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    Key Races in the November 3 Election

    zoeAnother fall, another election season. Many of you may have already completed your vote-by-mail ballot and sent it in. If so, thank you for voting!

    If you have not, I hope you find this column useful—not just giving you my recommendations, but some background on the implications and backstory to many of these races. You have likely been inundated with mail pieces and literature dropped on your doorstep telling you to vote this way and that. Congratulations, because that means you are a frequent voter, as most campaigns have lists and target registered voters who have voted in three or four of the last five elections, or voted in the last three primaries, or whatever metric they deem as an indication of a likely voter in the upcoming election.

    For better or worse, mail is the tried and true way to try to influence voters, but with so much mail, it’s hard to break through the noise and have anyone pay attention. I confess I am partially to blame; in my role on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and as co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, I have a say in the layout, text and design of some of those cards you have received. Clubs and special interest groups continue to send you mail because, for every nine voters that throw the cards out, there is at least one who takes the mail piece with them to the poll, or refers to it when filling out their ballot.

    The mail is also useful intelligence on which candidates and ballot measures tend to be aligned with one another, and to see who is spending money to promote or defeat various propositions. The groups usually have benign non-objectionable titles like “San Franciscans for Affordable Housing, Jobs & Parks” (Yes on D) or “San Franciscans for Real Housing Solutions” (No on I), so it is sometimes hard to know exactly who is funding what. As a general rule, I think “follow the money” is useful advice for understanding who stands to gain or lose in any ballot measure. Proposition F would put in place tighter restrictions and regulations on short-term rentals. Not surprisingly, AirBnb is opposing the measure, behind the “SF for Everyone” name. Meanwhile, the hotel and restaurant workers union that wants to limit the availability of short-term rentals, so folks stay at a hotel instead, goes by “Share Better SF.”

    On to the key races for this November 3 election. Most of the citywide races feature unopposed, or minimally opposed, incumbents—Mayor Ed Lee, Treasurer Jose Cisneros, District Attorney George Gascon, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera. While Mayor Lee is probably the most controversial of these candidates, no candidate with any kind of significant backing has appeared to challenge him, thus ensuring his reelection. He certainly gets a lot of criticism for being tight with business interests and developers, but we quickly forget that we were at extremely high unemployment when he took office four years ago. Through his partnerships with local businesses and developers, he has reinvigorated the San Francisco economy—so much so that it has become a red-hot destination for housing and jobs, causing sharp increases in real estate and rental costs. In response, he and the Board of Supervisors have put into place a number of housing initiatives, but housing stock is something that takes years to build after several decades of anti-development pressure. Unfortunately, we will not feel the impact immediately.

    The one citywide race that is a contest is Vicki Hennessy challenging Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff. Sheriff Mirkarimi’s domestic violence conviction from four years ago has left a fairly significant stain on him since he has taken office, and the conventional wisdom is that Vicki Hennessy should defeat him rather soundly. It is rare that an incumbent loses in San Francisco, but Vicki is a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s department and comes across very solid, even-keeled and down to earth in contrast to Ross. The only groups or individuals supporting Ross are from the far left end of the political spectrum. In fact, when a Democratic Club endorses Ross, the leaders of several ballot measures quietly admit they do not want that club’s endorsement because they do not want to be seen on the same slate card as him. I proudly support Vicki Hennessy.

    The only Supervisor district on the ballot this fall is District 3 (D3), which includes North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and other high-profile neighborhoods. The mayor’s appointee, Supervisor Julie Christensen, is being challenged by the former D3 Supervisor and former President of the Board of Supervisors, Aaron Peskin. The majority of the Board hangs in the balance–currently it sits 6–5 in favor of more “moderate” supervisors. Should Aaron Peskin unseat Supervisor Christensen, it would swing 6–5 in favor of the “progressive” supervisors. With Ed Lee pretty much guaranteed reelection, a progressive majority Board of Supervisors will likely bring back the days of conflict and gridlock, as the Mayor and the Board battle back and forth. Some may see it as appropriate checks and balances and think it is a good thing. Personally, I prefer a city government that works to build coalitions and consensus to solve our city’s tough challenges and would not welcome that scenario. In reality, the race has not much to do with Julie. This race is all about Aaron Peskin—whether he is the same fiery legislator folks feared and loathed, known for vindictiveness and personal attacks, or whether he is the “new Aaron” he is trying to portray in this campaign—a kinder, gentler Aaron. A lot of money is being spent in this district trying to persuade voters one way or the other. I think Julie has done a great job since her appointment earlier this year and I am quite skeptical Aaron has turned a new leaf. For these reasons, I am supporting Julie.

    The final race of interest is the City College Board. Another mayoral appointee, Alex Randolph, is campaigning to keep his seat (see cover and pages 14 and 15). He is being challenged primarily by two progressives, Tom Temprano (former co-president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club), and Wendy Aragon. I have served alongside Alex on the board of the Alice club, and he has always been a hard working, smart, dedicated public servant. His own personal story of attending community college and its role in his life is inspiring and fuels his passion to give back as a Trustee. If elected, he will continue to be a strong member of the City College Board.

    As for ballot measures, I’ve written previously about those that impact housing. The two that are getting the most interest and money are Proposition F (Short Term Rental restrictions) and Proposition I (Moratorium on Mission Housing). While both are well-intended attempts to address our affordable housing shortage, they will not make a difference for our housing needs, and will, in fact, exacerbate it. I am wary of any ballot measure that circumnavigates the legislative process, because once approved, only a subsequent ballot measure can amend or change it. In both these instances, they are poorly written and downright harmful measures, and I urge you to vote no.

    That’s a wrap for this year’s election summary. Whether you agree or disagree with any of my positions, I urge you to vote. It is our responsibility as citizens, and an important way to have our voices heard by our government.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.