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Seeking a City That Works

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eye on the news

Seeking a City That Works

In local races, San Francisco voters show a desire to put adults back in charge. November 11, 2022
California
Politics and law
Cities

Far-left activists have spun conspiracy theories to explain who or what is “manufacturing” an alleged rightward shift in San Francisco politics. (One sitting supervisor has blamed “gluttonous billionaires,” a popular boogeyman.) But no sinister explanation is needed. San Franciscans just want a city where they don’t have to fear for their lives or their catalytic converters, where their children can get a good public education, and where the streets are not filled with open-air drug markets and filth. Preliminary results from the recent election confirm the sentiments Mayor London Breed shared at a post-election party: San Franciscans want a city that works, where the adults are back in charge.

On July 7, Breed appointed Brooke Jenkins as district attorney to replace Chesa Boudin, whom voters recalled for policies that had enabled criminals to avoid accountability and made the city less safe. Since then, Jenkins’s critics have repeatedly tried to manufacture scandals about her contract work, her response to student protestors, and even emails she sent to a fellow assistant district attorney during her time in Boudin’s office. It apparently wasn’t enough to sway San Francisco voters on Tuesday: Jenkins currently leads her next closest rival, John Hamasaki, by 14 percentage points. Nor did voters apparently believe that Hamasaki’s signature issues—including “wage theft,” police misconduct, and an end to cash bail—would make the city safer.

Earlier this year, San Francisco voters also recalled three members of the Board of Education. Gabriela Lopez, one of the recalled commissioners, perhaps hoped that voters had forgotten the national embarrassment that her efforts to rename schools had brought the city. They had not forgotten: despite a host of endorsements from Democratic clubs, Lopez and two other likeminded candidates, Karen Fleshman and Alida Fisher (who even scored an endorsement from powerful teachers’ union UESF), are trailing in votes. Instead, Mayor Breed’s three appointees—Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamedi, and Lisa Weissman-Ward—are poised to lead the district. With serious issues plaguing San Francisco public schools—including an emergency payroll disaster, pandemic learning loss, a rise in chronic absenteeism, and teacher shortages—voters understood that a focus on equity and the “racism” of merit was not solving any problems.

Meantime, mayoral appointee Matt Dorsey beat Honey Mahogany for the supervisor seat in District 6, where much of the city’s homelessness, drugs, and crime are concentrated. A black trans woman and the chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, Mahogany has expressed support for defunding or even abolishing the police. That voters chose Dorsey, a white man who once worked for the police department, suggests that effective policies addressing constituent concerns are more important to voters than identity politics.

Another reason for hope? Joel Engardio, who ran on a platform of safety, education, and support for small business, currently enjoys a lead over incumbent District 4 supervisor Gordon Mar. This is especially impressive, given that District 4, which is majority Asian, has always elected Asian supervisors. Mar, however, had alienated enough voters with his opposition to the recall of Boudin and the three school board members that even his ethnicity might not save him.

Far from being bought by conservatives or billionaires (or both), San Franciscan voters are paying attention again. They’re making the link between policies and outcomes, while ignoring the distraction of fake scandals.

If voters don’t feel safe, they will choose candidates who promise to get tough on crime. A candidate’s race or identity is less important to voters than his policy ideas and track record. And just as good policy can improve a candidate’s chances, so, too, can radical or performative ideology drag her down. There is hope for San Francisco—and for any city—when residents vote based on policy and outcomes rather than identity and vibes.

Photo by SAMANTHA LAUREY/AFP via Getty Images

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