It’s ironic, when you think about it, that almost every application of the word “ironic” is incorrect. Including the one we just made, probably. They almost always are: Short of the diabetic racing to the pharmacy and being struck by a runaway insulin truck, examples of irony are nearly always wanting.
Until now, perhaps — thanks to today’s selection of a new president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And, in fact, it’s a two-fer. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who in January insisted upon the necessity of a caretaker mayor, in June found her own hopes for the board presidency dashed by the installation of a caretaker board president. And Supervisor Malia Cohen, who in January decried the installation of a caretaker mayor as bogus, in June finds herself the caretaker board president.
So, that’s some irony. Or at least a sign that San Francisco reverses its polarity every six months.
Board president elections are often a display of back-room politics in the front room — which is awkward, because they usually follow supes’ teary tributes to their teary families after the politicians are sworn in. Mayor-elect London Breed, however, decided to do away with that awkwardness by stepping down from the board presidency early, triggering this vote before incoming District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman could be seated. As such, Jeff Sheehy was the pivotal vote deciding who would lead a board that he is about to leave after a near-supermajority of his constituents voted him out of office.
Sheehy’s unwillingness to put his head down and follow the wishes of this city’s powers-that-be made trouble for him in the past. Today, it became clear that he chose, following Breed’s election and his own loss, to put his head down and follow the wishes of the city’s powers-that-be. Classic Sheehy: He has, once again, managed to to flummox all sides.
Sheehy had hoped to drift into private life without having to take anymore consequential votes. Bad luck: Breed’s decision to step down early put him on the spot. This is not the first time an Ed Lee appointee has been mauled by this city’s political process. Best of luck to Sheehy with whatever comes next. Sincerely.
A surfeit of back-room deals, in fact, made for smooth and well-choreographed show today (albeit some four hours into the meeting and following an actual puppet show from an actual clown). That Breed would move to deny her progressive opponents the chance to choose their own board president was known weeks ago on the second floor of City Hall. Progressives, realizing they couldn’t “count to six” and elect one of their own, yielded to Cohen. “This is legal, this is legitimate, this is politics,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said today. “It’s not the end of the world. But I don’t think it’s democracy at its best.” Likely not, but Supervisor Jane Kim subsequently nominated Cohen, with praise from presidential aspirants Ronen and Ahsha Safai and everyone else — a lovefest! — and that was that. Cohen was elected unanimously.
Don’t be surprised to see the incoming president re-appoint a couple of left-leaning city commissioners in the next several days. If not leverage, per se, that was a pot-sweetener.
In a world where the Supreme Court can legalize discrimination, what does it matter who the Board President of San Francisco is? Well … very little. That’s not to buy into the canard that local politics no longer matter when actual fascists and grifters run the country — the local politics you don’t pay attention to always matter and, barring Armageddon, will likely affect your life more than the Washington, D.C. politics you do pay attention to. (Good Lord, let us hope so).
It’s just that, in June 2018, board president doesn’t figure to be a fantastically consequential thing.
Budget season is largely over — and Cohen (who is termed out in January) is already budget chair, so she’s had her input. There will soon be six progressive supervisors out of 11, so they’ll legislate and vote as they see fit, regardless of who is president. The supes will be in recess in August and for much of December and, come January, we’ll have a whole new crop of supes, a potential re-reshuffling of the board, and, guaranteed, a new board president.
Today’s proceedings, then, served in part as an indicator of how a future Mayor Breed may lead. She couched her move to abdicate as a necessary step for a mayor-to-be jamming to get ready for taking the reins on July 11; her opponents painted it as a vindictive power play meant to stick it to the progressives who undermined her in January.
But both can be true.
Being board president for two more meetings in the dead of summer and with a big break looming is not exactly hard labor. But any minute Breed isn’t spending planning on who to hire or retain and how to keep all the plates spinning once she’s mayor is a minute wasted. Sure, it comes off as hypocritical to claim you’ll be “a mayor for all San Franciscans” while pulling moves like this — but, let’s face it: Mayor Lee’s claims of civility were farcical, too.
Politics, it turns out, is a strange profession. It’s a field in which the more you toss folks under the bus, the more you can find yourself rewarded. As such, with Breed facing a re-election campaign in just a few short months, it could well behoove her to toss any number of department heads overseeing areas San Franciscans might consider problematic — housing, homelessness, transit, etc. This establishes a patina of change from the status quo and, perhaps more importantly, buys time: Hey, I know (insert intractable problem) is still a problem, but we’ve got a new head of the (insert intractable problem) department! We’re getting up to speed!
And time is a luxury Breed does not have. The hiring of Sean Elsbernd as mayoral chief-of-staff brings in a shrewd and experienced strategian. But not until November, when he leaves the employ of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Current chief-of-staff Jason Elliott, who has been itching to get the hell out of Dodge for quite some time now, has agreed to hang on until August — and nobody knows what’ll happen during the interregnum after that. Expect a cavalcade of people to head out the door, necessitating a cavalcade of hires. And expect growing pains (we’re getting up to speed!).
But that’s tomorrow. Today, congratulations rained down on outgoing President Breed, incoming President Cohen, and many, many happy birthdays were wished to Board Clerk Angela Calvillo. Cohen even teared up when she mentioned her parents, watching along from home.
It was sweet and pretty. And not ironic at all.