The three white males who make political endorsements under the name “San Francisco Bay Guardian” have rejected progressive activist Supervisor Christina Olague as one of their three endorsees
in the D5 race. The three men criticized Olague’s backing from Willie Brown, Ed Lee and Rose Pak, arguing that Olague “seems not to recognize that, as the next tech boom rolls in, city politics will be defined by a profound class struggle — and Brown, Lee, and Pak will be on the wrong side.” But the Guardian never criticized former Board President Aaron Peskin when he regularly dined with Brown and spent most of his two terms aligned with Pak. Nor did it conclude Ross Mirkarimi was on the “wrong side” of “a profound class struggle” when in May 2011 he led the effort to exempt Zynga and other tech giants from paying taxes on $30-$50 million in stock options in the first year alone. The Guardian men have a problem with Olague because, like fellow progressive Jane Kim, she refuses to bend to their demands.
It’s certainly no surprise that the Bay Guardian made Julian Davis their top D5 choice, and that it would try to boost his chances by denying even a third-choice endorsement to Christina Olague. Davis worked on Bruce Brugmann’s failed campaign to municipalize public power, and as the Guardian’s aggressive defense of onetime public power campaign manager Ross Mirkarimi shows, once you help on this effort you have the Bay Guardian’s backing for life.
Davis has garnered most of the number one “progressive” endorsements, largely coming from bodies whose primarily white male decision makers belie the city’s racially diversity. Debra Walker, Tony Kelly and Rafael Mandelman had many of the same endorsements in their losing supervisor races in 2010.
Olague’s history of activism and progressive voting record on the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors clearly puts her in the progressive camp. That the Guardian feels otherwise says more about the skewed politics of Brugmann, Tim Redmond and Steve Jones than it does about Olague.
John Burton has done more than any Californian of his era to assist the poor, labor unions, tenants and the environment, yet he routinely failed to garner the Guardian endorsement. The Guardian refused to endorse Burton because he would not give them a list of his private law clients, and because the state’s leading progressive allegedly ran what the Guardian denounced as the “Burton machine.” While criticizing the progressive Burton, the Guardian regularly praised the reactionary, anti-tenant Quentin Kopp; as Redmond once told me, “he returns our phone calls.”
The New Lee-Pak-Brown Litmus Test
Echoing the Davis campaign, the Guardian sees Olague’s support from Rose Pak, Willie Brown, and Ed Lee as disqualifying her as a progressive. This new progressive litmus test only works if you know nothing of recent San Francisco political history.
Rose Pak was the leading fundraiser for Art Agnos’s 1987 mayoral campaign. Willie Brown was a strong Agnos supporter, rejecting then Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s choice of Jack Molinari. Agnos appointed Ed Lee to his first government position in 1989, and in 1991 made him the Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission. The Guardian has described Agnos as San Francisco’s last progressive mayor, but his backing by Pak, Brown and Lee would have forced him off the progressive island in 2012.
Walter Wong, often described as a close Pak ally, rented his Mission Street building to the Matt Gonzalez for Mayor campaign in 2003 and took political hits from downtown interests and the Newsom campaign for doing so. Despite the risk of political payback from the favored Newsom, Wong and the Chinatown activist community strongly backed the progressive Gonzalez both in the general election and in the runoff.
It appears that under the Guardian’s new litmus test for progressives, Matt Gonzalez was also on the “wrong side” of the class struggle.
Aaron Peskin was elected in 2000 without much Asian-American support, but quickly established close political alliances with Rose Pak, Gordon Chin, and the same Chinatown activists who strongly backed Ed Lee’s mayoral run. I do not recall a single Guardian attack on Peskin for forming these alliances, nor did such criticism come from other progressive groups.
Apparently, it’s fine for Peskin or Chris Daly to build relationships with Pak and her Chinatown allies, because these progressive white males can be trusted to stand up to potentially nefarious Asian-American interests. But when Pak and Asian-American activists support Ed Lee or Christina Olague, the word goes out that these politicians are too weak to avoid becoming political “puppets.”
When Chinatown activists rushed in at Peskin’s request to help Chris Daly stem off a tough 2006 re-election challenge, Daly was praised for mobilizing the progressive base. Yet when Chinatown activists sought to help Jane Kim win in D6 in 2010, the Guardian attacked both the candidate and her supporters as “outsiders.”
I could go on and on detailing this racist and sexist double standard, which also includes Daly and Peskin getting barely any flak for supporting perhaps the biggest upzoning for the wealthy in San Francisco history---Rincon Tower---compared to what Olague has received in joining with strong progressive Eric Mar in backing 8 Washington.
Or how about the three men’s claim that there is an emerging “class struggle” around tech where Olague will be on the “wrong side” without mentioning that it was her D5 predecessor, Ross Mirkarimi, who initiated, promoted and backed the citywide tax break sought by Zynga to limit taxes on stock options. According to a June 11, 2011 story in the Bay Citizen:
“In late March, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi of San Francisco met with lobbyists from Zynga, the online gaming giant, and agreed to introduce a bill to eliminate the city’s unusual tax on corporate stock options. Mirkarimi’s legislation, which was signed into law June 3, could save Zynga $30 million to $50 million in local taxes in the first year alone if, as expected, the company goes public at a multibillion-dollar valuation. Other San Francisco start-ups on the verge of initial public offerings, including Yelp and Twitter, had also sought a repeal of the tax.
On May 20, three days after the Board of Supervisors passed the bill, a lobbyist from Platinum Advisors, the firm representing Zynga, organized a breakfast fundraiser for Mirkarimi’s campaign for sheriff at a bistro in the Ferry Building. The event brought in about $3,000, Mirkarimi’s aides said.”
Imagine the Guardian’s reaction if Olague had committed such acts! Yet incredibly, the trio of male endorsers picked the “class struggle” over tech as the key issue that they saw as separating Olague from her progressive predecessor.
Olague’s Public Record
Ignoring years of Olague’s public votes on the Planning Commission, those disparaging her progressive credentials have focused on some of her high-profile supporters. Under this analysis, labor should never have backed Obama in 2008 because Penny Pritzker of the anti-union Hyatt hotel chain was his national finance chair, and San Francisco progressives should have rejected Obama because Wade Randlett, a founder of the San Francisco Committee on Jobs, was a big Obama fundraiser.
Willie Brown wanted London Breed appointed to the D5 seat. Many of his allies, including his son, contributed to Breed’s campaign. He went with Olague only after Breed attacked him for failing to secure her appointment.
Pak has been on the progressive side of every major Chinatown issue, and is closely aligned with progressive forces in the city’s Asian-American community. She backed Olague’s appointment to the D5 seat because both felt that Ed Lee should run for mayor, and Olague helped this effort by being a co-chair of the Run, Ed, Run campaign. If Pak wanted Mayor Lee to appoint a loyal vote for downtown and real estate interests, she would have favored Breed.
The daughter of farmworkers, Christina Olague won’t buckle down and play by the Guardian boys club’s rules. This cost her their endorsement, but D5 voters will likely prefer making up their own minds about the race.