It's coming up on election time here in the City, and, for all intents and purposes our incubent, Gavin Newsom, is running unopposed. Oh sure, if you read the papers there are a handful of fringe candidates, like a taxi driver and a nudist, who are running against him, but it's not like they have a chance in hell. Two candidates, Chicken John and Josh Wolf, have emerged as the leading symbolic candidates, meaning that they, too, don't have a chance in hell of winning, but are trying to "open a dialogue" around city politics. At least, that's the positive spin on their candidacies; to me, they're both emblematic of the major problem in San Francisco politics, which focuses on mobilizing base constituencies around cults of personality with the eventual aim of being able to engage in patronage politics.
I actually can't say much against Josh Wolf; he's young and his big claim to fame is not handing over video tape of an anarchist riot to the Feds, but at least he's earnest and shows some thought around bigger issues. Chicken John, on the other hand, is becoming the alterative crank of choice, and while he admits he doesn't have a chance of hell in winning (and even his supporters will tell you he is lousy at politics), his candidacy is enabling him to set himself up to bestow patronage on those he favors, without doing anything real to improve the overall quality of life for everyone in this city. And that's my biggest problem with all of this: San Francisco has real problems that everyone can see, and everyone can see that our present Mayor isn't dealing with them. But instead of candidates coming forward who have real ideas about how to change things, what we get are symbolic candidates who are in the running only to further their own self-interest.
Chicken John is a burner type, who claims to be an artist and who has a truck that runs on coffee grounds (this is his big campaign point, by the way). His manifestos and public appearances have largely focused on his complaints about the state of the arts in San Francisco, and his personal grievances with the Arts Commission. Now I hear that his squeaky wheel is potentially being greased by giving him a position with the Arts Commission, from which, in classic San Francisco tradition, he will be able to direct funding toward those in his favor. Great. Meanwhile, he is still attempting to get $75,000 in matching funds for his mayoral race, even though he and his supporters know that he doesn't have a chance of winning. Hmmmm, isn't that public money that comes from taxes? So it seems that Chicken John's entire campaign is about scamming the system to mis-use public funds for his "performance art" candidacy.
I would agree with everyone running against Newsom that the nature of San Francisco is being changed in such a way that it's in danger of becoming "Monaco on the Pacific," but real issues like affordable housing, funding for the arts, crime, and jobs for everyone are ill-served by using public money to fund self-aggrandizing "candidates" whose only real interest is in setting up themselves and their friends around their pet projects. I can't blame the real progressives, like Matt Gonzalez, for not wanting to run, having seen what a blood sport San Francisco politics has become (or maybe always has been), but it's also clear to me that we won't get anything better until we can find a way to foster candidates who embrace real civic virtues and concerns, rather than just another set of players in the game of patronage politics.