Matt Haney listening to the results come in on election day, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo by Annika Hom

Late in the 49ers’ 55-10 demolition of Denver in the 1989 Super Bowl, broadcaster Pat Summerall wryly asked his partner, analyst John Madden, “Not much left to analyze, is there?” 

No, there was not. But, then, that was the final football game of the year and didn’t factor into future contests. In San Francisco, where Matt Haney this week similarly trounced David Campos for a spot in the Assembly, there are two more elections this year alone.

There are some factors that can be written off as unique to this week’s election: An extremely low-turnout affair, dominated by older voters, and featuring two very particular candidates. There are many ways in which this week’s Assembly race was sui generis. 

But in many ways it was not, and the reaction from Campos and his surrogates has been anything but atypical. In the aftermath of his loss, Campos told his supporters that “Big money has figured out how to win elections.” His surrogates and backers chalked this up as a result of the corporate dollars poured into the race by outside interests such as the Realtors (who spent big, but not as big as labor).

Now, $1.7 million in Independent Expenditure money, which Haney benefited from, is not nothing. That buys a lotta pretzels (or, glossy mailers ballyhooing a candidate or cynically lashing his opponent to Chesa Boudin. Incidentally, the successful weaponization of Boudin — on the city’s more liberal east side — does not bode well for his citywide recall election in June). 

You can’t claim $1.7 million, in a vote involving only half the city, wasn’t impactful. But you also can’t seriously claim it swung this election. Campos was heavily outspent, but he also raised damn near $1 million; if what he was saying had resonated with voters, he had the means to tell it to them. 

This level of outside spending can, indeed, alter an election, but political professionals I spoke to estimated it could move the needle perhaps four to six percent. Campos, at last count, trailed by 26 percent. Even if “big money” swung the vote by an improbable 10 percent, this was still a crushing outcome; it’d be like the Niners winning only 41-10. What’s more, Campos lost big in districts of San Francisco where his ideological allies have recently won big. Campos lost by 10 percent in the Mission. Clearly there was much more going on here. 

Finally, on a citywide level at least, “big money” has long known how to win elections; Gavin Newsom, in 2003, outspent Matt Gonzalez in the mayoral race by a factor of 10, and that’s just a relatively recent example. This is something progressive candidates have long had to factor into their campaigns as a given; to chalk up this week’s outcome to the Realtors/tech bros/media done us wrong reveals an unwillingness to learn from specific elements of this election and a staunch resistance to introspection. 

Well, ever thus. Progressives, as ever, remain overly clubby and unwilling/unable to expand their base. Progressives, as ever, remain overly doctrinaire and all too willing to make an infidel out of individuals or groups who disagree with them on only a small minority of issues. 

After a shellacking of this magnitude, introspection is due. The question is, do progressives do introspection?

“If you are going straight, hard progressive, you appeal to about one-third of this town. If you can’t swing that bridge to middle-class liberals, you are fucked,” sums up Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “And that’s what happened.” 

Supervisor David Campos speaks at a meeting for tenants displaced by fires in 2015. Photo by Daniel Mondragón.

You may recall national hot-take-meisters credulously claiming that San Francisco’s February recall of three Board of Education members was a death knell for Democrats in the forthcoming national midterms. Dios mio, man. Democrats may well take it on the chin (hard to see it not happening), but the former does not augur the latter. 

So, before making any grandiose pronouncements about a political sea change based on this week’s election, it’s worth noting that, as of Thursday, some 62,000 votes have been tallied, just 23 percent of Assembly District 17’s 269,000 registered voters. 

What’s more, data from the Department of Elections from earlier this month reveals that, among the first 50,000 of those voters to return their ballots — the vast majority of the votes so far tallied — a disproportionately high 62 percent were from San Franciscans aged 50 or older (voters of this age only represent 41 percent of the electorate). 

So, yes, there is a hell of a lot to be gleaned from this election rout (or willfully ignored). But one cannot wholly write off that this is an infinitesimal turnout in an off-season, special election that was dominated by aging voters. That’s not a favorable field for most any progressive candidate — and, demonstrably, an especially treacherous one for Campos. 

Candidates matter, and the Haney-vs.-Campos contest is a very specific matchup that led to very specific outcomes. Campos was always going to be facing an uphill battle, here: The demographics of AD-17 have not changed in his favor; he has been out of public office for years; and, to be frank, his comportment while in public office led to simmering resentments culminating in this week’s heavy loss. 

In March, we wrote that Campos had a penchant for throwing political elbows that had led to decades-long political grudges. Among other telltale signs of this, he was not backed by a majority of LGBTQ outfits nor San Francisco labor unions (more on that in a moment). 

And, while that was true, in retrospect we did not adequately articulate the point: Campos, in his time as a San Francisco public servant, picked up a reputation for oft-needless antagonism and had a propensity to wear on friends and foes alike. As a result, his coalition was weaker this time around (most importantly, again, with labor), and participants in the Independent Expenditure campaigns targeting him have described the time and resources put into sinking Campos as the settling of old scores.

This is, to put it mildly, not Haney’s M.O. In March, a longtime city political player told us that “Everybody who sits down with Matt Haney thinks that Matt Haney agrees with them. They may end up being surprised by how he votes. But he’s pretty nice about that, too.” 

This resonated with city insiders. And it may come off as condescending, but the politicos I spoke to didn’t really mean it to be. There are worse things for a candidate than being likable — and being unlikable for the sake of unlikability is no benefit. 

So, in addition to the demographics of this electorate, the demographics of the candidates were somewhat unique and not likely to be re-created. 

But their platforms and campaigns? That’s different. 

Supporters of David Campos wave signs on a corner of Mission Street. Photo taken by Eleni Balakrishnan on Feb. 15, 2022.

Haney’s “evolution” into a full-throated advocate for more housing construction opened him to charges of political opportunism. That’s to be expected, but it’s hardly revelatory for a left-leaning San Francisco politician to also be pro-development. Construction didn’t exactly stall in District 6 under Haney’s predecessors, Jane Kim and Chris Daly. Longstanding city politicos pointed out that, like Daly, Haney can claim to be 100-percent pro-renter and 100-percent pro-development, which is a useful trick in this city of ours. 

And there is a precedent for a left-on-left battle of the sort we’ve just witnessed: Multiple longtime campaign operatives likened the Haney-Campos race (and outcome) to the 2003 contest when Matt Gonzalez outflanked Tom Ammiano in the mayoral race, and stormed into the runoff against Newsom. Ammiano was an older and more doctrinaire progressive than Gonzalez. And Gonzalez, like Haney, had a youthful vibe, an enthusiastic campaign — and developer backing in the personage of the Residential Builders Association. 

On a local level, it’s still not a winning proposition for an aspiring Board candidate to call for more market-rate construction in their district (See: Josefowitz, Nick, 2018). On a citywide level, however, it’s a no-brainer: It’s hard to come up with counterarguments for broad, ambiguous calls for more housing. Haney read the room. Progressives will have to do this, too. 

It is not enough to discount why construction is a negative. Progressives, on a citywide level, will have to have answers for the many city residents who, even with decent incomes, cannot dream of buying a home and cementing a future here. Progressive solutions will have to be that: Solutions. It’s not enough, anymore, to deflect. 

“If you are going straight, hard progressive, you appeal to about one-third of this town. If you can’t swing that bridge to middle-class liberals, you are fucked. And that’s what happened.” 

Supervisor Aaron peskin

When I asked leading progressives what they’d tell people who can’t plan for futures in San Francisco — people for whom the strident simplicity of “build more housing” holds a tantalizing appeal — I receive a barrage of responses. 

Among them: Combat evictions, squeeze out inclusionary housing in any and all ways possible, establish a vacancy tax, and lean heavily into social housing. 

None of these is as cogent as “build more housing.” In the case of social housing, it’s incumbent to explain how this can actually come to pass, rather than being the next iteration of a gas station or vacant lot left to molder for a decade in the hope of an elusive 100-percent affordable development. 

There are many individual factors that went into Haney’s victory. Among them, his field director, Han Zou, who also helmed Haney’s 2018 evisceration of Sonja Trauss and Christine Johnson, is clearly a savant. But the broad strokes of his road to higher office are re-creatable. A citywide or state candidate could run on progressive issues, with a progressive-style ground game, and also call for augmented housing construction, leading to a broad coalition and across-the-spectrum labor support. 

The role of labor in Haney’s victory has been deeply overlooked. It may be the most important factor of all. He rolled up backing from not only progressive-friendly unions like the SEIU, but the (intuitively) pro-construction building trades. 

There were a variety of reasons for this. A number of union higher-ups had had less-than-thrilling relationships with Campos (See: grudges, longstanding). Haney was well-liked for his ability to amalgamate coalitions. He was seen as someone Gov. Gavin Newsom wouldn’t go out of his way to thwart. The money and resources and manpower from the city’s unions were a pivotal factor. 

“We did not support Matt because of some pro-housing line,” said a political operative with close ties to the building trades. “That’s labor erasure. By virtue of his being in District 6, being heir to the projects approved by Jane Kim and, in a way, Chris Daly, you had a situation where he was going to be in the center of the development storm. He handled it well. He worked with us to ensure that when development happened, it was going to provide real benefits.” 

Two of Campos’ key issues in this most recent race were enacting Medicare for All and ending hunger in California. Noble goals, but not what city voters are looking for in 2022. Future candidates, of all political stripes, would do well to listen to voters’ questions. And address them. 

“We need to have a snappy answer to the vexing issues du jour: Those are housing/housing affordability and homelessness,” Peskin concedes. “It’s got to be better than ‘we’re trying.’” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned, which I think is making a big difference, is that the resurgent Chronicle is weighing in hard against progressive excesses, esp re: housing. This is reflected both in the articles it chooses to run, the bolstered credentials of the experts they cite, and, of course, the explicit pronouncements from the editorial board.

    The Chronicle is a rare thriving example of a newspaper for this sized metro, and it seems they’ve decided to make their presence felt again on the local political scene. It used to be that local pols couldn’t suck-up hard enough to the paper. During its long decline progressives got used to dumping on the paper, a habit they better break in hurry if they want to retain their relevance in the city.

  2. With the exception of Dan White, David Campos was by the worst supervisor in the history of the City (although Preston, Ronen, and Peskin are of course horrific as well). Campos, like his employer Chesa Boudin, is wrong on every issue AND incompetent, cruel, and corrupt. While liberal San Francisco voters, of course, like the word “progressive”, it should be pointed out that the anti-housing, anti-victim, pro-crime, anti-job, and anti-homeowner policies of the extremist ‘progressive’ cabal that controls this City have destroyed our quality of life and hurt the all of us, especially the most vulnerable. Like the overwhelming majority of San Franciscans, I am overjoyed by the defeat of Campos and 3 of the 6 monstrous school board members. Let’s focus like a laser on passing Prop H and defeating Chesa Boudin. There is no way to save San Francisco without stopping the cruelty of Boudin and his encouragement of criminality, whether by the omnipotent homeless-industrial complex or by the anti-homeowner, anti-job, and anti-housing policies advocating by the ‘progressive’ (really regressive) extremists like Campos, Boudin, Chan, Mar, Ronen, Peskin, and Preston.

  3. We know that the progressive agenda in SF has been dominated by the CCHO affordable housing nonprofits’ housing business models and that Campos ran under that rubric.

    We know that YIMBY are market rate housing monomaniacs and that Haney ran with them.

    We have no clue, as there was no exit polling, as to what mobilized the voters. Just because candidates talk about something does not mean that message lands and motivates voters. That is what exit polling is for.

    All that we can derive from the results is that Campos was a poor candidate who ran a poor campaign that did not resonate with voters. The progressive lesson is to not run a campaign how Campos did, and to try as hard as possible to not be Campos.

  4. Joe, you are peachy.

    Please write about sf’s
    Meth saturation/shitshow.

    It’s a 3rd rail topic – but you
    Have the guts to be honest
    About it, right ??

    Campos is a punk.
    Haney is a good man.

  5. I think some of the criticism of progressives (and I’m one) is fair, as far as purity wars and personalities. On the latter: Before Haney sold out, I thought he was the best. He always acknowledged me in a crowd with a hug, a few words, or, in a very large crowd, maybe just a nod. I helped out on his campaign only a very little bit. Contrast this with a Supervisor I busted my ass to help get elected, who would sometimes — not always but often enough – ignore me in a crowd unless I went up to him — and even then, good luck to me if he was talking to someone more important. Little things like this matter. And there has to be something that keeps people together between the elections so we don’t have to start over every single time. There should be a debrief after an election, win or lose, to give volunteers a chance to discuss all the ideas and complaints that could not be heard in the heat of battle. There should be social events where nothing is asked of hardworking volunteers. Who wants to be part of something that is just work and no play? We need more than just the righteousness of our cause.
    Where I differ with this criticism is on the housing front. Simplicity tends to always favor the corporate class because reality is complicated. It’s very easy to say crime is up so we need more cops, despite the fact that this never works. It’s the same thing with “build more housing.” Is the corporate press going to publish criticism of either of these positions? No, they will pretend that progressives have been the power-brokers for decades and responsible for all social ills. In SF, they will continue to obscure the fact that we have a Mayor who holds the purse and blocks spending on all things progressive.

    1. “there has to be something that keeps people together between the elections so we don’t have to start over every single time”

      Every time that this has been tried over the past 20 years, five of em, the progressive nonprofits swarmed all over it and neutralized each and every one.

      People who organize between elections, when elections are won, might have different ideas than the paid political class, so in order to preserve the franchise, meaningful organizing is always sabotaged.

  6. I honestly think Campos never did anything meaningful when he was in government, and Haney seems to respond to citizens. He has helped out many people I know personally. Boudin does not deserve to be recalled, objectively he has done an excellent job and moreover is trying to change a totally broken criminal justice system and is somehow making important changes in a short time. The police unions and GOP interests funding the recall have a lot of money and even in this city the “law and order” line, which is total fraud, is winning the day. But this election wasn’t about Chesa, it was about a bad candidate that deserved to lose.

  7. The scarcity politics of NIMBYism continues to fail to recognize that our system of governance works best from a perspective of abundance.

    The NIMBY “progressive” old-guard leadership (Campos, Ronen, Chan, Mar, Walton, Peskin, et al) continue to suffer from a massive cognitive disconnect — which is:

    1. You can’t be pro-equity and anti-housing
    2. You can be pro-environment and anti-density.
    3. You can be pro-immigrant and anti-migrant.

    1. Sorry, meant to write:

      1. You can’t be pro-equity and anti-housing.

      2. You can’t be pro-environment and anti-density.

      3. You can’t be pro-immigrant and anti-migrant.

      1. You can’t be for higher-density growth on our salt-water peninsula, and also pro-environment, when our water is primarily non-local, taken from the Sierra snow pack as a legacy of Imperial San Francisco, and will become less reliable with climate change. Conservation is not enough.

  8. A mindlessly pathological hatred of any new housing that isn’t for the dirt poor doesn’t win elections.

    Gee, who knew?

  9. Future candidates of all political stripes would do well to ask voters what they want and and address their issues instead of following a party line.

    1. Sebra
      “Future candidates of all political stripes would do well to ask voters what they want and address their issues instead of following a party line”

      Excellent political advice that every politician should follow, but advice that progressives hear as blasphemy, then double their efforts to prove voters wrong when they’re not
      In the woke progressive mind, preconceived pseudo-reality supplants observation, and any contradictory evidence is rejected as just proof that systemic oppression is blocks progress
      No, it’s proof they’re wrong lol

      it sounds ridiculous but the results aren’t funny.
      Progressives’ rejection of evidence has transformed the beautiful city of San Francisco into a dystopian nightmare. What’s more, they’ve effectively destroyed any chance for real criminal justice reform that’s needed by using that label for what’s effectively the destruction of civilization,
      I’d like to believe it’s accidental, but I don’t. What gives them the right to destroy cultures? They are what they claim to condemn.
      Cultural annihilators

      James

  10. I think we need to take a hard look at what, if anything, is progressive about the Progs. Haney has progressive positions, but is not part of the faction, part of the club. Prog behavior is about loyalty to the faction, not about advancing progressive causes. This leads them to take many extremist reactionary positions.

    In any respect that matters to San Francisco’s people, Haney is far more progressive. Campos just had lots of false propaganda, and complaining about the election being bought just shows how out of touch he is with the needs of the people.

  11. Some great points. Cities and their politicians shouldn’t be in the business of solving broader societal problems (think Berkeley’s nuclear free zone, banning of natural gas, sugar taxes, sanctuary cities), they should be in the business of planning for, and welcoming growth, and reducing crime. Progressive housing solutions make great sound bites but generally result in less development, as they mostly increase risk for investors/developers, so they go elsewhere.

  12. To the extent that the race was decided by housing, Campos error was allowing Haney to define the housing debate in Haney’s terms. But this occurs against the context where the housing nonprofit dominated progressives have successfully reduced progressivism to land use and housing battles and demanded all turn focus there.

    It is kinda tough to change the framing from the policy domain your side made its wheelhouse and which has itself capitulated to developers over and again when you’re not very good at articulating land use accessibly and your side is itself compromised. CCHO, the affordable housing cartel and Campos nonprofit base supports luxury condo development that sends in-lieu and community benefit fees there way.

    Progressive monomania on affordable housing has left it vulnerable ON EVERYTHING ELSE and without much to say to voters ON EVERYTHING ELSE. When your message is “others have it worse than you, so stfu and fund our nonprofits,” you’re going to lose in San Francisco 2022.

    Without Rose Pak (Did Malcolm and David and CCDC also demur?) and SEIU, why did Campos even run this time? He only ended up pushing Haney to the right and showcasing the fundamental weakness of this rump progressive coalition.

    Since I’d worked on several winning contested progressive campaigns, candidates in districts and measures citywide, along with other effective resident volunteers who have since retreated in disgust, I was one of the first to be excommunicated.

    One purpose of the nonprofiteers is to intercept and neutralize demands for change from below and to the left in exchange for city funding. That is the only reason why they get city money.

    Over the past 20 yr, the nonprofits and public sector unions have asphyxiated these organizing efforts before they got off the ground:

    – San Francisco People’s Organization
    – Vision San Francisco
    – San Francisco Green Party
    – Occupy San Francisco
    – San Francisco Progressive Alliance

    We are in a bind. It takes organizing to win elections against big money and the nonprofits that dominate progressive politics see independent organizing of residents as a threat to their political dominance and claims on public revenue streams and strangle it.

    1. @marcos – Thats a worthy overview of some of the machinations and aligns well with Eskenazi’s take here, but progressivism will always be an outlier position that is dependent on the timing/climate, the candidate/s, and the campaign.

      Boudin is the most progressive politician ever elected in SF, and that was a recent 2.5 years ago. He ran a smart, well funded campaign at the right time, and won. He’ll get taken out, but that was an impressive take down of the mayor’s chosen candidate and to this day he has never rolled over.

      Campos was a weak candidate and Haney is governor material – smart, affable, and a sell-out. He could go all the way.

      Corporate and political interests will use YIMBY organizations until they are spent. Young up-and-coming liberals will toss them aside in the not so distant future. Young progressives never bought in. “YIMBYism” has no chance of remaining trendy – the takers are buying fake tickets sold by hawkers that are cashing out the monthly dork donations and splitting up the dividends with lawyers.

      Preston beat Brown while she was an incumbent. Preston’s campaign manager was some punk rock chick flying the finger to the DCCC. You don’t necessarily need a seasoned “savant” to pull it off, you need the right candidate at the right time with the right message and the right backing stirred in with a dash of knee-capping and a dollop of luck.

      Care not cash passed in ’02 and green party Gonzalez lost in ’03. The glory days of 20 years back weren’t all that glorious. There was a smattering of progressive wins, but it was no heyday.

      Fuck it, on to the next one.

      1. RLE,

        All you have demonstrated is that you — and your fellow NIMBY “progressives” — continue to not understand the staying power of the YIMBY movement.

        Until you do, you will be on the failing side, politically — slipping further and further into irrelevance.

        1. True, Karl. At the end of the day if you are only about one third of the voters, then you cannot expect a lot of victories, power or success. The Campos support here is probably the maximum that can be expected by a left-wing extremist in an election that is broader than a cherry-picked district.

        2. To the person who said the progressive are disillusioned about the staying power of the YIMBYS – aka the tools and pawns of the developers – this is not true. Very few progressive activists are questioning that. We know the YIMBYS are here to stay, seeing as wealthy interests always have and will dominate San Francisco. The YIMBY movement is made strong by a bunch of GenZ and Young Millenials (children) that don’t understand what they are even supporting, or that they are just being exploited by conservative developers that don’t give a shit about them or any of the issues they care about. I almost feel sad when I see some of these little dorks show up at rallies or BoS or Planning Commission meetings, thinking they are part of the leftist movement and supporting ruthless, unscrupulous developers who are building housing that only the rich could afford. The YIMBY movement seemingly started out with good intentions but has ended up becoming an epic fail for the left. I’ve lived here for 3 decades and I’m shocked at conservative this town has become (or am I the one who is out of it and it’s always been secretly ran by conservatives disguised as liberals?). The fear mongering and disinformation online that led to the absurd Chesa recall — would that have happened in the past? Or is it because this town has morphed into something else now?
          PS – Thanks Earl + SFSquirrel for your smart thoughtful comments.

      2. We saw fear in the eyes of the powerful. They adapted to our wins in ways that coopted enough of the coalition to ensure they’d never adapt in turn. Care not Cash redirected cash money from homeless people into poverty nonprofits that get funded in exchange for running interference. I call this the “peace and stability pact.”

        They were thus relegated to maudlin poverty martyr appeals. Neither Preston nor Boudin ran Ammianoesque doctrinaire nonprofity campaigns, more like the Gonzalez model.

        It is important to note that doctrinaire progressives are not in any way opposed to capitalism in practice as they cut shitty deals with it on the regular. They fear competition the most, so their most zealous actions are in policing the base.

        Boudin did not even pay his dues to them. That’s why he hired Campos, to shore up his “left” flank.

        1. @marcos – The housing and homeless fight is tired. It’s not the issue du jour in my brain, it’s a stale-ass cracker. Wake me up when the YIMBY movement brings down prices or provides a single home for a homeless person.

          In my estimation, the noteable progressive achievements of the last 20 years lie in health care and police accountability.

          “Maudlin Poverty Martyrs” is a great name for a nonprofit. I love it.

          1. Homelessness is an issue because progs chomp down on “be compassionate, do nothing” and normalize the economic crime against humanity that is homelessness in the US in 2022.

            This exposes them to attack from the law and order enforcers as “be compassionate, do nothing” only distances the progs from the electorate. They rejoinder is “rich people don’t like looking at poor people.” No sane, well adjusted human being can sustain exposure to such human derivation over time.

            But the maudlin poverty martyrs gain self esteem from the in-group the more leprous the feet they wash. So much of this involves lapsed Catholics trying to work through their Jesus guilt shit, to quote Patti Smith:

            She’s real Catholic, see. She fingers her cross and she says
            “There’s one reason. There’s one reason.
            You do it my way or I push your face in.
            We knee you in the john if you don’t get off your get off your mustang Sally,

  13. “We need to have a snappy answer to the vexing issues du jour: Those are housing/housing affordability and homelessness,” Peskin concedes. “It’s got to be better than ‘we’re trying.’”

    It might not be so hard if they were, you know, *actually* trying.

    1. Exactly.

      Peskin’s legislative efforts continue to be focused on making housing creation increasing difficult, expensive and slow.

      He’s the #1 NIMBY (so-called) “progressive” in SF.