairman of the powerful Budget and Finance Committee. He was involved in a highly charged verbal altercation at City Hall with fellow Supervisor Bevan Dufty. And, perhaps most tellingly, he watched helplessly in July as a series of motions he offered related to the city's $6 billion budget were cast aside — with none of his colleagues willing even to allow them to be put to a vote.
"Chris has managed to alienate himself from virtually everyone on the board," says Board President Aaron Peskin, who, like Daly, was swept into office in 2000 as part of a progressive surge fueled by widespread disenchantment with then-Mayor Willie Brown.
Daly's frustrations reflect those of the city's progressives. Despite a string of electoral successes starting in 2000 that enabled them to claim a solid majority of the Board of Supervisors, progressives suddenly find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go in the November mayoral election.
After flailing around for a candidate, no heavy hitters among them — including former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who narrowly lost to Newsom in 2003; current Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi; or Daly — were willing to step into the race against a mayor who commands almost super-human poll numbers.
Even after a double-barreled scandal in late January, when the mayor not only confessed to having had an affair with his former appointments secretary (the wife of a close friend and one-time top campaign aide), but also acknowledged having entered rehab for a drinking problem, his popularity has scarcely ebbed.
"It looks pretty grim," says Julian Davis, who heads the San Francisco People's Organization, a coalition of community, labor, and other advocacy groups on the left, offering a typical view of the predicament in which progressives perceive themselves.
He and others fear that without a viable candidate to influence the debate in the upcoming mayoral election, Newsom, who is universally expected to cruise to victory against a field of mostly no-name opponents, will veer to the right during his second term in office. "In 2003, after Matt [Gonzalez] nearly won, Newsom had the incentive to at least give lip service to governing more progressively," Davis says. "That may not be the case the second time around."
More specifically, progressives are worried about the effect of a Newsom juggernaut a year from now, when control of the Board of Supervisors could well hinge on three open seats in swing districts that sitting progressives Peskin, Jake McGoldrick, and Gerardo Sandoval will give up, thanks to term limits.
It was just such a concern that prompted Daly to call for a so-called Progressive Convention, attended by some 300 people in June, with the promise that, if no recognizable candidate from the left offered themselves against Newsom, he'd do it.
The convention turned into a political version of The Price Is Right, with no progressive standard-bearer willing to "come on down." Daly waited until after it was over to say he wouldn't run because he and his wife are expecting a baby.