Progressives Could Learn from the Conservatives
Or, How to win friends and influence
Like all of the other SF Call columnists, I have been
mulling over the results of this fall's election. As a progressive, it
is difficult to get past the win of Proposition N. Here we live in a
city known throughout the world for its compassion (as a city named
after St. Francis of Assisi would seem to imply) and yet we pass a
proposition that reduces the benefits of the truly needy. It would make
St. Francis weep and ask us to change our name as soon as it is
That being said, I wanted to bring attention to a
conversation that I had with someone who just moved here from
Fayetteville, Arkansas. He wanted to know why the progressive
politicians in San Francisco don't get along.
I thought about it for some time and have created this
list on what progressives could learn from the conservative/moderate
side of City Hall.
1. Keep your friends close. Willie Brown is known to
help out his friends and cronies. He must have spent his entire midlife
at the baptism font. Because his numerous godchildren are all employed
in some capacity at City Hall. While this is the worst sign of cronyism,
it also shows that he is extremely loyal. As Joe Alioto told me once,
"There are three groups of people that I could appoint from - friends
who are qualified, strangers who are qualified, and enemies who are
qualified. Being a friendly sort of person, I never ran out of friends
who were qualified."
The progressives on the other hand, appear to forget
that it is a lot easier to win as a team than as individuals. As an
occasional visitor to the Board of Supervisors' offices, I hear the
rumors of supervisors fighting among themselves and maneuvering behind
the scenes to hurt the legislation of another progressive. Guys, there
is enough to do. Do we really need to expend our energy in fighting?
Wouldn't it be easier if we actually worked together???
Another thing - it is easier to keep people motivated
about doing the good work that progressive politicians want us to do if
we think that our efforts are appreciated. I have done projects for
progressive supervisors and moderate/conservative supervisors. I've
always gotten a thank-you from a moderate/conservative supervisor - but
I have yet to be thanked by a progressive supervisor. It makes me wonder
at times if I am in the correct camp.
2. Keep your enemies closer. Let's face it. Every
politician has enemies. They can destroy your reputation, the public's
perception of you and/or your legislation. Yet our progressive
supervisors don't appear to pay much attention to those who could truly
A case in point is, again, Proposition N. The issue of
homelessness has always been out there. It was one of the issues that
destroyed Agnos' bid for a second term. It derailed the public's
honeymoon with Brown when he messed up on the encampment of the homeless
at Golden Gate Park. But has any of our progressive supervisors really
addressed the homeless issue with any meaningful legislation in the last
two years? No, it was Gavin Newsom who took the sentiment of the public
and created legislation that we will unfortunately have to live with.
I realize that Supervisor Ammiano created Proposition O.
But let's face it. He dropped it fairly quickly in the election
campaign. I didn't see any organized efforts to get it passed. I didn't
see any scheduled debates, very little campaign activity, and very
little commitment on the part of any of the city's politicians to get it
Are there issues that the progressives are not
addressing - that their supporters want them to address? YES!!! Let's
start with anything from on-demand substance-abuse treatment programs to
expansion of health services at the SF General Hospital, from resources
for the Day Laborer Program to better shelters for the homeless.
3. The Bible didn't state that money is the root of all
evil. It stated that the love of money is the root of all evil.
Campaigns do not run on blood, sweat, and tears alone.
You have to actually reach the public through precinct walks,
literature, phonebanking and/or slate cards. This all requires money. If
you want people to support your cause / initiative / point of view, they
have to know your point of view. This requires dissemination of
literature - which requires money.
This doesn't mean that the progressives have to get in
bed with downtown interests. But it does mean that you have to raise
enough money to keep the momentum going. People like being part of a
movement to help their city. Sending checks of $5 to $10 is one way that
they can do it. Asking them for these resources is one way to keep the
Proposition D did not pass because there were very
little resources given to the effort. Ross Mirkarimi did a great job
with the few resources that he was given. I want to applaud his efforts
in keeping the momentum on Proposition D against great odds. Energy
translates into money, precinct walking, visibility opportunities, press
releases, op-ed pieces, and rallies. Ross is a great campaigner - but
even he can't win an election without help from key supporters.
So let's summarize. To keep the progressive momentum
going in this town, you can't take your friends for granted, you must
invest in initiatives that are vital to the progressive movement, and
you can't ignore your enemies.
Remember Progressive Team of San Francisco, we all need
to work together to get a kinder, gentler, more compassionate San