DA Brooke Jenkins, celebrating on Election Night, embraces Mary Jung, her comrade-in-arms in the recall of DA Chesa Boudin. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

For up-to-date data and maps, see here

“So, what’s the answer? That’s what I keep asking myself. What’s it all about? Know what I mean?” —Alfie Elkins

Like “first aim, then fire” or “first pants, then your shoes,” the notion of counting votes then writing political valedictions looms large this week. That’s true here in San Francisco, too. 

The Department of Elections cranked through 22,535 more ballots today. Some 38,000 remain. That’s a fair amount of ballots, especially if they were to be dropped on your foot. But, by and large, we can see where things are going now. 

You’d think that’d bring some clarity. But tabulating votes and interpreting the motives of hundreds of thousands of voters are not the same thing. 

Attributing any one narrative to this election requires focusing on some results to the exception of others. The idea that the city has tacked right and that Mayor London Breed and political moderates should be taking a victory lap necessitates ignoring voters liberally opting to open up their pocketbooks and spurning the mayor’s wishes on the ballot measures nearest and dearest to her: Housing streamlining measure Prop. D, and Prop. H, which moves consequential citywide elections to even years.

As votes continue to be tabulated, it appears increasingly likely that key Breed appointee Ann Hsu will be bounced from the Board of Education.

Progressives’ claims that they were the true, counterintuitive winners of the day require ignoring most of those candidate results. And, while you can blame redistricting for some of these losses — more on that in a moment — that doesn’t alter the outcome. Redistricting happened.  This is what was at stake, and this will be a factor in every district race moving forward until district lines are redrawn in 2032. 

And, finally, the claim that San Franciscans simply voted for a functioning city is a bit too neat; rarely do voters wander into the booth thinking Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. It also requires ignoring some garbled and contradictory actions voters undertook last week, which could put this city in a strange and terrible place, and that right soon.

Ann Hsu addresses the crowd after she is tapped by Mayor London Breed for a spot on the school board in March. Photo by Yujie Zhou.

In the most significant outcome of today’s vote-counting, Alida Fisher caught and passed mayoral appointee Ann Hsu for the third and final spot on the Board of Education; Fisher now leads Hsu by 1,707 votes. Over the past four ballot drops, Fisher has gained some 8,700 votes on Hsu. It’s not impossible this momentum will cease or reverse, but there’s no logical reason to think it will. 

Hsu single-handedly ruptured the preferred narrative of three back-to-business, subject-matter-focused public school moms running for the Board of Education in July. That’s when she stated in a questionnaire that Black and Brown children lag behind their public school peers in large part because of their deficient home lives and neglectful parents.

Hsu’s colleagues and political backers made flimsy attempts to distance themselves from her. But, ultimately, these were abandoned. Nobody, it seems, wanted to alienate Hsu’s core constituency of moderate- to right-leaning Asian voters. 

The final vote count isn’t yet in ,and the final maps aren’t yet drawn. But it appears Hsu’s constituency wasn’t enough to carry her to victory, especially considering the blowback over her commentary, the loss of endorsements, and the immolation of the storyline that, at last, the school board would be focusing on the issues. 

If these results hold up, this is a narrative-shattering turn of events. It strips the mayor of de-facto control of the Board of Education. And it means a majority of school board members will presumably listen to the SFUSD counsel’s longstanding legal advice regarding merit-based admissions at Lowell, rather than markedly ignoring it and opting for the far easier political move of reinstating merit-based admissions and putting the district in legal jeopardy.

Also significantly, Supervisor Gordon Mar once again failed to gain traction vs. challenger Joel Engardio. Engardio gained 39 more votes on the incumbent, and leads by 490. It is increasingly difficult to foresee Mar clawing his way out of this hole. 

The supervisor has always been an ideological misfit for his district, and it required an amazing concatenation of missteps by his opponents for him to win this seat four years ago. He is by no means a powerhouse candidate, and Engardio is smart, affable and won’t be outworked. But there’s no point in denying that redistricting is the difference in this race. Engardio’s home was grafted into District 4, along with three precincts. He leads Mar by 490 votes, and he is +529 in those three precincts.

It really doesn’t get much clearer than that. 

Above map updated 4:15 p.m. Nov 22. From Department of Elections data.

Perhaps you’ve blotted the unseemly redistricting process out of your memory. Lucky you. You don’t remember the 19-hour meetings and incensed task force members walking out and accusing their colleagues of bowing to mayoral pressure, which the task force chair acknowledged, in writing

All of that happened. And that will underpin every district election for the next decade. But, with that said, it’s harder to discern the role redistricting played in District 6, where Supervisor Matt Dorsey continues to lead Honey Mahogany by nearly 1,200 votes. During redistricting, much of the Tenderloin was excised from D6 and grafted onto D5. As a result, the doorman-guarded condo towers of SoMa are no longer counterbalanced by single-room occupancy hotels inhabited by put-upon renters.

It is challenging to measure the consequences of this move by looking at data and maps; intuitively, it’s easier to see how new precincts voted than how old precincts didn’t vote. Doing what math we can, it’s hard to say redistricting was the decisive factor here it is in District 4. But Mahogany was clearly disadvantaged, and many observers apparently underestimated by how much. 

Dorsey, it seems, was an inspired mayoral appointment for this district. His status as a former police spokesman was hardly an impediment; rather the opposite, it would seem. With hindsight being 20/20, Mahogany may have conceded too much by opting to run on Dorsey’s key issue of public safety. Given the choice, the new D6 seems to have gone for the cop on that one. Mahogany may have also miscalculated by not distinguishing herself more from Dorsey, perhaps by emphasizing that it’s not enough to have more police, but that police must do their jobs; acknowledging that the latter markedly hasn’t been happening is not something the former SFPD flack could’ve easily done. 

Mahogany also could’ve potentially made more of the historic nature of a Black trans candidate running for office, potentially eliciting a greater impression with the (doorman-guarded condo tower) portion of her electorate that only gets its news from national sources and/or Reddit. Simply applying the pastiche of issues that worked for Matt Haney to other candidates may not be a universally reproducible template.  

Turnout in District 6 remains low. Without detracting from Dorsey’s all-but-certain win — like Engardio, he is smart, hard-working and likable — it’s hard to interpret large-scale ideological shifts from low-turnout elections in newly crafted districts. 

What, then, to make of DA Brooke Jenkins’ easy win over John Hamasaki and Joe Alioto Veronese? Cranking ranked-choice voting permutations, Jenkins beat Hamasaki by about 54-46, a similar tally to the successful recall of former DA Chesa Boudin. It’s an unambiguous win, but hardly a shellacking. 

And, without impugning either Hamasaki or Veronese as attorneys and as people, they are not varsity-level competition. As we wrote in 2019, it was hard to discern if San Franciscans chose Boudin because of his policy positions or because he ran the best campaign — or because his competitors rankled the voters.  

Sussing this out will take time. If the Attorney General or State Bar don’t intervene, voters, via Prop. H, gifted Jenkins more of that. 

Supervisor Gordon Mar, seen here declaring victory in November, 2018. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

We’ve said it before and we’ll, say it again: San Francisco voters often find they like progressive ideas better than progressives.

That appears to have happened again in this election. Voters approved Prop. M, a tax on vacant homes targeted by corporate landlords and opposed by the mayor, and Prop. H, a far-reaching move to shift consequential city elections to even years (also opposed by the mayor). While the seething anger dripping off of pre-election polls foretold ballot-box nihilism, voters approved several revenue measures, most notably Prop. L, which funds roads and transit. 

This comes in marked contrast to voter behavior in June, when Mayor Breed’s $400 million Muni bond, Prop. A, was flipped — with a statistically significant correlation between voters opting to spurn both Chesa Boudin and this bond.

If you lived in an area that voted down Prop. A in June, this time around you may have gotten campaign material featuring firefighters pleading for improved roads, and business owners talking about how to get customers to their stores. If you lived in an area that voted for Prop. A, you probably got more standard-fare ads about improving transit and saving the Earth. 

And, if you didn’t vote until the last minute, you got a flier emblazoned with Rep. Nancy Pelosi — who, unlike the mayor’s bond in June, was the only politician who received such face-time treatment. 

Did this help? Well, some 182,000 Pelosi fliers were sent to San Francisco homes and, as one city politico put it, “182,000 Nancys can’t hurt.” 

‘182,000 Nancys can’t hurt.’ Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Angry and beleaguered voters opting to fund our frustrating mass transit system is heartening. It would be nice to live in a city that works, or at least be able to not sit in filth in the bus when getting from Point A to Point B. 

But in San Francisco nothing is neat, including voter motivations. As we’ve written before, most voters do not subscribe to a top-down ideology and, as a result, can be somewhat ideologically incoherent. 

So, yes, San Francisco voted overwhelmingly against a parcel tax that would’ve funneled millions of dollars to perennially cash-strapped City College but, at the same time, handily voted in the straight labor ticket to the college’s governing board. So, we voted to not provide CCSF with money but, at the same time, we put lefty labor stalwarts in charge of the store, people who’ll always want to spend their way out of problems and would rather light themselves ablaze than contract any jobs. 

And, yes, a heavy majority of voters opted to dismantle the inchoate Department of Streets and Sanitation just two years after a heavy majority voted to establish it. 

And, of course, voters have all but certainly given the plague o’ both your houses! treatment to dueling housing measures D and E, backed by the mayor and Board of Supes/labor, respectively. 

Parsing voter intent here will be interesting: By my count, voters in the notable grouping of Districts 1, 4, 7, 9, 10 and 11 all spurned D; in District 5 it passed, but didn’t poll as high as Prop. E. 

Dueling ballot measures do not seem to be the most conducive way of moving San Francisco housing goals forward. Especially ballot measures that appear to offer end-runs around our broken systems, rather than fixing those systems. 

Mayor London Breed in November 2018. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Do San Francisco voters want a city that works? A more germane question may be: Do San Francisco elected officials want a city that works? 

Prop. H delays our citywide elections to 2024, so we do have time to find out. 

San Francisco voters continue to grow surlier, and Mayor Breed continues to consolidate power. The Board now figures to be a progressive-moderate toss-up; the voter-ratified City Attorney and District Attorney are both her appointees. There are ever fewer directions in which Breed can credibly point her finger.

While Breed made vanquishing Prop. H a high priority, it’s not at all clear it will benefit progressives more than moderates. Progressives, in fact, just did away with next year’s election — when they could’ve presumably run more ballot measures of the sort they tend to win, rather than gambling on a costly, citywide race of the sort they lose with Washington Generals-like regularity. 

If more people voting is an unmitigated good, then nobody should care about that. If not, then be careful what you wish for. Prop. H may be the most consequential item on the ballot. Come what may. 

Our mayor got a lot of what she wanted in this election, but a lot of what she didn’t want, too. It all feels a bit like the final scene of “The Candidate,” in which Robert Redford’s senator-elect, facing a stark transition from politics to government, bleakly asks “What do we do now?” 

What, indeed. 

A preliminary election analysis column ran on Nov. 10.

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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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5 Comments

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  1. Fairly good piece Joe, yet it still amazes me you seem to never miss a chance to say SFPD officers are lazy. You write: “police must do their jobs; acknowledging that the latter markedly hasn’t been happening”. Where is your proof of this? SFPD is coming close to being down 700 officers of where they should be. Officers go call to call, on long 10-16 hour shifts, I should know, I used to be one of them until I transferred to a department that actually appreciates it’s police force. Joe I would highly recommend you go on multiple ride alongs with officer and get to know the department’s no chase policy that says officers can only chase after someone in a vehicle if that person is wanted in a violent felony. Why would officers want to work in SF when they can make more money, avoid a lot of no merit lawsuits and actually be appreciated by the public/treated fairly by the media in other nearby cities?
    It is amazing to me how so many people are so quick to demonize people that put their lives on the line every day for people that hate them.

  2. Everything went Engardio’s way. The redistricting is a calculable benefit, but the recalls also provided him a great advantage (irregardless of the actual purview of a supervisor).

    And gone are the years when housing was the #1 wedge issue, which actually did give Mar common ground with Sunset conservatives in 2018.

    Mar was left without a leg to stand on, trying to hide his true colors, and Engardio made him pay. This debate was brutal: https://engardio.com/blog/debate

  3. Your quote “potentially eliciting a greater impression with the (doorman-guarded condo tower) portion of her electorate that only gets its news from national sources and/or Reddit.” is at best narrow minded and, at worst, discrimination and ignorant. People who live in a building with a doorman aren’t necessarily stupid and uninterested in local issues. They might even be reading your article as we speak. Having a doorman in a city and and neighborhood where property crime and open drug use is rampant seems like a reasonable choice to me. If I could afford it, I would consider it as well. Please stop criticizing other San Franciscans who might have a different lifestyle from the ones which you might prefer. We all live together in this 7 X 7 piece of land.

  4. Joe,

    Fabulous piece as always.

    And, as you were able to keep it short and civil, it was not zapped for failing to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules, you were published.

    lol

    Niners are deep,

    h.