Today, San Francisco watched newly elected Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi charged with three misdemeanor counts related to domestic violence charges. And already the talk is starting to move further than just this incident. Besides this being the possible end to a progressive golden boy, could this also be a Waterloo for the progressive movement in San Francisco?
Not to place the entire grenade in Mirkarimi's hands, but maybe we should have seen this coming a long time ago. Not the domestic violence charge, which caught everyone by surprise. But more about how the progressive movement in San Francisco has seemed to be less and less about San Francisco and more and more about, well, itself.
The days of Harry Britt seem so far away at this point. Appointed to the Board of Supervisors in 1979 after the killing of Harvey Milk at the hands of Dan White, Britt was re-elected in November of that year. And then the following year for the full four years. And then again in 1984. And yet again in 1988.
Yes, you are reading that correctly... a progressive winning re-election three times in a row. Seems almost laughable these days, doesn't it? But Britt was an old school progressive, born in the crucible of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. He was responsible for introducing the landmark 1982 legislation that was the first real attempt at protecting domestic partners (although that particular legislation was ultimately vetoed by then-Mayor Feinstein).
And speaking of Feinstein, she was followed by progressive mayor Art Agnos. No, that is not a typo. Mayor Agnos was considered a progressive at the time. Then San Francisco progressives were socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Which meant that being anti-business was not part of the agenda, and consensus-building was the order of the day.
The second generation of San Francisco progressives paid attention carefully. In the following decade, the flag was picked up and carried, most importantly by the exquisitely polished Mark Leno, a politician who was able to increase the progressive's reach while still being able to almost effortlessly build coalitions and power bases among even non-progressives.
Leno was joined by Matt Gonzales and Tom Ammiano, and they crafted important legislation around housing, LBGT issues and homelessness. But the seeds of trouble were already being sown. Ammiano's run at mayor in 1999 was where the progressives first starting sliding from trend setters to stereotypes. The anti-business gremlin appeared here, although Gonzales was able to cram that particular genie back into its bottle for his mayoral run against Gavin Newsom in 2003. Gonzales narrowly lost that race in a run-off, but the bridges to business, budgets, and quality of life issues seemed to be repaired.
And then the progressives went and blew all the bridges to kingdom come. There is a saying in the inheritance business that the first generation makes the money, the second generation maintains the money, and the third generation loses the money. Maybe it's true for political movements too. As the second generation started heading off to Sacramento, they were replaced by quite possibly the most divisive group of politicians ever seen in San Francisco... and that's saying something.
Aaron Peskin. Chris Daly. And the current subject of our attention, Ross Mirkarimi. The level of discourse took a definitive turn for the worse as insults replaced respect, grandstanding stood in for discourse, and intransigence won over consensus. When Peskin became the president of the Board of Supervisors, he raised condescension to an art form. Mirkarimi's long-winded and often-incomprehensible diatribes could be timed with a sundial. And Daly proudly announced his attention to drop the f-bomb at every board meeting.
All the seeds planted in Ammiano's mayoral run now flowered in full force. Quality of life issues, supporting businesses, slowing the flight of middle class, all disappeared off the radar. The traditional progressive battle grounds of rights, housing, and health were replaced with plastic bag bans, extortion of developers, and a stranglehold on City Hall by public employee unions.
For me, the official time of death was clocked this week. A new member of our current Board of Supervisors announced that she is on the forefront of "anti-gentrification."
I wanted to make sure I was not out of my mind, so I looked up the definition of gentrification: "the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals..." Yep, that sounds terrible all right. Let's declare the Tenderloin an historical district instead of fixing the place. Let's make sure we keep Mid-Market looking like a war zone, because that is far better than letting in a bunch of people who want to improve the damn place. Let's focus on anti-gentrification while the homeless take over the Union Square District and chase tourists and locals up and down the streets.
What in the name of Sunny Jim Rolph is going on here? How did the progressives get this out of step with the times? Just maybe, the reason is they don't realize the times have changed. The recent appointment of Christine Olague to the board of supervisors was accompanied by now-bar-owner Daly announcing that if she was not elected he was going to run for that seat to protect the progressive movement... the same movement his antics have done so much to diminish.
Aaron Peskin casts an even more pitiful shadow as he maneuvers day in and day out to make the Democratic County Central Committee increasingly irrelevant with each election cycle. Watching Peskin preside haughtily over these proceedings is like watching the captain of the debate team argue procedure while the rest of the school is at the big football game. If a gavel falls in a forest and no one hears it...
And now Mirkarimi. At the end of this run, it almost seems inevitable that something bad was going to happen. That the sickening cocktail of isolation, irrelevance and self-importance would lead to something none of the rest of us could understand. Did I think this would be it? Of course not. But in a way it forms the perfect bookend. From Harry Britt and civil rights, to Ross Mirkarimi being indicted on domestic violence charges. Shark, consider yourself jumped.
Follow Christopher Caen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/citizencaen