Wednesday, August 19, 2015

1-2-3, Anyone But Lee


by Denise Sullivan

The last time we checked in on San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee (appointed to fill Gavin Newsom's vacated seat and elected for a full term in 2011) was set to run unopposed in the November election. But as candidate, community organizer, and singer Amy Farah Weiss (also known as "YIMBY" for Yes In My Backyard) has been quick to point out, there are in fact now five official alternatives to Lee on the ballot, though local media refuses to acknowledge their respective campaigns. In response to the black-out, Weiss and her fellow candidates, educator and organizer Francisco Herrera and columnist and comedian Broke-Ass Stuart Schuffman have come together as a coalition. The trio could conceivably pose a triple threat if voters take seriously their directive to rank them 1-2-3 in a bid to oust Lee. Weiss has even adapted the old Bobbettes number, "Mr Lee"  as a campaign song, a clever attempt to give voters a catchy way to remember the strategy (candidates four and five are Reed Martin and Kent Graham of whom I could find out little).

Though all new to potential public office, Weiss and Herrera have community organizing experience in their respective neighborhoods, the Western Addition and Mission, while Shuffman, an Examiner columnist, has humor and a sharp tongue on his side.  Referring to his yet-to-be-revealed platform on his website he writes, "The thing that most people don’t get though is that platforms are rolled out throughout a campaign. Like, what’s Hillary Clinton’s platform? You have no idea, right? Hillary has been running for President for like eight years and she hasn’t even announced her platform yet…"

On Monday, the three candidates came together for a "cakewalk," organized by Weiss as a response to wags calling Lee's run a shoe-in and to call for Lee to agree to publicly debate his opposition which he has so far refused. Turn-out was small, but awareness of the candidates and their respective campaigns is growing. I asked Dale Duncan, a friend and longtime Mission District resident why he chose to support Shuffman: "He seems earnest and I didn't know of anyone else bothering to run against Ed Lee, the worst mayor in my 35 years here. If it had only been Matt Gonzalez instead of Gavin back when."

In 2005, Gonzalez (who went on to run with Ralph Nader in the 2008 Presidential election as the Green Party candidate) lost to Newsom in a run-off by a very slight margin. But what he achieved by mobilizing young and disenfranchised voters was monumental (he is presently the chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office). And while it might seem the population who cast their votes for Gonzalez has since been squeezed out of town, it's possible they've simply lost their advocacy and the work of mobilizing the working, immigrant and artist populations here has fallen to Herrera, Shuffman and Weiss. I'm acquainted with both Weiss and Herrera who've made themselves known to the communities for cultural preservation as advocates of arts, literacy, and education. As performing musicians, they join in a great San Francisco tradition of politically engaged artists who begin by voicing their dissent, using their stage as a platform, and reminding us all that democracy is a participatory practice, if not a theatrical one.

Readers may remember San Francisco circa 1979, when Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra emerged as the people's candidate in a race against Dianne Feinstein: Among his most practical ideas, Biafra proposed the police department be elected, that cars be banned from the city limits and squatting in vacant buildings be legalized. He also suggested businessmen wear clown suits and that statues of Dan White (killer of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk) be erected and the Park department earn revenue by selling eggs for throwing.

"One thing I will attempt to do is bring government out from behind closed doors," he said in a televised interview at the time. To naysayers who declared his candidacy a publicity stunt or a joke, Biafra replied, "They should keep in mind it's no more and no less of of a joke than anyone else they care to name." A couple of decades later in 2007,  punk rock bassist and cultural agitator "Chicken" John Rinaldi tested the city's then-new ranked choice voting system and grabbed 11 percent of the vote from Newsom. Not long after, he lead an inspired campaign to rename the local sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush. There were likely others, now forgotten, though it must be said, the City's troubles began long before Lee, Newsom, or even Feinstein. The value of campaigns like Jello's, Chicken John's and the 1-2-3 efforts by Herrera, Shuffman and Weiss-- which admittedly appeal to counterculture, revolutionary and disaffected voter sensibilities-- is to tear away the curtain of conformity and corruption that has long shrouded our local government.

In light of the recent news of the FBI probe implicating Lee, alleging he took "substantial bribes in exchange for favors" and with the substantial base of labor, neighborhood, and activist organizations working to effect necessary policy, far from a done deal, change-seeking San Franciscans have every reason to remain hopeful. Two ballot initiatives concerning limit short term rentals (Airbnb) and housing in the Mission, and a supervisor's race that could replace Lee appointee Julie Christensen with progressive Aaron Peskin in District 3 could be the things that begin to set things back on course here. And while for decades we've been hampered by a largely irresponsible and inert daily paper, uncommitted to investigative reporting or to taking a stand, our best hope has always been our citizenry, especially those willing to take on public service and a radical stand. Though they may frame matters goofily, in a confrontational way, or inelegantly, the candidates bring to the discussion issues from housing and human rights to jobs and open space that are of concern to everyday San Franciscans. I'm going to assert there's still time for three dark horses who share one vision for a more equitable, livable, and affordable San Francisco, to pick up more supporters and some steam. A vote for 1-2-3-- anyone but Lee-- could serve as an important step on the way toward reclaiming San Francisco.

Francisco Herrera, Stuart Shuffman & Amy Farah Weiss are mayoral candidates on the Nov. ballot in San Francisco

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At 12:12 AM, Blogger zRants said...

May this is the problem. Corruption is Legal in America Cartoon:


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