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The Fighting Irish


The simmering tension of the last San Francisco election between the lace curtain Irish – that’s the “Newsom family” for those of you not up on your Irish class warfare terminology – and the city’s active and strong workingmen’s unions, the foundation of its progressive politics, are coming front and center this time around. [See correction below on union stuff]

Joe O’Donoghue the doggeral-writing, self-proclaimed man of the people has announced his decision to run for Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s seat representing the somewhat conservative District 1.
It’s an interesting choice. McGoldrick has been accused of being too liberal for his constituency. But San Francisco is filled with curious sites: I’d never seen a “man of the people” with $200,000 on hand to defeat housing measures, but O’Donoghue had that and, it seems, more to fund political campaigns. I’ve also never seen a man of the people so closely associated with what are politely known as irregular practices within the city’s building department. Nor have I ever seen one as upset as O’Donoghue appears to be about the ending of those sort of practices.
But I guess a man’s got to make a living. O’Donoghue, president of the city’s Residential Builders Association, the folks who brought you most of the South of Market cookie-cutter lofts, wants Mayor Gavin Newsom to step and in and campaign against him on McGoldrick’s behalf. That way, O’Donoughue figures they can both roll around in the mud and we’ll all see – gasp – that Newsom is a friend of the rich and a pawn of downtown business interests.
Haven’t heard that before, have you? It’s similar to the same strategy plotted by unsuccessful (3 out of 7) mayoral candidate Angela Alioto. Trotting out the old Irish class resentment of those who have done well and abandon the cause of overthrowing authority (the English, the rich, the landed gentry, anyone but Mother Church) Joe will sneer and rant and rave. But in this new San Francisco, as removed by time and changing demographics from the Old Sod as Gold Mountain, he’ll be greeted with puzzlement. When Alioto cracked that “Gavin Newsom owns this town,” this is what she meant. The city of unionized class resentment is fading away.
My guess? This whole thing will send McGoldrick running to that increasingly moderate zone on the San Francisco board of supervisors. And that’s good for Newsom regardless of how or what you call him.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION:Alexis Gonzales writes in and gives me a hard time about the Spanish Armada (which crashed off the coast of Ireland giving rise to what are known as the ‘black Irish’) and points out that Joe O’Donoghue isn’t a union man. He’s not and I know that.
Here’s a better explanation of the point I’m trying to make. San Francisco’s stronghold as a union town means that its politicians have been able to summon up resentment of those who own — management or landlords, to take two examples — in the name of fighting on behalf of the less well-off. That’s a fine and reliable strategy when it doesn’t come with the often ugly emotional gloss that O’Donoghue employs. But, in a city where so many people, so many new arrivals, don’t know unions (or their history or their accomplishments), the rhetoric falls on deaf ears.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:17 AM | Permalink

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