San Francisco’s bellicose police union today officially announced it is endorsing mayoral candidate Angela Alioto. The language at today’s press conference did not match casual discussions in recent weeks with Police Officers Association officials, who essentially told us: To hell with it, we’re gonna probably endorse Angela Alioto.
To hell with it, they did.
Ideologically, this makes plenty of sense. Alioto, a former board president, successful civil rights lawyer, and the daughter of former mayor Joe Alioto, is uncompromising. She is not an equivocating politician, nor one to modulate her positions. That sounds a lot like the POA, which has increasingly become a municipal anachronism and reactionary force. And, depending on whom you speak with, the same terms could be applied to the POA’s chosen candidate.
“The POA and Angela share the same DNA, politically,” argues one city political operative. “They try to cast themselves as fundamentally common-sense. And, also, fundamentally Old San Francisco.”
Alioto is the closest thing this race has to a law-and-order candidate; while every other mayoral aspirant eventually came out against the POA-backed Taser measure, Alioto is emphatically for it. “LOL, yes I signed it at the MLK breakfast,” she texted me.
So far, everything makes sense. Where we start to diverge from sense is Alioto’s standing in the polls, where she consistently comes in a distant fourth (though she tells me these polls are phony). For the POA to put its money and brand on the line for a candidate with a remote chance of winning is a move political scientists define with a highly technical term: “stupid.”
But, as everyone knows, it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever. “They are not necessarily trying to back a winner here. They’d rather back a candidate who’s consistent with their values rather than endorsing a candidate who’d immediately disappoint them once he or she became mayor,” said a longtime San Francisco strategist. “It’s an endorsement that feels good, even if it’s not necessarily the wisest political move.”
The cops’ union contract is currently being negotiated with the city under the watch of Mayor Mark Farrell — long a reliable POA ally — so the union, for years, may not need to return cap in hand to whomever wins June’s election.
That potentially frees the POA up to do as it pleases, even more than the wealthy and aggressive union would have been wont to do anyway. And what the POA felt inclined to do was take yet another shot at London Breed, their erstwhile favorite politician turned target of personal animus. (The POA differed with Mark Leno on transparency-related policies he pursued in Sacramento; policy differences do not make for the incendiary conditions of personal relationships gone sour. The POA doesn’t give much thought to Jane Kim whatsoever except to come up with new synonyms for “left-wing radical” to apply to her).
Breed earlier this year scored the coveted firefighter union’s endorsement. Unlike the firefighters, the police do not walk precincts for their chosen candidate. They do not knock on doors. They do not have the overwhelmingly positive societal position of firefighters. And they do not have as mighty an independent expenditure campaign as the firefighters, who figure to spend heavily and serve as a conduit for “dark money” from any manner of wealthy political backers.
But the POA does have a goodly chunk of change, and a provably devil-may-care attitude toward spending it. The union might, one strategist supposes, “use the Taser campaign to highlight or diminish other mayoral candidates.” Expect an “air war” and possible mailers both pushing Alioto and, perhaps, denigrating her opponents.
One guess as to who gets denigrated the most.
Alioto, barring a vast miscalculation by every last vestige of political thinking in San Francisco not named Alioto, will not win in June. But she may yet siphon away those conservative, West-side votes other candidates — again, guess who — desire.
In the end, if enough voters join with the POA in announcing: “To hell with it, I’m voting for Angela,” that might be enough to alter the race. And, maybe, that’s enough for the POA.