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Monday, August 24, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Your 'Labor Day' Guide to What the F*#@k Happened in the Last Eight Months

Posted By on Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge vvm.inaction_thumb.jpg

With a federal holiday appears on the calendar, city hall's motto becomes: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but how much time off you can take from your country".

In this particular case, The supervisors like to celebrate Labor Day by pretending to have labored, while their staff likes to celebrate Labor Day by pretending to rest. (The one exception to this rule is Michela Alioto-Pier and her staff, who celebrate Labor Day by going into labor). The result for both is a three week "vacation" during which government grinds to a halt but politics never stops. It is absolutely the worst of all worlds, provided you don't live in Los Angeles.

SF Government InAction is never more aptly named, or more pointless, than when the supes are in recess -- so I'll be in recess the next two weeks as well (in fact, the Government Audit & Oversight Committee and I will be sharing a camp at Burning Man: "Accountability Camp."). But I thought that this week, while all's quiet on the western front, would be a good time to review the new Board of Supervisors, take stock of what they've accomplished after eight months, and see where we are now.

This will take less time than you think.

The first thing worth noting is that San Franciscans seem to have little buyer's remorse.

By and large, people in the city seem happy with the class of 2008. One member in particular, David Campos, has made good government types go weak in the knees by demanding that best practices and ethical rules actually be followed. SF Gov InAction is not immune from this Campos crush: I've even been writing David a poem. It begins:

"Oh tawny bough of due process,
Who sits in gilded committees
Like Apollo guiding golden ethics
Through the corrupt world's proclivities ..."

It may need to be composted -- or, in this case, Camposted.

Campos is also a constant force behind attempts to modify San Francisco's "Sanctuary City" laws. Say what you will about those laws, and what should be done with them -- there's no question that Campos has emerged as a recognized player in an area he cares about.

Other new supervisors haven't soared to such Olympian heights, but most of them have stood out. While it's safe to say that David Chiu is no Aaron Peskin, it's also fair to remember that Aaron Peskin didn't start out being Aaron Peskin either: He was an experienced legislator before he took on the Board's presidency. While there is still a raging debate as to whether David Chiu has a soul, there is no debate over his basic competence ... and little doubt that he's growing into the role of Board President faster than pot grows in the Sunset.

John Avalos is a bit more controversial, given the number of people who feel that he settled for too little in the budget debate ... including his "best friend" and mentor Chris Daly. But again, it needs to be remembered that this was Avalos' first year -- and that in terms of the nuts and bolts of the budgeting PROCESS (rather than result) there's no question that he did a superb job. Could the results have really been better? That's a tough call -- which we'll revisit shortly -- but Avalos demonstrated absolute mastery of what happened in public, and that's invaluable. Back room negotiating requires another skill set, and people who are too good at it are not to be trusted.

Eric Mar is generally seen as the weakest of the freshman legislators: He's not responsible for any significant pieces of legislation to come up so far, nor has he found his niche as a power-broker on the board. Mostly, he's swung at whatever lefty causes have come his way, from the plight of the Palestinians to the (ahem) "San Francisco Eight," and it's difficult to say whether these Easy-Bake resolutions are most painful when someone does or doesn't notice them. Still, the fact that he mouths the right platitudes is enough to the keep the wacky left happy, and the fact that he's not his predecessor, Jake McGoldrick, is a big plus for everyone else. So Mar's keeping afloat.

This legislative season belongs to the freshmen: Not only do they control most of the key positions on the board, but the more experienced members have seemed ... distracted. And well they might. Ross Mirkarimi just had a new baby (and may run for mayor); Sean Elsbernd just had a new baby; Bevan Dufty is running for mayor; Michela Alioto-Pier is running for state insurance commissioner; Chris Daly (D-Suburbia) has seen his life turned upside-down. It would be a stretch to say that they're just waiting out their terms, but, right now it, seems like "City Supervisor" is a young person's game.

For all this action, the change in generations has changed very little for San Francisco. The progressives may have preserved their majority on the board of supervisors, but they haven't gained any leverage. On every issue that has really mattered to them, they have failed to beg, borrow, or steal the two extra votes needed to kick the mayor's ass. That means that even an absentee Gavin Newsom is still a bigger man on campus than the hard-working progressive student council.

In politics, nobody hears the yearbook editor cry.


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Benjamin Wachs

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