Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

The real tragedy in the District 3 California State Senate election

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | May 01, 2008 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: California state senate, Carol Migden, collective bargaining, Democratic Party, gay politics, LGBT politics, Mark Leno, public corruption, San Francisco, San Francisco corruption, subcultural leanings

I'm feeling a little bit silly about it, but I started crying on the bus while reading the San Francisco Bay Guardian's election endorsement in the race between Carole Migden and Mark Leno, two gay Democrats fighting for the State Senate seat that includes San Francisco. While this is allegedly a fight between two "progressives," Migden may have started progressive but she's been a Democratic Party hack for years now, and Mark Leno is little more than a Gavin Newsom yes-man (i.e. beholden to the downtown San Francisco power elite).

That said, both Migden and Leno are certainly progressive in comparison to most of their colleagues in the state legislature. This race is occurring in a Democratic safe seat because Leno, who currently serves in the State Assembly, can't run again for that seat due to term limits. If anything, this race shows the need for publicly financed elections instead of term limits, but that's another issue.

When I first heard that Leno was running for Migden's seat, I was appalled -- they're basically the same person, politically speaking, and it just seemed like the ultimate nightmare of electoral politics -- personal ambition over any allegiance to political vision. In a different kind of political situation, one based on collective vision rather than megalomaniacal drive, Leno and Migden would have sat down to decide who would be the best for progressive social change. I mean, if they cared about progressive social change.

It's certainly true that Migden has become a corrupt political insider, but it's hard to imagine Leno, who endorses every candidate Gavin Newsom sends in his direction, is running to make the system more visionary.

But why on earth did I start crying about this? I mean, obviously I know that electoral politics is a dead end! I think, in part, it's about what the Guardian calls "a war for the soul of San Francisco today, as there has been for many years." And many years would be an understatement, as San Francisco has, since the day of the original robber baron mining elites, more or less been ruled by the financial power brokers.

It's a complicated history that I didn't quite understand when I first moved here, back in 1992, and Frank Jordan was the mayor busy sweeping the streets of activists and homeless people, but every mayor in recent history has basically competed to be more virulently anti-homeless and wholeheartedly pro-development. The war that the Guardian speaks of occurs because at the same time these tyrants consistently hold the top slot of local electoral power, cultures of resistance that have thrived here for generations try to keep San Francisco from becoming a tracing paper replica of itself - selling whitewashed "openness" as a cover for corporate profiteering. I guess I started crying because this battle is so hopeless, and yet I still have hope.

But there's another reason, which is more specific to Migden and Leno, who epitomize the self-aggrandizing visions of the gay elite. Tim Redmond, editor of the Guardian (and a straight progressive), unwittingly points to this tension when he addresses Leno in his editorial: "If you win this election... you have some serious work to do bringing the queer community and the left back together."

Redmond's separation of "the queer community" and "the left" acts as if these groups are mutually exclusive, instead of intertwined, but the other problem is that Leno doesn't represent the "queer community" (whatever that is), he represents the gay elite and, in local politics, the gay elite has enthusiastically supported Gavin Newsom's virulently anti-poor, pro-big business agenda. After these gay powerbrokers (and voters) handed Newsom victory in a tight race against progressive Matt Gonzalez, Newsom briefly "legalized" gay marriage, a publicity stunt that sent his approval ratings soaring from barely 50 percent to an invincible lead that made him unbeatable in the next election, and extended the rule of corporate interests over San Francisco politics.

Unfortunately Carole Migden and Mark Leno are in no position to change this, nor do they have any interest, and that is the real tragedy.

Mattilda blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com


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Wow. I don't follow local politics too much, no matter where I've lived, but there always seems to be so much power and money to preside over a small piece of land.

Thanks for keeping us up to date on this race, Mattilda.

Thanks for the update, Mattilda. I don't know very much about San Fran politics; I'd be interested in seeing more posts like this.