By Chris Daly
June 15, 2010
Last Tuesday was a great day for San Francisco progressives. Months of preparation, fundraising, endorsements, and campaigning culminated in the progressive slate actually picking up a seat on the all-important Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC). Progressives didn’t catch downtown off-guard like we did 2 years earlier. We didn’t have the surge of turnout that we saw when we elected Obama to help down-ticket progressives over the top. Downtown was ready, spinning articles and even endorsements from their newspaper columnists Ken Garcia and CW Nevius. Their candidates raised tens of thousands of dollars from special interests. Nevertheless, we won last Tuesday on both sides of the City with teamwork and a smart, coordinated attack.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the election was progressive District 8 candidate Rafael Mandelman. Rafi stands as the lone progressive in a 3-way race to claim San Francisco’s 3rd or 4th most progressive district. District 8 is by far the most progressive district that has eluded progressive representation. Eileen Hansen’s narrow losses to Mark Leno and Bevan Dufty stung progressives and ultimately handed Gavin Newsom 4 votes to sustain his vetoes. But with Laura Spanjian now in Houston, a moderate house divided between Scott Wiener and Rebecca Prozan, and an endorsement from the Democratic Party quite likely, Rafael Mandelman stands to be the next District 8 Supervisor and the first true progressive in that position.
In Beyond Chron on Monday, Paul Hogarth tried to paint a different picture. Under the inauspicious heading “Mandelman’s Weakness Exposed,” Hogarth pointed to Wiener’s larger share of District 8 votes for Central Committee. While Hogarth acknowledged the limited usefulness of these numbers (saying that many voters abstain in the DCCC race and many other District 8 voters voted for both Mandelman and Wiener) he decided anyway to argue that the numbers indicate that Wiener has a deeper and wider base within District 8. Hogarth stated that this data should “give progressives pause,” and even called Mandelman the “underdog.”
However, Hogarth left the most important points unsaid. First, DCCC races are slate affairs. In other words, it doesn’t matter who gets the most votes, it only matters how many of your allies cross the finish line. Scott Wiener ran a campaign for DCCC all about Scott Wiener. By May 22nd, Wiener spent over $58,000 of special interest money and sent at least 4 pieces of glossy mail to District 8 voters. By contrast, Mandelman spent $28,000 and sent only 1 mailer to District 8 voters. Instead of saturating his district with “Vote for Rafi,” Mandelman instead focused on the progressive slate program. The strategy worked. In the 13th AD, Mandelman sits in 7th place, 326 votes behind Wiener. But in the process, Mandelman helped 9 progressive colleagues also cross the finish line, including his close ally, Eric Quezada, who is currently 342 votes ahead of Wiener ally, Keith Baraka. Meanwhile, the only fruitful collective effort Wiener participated in was a joint mail piece with longtime incumbent Leslie Katz, but there was never any doubt that Katz was going to win back her seat on the DCCC.
The two-vote swing represented by Quezada edging Baraka could very well be the difference between the Democratic Party endorsement for Rafael Mandelman and no endorsement in the race. The importance of this can not be overstated. Not even by CW Nevius. “If you are running for supervisor in San Francisco and have the DCCC endorsement, you’re in.”
For the sake of argument, let’s concede that Mandelman starts out 1000-1400 votes behind Wiener among the 11,000 or so District 8 Democrats who voted for DCCC last week. Given that over 31,000 District 8 residents voted in the 2006 Supervisor race (in a contest that was not the most competitive,) we can assume that at least 20,000 additional people will vote this November. In a 2-person contest, Mandelman would need to win 53.5% of these votes in order to win. Given that less frequent voters trend significantly more progressive, and with the addition of Democratic Party branding and the weight of its mail program, 53.5% is almost assured.
And this doesn’t even account for the Prozan factor. While Mandelman is locking down nearly every major progressive endorsement with minimal effort, Prozan is giving Wiener a run for his money – both literally and figuratively. Through the end of last year, Prozan had raised $58,000 to Wiener’s $51,000 (Wiener has raised another $25,000 this year. Prozan’s totals won’t be public until next month.) While Rafi was a consensus pick at the Milk Club, Prozan split Alice with Wiener. Mark Leno has gone with Wiener, but Bevan Dufty is with Prozan. And so on. And so on. Any progressive worried about exhausted ballots in District 6 because of multiple progressive candidates can at least take solace in the fact that a large number of more conservative District 8 votes will never be counted against Rafael Mandelman, because they will be bullet votes for either Wiener or Prozan. Also, a certain percentage of Wiener or Prozan votes will rank Mandelman as their second choice – maybe for good reason or for none at all.
A quick look at recent RCV history provides best case and worst case scenarios. In District 1 in 2008, a sophisticated RCV campaign was waged in the Chinese community to ensure that Alicia Wang votes transferred to Sue Lee and vice-versa. It also didn’t hurt that both candidates were Chinese women from the moderate political camp. Sue Lee received 55% of Wang’s votes, 23% exhausted, and 22% went to Mar. In District 11, there was less of an RCV strategy between Julio Ramos and John Avalos, but both ran as progressives and both are Latino men. 30% of Ramos’s votes exhausted, 29% went to Avalos, and 21% went to Safai. Even more disconcerting for progressives (although, wouldn’t it be great to see this in District 8,) 25% of Randy Knox’s votes exhausted, 22% went to Safai, and 21% to Avalos. In other words, any RCV strategy between Wiener and Prozan (or Walker and Kim for that matter) can only slow the bleeding of votes.
But what about all that Wiener/Prozan campaign money? No true progressive will ever be able to raise as much money as our downtown opponents, but Mandelman has already qualified for public financing. With the tightening of the campaign finance laws, Mandelman will be able to match fifty cents for every dollar raised by Wiener or Prozan (even over the expenditure ceiling) in addition to every dollar spent by downtown independent expenditures. If Rafael can keep his grassroots fundraising operation humming, this may be the first big-time political race where money is not a big factor.
Rafael Mandelman is a near consensus progressive candidate for Supervisor. He’s already endorsed by most progressive elected officials, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Sierra Club, SEIU 1021, the CA Nurses Association, and the SF Labor Council. He will certainly add the Tenants Union and SF Bay Guardian to that mix. Why then would a progressive like Paul Hogarth cast aspersions on the Mandelman campaign? Well, it is no secret that Scott Wiener’s highest profile supporter, Mark Leno, is very close to both Hogarth and Beyond Chron editor Randy Shaw. But Leno’s close relationship with Wiener and Hogarth/Shaw is only half of it. Rafael Mandelman was a very outspoken supporter of Carole Migden when she was primaried by Leno in one of the nastiest political races in recent memory. While PAC Chair of the Milk Club, Rafi artfully helped deliver the endorsement to Migden in a raucous, multi-hour grudge match of a meeting. In doing so, egos were bruised, feelings were hurt, and political baggage was packed. With that said, Rafi is by far the best candidate on all the issues that Paul Hogarth and Randy Shaw care about. They should check their baggage and, like the rest of progressive San Francisco, unite behind the first progressive Supervisor from District 8, Rafael Mandelman.