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Progressively Worse: The Tumultuous Rise and Fall of San Francisco’s Left

(This article first appeared in the SF Weekly)

Even last year, people were talking about the city’s “progressive machine.” The welcome mat to City Hall was crafted locally, out of hemp. Progressive supervisors held a legislative majority and controlled the agenda. At last, crowed the Bay Guardian, progressives could install a mayor espousing “San Francisco values,” now that Gavin Newsom was off to become Lieutenant Governor and look busy.

Nobody talks like that anymore.

Between lost elections and internal defections, the progressive bloc has been reduced from a reliable six-to-eight supervisors (a majority and occasional supermajority) to a solid three or four — John Avalos, David Campos, soon-departing Ross Mirkarimi, and Eric Mar. They lost control of legislative committees. Board President David Chiu is a progressive apostate who despises them only slightly less than they despise him. In this month’s mayoral election, progressives were beaten by Lee, the man they helped put into power, but they are thrilled — thrilled — to have placed a distant second. Losing by less than you thought you would is the new winning, for progressives.

Daly was right. But the progressive fall from power was more than just a fumble. The whole playbook was flawed.

Ten years is a long time to hold a coalition together. Progressives’ decade dominating the board was a hell of a run. While it’s easy to focus on their foibles, progressives pushed through major changes that altered many aspects of city life. Even their opponents concede they could be effective legislators with big ideas.

But as the city changed, progressives didn’t. Astoundingly, the city’s dominant political coalition never developed an effective fundraising apparatus, never engaged in outreach beyond catering to the supporters it already had, and never created the kind of organization needed to run an effective citywide race. For a movement stocked with community organizers, they did remarkably little organizing. Avalos is just the latest progressive mayoral hopeful who “rallied the base” — and lost. But it’s not Avalos’ fault his predecessors didn’t build a citywide organization on the way up, which would have made his run so much easier. Now, they’re all on the way down.

So, yes, progressives fumbled. But their real problem was running only their favorite plays, in front of their own cheerleaders, not realizing they wouldn’t win without moving the ball across the entire field.


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Running the Magic Gauntlet at Sparky’s

I’d thought “Helena” was only in town for the afternoon, but she was staying in San Francisco overnight. The last time I was in Chicago she’d been too tired to hit the town, so now that she was here she committed to “last man standing” protocols. The night wouldn’t end until I said it ended.

Which was great — except that I got the news at 3 o’clock and already had plans. How the hell could I make this work?

I called E., whose new house I was supposed to visit for the first time. Arranged to make that a shorter visit. We’d just get a pizza.

I called Jimmy. “Hey, I’ve got a VIP in town and can’t be on-site for a couple of hours. Can you handle it?”

Read more at SF Weekly

It’s Okay to Be Miserable at Burning Man

Two years ago. I was walking through the desert, across the open playa in the early afternoon. It was hot, and I was very, very unhappy.

I don’t remember why, anymore, but I remember what that mood felt like. It would have been depression if I hadn’t been so angry, so resentful. I wanted to bite someone. I wanted to yell at someone. I wanted to punch you in the face. You, personally.

I think I was heading over to one of the Irish bars. I wanted to start a bar fight. Right now.

Out in the middle of the dust I saw four desks separated from a small line of people by a velvet rope. Three men were at the desks, and a fourth was behind a small podium managing the line.

Read more at Burning Man