This article has been edited from its original print version to reflect the names of the politician’s mentioned.
“SF Board of Supervisors names Farrell interim mayor.” The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It immediately reminded me of the many times throughout my life I’ve had to work five times as hard as my mediocre, white counterparts for the same reward. Say what you want about London Breed’s politics, but the fact that the Board of Supervisors felt a black woman had too much of an advantage in the race for mayor is laughable.
City Hall insiders have long understood that the (relatively) conservative Mark Farrell has a middling competence and political sensibility. He’s Mitt Romney for the people who keep Patagonia open. Yet, his Board peers appointed him acting-mayor in the age of Trump. Why? To create some sort of “even playing field” in which other mayoral candidates may compete.
Here’s the truth: the playing field was never even. As a black woman in politics, the societal hurdles Breed has cleared in her journey from the Fillmore projects to the electoral stage make any argument of her having an “unfair advantage” in the mayoral race sound ridiculous. If the Board was doing this to even the playing field, it’s odd considering that Mark Leno (who a majority-progressive Supervisors endorsed before any other candidates even entered the race) has consistently polled as the frontrunner in the mayoral election. No, you lost me and you deserve to lose every other young, black voter, as well. I suspect others will feel as I do and that public support will coalesce around Breed.
The progressives have been playing an insider’s game while gentrification is blood-letting their base from the city and they will soon wake up in a situation of their own making, starved of the votes needed to stay relevant.
Board progressives’ logic took a patronizing tone when highlighting Breed being in the pocket of Tech Investor Ron Conway, linking this patronage to the backing of policies that have directly harmed the city’s black community. Further than patronizing, it was paternalistic for white supervisors to lecture Breed on the black community. While the validity of this corporate linkage is hardly revelatory, it still added to my feeling that progressive leaders simply tokenize race because they feel some degree of sympathy, but not empathy, for actual members of the “African-American community.” This oversimplification of corporate politics to Conway’s influence recuses the progressives of their own corporate allegiances and insults Breed’s autonomy as a leader. Was Ron Conway the person who told her to make terrible decisions like ignore the Midtown Park Apartment Tenants or oppose SFPD reforms? No. So let’s be clear, the messaging from the Board of Supervisors is: “We’re doing this for you people. Your leaders aren’t doing a good enough job of representing you.”
While a larger leftist movement is still in its solidarity building stage, progressive black and brown voices need to be elevated to elected offices. Their communities shouldn’t have to be so desperate for representation that moderate candidates provide the closest fit. The current iteration of the “progressive” wing of the SF Board of Supervisors includes only white and Asian politicians who also rank among the most independently wealthy members of the Board. Additionally, their track record for actually supporting progressive values can be described as mixed at best. The “moderate” wing has more wide reaching diversity in its membership.
What makes this most frustrating for me is that we actually know that progressives have access to a more diverse base. Look at the community organizations that turned out to support the repeal of Costa Hawkins and you can see a broad coalition of Black and Brown folks, along with working-class whites and Asians. Pound-for-pound, progressive policy has the substance voters identify with and seems to have a larger populist appeal that has yet to manifest in the movement’s leadership diversity. The future success of an accurately representational, diverse, progressive movement relies on its investment in building a leadership pool.
I suggest that San Francisco looks to cities like San Jose, where a much more robust and diverse selection of progressive leaders is available. There, labor union leadership serves as an incubator, where working class leaders gain the training to become viable progressive politicians.