Wednesday, November 9, 2011

San Francisco: City of Passive-Aggressive Losers

The San Francisco mayor's election was yesterday, and it looks like Ed Lee won it with around 30% of eligible voters voting.

Quoting the San Francisco Examiner, referencing critics:

"...the career bureaucrat would be nothing more than a shill for powerful City Hall insiders. Lee also was dogged by accusations of voter manipulation by an independent expenditure committee that supported the mayor and other backers laundering campaign donations, which prompted a District Attorney’s Office investigation..."

He attracted a huge number of donations, driving up the amount the city needed to pay in public financing. His donations were largely from out-of-city donors, many laundered through low-income workers to circumvent the $500 donation limit. Then there were the nominally unaffiliated supporters, for example those who produced and distributed free copies of the book of his life story. Meanwhile, he violated the law by refusing the disclose details of public contacts within the required time limit. This was so obviously fee-for-service it couldn't have been any clearer.

There was massive fraud in the early voting. Housing managers in Chinatown were reportedly collecting the absentee ballots of tenants and filling them in en mass. Shady "voting booths" were set up where voters brought their absentee ballots for "assistance". "Helpers" were filmed filling ballots out for people, and in other cases stencils were handed out so voters could fill in Lee's slot without the risk of voting for any other candidate. No doubt these absentee ballots were procured with further "assistance"

Lee sat out most of the series of mayoral debates, instead choosing to go hang out at bars and get close to his people. His campaign slogan, "Gets it Done", couldn't have embraced mediocrity any more, mediocrity where the city desperately needs vision and leadership to get it back on track to fiscal responsibility. Indeed, even the deal he claims to have brokered himself to get high-income city employees to contribute to their pensions and health care, Proposition C, he himself is gutting by promising these same workers (SFFD and SFPD) a compensating pay raise. Not only does that cover the pension contribution, but actively increases the city's unfunded liability further by increasing pension payouts, which are proportional to salary. Oh pity the poor police officer, most of whom make well over $100k/year, and can retire on that with full health benefits at an age when public-sector workers are typically mid-way through their careers, wondering how they're going to be able to retire.

Lee supports Proposition B, which pays for road maintenance with debt. Why is debt needed? Because the budget for road work has been diverted to other things, like the massive city worker salary & benefits budget. Lee, "who gets it done", was the Public Works director from 2000 to 2005, the one most directly responsible for road infrastructure. He's part of the reason the roads are in such sorry condition, and a Proposition B is claimed to be needed.

Lee is a shill, a puppet, a tool of the money machine. It was clear as can be he had to go. Nobody I've interacted with admits to supporting him, and I even walked door-to-door in Mission Terrace as a David Chiu volunteer. Yet how can someone who is so clearly unpopular, so clearly corrupt, so clearly a tool of outside money, be elected?

Well, it doesn't help that the ten-thousand-member San Francisco Bike Coalition campaigned for him. SFBike endorses candidates based on a member survey on which members were explicitly asked to rank candidates based on responses to a lame curve-ball set of questions, and Lee finished 3rd. Yet surely the stories of corruption and fraud which followed that survey could have tempered the zeal with which SFBike daily bombarded the internet with messages encouraging a position for Lee on the 3-slot ranked-choice ballot? I even asked an officer of the coalition: had Lee made a racist comment, would you continue to support him? He admitted probably not. Yet naked corruption and fraud is okay?

And I'm also sure he got support from many of the 27 thousand city employees, 3% of the San Francisco population. The number of city employees has reportedly increased under Lee's brief tenure as mayor, and he's taken no steps toward making the efficiency improvements which are so desperately needed (efficiency means fewer workers and people working harder and learn new skills; none of these are popular with existing workers).

But the real culprit here is the lethargy of the voters. Turn-out was weak. It was reportedly very low even among protesters at Occupy San Francisco. Perhaps many of these protesters were from out-of-the-city, I don't know. But if you're going to smugly call for the downfall of the Man in the streets and then not exercise your legal obligation to vote for representative government, you're destroying the integrity of your own message. The reason the banks are able to get away with so much is voters aren't providing adequate oversight of their elected representatives. And there's no better example of that than yesterday's election. This is especially true because several candidates made an explicit point to support and defend the rights of free speech and public assembly of these same protesters.

San Franciscans will continue to whine and complain about how the city is in such a sorry state, how budgets are unsustainable, how public transit is little more than a fiscal tar pit, how there is no vision for how the city is to move forward. Yet many of those same felt they had more important things to do with their time than participate in yesterday's election. Those people are the definition of passive-aggressive, an affliction which is in epidemic proportions. These people deserve mediocrity, corruption, and insider deals. They deserve Ed Lee.

If you live in San Francisco and didn't vote, either yesterday or absentee, I extend my finger in your general direction. You, my friend, is what is wrong with this city.

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