By Rafael Mandelman
Seeing as this is my first column since the election—certainly the very worst election of my lifetime—I feel compelled to acknowledge what we must all be feeling: this really sucks. After eight years of Barack Obama—suave, cool, intelligent, inspiring—somehow the voters of this country have elected as Obama’s successor his very opposite: the rude, brutish, degraded and degrading Donald J. Trump. By “voters” I really mean, of course, the minority of the voters that our constitution has apparently empowered to override the will of the majority.
In the days since the election, the majority that voted against Trump has had to endure the fresh insults of each new transition announcement: an attorney general appointee previously rejected from the federal bench for being a racist, a billionaire “philanthropist” with no actual experience in public education but lots of bad ideas set to lead the Department of Education, and, of course, Breitbart founder and former executive chair Steve Bannon—that prince of the “deplorables” himself—whispering in Trump’s ear in the West Wing as Special Advisor to the President.
In the days following the election, the shock and sadness in our great left coast city was palpable. It was somehow comforting to realize, walking down a street past other grim-faced pedestrians or riding on an eerily quiet Muni car, that everyone around was as miserable as I was.
For progressives, the local results were decidedly mixed. To be sure, there were a few bright spots: Affordable housing advocates were able to secure a quarter billion dollars for affordable housing development through passage of Proposition C, and they succeeded in beating back the realtors’ ill-conceived Propositions P and U, two extraordinarily cynical anti-affordable-housing measures about which I have written here previously. And San Francisco voters re-confirmed their willingness to fund our schools, overwhelmingly passing the School District’s bond measure (Prop A), City College’s parcel tax (Prop B), and a real property transfer tax to, among other things, make City College free (Prop W). Sandy Fewer’s hard-fought victory in District 1, Norman Yee’s re-election in District 7 and Hillary Ronen’s decisive win in District 9 were also causes for celebration.
But the bad news was bad and big. Downtown, the realtors, the landlords and tech spent millions to defeat Propositions D, H, L and M, regain control of the Board of Supervisors and stop Jane Kim’s election to the State Senate. They succeeded. Kim lost the State Senate race to Scott Wiener, and while I do not doubt that Wiener will be a fine State Senator—no one can deny Wiener’s work ethic or his intelligence—there can also be no denying that his instincts are more conservative than his predecessor’s, and his ascension will surely further empower the corporate interests that backed him so strongly.
Meanwhile, control of the Board of Supervisors has now swung back to the business Dems, with Dean Preston losing to incumbent London Breed in District 5 and Kimberly Alvarenga losing to Ahsha Safai in District 11. Had either of the two won, the Board would have maintained its current 6–5 anti-machine majority. The losses in Districts 5 and 11 are frankly all the more frustrating for how close they ended up being. In District 5, Preston lost by fewer than 2000 votes, 52.18% to 47.82%. Alvarenga’s loss was even closer and more heartbreaking: just 413 votes, 49.06% to Safai’s 50.94%. We will never know if a united progressive front in District 5 could have made the difference for Preston—many progressive leaders and organizations stayed out of the race entirely or endorsed Breed, believing Preston simply couldn’t win—just as we will never know if a Democratic Party endorsement could have made the difference in District 11, but it is tempting (and saddening) to think that these races were winnable.
Locally and nationally, it is clear that liberals and progressives have a lot of work to do. I have been heartened by the anger and determination that Trump’s election has inspired. There will surely be much need for resistance in the days and years ahead, and early indicators are that our people are resolved and ready for that. In some ways, our reaction to Trump’s election reminds me of our community’s response to Proposition 8 in 2010. After the initial shock, we went to work: marchers marched, protesters protested, and litigators litigated. Just a few short years later, a movement that seemed to have stalled had won marriage equality across the land.
November 8 represented a stunning setback for us and a reminder that history rarely follows a straight path. Still, despair is not really an option, especially not when we have so much fight left in us.
Rafael Mandelman is an attorney for the City of Oakland. He is also President of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.