The D5 Progressive “Coalition” Meltdown

Written by Steven Hill. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Published on November 07, 2012 with 89 Comments

A failure by the top-tier District 5 progressive candidates to employ a ranked choice strategy made it possible for a well-financed moderate candidate to win. File photo by Luke Thomas.

By Steven Hill

November 7, 2012

A lot of people are wondering what happened in District 5. The story is pretty straightforward. The supporters of the three progressive candidates failed to support each other, and so the progressive vote split allowing London Breed to win. All three progressive candidates had campaigns that for one reason or another had difficulties, but on top of that they failed to unite or at least not to attack each other (though there was a late attempt to do that by the Christina Olague and John Rizzo campaigns).

For example, if you look at the first-round vote totals, you can see that Olague, Rizzo and Julian Davis together have 13,000 votes. Breed has only 7200. Even if you add in Thea Selby’s 3500, the two of them together don’t come close to the Progressive Three.

If those progressive votes had held together – like we see so often with Asian voters, for example, who tend to vote for other Asian candidates even when the Asian candidates are attacking each other – one of those three progressives (most likely Olague) would have prevailed.

Instead, if you look at the round by round vote totals you can see what clearly happened.

When Selby (who is in fifth place) is eliminated in Round 2, Breed picks up 967 votes compared to 913 for Rizzo, 542 for Olague and 533 for Davis. So the progressives together picked up far more of Selby’s voters second rankings than did Breed.

Next round (Round 3), Davis is eliminated: London Breed picks up 1082 votes, Rizzo 1223 votes and Olague 1203 votes. So the two remaining progressives still picked up twice as many votes as Breed, but in addition 1246 Davis voters had their ballots go into the exhausted pile. So a quarter of his voters did not select Rizzo or Olague as a second choice. That was the beginning of the progressive fracture.

Next round (Round 4), Rizzo is eliminated: Breed picks up 1345 votes, Olague picks up 1521 votes. So Breed picked up nearly as many votes from Rizzo supporters as did Olague. In addition, 3712 Rizzo voters – over half of his voters – did not have either Olague or Breed as a lower choice, and so those ballots became exhausted.

A complete crumbling of the progressive vote in District 5.

As a counterexample, in the Jean Quan-Rebecca Kaplan-Don Perata race for mayor in 2010, the candidate elimination and round by round vote totals were fairly similar to this race with the exception of the final round. That’s when Kaplan was eliminated and two out of three of her voters selected Quan as their next choice. If something similar had happened in this race, Olaguewould have picked up approximately 4500 votes instead of 1500 votes from Rizzo. And she would have won District 5.

But given the challenges of the three progressive campaigns, as well as the horrible infighting for reasons we all are aware of, that progressive coalition did not hold together, providing an opening for Breed.

London Breed at her presumed D5 election-victory party last eve.

Steven Hill

Steven Hill

Steven Hill is a writer, columnist and political professional based in the Bay area who is a frequent speaker at academic, government, NGO and business events, speaking on a wide range of topics related to political economy, political reform, climate change, global complexity, geo-strategy and trends. Mr. Hill is the author of several books including “Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age (” and “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy, 2012 Election Edition” ( His articles and interviews have appeared in media around the world, including the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, National Public Radio, Fox News, C-Span, Democracy Now, International Herald Tribune, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, The Nation, Washington Monthly, Salon, Slate, Politico, HuffingtonPost, American Prospect, Die Zeit, International Politik (Germany), Project Syndicate, Le Monde Diplomatique, Hürriyet Daily News (Turkey), Courrier Japon, Taiwan News, Korea Herald, Montreal Review, India Times, Burma Digest, Egypt Daily News, Ms., Sierra and many others. His website is

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  • Belcherjudy

    Instead of criticizing a very democratic election system (RCV) which allows more voters to take part in the selection of an elected official especially among voters of color  and lower income and also allows candidates to not have to raise obscene amounts of money, perhaps progressives should look to themselves to not create such divisive campaigns.  Progressive candidates could form coalitions and endorse each other as a second choice. Endorsers could endorse  progressive coalitions instead of individual candidates.

    • Dog

      Asking political candidates and their supporters, be they progressives or right wing, to not run divisive campaign is perhaps the most futile thing imaginable.

      And the truth is elections are about debate and differentiation, they will get heated and passionate and sometimes divisive, to think otherwise is to not recognize reality. It’s politics for godsake.

      Runoffs served to unify progressives in the past. A classic example is Gonzalez for Mayor 2003 or any of the progressive Supe campaigns in 2000. Now progressives are constantly being divided and we have no big campaigns unifying us. As a result progs are in the worst shape they’ve been in since the 90s and its getting worse every year.

      And RCV actually elimates many of our votes when out ballots are exhausted. I have no idea how it would increase participation of under represented communities. Please explain. And of course the Supe campaigns set records for dollars spent this election so it clearly isn’t reducing the cost to run for office.

      RCV saves the city some money, for sure. But in cases like D5 this year the majority’s will is not reflected in RCV as the majority want a progressive to represent them. Just as the tax dollars spent for public financing is a small price to pay for democracy so is the case for the money spent on runoff elections.

    • Richmondman

      I agree whole heartedly with Dog.  RDV does not allow more voters to take part.  It prevents run off elections.  Period.  Some voters may choose to not participate in run offs; that is their choice.  The key word here is choice.  Voters exercise their choices to vote or not.  If 30% of voters participate (as was the case in the recent Mayoral election) they have no one else but themselves to blame if they don’t like the results.  RCV may save some money to the Dept of Elections, but it doesn’t create a more democratic outcome in an election.  In fact one could argue that is doesn’t allow for a full vetting of candidates by voters, by denying the opportunity to highlight the differences between the two top candidates, and are faced with a jumble of candidates who they can’t tell the difference between – kind of like what happened in D5. 

  • Gerry

    Ron Conway, the Chamber of Commerce, and real estate interests are laughing their @sses off about the D5 race and now the recriminations among losing candidates.

    Any analysis of D5 is a farce if it ignores both the campaign funding sources, IE’s included, or the D5 October opinion polls that largely remained private and drove some questionable tactical decisions.  Don’t settle for simplistic, one-dimensional political analysis. 

    From what I can see, RCV did its job.  The corporate interests in the City would love to see progressives shoot themselves in the foot again and allow a return to separate runoffs. 

    • Dog

      Please provide an example of a race where RCV has helped progressives. Because there are several examples of where RCV has obviously hurt progressives as it has here in D5. And please explain how progressives can ever hope to pose a serious challenge for mayor, as we did with Gonzo, under RCV.

      • Greg

        Eric Mar’s first race. He may have lost to Sue Lee in a runoff. It would’ve been a nasty and vicious campaign, and the money would’ve come out to destroy him. He wasn’t such a known quantity then, so it would have probably succeeded.  

        Another example… Norman Yee. Just wait, he may win. If he does, it’s only because he got in under the radar while the money was dumped elsewhere. For the first time, D7 voters were pretty much left to decide for themselves without their brains turned to mush by propaganda. Had there been a runoff, Ron Conway’s money would have paid for a scorched earth campaign and he wouldn’t stand a chance.

        But your questions miss the point. The point of IRV is not to elect progressives per se, but to create a fairer, more efficient system that limits (doesn’t eliminate, but limits) the impact of big money and more closely elicits the true sentiments of the electorate. I think it does that better than traditional runoffs.

        • Richmondman

          You should check in with some other progressives – most believe the point of IRV is exactly to elect progressives. 

          • Greg

            Some do. That’s too bad. That was never my rationale for supporting it.

        • Yesterday FX Crowley closed ahead of Yee by 97 votes, today by 98.  

          • Greg

            A lot depends on what kinds of votes they’re counting. They had some more precinct votes, then they started counting late absentees, and lastly they’re going to count provisionals.

            IF Yee had closed the gap with the last of the precincts, and they’re now counting late absentees, that’s a good sign for him because he’s not falling further behind with those voters. He should then be able to make up 100 votes with provisionals.

            But this race may not follow the typical progressive-mod pattern, so this could go either way.

        • The obvious answer to that is the Oakland Mayor’s race. Perata would have been a corporate bought disaster for Oakland.

  • sfsoma

    San Francisco politics are like watching tribes in a 3rd world country without a stable government to make them behave like civilized people.

  • Greg

    Norman Yee has pulled ahead now in the IRV. I think Latterman’s wrong. It’s only 29 votes, but the trend lines don’t look good for FX. If Yee wins -heck -even if he doesn’t, but even moreso if he does, then that district is effectively neutralized. No more rubber stamp for the City Family. Norman Yee isn’t exactly a progressive, but I think he’ll be a true independent, unlike the rubber stamp in a suit we have now.

  •  The Redevelopment Agency has been replaced by two new bodies. One is a technical oversight board popluated by Downtown cronies friendly to Downtown, which has the task of perpetuating the financial and legal agreements already underway at Bayview, TRansbay, Mission Bay etc. The other is the Redevelopment Successor Agency Commission which has yet to be appointed by the mayor’s office. THe latter has 5 seats and must have at least 2 filled by D6 and 10 resdidents.

  • Actually, the D5 race will help reduce animosity between progressives, because it has clearly proved that if progressives are stupid and fight with eachother in factions, we can lose bigtime.

    • Dog

      And let me make the glaringly obvious point that you’re wishing Olague had engaged in an early and active unity campaign when she clearly (like many of us) doesn’t even believe in RCV, which was made evident when as supervisor she voted with Mark Farrell (ironically) against it!!

  • 2.5 Cents

    I’ll state the obvious, the progressive “movement” was outfoxed in this election. they spent so much time fighting with each other that they essentially split the vote and ensured that not one of them would win. d5 isn’t a progressive district. yes there are progressives in it but it’s very diverse and covers several neighborhoods with differing concerns. i think many of the candidates failed to realize that. meanwhile breed stayed mostly out of the fray, mostly somewhere in the middle and she won as a result. i hope this is an eye opener to those who seek a progressive revolution in SF governance. to have a true movement you need unity. you don’t need a bunch of progressively minded politicians jockeying for position. Success isn’t so much determined by ideology but by collaboration. to bring together diverse groups you need to show that you can work with everyone. from what i’ve seen the progressives in this district are still figuring that out.

  • Jenny From The Block

    Things would be so much easier if the young African-American woman who grew up in public housing in the District she wanted to serve just listened to the white progressives who know what is best for the District and people like her…if she had only listened to them, there wouldn’t be all these problems…

    • RCV has nothing to do with race or gender. Since Breed, like the other candidates, ran an issue-free campaign, we’re still waiting to learn what she thinks is “best” for District 5 and the city.