There’s an old joke that seems relevant in these times, about a rabbi being called upon to settle a shtetl dispute.
The first aggrieved villager states his case, and the rabbi nods and says, “You’re right.”
But then the second villager states his case, and the rabbi nods and says, “You’re right.”
The rabbi’s wife explodes. “They can’t both be right!”
And the rabbi nods and says “You’re right!”
Which brings us to the ongoing David Campos-Matt Haney punch-up for Assembly District 17. The allies-turned-rivals will go to the voters on April 19 for the second of four — four — elections for this seat in calendar 2022.
Haney, in February, edged Campos by fewer than 800 votes in the primary, setting up April’s runoff. The winner then fills out the final nine months of David Chiu’s expiring term while weathering another primary, and then capping it off with a November general election.
San Francisco makes it easy for you to vote. April’s election consists of filling in a single circle: Haney or Campos. They mail the ballots to your home. They include the jaunty little “I Voted” sticker. Postage is paid. And yet, asking voters to weigh in so many times on the same matter, be it kidney dialysis or state Assembly, has long since passed into surreal territory.
As for this particular race, it’s beginning to resemble the outtakes of a Jackie Chan movie. And If Campos comes second in April — and does the same in June and November — he’d accomplish the Buffalo Bills-like feat of losing four elections in a year for the same office, an achievement all but certainly never accomplished before or since.
But that’s not a possibility the former Mission District supervisor is dwelling on. He sees himself as the man to beat. As does Haney.
Haney has data in hand. A David Binder poll from late February puts him up by a crushing 17 points.
But Campos has data in hand, too. A Ben Tulchin poll from mid-March puts him up by six points.
You’re right! You’re right!
Once again, San Francisco politics has produced a Rashômon situation, featuring multiple, separate — and incompatible — versions of the truth. And it goes beyond bravado and polling.
But let’s start with that polling. Haney’s poll showed voters who preferred February’s third-place finisher, Bilal Mahmood, going to Haney by a gaudy 68-15 margin. And that’s intuitive: Mahmood was the choice of the YIMBYs and has since endorsed Haney and campaigned alongside him.
Campos’ poll, however, shows a far tighter split of Mahmood’s erstwhile voters; something, we’re told, more along the lines of 55 percent of them going for Haney. Voters don’t always behave in a predictable way; you may recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, in 2019, receiving an inordinate number of second-place votes from Nancy Tung — far and away the most conservative candidate in that race.
Clearly, getting the voters who are inclined to vote for you to actually vote is going to be paramount in this low-turnout election; there’s nothing else on the ticket to draw people in. And this, too, leads to a Campos-Haney Rashômon: Each side lauds its voter-ID campaign, field operation and vote-banking abilities, which it declares to be far superior to the opposition.
Haney’s campaign also insists that Campos shot himself in the foot with his heavy-handed attempts to tie Haney to the fetid conditions in the Tenderloin. Campos’ side feels like that’s worked out just fine. Left unsaid regarding this strategy is that there are voters, possibly Mahmood voters, who would never vote for Campos — but now may be less inclined to vote at all.
There does not seem to be an overriding sense of urgency among voters in this race. And the campaigns’ invective appears to have filled that void. Team Campos presents Haney as a superficial opportunist. Team Haney presents Campos as a hypocritical anti-housing zealot.
Much of the animus comes down to funding sources. Haney has accepted $60,000 from corporate donors, a minuscule portion of his overall haul, and returned $45,000 from donors who improperly gave to the sitting supervisor despite having business or pending business before the city.
Campos, meanwhile, is running a corporate-free campaign. But he is taking checks from individuals who work for, or own, big corporations. Including, it turns out, a $4,900 donation from Rob Rosania, the founder and “chief visionary” of Maximus Real Estate, which tried and failed to build the so-called “Monster in the Mission” at the 16th Street BART Plaza.
That’s an odd donation, all the more so because Campos said he would, specifically, not accept a donation from Rosania in a questionnaire from the Latinx Democratic Club.
Campos told me he did not recall this question. But, upon reviewing the questionnaire, he last week pledged to return this check.
“I can’t remember every question on every questionnaire. But, in this case, it references him specifically, so we’re going to return it,” Campos said. “I still think that if you beat a developer and he respects you with the expectation you’re going to continue doing what you’re doing, that’s appropriate.”
In political circles, Campos has long since been written off. Perhaps that was premature. But even if we accept Campos’ poll as gospel, it’s hard not to see him having the more arduous path in April (and beyond).
Campos is the gay candidate in this race, but he does not necessarily figure to resoundingly win LGBTQ votes; the moderate-leaning Alice B. Toklas Democratic club, illustratively, is endorsing Haney. LGBTQ voters, particularly in District 8, are a high-turnout bunch. The progressives and Latinos that do figure to go resoundingly for Campos are not necessarily high-turnout voters. Reaching them requires extra effort and follow-up and resources, and Campos has fewer resources than Haney.
And then there’s the matter of the candidates themselves. Campos has a far longer political history in this town, and a penchant for throwing a political elbow when he deems it necessary. These elbows have elicited ire over the years, with some city political players nursing grudges against Campos going back a decade and change — at which time Haney was still in law school.
In addition to having had less time to build up a track record, Haney is, for good or ill, a less confrontational politician. “Everybody who sits down with Matt Haney thinks that Matt Haney agrees with them,” sums up one longtime city political player. “They may end up being surprised by how he votes. But he’s pretty nice about that, too.”
These details probably don’t concern the average voter. But they do matter a great deal to the people and entities making endorsements, donating money, and putting themselves behind one candidate or the other.
While this race is marked by incompatible sets of truths, not all truths are incompatible. Haney is maligned for his political malleability, but he is also lauded for his ability to bring together disparate groups. Politicians are entitled to change their minds, just as voters are entitled to rule on whether that’s opportunistic or not.
Campos is maligned for his ideological rigidity, but, viewed in another light, that’s just consistency. It’s up to voters to decide if Campos holding steady while the city changes around him is a positive or a negative.
In the end, the village rabbi isn’t deciding who’s right; you are. Come April 19 or thereabouts, we’ll know.