The Dance of Local Politics Part 3
Steven J. Moss
Becoming a Politician
Pastor Sampson’s reaction to my running for office — mildly discouraging, followed by fully supportive — mirrored the responses from other friends and acquaintances. Some worried about the need to raise huge sums of money to be competitive; others praised me for having the courage to run for office. But the most common response I got was “Why they hell would you want to do that?!” Politics, especially San Francisco politics, was broadly seen as an ego-driven, petty, comedy of errors. At best a waste of time; at worst a downhill slope to purgatory.
“I support your candidacy,” David told me, “and I’ll remind you that my dad is a pharmacist, so if, in the course of your dealing with some of your new colleagues you need some Vicoden or Lexapro, let me know.”
Nani, David’s, wife, who worked for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, grimaced when I told her of my plans. “Might your skills be better applied elsewhere,” she encouraged. “I’ve been called a snake, and worse, by some of the supervisors. It’s a nasty place.”
“On my God!” responded Philip, who owned a popular pizza parlor on Potrero Hill. Two decades earlier he’d made an unsuccessful run for supervisor, and remained actively engaged in politics. “Are you serious enough about running to raise a half-million dollars?” Philip questioned whether I was the right race to run in the district, which had historically been represented by an African-American, and was seen as one of the City’s only secure “Black” seats.
I ignored the warnings. I thought I could raise the money — though not as much as Philip suggested — a task made easier by San Francisco’s generous public financing of supervisorial candidates. And I while I hadn’t realized how low the board’s reputation had sunk — one supporter called them the “Board of Stupid-visors” — I’d been to enough board meetings to know what to expect.
In July of 2009 I sent a mass email to everyone I knew announcing my plans:
I’ve decided to run for San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 10, when Sophie Maxwell terms out next November 2010. You know me well enough to understand why I want to take this step, even though it’ll disrupt my family and lower my paycheck. I’ve been working in the community for nearly a decade, through the nonprofit I founded, San Francisco Community Power, www.sfpower.org, and the newspaper I publish, the Potrero View, www.potreroview.net. I’m hoping that my professional experiences — at the White House Budget Office, teaching politics at San Francisco State University, not to mention working with the Government of Niger for the U.S. Treasury Department — will provide a good basis from which to get things done, even with the notoriously circus-like Board of Sups.
Spanning Potrero Hill, Bay View-Hunters Point, Visitacian Valley, and parts of Mission Bay, District 10 encompasses a number of distinct communities. It’s probably the City’s most challenging district, facing a host of unique problems. If elected I’ll focus on job creation that’s small business-based and green; support the development of affordable housing and thriving neighborhoods; and work for a better environment, including creating more open space and playgrounds, and cleaning-up the toxic legacy of years gone by. Relentless creativity in the pursuit of successful solutions can create opportunities to make the district a showcase for how to help low-income families become first, rather than last, in line for jobs and social innovations; and to keep middle-class families and small businesses in San Francisco.
Of course to win the seat and use it wisely, I need your help. No matter which district you live in, San Francisco needs City Supervisors who care about the issues that are important to them, and can approach public policy in a thoughtful and effective manner.
Money and pledges of support started to trickle in. Within a month I’d raised $4,000, and pulled together a kitchen cabinet of friends to help me run my campaign. I was on my way.
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. This is the second installment. This is the third installment in the series. If you’d like to support this project, either financially or by helping to secure a publisher for it, contact: email@example.com.
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