The lines are clearly drawn in the critical race to represent eastern San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma in the State Senate. After getting strong pressure from backers of both Mark Leno and Carole Migden, the San Francisco Bay Guardian endorsed Leno this week, solidifying the Assembly member’s progressive base. Meanwhile, leaders of San Francisco’s leading landlord groups---the Coalition for Better Housing, San Francisco Apartment Association, and the Small Property Owners---have made it clear who they are supporting, having scheduled a May 8 fundraiser for Joe Nation’s State Senate campaign. The suggested donation for the event is $500, which means that Nation could easily net over $100,000 in his race to represent tenant-heavy San Francisco. Real estate interests were likely counting on Leno and Migden splitting San Francisco’s progressive vote, but the Bay Guardian recognized the incumbent was too politically damaged to win, and endorsed Leno to help keep the seat in progressive hands.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian endorsement was perhaps the top prize in the State Senate endorsement race, and Mark Leno and Carole Migden worked hard to secure the nod. Supervisor Chris Daly relentlessly promoted Migden, arguing that the incumbent had done far more to back progressive candidates locally while Leno had usually sided with candidates backed by Mayors Brown and Newsom.

The Brown-Burton-Migden Machine

Daly’s depiction of Migden as some sort of anti-machine promoter of pro-insurgent candidates relied on an historical analysis that begins with the 2000 district supervisor elections. But Migden’s political career began more than a decade before that time, and those familiar with that history were likely mystified by Daly’s portrayal.

In the most pivotal election of the 1980’s, the 1987 mayor’s race, Carole Migden backed Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s hand picked successor, Jack Molinari, over progressive Art Agnos.

Migden backed Willie Brown in the 1995 mayor’s race over fellow lesbian, and then progressive, Roberta Achtenberg. She also backed Brown against Tom Ammiano in 1999.

The Brown-Ammiano race was defined by the Bay Guardian as a true “Which Side are you On” contest---and Migden sided with Brown and the Democratic “machine” that the weekly had long scorned.

In fact, Migden not only rejected the progressive Ammiano, but she disparaged San Francisco's first gay mayoral runoff candidate by stating during the campaign, "With Tom, you don't even know if he can get up for work."

Migden was not only a central member of the fabled Brown-Burton machine; she ran its San Francisco operations throughout the early 1990’s. Nobody has ever run the local Democratic Party machine as effectively as Migden, who raised huge sums for GOTV and cracked the whip on those not getting the job done.

But to now act as if she has a long history battling that machine grossly misstates her political history.

Migden’s Post-2000 Endorsements

Migden, Leno and Tom Ammiano all endorsed candidates other than Chris Daly in the 2000 District 6 Supervisors race. Migden was not a factor in Daly’s sweeping 2002 re-election victory, and while Daly credits Migden’s help in winning in 2006, this assistance primarily involved free billboards in the Tenderloin installed by Migden’s former aide now working at Clear Channel Outdoor, the far from progressive Michael Colbruno.

Grassroots activism won Daly's re-election in 2006, not Carole Migden’s billboards.

(Ironically, Daly launched his political career despite the city’s insiders already anointing Beryl Magilavy for the District 6 seat. Now Guardian editor Tim Redmond, under assault from Migden backers, is trying to repeat this mistake by calling upon Leno to endorse Migden and Hillary Clinton supporter Debra Walker to replace Daly in 2010. Usurping the grassroots electoral process is never a good idea, and the people of the Tenderloin, Mission, and SOMA that comprise District 6 should not have their next supervisor chosen for them as part of the Guardian’s “make up” for its backing of Leno.)

Carole Migden had nothing to do with the victories by Sophie Maxwell and Gerardo Sandoval in 2000, and I would argue that the combination of McGoldrick’s long history in the district and hostility to incumbent Michael Yaki decided the outcome in that race. Aaron Peskin greatly appreciated Migden’s support, but like Daly, Peskin won by running a strong grassroots campaign.

Migden did not lift a finger to elect Matt Gonzalez in 2003. This was another election, like 1987 and 1999, which appeared to offer a clear choice between a strong progressive and the Democratic Party Establishment. While Leno has been criticized for endorsing Newsom, Migden stayed out of the race, exhibiting the type of “squishy centrism” that Migden backers have attributed to her opponent.

Carole Migden has not helped build a progressive electoral infrastructure in San Francisco, and has not played a prominent role in progressive ballot measures. The Bay Guardian endorsement of Leno reflected this political reality.

Will Migden Give Landlords a Win?

As the Guardian correctly noted, the race is now between Mark Leno, who has been tenants' leading advocate in Sacramento since John Burton’s retirement, and Joe Nation, who has no record of tenant advocacy and is funded by powerful landlord groups.

Nation is also the only candidate in the race who has not publicly opposed Prop 98, which abolishes rent control in California.

The only way that Nation wins this race is if Migden drains enough votes from Leno. And progressives have seen this result too many times before.

In the 1976 New York primary for U.S. Senate, progressive icon Bella Abzug lost the Democratic nomination by 1% to neoliberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I remember being crushed by Abzug’s narrow loss, but did not realize until reading a new book about her that progressive Ramsey Clark took 4% of the vote in that race.

Clark had no chance of winning the nomination, but stubbornly stayed in the race. He diverted enough progressive votes away from Abzug to hand the much more conservative Moynihan the victory.

In 1998, East Bay progressives split votes between Dion Aroner and Keith Carson in a special election for the State Senate, allowing pro-development moderate Don Perata to prevail.

In endorsing Leno, the Guardian sought to avoid such results.