I supported Carlos Quilez. I support Mike Wilson. So why am I supporting in the 4th District a candidate with support from the same coalition I’m opposing everywhere else? The same reason I endorsed Marks a couple of years ago for Supervisor – we need more working class progressives in office. We don’t often have an opportunity to put one there. And while I don’t want entrenched local and extra-county interests dictating local development policies, we need jobs. We need unions. We need union jobs. And I believe Marks will make an excellent swing vote; at least I have great hope he will.
Let me start with a little bit of history. As you know, much of my politics is conditioned by Bay Area experiences. I lived in San Francisco from 1989 to 1995. This was a major transition period from the “old San Francisco” of racial and economic diversity to a more affluent young white liberalism producing a new SF culture of what Harold Solomon called “homogenized arrogance” and what the SF Bay Guardian referred to as “the world’s first economically cleansed city.” I watched unbridled gentrification strip SF and the surrounding areas of their character, forcing the working classes into long commutes from the burgeoning sprawls in the Valley.
This was precipitated by a number of factors, some of them arguably inevitable. San Francisco is already the second most compact city in the country, and everybody and her grandmother wants to live there. Property values were bound to skyrocket, as the bohemians unwittingly aided in the gentrification by moving into the ethnic minority heavy neighborhoods thus diluting the yuppie fears of the swarthy masses. Even Hunter’s Point and the Tenderloin are out of range for the people who have lived there for decades.
And then there are the factors which weren’t inevitable – the short-sight of progressives who boldly took on and sometimes defeated the “downtown interests” but who paved the way for gentrification. (more under the fold)
After the Moscone/Milk killings the city took a conservative turn. Diane Feinstein became mayor and pushed development policies to the hilt – as KPFA personality Kris Welch pointed out she “never met a high rise she didn’t like.” Throughout the 1980s progressives fought what they dubbed “the Manhattanization of the San Francisco Skyline.” They won some, but lost more. Progressives also fought for what the red/pink left has historically referred to with disdain as “quality of life issues.” Among them was the “decorporatization of the waterfront,” which included shutting down polluters and tearing down the “eyesore” of the Embarcadero Freeway, ironically playing right into the hands of “new money” – hotels including the Hyatt Regency which wanted the view of the Bay cleared. Eventually the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down along with the Fell Street Freeway, aggravating traffic problems on the ground, but admittedly making the city prettier. Progressives also opposed industrial development and revitalization on the waterfront, for some very good reasons, but which would eventually have ex-Mayor Diane Feinstein proclaiming with prophetic power I scoffed at in the moment: “you are going to drive working class people out of the city!” Feinstein went on to run for higher office, unsuccessfully in 1990 and successfully in 92. Sometimes I’ve voted for her and sometimes I’ve voted Green. She pisses me off on 90 percent of the issues. But in 1991, she was right and I was wrong.
When Feinstein was termed out, activist favorite Art Agnos was elected Mayor. He was a disappointment almost instantly and lackluster support from activist progressives combined with a desperate enthusiasm from union rank and file for a Mayor who would preserve Old San Francisco led to Frank Jordan’s win in 1991. Conservative by San Francisco standards his win is historically seen (by me anyway) as the last gasp of a dying working class community in coalition with the rapidly declining Hoogasian sect Republicans now representing less than 10 percent of San Francisco voters, and that’s probably generous. You would see Jordan stickers on the rusting pick-ups with union bumper stickers – relics if you see them now. These were the people who showed up for large labor demonstrations on Market Street. Who filled restaurants like Little Joe’s, Bill’s Hamburgers, and the old Chinese California chop suey houses now an endangered species replaced by trendy faux-authentic fare at twice the prices (okay, I do have to report the irony that I’m typing this while enjoying a pumpkin spice latte at Ramone’s). They filled Candlestick Park even during the bad years. They kept neighborhood movie houses open. They kept museums affordable. They read Herb Caen and even Armistad Maupin. They kept children in the schools. And yes, they used public transportation! And they voted for Frank Jordan, to keep their jobs, homes, and urban working class culture.
Eventually they lost. Frank Jordan unfortunately saw a conservative mandate and an opportunity to appoint questionable people, like his God-daughter who was given a vacant City Council spot only to become possibly the only Republican incumbent in the country turned out of office in 1994. When the Brown machine, term-limited out of the legislature, came to town he didn’t have a prayer.
Activists supported Willie Brown reluctantly and it was almost their demise but for Mabel Teng’s unexplained change of heart on district elections which allowed progressives to put a few bulwarks together and politics in SF ever since have been characterized in terms of the activist left versus the Democratic Party machine. The machine wins most of those fights, including all of the mayor races. And the gentrification is nearly complete. When Mayor Willie Brown was asked if he was concerned about the the lack of affordable housing for African-American residents he responded coldly by suggesting that maybe they just can’t afford to live in San Francisco – particularly ironic as he started his political career by challenging the de facto (and de jure) housing discrimination of the time. If you walked in the Fillmore in 1991 one four out of five faces were dark skinned. Now it’s maybe one in ten. The old restaurants have either gone under or upscaled. Housing is through the roof with 90 percent of the residents renting. And the waterfront consists of tourist attractions, trinket stores, and pretentious restaurants. The schools are dying due to declining enrollment, and the playgrounds are often empty except for young well-dressed white folk walking their designer pure-bread dogs (perhaps with a pumpkin spice latte in hand). And meanwhile, the traffic is over the top throughout the Bay Area and now into the valley.
So how does that relate to Humboldt County and my endorsement? I see some of the same trends. A bad combination of conservative development policies with the cultural elitism of much of the environmental and smart growth advocates. I do realize that by using the term “cultural elitist” I’m playing into the counterproductive culture war aspect of the situation, but the fact remains that it does represent a distinct if distorted factual reality. As a member of the referenced group, jobs aren’t always at the forefront of our considerations. We aren’t indifferent, but we sometimes seem that way, prompting comments like the following from a My Word piece in the Times Standard:
We have a choice Nov. 3 between having a viable multi-use harbor, or creating an exclusive playground for the elite.
It’s not a fair accusation as the progressives also support a multi-use bay, and do not support the filling up of waterfront space with condominiums and souvenir shops any more than the business interests oppose all bicycle paths. It is a question of emphasis and I’m hoping that Marks will represent a perspective distinct from the progressives and the business interests which is focused on employment – bound to be salient as the pulp mill which has employed Marks is now shutting down permanently.
Had the unions of SF run one of their own instead of a culturally conservative ex-cop, they might have been more successful in saving working class presence in the city. Hopefully he is not blinded by the railroad pipe dream and some of the interests which are backing him, and will take a realistic approach to changing economic realities, while focusing on jobs. Conservative red and progressive green are well represented in this county. Marks will hopefully restore some true blue representation.