In January, Julie Christensen was appointed to D3 Supervisor by Mayor Lee to fill the vacancy left by David Chiu when he was elected to the State Assembly. Christensen is smart and competent, and she is working hard on stopping evictions, promoting neighborhood safety and improving transit. Her opponent, former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, is running for his old seat. He is one of the sharpest minds in SF politics, a prolific legislator, and a ruthless competitor.
Until August of this year, I was genuinely torn – I had a good relationship with each of them, and had good reasons to support them both. But on August 12, the San Francisco Democratic Party was making its endorsement decision, and as a voting member, I needed to make a very difficult choice.
I have spent much of my political career recruiting and supporting women in public office, and I think Supervisor Christensen has the potential to do great things. Peskin is a former mentor of mine; he recruited me to run for the SF Democratic Party board and supported me in my first two races. But in 2012, our interests diverged. I worked hard to get more women elected to the DCCC and he worked hard to undermine my efforts. I understand his perspective – to him, political posture was more important than a candidate’s gender, and many of the female candidates on my slate failed Aaron’s ideological test.
The main reason why I worked so hard to elect more women is because I thought it would change the tenor at City Hall. If you’ve been watching local politics, you will remember how toxic that environment was just a few years ago. Policy debates often disintegrated into shouting matches and personal attacks, and Aaron was one of the main culprits. My hope – my bet – was that bringing more women to the table would moderate the tone, and maybe more good things could be accomplished.
When it came time for me to vote in the Democratic Party endorsement, I met with each candidate twice. I considered their positions on the issues, their effectiveness as Supervisor, their relative abilities to run a strong campaign, and my personal relationships with them. Both candidates made strong cases for my vote, and they each had several politically influential people call me as well. The folks who called me for Julie emphasized her accomplishments and her qualities as a leader. The people who called me for Aaron told me that I should side with him because he was going to win, and that I didn’t want to cross him. He himself told me that he would “remember it” if I voted for his opponent. It sounded to me like a threat.
I don’t respond well to threats, and fear does not seem like the right reason to vote for someone. And then, a local progressive activist/journalist – who is a close ally of Peskin’s – published some highly sensitive information about me in order to influence my vote. The article attempted to connect me to Ron Conway, the venture capitalist bogeyman of the left, who is working hard to support Christensen. The Conway connection was laughable, but the personal information that was published was truly embarrassing for me. It was clearly an effort to shame me into voting for Aaron, and it had the opposite effect. I won’t be bullied. I voted for Christensen.
The DCCC endorsement went to Christensen, and mine was one of the deciding votes. After the meeting – as if on cue – I received a few dozen angry messages and threats*, including the image to the right that was posted on Twitter. Former Supervisor Chris Daly warned me on my Facebook page, saying “Beware the wrath of Peskin.” That’s right, he substantiated every argument I’ve been making. [If you’re interested, here’s Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius’s take on the matter.]
This nastiness is exactly why I ran the women’s slate in the 2012 DCCC race, and why I ran for office myself. Today, women comprise 5 out of 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the most acrimonious members are gone. We have also achieved gender parity at the DCCC, and Peskin is no longer a member. And I must say, both the Board and the Democratic Party are more pleasant, productive and collaborative places to work. Ask anyone who serves on these bodies.**
All of the news coverage about this race is about Aaron’s personality, and here’s why: the candidates are actually not that different from each other on the issues, but their styles couldn’t be more distinct. If you agree with me that scorched-earth tactics and threats are not the way to do the people’s business, vote for Julie Christensen.
* All from men, go figure
** Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly nasty female leaders out there; we can all think of a few. I recognize that this theory is an over-generalization about gender.