SF Politicians Aren’t as Progressive as the Rest of the Nation Thinks

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Guest post by: Ian Firstenberg

On January 23 San Francisco Mayor London Breed endorsed former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg for president. While this came as somewhat of a shock to local media and obsessive media consumers, it echoes a centrist policy of perceived pragmatism coming from the Bay Area. This pragmatic political orientation has roots in the tumultuous 70s and has hung around despite huge societal, economic, and political changes.

First it’s important to differentiate the Bay Area’s pragmaticism from the other types of centrist liberalism we’ve seen examples of across the country. Contextualized by that ever pesky Summer of Love, the Bay Area is thought of nationally as the hotbed of political revolution. In many ways this is accurate, the Black Panthers originated here and there has consistently been a strong prison abolition movement here, but from a national representation perspective this is woefully wrong.

Kamala Harris, Dianne Fienstein, Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom all serve as national representatives of California’s politics and all represent a total belly roll to the interests of large capital or real estate institutions.

The litany of examples for each of them is too long and depressing to list here, but even a brief glance at recent campaign donations for any and all of the four California politicians points to one reason why this endorsement comes as a grim reminder of who many of these career politicians think politics should be for.

Feinstein has been in office since 1992 and was Mayor of San Francisco prior to that. According to Open Secrets, a nonprofit research group that tracks the effects of money on American politics, in her 2018 election cycle, Feinstein’s campaign received over $50,000 from PG&E, over $40,000 from JP Morgan Chase, and another similarly sized donation from Edison International, a southern California public utility holding company.

This year Nancy Pelosi faces an actual progressive challenger, Democratic Socialist Shahid Buttar. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Pelosi has been the 12th district representative since 2013 but prior to that held long stints as the representative of the Golden State’s 8th (1993-2013) and 5th (1987-1993) respectively. In the same election cycle she saw smaller donations but from a similar group. Her top five contributors were Facebook ($15,500), Salesforce ($14,150), Intel ($13,060), Amazon ($12,750) and Google ($11,931).

Harris is a newly elected senator but has a long history in San Francisco politics, serving as Attorney General from 2011-2017 and District Attorney for the City from 2004-2011. Her presidential campaign drew immediate endorsements from the Democratic establishment almost immediately but many have withdrawn support since her campaign’s initial stumbles and subsequent end. During her presidential bid her campaign received donations over $100,000 from Alphabet Inc (Google’s parent company), AT&T, Walt Disney, and Kirkland & Ellis, the largest US law firm whose previous client list includes the ever honorable British Petroleum and billionaire child sex-trafficker Jeffery Epstein.

Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign receipts indicate that he was working with, if not for, many similarly large corporate financial institutions. According to Open Secrets his campaign received at least $10,000 to Citigroup, Bank of America, Northrop Grumman and International Game Technology which is a multinational gambling corporation.

This style of political wheeling and dealing is something Michael Bloomberg is familiar and comfortable with; it is how he’s operated for a majority of his career. His history with Bay Area politics can further illuminate what seems like a strange endorsement choice for Mayor Breed. In 2016 he spent upwards of $18 million promoting the soda tax in Oakland and San Francisco.

According to a report from Bay Area News Group, that is just the start. Bloomberg has spent nearly $40 million since 2012, going to a variety of causes ranging from, “cigarette and soda taxes, groups advocating for charter schools, and politicians from both parties, including Govs. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.”

Bloomberg has spent nearly $40 million since 2012 on California elections. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Regarding Bloomberg in the 2020 election Mayor Breed said, “He has the ability to beat Donald Trump this November, and that is of the most concern to me.” Her categorization of Bloomberg as the candidate with the best chance to beat Donald Trump in the general election may be misguided according to recent CNN polls.

Bloomberg’s chance to beat Trump in the general stacks about the same as Biden’s or Sanders’ so the natural question follows, why him?

Joe Biden has an atrocious and well-reported record and Bernie Sanders represents a deviation from Democractic party standards that few within the establishment are comfortable with. Bloomberg serves as a safe endorsement because he upsets few and checks the right boxes according to party lines and norms.

Many, if not all, Democractic politicians have waxed and waned for almost four years now about the importance of beating Trump and they are wholeheartedly right. As atrocious as four years of Trump has been, eight would undoubtedly be worse on all fronts; he would have no compunction about attacking any and all social welfare programs while continually disregarding any and every rule of law. We’ve seen what happens, we know the storyline. So with this being of the utmost importance, why would Breed endorse a candidate who plans to skip the first four primaries and is polling at 5.5 percent in her home state?

In short: It follows the rules.

Following the rules might not be enough to oust Trump in November and is certainly not enough to engage disillusioned angsty young voters. So this endorsement looks much more like a career move than a moral one.

For all those, Mayor Breed included, who have been saying for four years how important beating Trump is, there is a second part that few if any will say in public. Beating Trump is the most important thing, as long as it comes at the hands of a Democrat who seeks to further the party’s larger agenda, not upend it.

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