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Gobble, Gobble

Nov
25
2003

Just in time for the holiday, the San Francisco mayoral election has served up something to chew over. And no less a personage than Angela Alioto is front and center, tormented in her decision to endorse former opponent Gavin Newsom by a pantheon that includes John F. Kennedy, Harvey Milk, and George Moscone. In the White House, Hilary Clinton had to deal with the ghost of one great Democrat, Eleanor Roosevelt. Alioto gets three. No wonder Herb Caen thought heaven looked like San Francisco.
Alioto, who as recently as a month ago, accused Newsom, of being a wealthy self-involved puppet of downtown business interests, says she’ll be a kind of super-advisor to Newsom, maybe vice mayor. On the campaign trail, Alioto made the most sense when it came to homelessness and contracting issues. She clearly knows what she’s talking about and she’s got good some ideas on how to fix what’s wrong. But Alioto’s also got deep union support and that support has, throughout the city’s history, come with a hefty price tag.
Her father, Joe, put together one of the great urban Liberal coalitions of unions, New Deal Dems and other “progressives” that carried San Francisco safely through the 1960s and 1970s. But, in the end of his tenure as mayor, he, too, was seen as a tool of downtown business interests. That’s one very good reason why Matt Gonzalez doesn’t invoke his name in the pantheon of liberal footsteps he’s trying to follow.
The optics on this deal – which Newsom first let Alioto advertised as a job then soft-pedaled as a volunteer advisory role – are a bit distorted. Alioto exaggerates. Maybe someone said “vice mayor” but maybe it wasn’t Newsom. Gonzalez, a shrewd campaigner, has taken full advantage of the way this shotgun wedding looks and isn’t holding back. Now jilted, he says he turned Alioto’s demand for a “job” down flat. It’s unethical he says from his high horse. Well, Gonzalez is in many respects a revisionist historian not above amending interpretations to suit his aims. Between the two of them, we’ll never really know what was said.
The Sentinel has the best Lefty take saying, managing to invoke (in a hysterical combination of Photoshop and editorial over-reaching) former mayor Frank Jordan’s famous shower scene at the same time it denounces Newsom, Willie Brown, and Alioto. The paper says the Alioto deal marks the day Newsom lost the election. The Chron carries a milder version of that interpretation, banking – in true ‘horse race’ fashion – on a fall in poll numbers.
The Sentinel overstates the case but for many of the city’s newer residents — the ones who don’t understand the fierce, emotional allegiance Alioto’s name conjures up particularly with neighborhood activists — this deal looks odd. It seems to run counter to the reform-minded message Newsom has been preaching. Carefully executed, this endorsement could have looked like a marriage of old, neighborhood-centric San Francisco and the city’s newly civic-minded tech rich. But it’s not. Not yet, anyway.
Gonzalez hasn’t let the opportunity to talk about City Hall “politics as usual” pass. What Newsom could have been played as a revival of Joe Alioto’s coalition has, in Gonzalez’ hands, been turned into a cynical vote-grab. That may not last. Those tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing neighborhood activists are experienced pols, fiercely loyal to Alioto. They can body check a twenty-something Green Party vegan from the Haight and send him flying to the other side of town with a flick of a finger. But the Newsom campaign has taken a gamble with the Alioto endorsement. It may pay off – having Alioto inside the tent is a little bit easier on the nerves than having her outside – but the risk is there.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:46 AM | Permalink

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