The Dance of Local Politics
By Steven J. Moss
In 1973, Eric Redman published The Dance of Legislation, relying on his two years as a member of U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson’s staff to trace the drafting and passage of a single piece of legislation. The book, which became a classic description of the legislative process, provides a vivid picture of the bureaucratic infighting, political prerogatives, and Congressional courtesies necessary to make something happen on Capitol Hill. Throughout 2013, View publisher, San Francisco State University adjunct lecturer, and former Board of Supervisor candidate Steven Moss will publish installments of The Dance of Local Politics, highlighting the often humorous and sometimes teeth grinding process that makes up San Francisco politics. If you’d like to support this project, either financially or by helping to secure a publisher for it, contact: email@example.com.
The idea exploded in my head like a burst of lightening: I’ll run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in District 10! For months I’d been struggling with what to do with my life, now that I was approaching 50. There’d be an open seat in the upcoming district elections for the board – the governing body for the combined city and county – with the incumbent, Sophie Maxwell, termed out. I knew the district – where I’d raised my daughter, started a nonprofit, and published a neighborhood newspaper – and was known in it.
“Dad?” my daughter, Sara, asked from the backseat of the car. “Wasn’t that our exit?”
I snapped out of my revere. “Uh, yeah,” I replied. “Oops.”
“Dad!” Sara barked. “We’re going to be late for our field trip.”
“Yeah,” her cousins, Adam and Olivia chorused. “The bus is going to leave without us!”
I was driving the three of them to summer camp in Foster City, 22 miles south of San Francisco and I’d missed the last exit before the San Mateo Bridge. The program started at 9 a.m. It was 8:50.
“No worries,” I said, “We’ll get there in time.”
As we were funneled onto the seven mile long bridge, I tuned out the loud grumbles from the backseat, settling back into my fevered fantasy. San Francisco’s supervisors were elected from one of eleven geographically-defined areas. We’d moved out of District 10 – where my nonprofit and newspaper were located, and where we’d lived for most of the previous decade – to Liberty Street, near Dolores Park, less than a year ago. To run we’d need to move back. My wife, Debbie, wouldn’t be so keen on that; she’d wanted to live on Liberty Street since she first moved to San Francisco in the late-1980s. Still, she’d probably go along…if I presented the idea in the right way.
I got to the end of the bridge, exited, and circled back through the toll booth. My Fastrak beeped the $5 debit.
“We’re going to be late, Dad!” Sara shouted.
“We’re okay, we’re okay,” I insisted.
I tightened my grip on the steering wheel, and floored it. Speeding along, I dropped back into my day dream. I’d probably be one of the most qualified candidates, having worked in the U.S. Congress and for the White House budget office. I’d been a Fulbright Scholar in India. And I’d taught public policy at local universities for the past ten years. I’d never run for anything before – not even student council – but how hard could it be?
We arrived at camp at 9:15. Sara, Olivia, and Adam scrambled out of the car. If they were teenagers, instead of pre-adolescents, they’d have been cursing me. As we rushed through the entry gates I saw their bus idling around the corner. We’d made it before the field trip departed.
If I was paying attention I might have left the idea of politics in its dream stage. A missed exit, forcing us over a bridge-too-far, triggering an angry mob behind me – even if they were merely three kids late for camp – didn’t seem like a propitious way to launch a campaign. But if it was a prescient metaphor, I chose to ignore it. Within two months I started campaigning for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in District 10; several months later we moved to a rental house around the corner from where we used to live. I’d become a politician.
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