Aaron Peskin
'Madam Clerk, this was not on my list of things to do today...' After 17 rounds of voting, your next Board President is Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Update 12:15 p.m. We have a winner.

After 17 rounds of voting, the President of the Board of Supervisors is Aaron Peskin. Again.

The deadlock between Walton, Chan and Mandelman we predicted came to pass: After 12 rounds of voting, in which Walton garnered five votes, Mandelman four and Chan two, Peskin nominated himself.

“Madam Clerk,” he said, to Angela Calvillo, “this was not on my list of things to do today … ”

Not one, but two 10-minute recesses were required to reach this consensus. As the supes filed out of sight, were they violating the Brown Act, which forbids elected officials from doing public business in private?

“As you know, in conjunction with the Clerk’s Office, we regularly advise the Board of Supervisors and other City bodies on the Brown Act,” wrote City Attorney David Chiu.

That’s not exactly a resounding “no.”

After the second recess, Mandelman withdrew from the contest. He voted for Peskin, as did Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio. That tipped it for Peskin, 7 to 4. Only he could’ve cadged votes from both Mandelman and Chan.

“I am remarkably unprepared for this moment,” said Peskin as he ascended the dais where he sat as Board President from 2005 to 2009. So was the mayor, it turned out. After the marathon voting session, a mayoral aide curtly informed the supes that the mayor’s schedule had changed and she was no longer able to address the board, as is customary.

That inspired uproarious laughter. That may or may not be an omen. So may the fact the supes required more rounds to choose a leader than the U.S. House of Representatives — and though the comparisons remain facile, they are easy to make.

It would be likely that Mayor London Breed is more pleased to be working with President Peskin than she would be with President Walton, who nearly had his constituency eviscerated during redistricting by mayoral appointees who stated — in writing — they were feeling pressure from the mayor. The mayor and Chan also have a strained relationship.

After Walton and Chan deadlocked, Peskin had a natural path to victory via the moderates. Would anyone have predicted, a decade ago, that the moderate choices for Board Prez would be Rafael Mandelman and Aaron Peskin? Not likely.

Peskin probably would’ve been back here sooner, if not for his colleagues’ worries about his troubles with alcohol and aggression, which a board colleague today opaquely referred to as “internal disruptions.”

But that’s ostensibly in the past. There’s nobody who understands the legerdemain of being a board president like Aaron Peskin. What he will choose to do with the job remains to be seen.

Update, 1:09 p.m.: President Aaron Peskin welcomed Mayor Breed to the dais after all. She urged progress in housing production, homeless solutions, confronting drug addiction, and battling the $728 million budget deficit.

Peskin, who has done this before, thanked the assembled leaders in the room. But this was the first time he acknowledged his 19 ongoing months of sobriety.

It took 17 rounds, but white smoke flew over City Hall today. Photo illustration by Marc Salomon.

5:30 a.m.

There may be no job with a greater divergence between its actual duties and its cachet than President of the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco. 

The Board will be selecting one this morning in a special meeting. Just who will be anointed is not clear; it turns out that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applies not only to subatomic particles, but also to municipal elected officials; you can never quite pin them down. What someone said they’d do on Thursday or Friday and what they do today are not necessarily one and the same.

So, the public doesn’t know what’s going to happen, or what negotiations and promises were extracted to lead to wherever things go. How much the Board members reveal in today’s open meeting is up to them. A mature and cohesive Board of Supervisors hammers these things out amongst themselves, and makes today’s vote look smooth and perfunctory, as if its results were carried down from Mt. Sinai. The losing candidates, if there are any, smile like the also-rans at the Oscars. And everybody heads to the supes’ offices afterward for refreshments and, with impressive speed, the title of President is stenciled onto the gracious winner’s opaque glass door by an out-and-out wizard wearing overalls

But that doesn’t have to happen. Every sign indicates that’s not gonna happen today. 

Behind-closed-door acrimony could well spill out into full view this morning. And there is indeed behind-closed-door acrimony, and plenty of it. Beyond the actual functions of the job itself, electing a Board President serves as a mirror for this group of elected officials to view themselves. And, hey, we can see it, too.

So, in a nutshell: Incumbent President Shamann Walton hopes to hold onto the gig over competitor Rafael Mandelman. It looked like his path was getting smoother when Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, the ostensible sixth vote, last week began telling colleagues he was in for Walton. 

But it appears that Safaí, perhaps not coincidentally, is now Walton’s potential choice for the consequential position of Budget Committee chair. And this — as well as a general feeling that the last two years have not been good ones for this Board and its left-leaning bloc — has spurred Supervisor Connie Chan to mount a challenge of her own. 

Fascinating, as Mr. Spock would say: Walton and Chan’s potential paths to victory require votes from many of the same supervisors, and may also require each to vote for the other. So this could get messy. And drawn out. 

There’s a lot that can happen, but if someone other than Walton or Chan ends up as Board President today — and if that someone is not one of the city’s progressive supes — then the progs will have managed yet another spectacular fumble on the 5-yard-line

This reality TV-like enmity makes for good copy. People go to hockey games in the secret (or not-so-secret) desire that a melee breaks out, and it’s likely some government-watchers feel the same way. For a mayor whose governing strategy often fails to advance beyond pointing out the unseriousness and unlikability of the board — and who spent New Year’s Eve at a swanky party and New Year’s Day in E-40’s Vegas luxury box while San Francisco was deluged with rain and sewage — a well-timed, acrimonious Board breakdown would be a political gift.

So, everyone’s sharpening their elbows. But, again, what does the Board President even do? 

City Hall, illuminated in patriotic colors for San Francisco’s special election, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo by Annika Hom.

Schadenfreude is often an unhealthy feeling, but maybe not when it comes to Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The strung-out humiliation and emasculation of a soulless, hollow politician who knew the claims he promulgated were lies and understands that the people he continues to enable are dangerous was almost cathartic; in a just world he’d spend his declining years running a trailer park like Charles Gain

Actually, scratch that: The residents wouldn’t deserve such a fate. 

Be that as it may, the inevitable comparisons between Speaker of the House and Board President are facile (even if today’s Board vote goes off the rails). The former is a vastly more powerful position; in both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, legislative leaders have control over individual members’ budgets. That, in and of itself, is a night-and-day difference. 

Board President, truth be told, is a circumscribed position. You determine who sits on committees, you can yank people out of committees, you make appointments to commissions, you can expedite or slow down the movement of legislation — but you ultimately have limited control over movement of legislation within the legislative body and at the committee level. If the mayor dies, or leaves office, the job falls upon you — for a time, at least.

In some political quarters, a snide nickname for the Board President is “King of the Dipshits.” You would not have said that about Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi. No, sir. 

So why the rancor? Why the enmity? Because, despite its limitations, Board President is often a go-getter’s position. You get to ensconce yourself high above everyone on a dais and sit when everyone else is standing in the inauguration photo, as if you’re the Queen of England. Simply put: This is a competition, and politicians are often highly competitive. 

Maybe it helps to think of the board presidency like a guitar. Even if you don’t know how to play guitar, you can look real cool posing with it. So you want that guitar.  

Maybe you do know how to play a lick. Maybe you could play some solos. Get lots of attention. Or maybe, just maybe, you’d play rhythm, and hold everything together. Board presidents without an eye on self-aggrandizement tend to focus on behind-the-scenes endeavors, getting people on the same page and, in a term that came up again and again from members of the board, “air-traffic controlling.” 

“Some people do take it as a means to an end. It’s a status thing. I didn’t see it that way. My role here was mother hen,” says Norman Yee, who served as Board President from 2019 to 2021

“The leader has to pull people together and not spend most of their energy trying to out-do [other supes] and out-do the mayor.”  

“If people want to think I am weak,” says former Board President Norman Yee, “that is part of the strength I have.”

Two of the supervisors who voted Walton into the presidency aren’t there anymore. Matt Haney has matriculated to Sacramento — and has been replaced by Matt Dorsey, a mayoral ally who is backing Rafael Mandelman for Board Prez. Gordon Mar, meanwhile, was the first elected incumbent supe to be defeated in a generation. Mar’s loss has left some city lefties wondering if it’s not time for new strategies — and new shot-callers.   

Perhaps Walton hoped to use the board presidency in part as a gateway to future office. If so, there’s hardly shame in that, and it may yet happen, but his highly publicized run-in with a Sheriff’s cadet didn’t help. It also enabled cheap populism and dumping on the Board as a cesspit of volatile and fractious people, which didn’t exactly thrill Walton’s colleagues. For good or ill, Walton also does not seem overly focused on “air-traffic controlling” and other feats of micromanagement that a Board President can enmesh themselves in. 

Whoever gets the job, it’s going to get harder. The next president has fewer reliable votes from his or her colleagues, and this city’s problems are not receding.  

San Francisco is a place that often substitutes politics for governance, but the issues coming down the pike — homelessness and misery, imploding business tax revenue, serious deficits — cannot be alleviated via the trading of barbs between one wing of City Hall’s second floor and the other. 

That would be a losing scenario for the supes (and the people of San Francisco). If the status quo holds, the mayor’s strategy needn’t evolve past “forget me; look at those guys!” 

At its essence, Board President is a serious and inward-facing position for a body that could use a bit more seriousness and inward-facing introspection. We’ll learn soon enough if that’s what we’re going to get. 

From left, Supervisors Connie Chan, Shamann Walton and Rafael Mandelman all desire the title of Board President. But there can be only one.

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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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16 Comments

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  1. So to thwart Walton, Breed buddy Melgar egged on Chan’s candidacy on identity grounds, which produced a deadlock that opened the door to Peskin 3.0.

    1. You clearly under-estimate the power of the “anyone but Walton” lobby.

      Sometimes you want the “least bad” rather then the best. And at least Peskin has the benefit of almost nobody liking him.

  2. Joe,

    The pic of the late-arriving Mayor sitting next to the newly sworn in Peskin was a preview of the 2024 Mayor’s Race.

    Says this dog.

    Alioto went from BOS prez to running for her pop’s old digs.

    Feinstein went from BOS prez to the U.S. Senate via Room 200.

    Ammiano went to the State Senate was it?

    Gonzalez ran best Mayor’s race of my 42 spectator years and two year’s later ran for Vice Prez with Nader.

    Leno and Hall and I forget how many others ran for Mayor or went on to State offices at all levels.

    Our closest to the Gold Ring of All ??

    Kamala Harris

    She’s singing that Sting song …

    “Every breath you take

    Every step you make

    I’ll be watching you !!

    Peskin for Mayor !!

    Go Niners !

    h.

    1. Thanks, H – for revealing what the “progressives” of San Francisco have been all along – apologists for fascist authoritarians who think they have more rights than everyone else – exactly like the Trumpies! I’m glad you are excited to become subservient to their police state “new world order” – you must just love Peskin’s robo-cops who are unconstrained by the constitution, don’t you, H? Or, is it the complete audio/video surveillance that you like the best? It makes no difference to me what psychopath is chosen by your leaders to be your slave master, H – if you think your chains will feel lighter with a flip-flopping political spectrum hopping hypocrite like Peskin – I really hope that’s what you get for yourself. Meanwhile – Go Giants!

  3. The writing is SO on the wall: authoritarian dupes who masquerade as “progressives” run San Francisco on behalf of their plantation owners. Peskin is a shameful Lord Farfquad who needs to be tasked with a full schedule of cleaning the people’s toilets for a year before he should be allowed to again pretend he works for them in government. Note to Peskin and his ilk: we are not buying your childishly fantasy of a “communist” paradise – a label change for the same authoritarian oligarchical fascist government we have now that falsely claims to have more rights than the people it purports to govern. We know who you really work for Peskin!

    1. Hey — 

      Stop leaving multiple comments in this thread under different names.

      Go get a new hobby.

      Best,

      JE

  4. Aaron Peskin again? The same Aaron Peskin who gets drunk and yells at firemen while they are putting out a fire? The same Aaron Peskin who is the ultimate NIMBY but lives in an illegally merged duplex? Ugh.

  5. A former SF Bd of Supervisors President is now the SF Bd of Supervisors President again?
    SF’s term limit law is way too generous.
    It needs to be amended to be like the term limit on US Presidents.
    And it should apply to all elected officials in SF in all three branches of local government.
    Executive,
    Legislative,
    Judicial.

  6. What really prompted Chan and Melgar to team up and tank Walton’s second term as Board President?

    1. Melgar and Chan?

      They musta thought Aaron was the best choice.

      I do.

      Yuh never saw anyone so efficient.

      He and Gloria clerking once did a Full Board Meeting in 43 minutes flat; a record that still stands I bet.

      This old Hippie dawg admires efficiency.

      Plus, Aaron’s watching the door to Room 200 again.

      Waiting for the U.S. Marshalls to go in with dollies.

      Wish I wasn’t kidding.

      Go Niners !!

      Thursday at Manny’s will be large.

      h.

  7. I was an unflinching supporter of Peskin’s for many years. This often meant defending him and his record to friends and acquaintances because his reputation is horrible.

    But recently, he has lurched to the right, politically. His approval of the law giving police access to private security video was the first indication. And his shameful anti-trans drivel against Honey Mahogany and his support for Matt Dorsey is also an indication of how he was veered to the right. Honestly, it seemed so out of character I thought that maybe he was being pressured by someone who has compromising photos of him or something, but he seems to be enjoying his newfound for support for SF’s political right and authoritarianism.

    So it is no wonder that he got the support from the conservative members of the BOS. It is so sad seeing this transformation.

    1. Both Mandelman, Wiener’s “Mini Me,” and the emergent Peskin 3.0 instar are products of the collapse of progressive critical mass, which gives electeds no reason, no energy, no backing for them to take risks against power.

      The only progressivism on display here is patronage poverty charity.

      Remember when Ronen called out her political base to attack DSA Afro Socialists who dared to protest at her home, calling on her to follow through on her support to defund SFPD? That’s their true colors. Talk left, deliver for power in exchange for poverty charity crumbs while the entirety of politics ratchets inexorably rightward.

      1. Rightward toward the ‘common sense’ middle is what we need right about now. Progressives’ policies and annoying woke-tude have failed to address the city’s biggest challenges.

      2. Marc,

        I agree all the way up to a demonstration at any official’s home.

        Cross dis dawg’s line.

        I hope Preston or Ronen run for Mayor.

        Otherwise and the creek don’t rise?

        Looks like Peskin in 2024 !!

        Be real, my friend, the Progs Classic model Gonzalez and Boudin are staying in the Garage of History.

        h.

  8. “San Francisco is a place that often substitutes politics for governance”… so right you are Joe. Ineffective, cumbersome policies and no execution even when well thought out.

    Let’s seen how the circus plays out. Fingers crossed this is the year our local government gets on track.

    Stay dry like the Warriors on the road