Even though he won last night, lots of people are saying that Ed Lee symbolically lost. And it's certainly the case that despite low voter turnout, Tuesday's election showed that a large swath of the city rejects the mayor and what he stands for. Progressive golden boy and current Enemy Number One of the mayor, Aaron Peskin, may not have won the election to the District 3 Supervisor seat by a large majority, but he won despite an incumbent as a rival and a ton of money getting spent to defeat him.
Also, Lee did not win by much of a majority despite the local media's conclusion, going into the election, that he was running "virtually unopposed." The scrappy, virtually un-funded three-way opposition comprised of Francisco Herrera, Amy Farrah Weiss, and Stuart Schuffman garnered 36 percent of first-choice votes together, and along with other challengers took 43 percent of the vote away from Lee, who won with 56.7 percent in the first round ranking.
As breathless progressive voicebox Tim Redmond points out in his long-view analysis of the results:
That’s incredible. When Tom Ammiano a School Board member and president of the Board of Supervisors took on Willie Brown [in 1999] in a serious campaign that forced the incumbent to work hard, Brown did better than Lee did tonight.
Even the Chronicle knows that Peskin's victory "tarnishes" the rest of the results for Mayor Lee.
Sure, the mayor cruised to re-election, and his prized $310 million affordable housing bond was approved. Plus, the moratorium on market-rate housing construction in the Mission District, which Lee opposed, went down to defeat.
But from all appearances, the mayor was being served up a significant defeat, as voters were returning former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a prominent critic, to his old seat from District Three.
They also got a story from Peskin about a woman who came up to him and said, "I don’t even live in the district and I voted for you." He asked, "How'd you do that?" and she replied, "I wrote you in for mayor."
And the Business Times calls Peskin's victory "one major exception" in an election night that was otherwise full of victories for real estate developers, most notably in Prop D passing, and the failure of the Mission moratorium.
The Chronicle also says that Lee's got his work cut out for him now that his "sleepwalking mayoral campaign" is over.
It’s time for a full-voiced and confident leader, whose views and decisions are known to city residents. The agreeable, low-key mayor who came to office five years ago needs to play a more dominant role in a city divided and worried about its future.
Lee starts from strength in soothing these frictions. His critics on the left had neither a strong candidate nor a commanding issue with which to dislodge him. But this week’s ballot came loaded with issues that have dogged the mayor: the nation’s most superheated housing market and severe doubts over the city’s tech-infused growth.
Meanwhile, from the left, the decent showing for the Yes of F effort 45 percent and Yes on I 43 percent are being heralded as signs of momentum that could bring both the issues of short-term rentals and affordability in the Mission district back to the table in the wider election in 2016. A much larger number (72 percent) of registered San Franciscans voted in the last presidential race in 2012, and larger numbers, say progressives, could mean broader support, especially for further regulation of short-term rentals. It's likely, though, that if something similar to Prop F ends up on the ballot again next year, it will be crafted defensively given Airbnb's expensive campaign to defeat it namely the charge that it would pit neighbors against neighbors might get written out of it.
Finally, writing in San Francisco Magazine, Joe Eskanazi surmises, "It’s hard to understate how vital a Peskin victory was to boosting progressives' chances in what could be an epochal 2016 election." He characterizes last night's election results as reigniting SF's longstanding "civil war" between centrists and progressives, something that's lain dormant for most of Lee's tenure as mayor as the face of the city has been rapidly changing.
[Peskin's] presence alters the composition of the Board of Supervisors; that and Peskin’s cajoling could recruit a higher class of candidate—whom he could, in turn, help fund-raise for. He could also spearhead a campaign for mayoral opponents to recapture the Democratic County Central Committee, which anoints the official Democratic Party endorsement upon candidates in a crucial presidential election year, when tens of thousands of neophyte voters head to the polls. The progressives’ best and ablest strategist will soon be back in the saddle.
Could Aaron Peskin, then, be the left's best hope to ultimately take the mayor's office in the next mayoral election? Well, we'll be waiting until 2019 for that to potentially happen, and a lot could happen before then.
But in welcome news for everyone who enjoys political drama, there will definitely be more to come now that Peskin's back, and once six Board seats come up for election next year, including David Campos's, as he's termed out.
Buckle your seatbelts.
Previously: 2015 Election Wrap-up: Peskin In, Mirkarimi Out, Props F And I Go Down