Death of Ted Gullicksen and Bay Guardian blows to progressives

  • a8df8 920x680 Death of Ted Gullicksen and Bay Guardian blows to progressives


On Tuesday night, Quintin Mecke and a few dozen progressive activists gathered at the Mission District office of the San Francisco Tenants Union to grieve two sudden and shocking deaths.

Ted Gullicksen, the dogged tenants union director, had died in his sleep at age 61. And the longtime voice of the progressive movement, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, had been abruptly shuttered and its entire staff laid off. Standing in the Capp Street room decorated with posters celebrating rent control and Gullicksen’s numerous arrest citations saved like souveniers since the 1980s, Mecke and his comrades came together for a community wake.

“Time stopped. No one believed it,” Mecke said. “It just really felt like a knife in the heart of progressive politics in San Francisco.”

In truth, the city’s storied progressive movement has been hemorrhaging for years. For decades, San Francisco progressives steered the political agenda on everything from rent control to stopping freeways from running through neighborhoods to gay rights, but they seem to have lost power, people and issues to fight for in the past few years. As the city rapidly changes — becoming wealthier and more gentrified — some remaining dedicated progressives say their movement is needed now more than ever.

But progressives lost control of the Board of Supervisors, fielded hardly any challengers in next month’s election and haven’t held the mayor’s seat since Art Agnos left office in 1992.

And its whack-a-mole attempts to block Google buses and force Airbnb to pay back hotel taxes have failed to make much of a dent in the economic boom that’s contributed to San Francisco’s rash of evictions and growing income disparity.

Cheering for Campos

Progressives are hopeful Supervisor David Campos will stage a come-from-behind win for an Assembly seat next month, but are less optimistic about the passage of Proposition G, an antispeculation ballot measure designed to slow real estate flipping and evictions. They have not yet found anybody to challenge Mayor Ed Lee next year.

The movement’s famous mainstays aren’t in the limelight much anymore. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is termed out at the end of this year and is retiring, at least for now. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi weathered a domestic violence scandal and is mostly persona non grata at City Hall. Former Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Chris Daly and Matt Gonzalez have backed away from politics, at least in official capacities. The staff of the Bay Guardian is unemployed.

Mecke, 41, is the campaign manager for Proposition G. He moved to Alamo Square 18 years ago and has been a progressive stalwart ever since, working for various nonprofits and political campaigns and experiencing “a brief moment of insanity” when he challenged former Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2007.

“There is less of a political consciousness here in the city,” said Mecke, who said the buzz around his neighborhood now is all about new restaurants and $15 artisanal cocktails — and not about local politics. “There are still folks fighting the good fight, but it does feel like it’s a smaller group than it used to be.”

And without Gullicksen and the Guardian staff, it’s even smaller.

A double whammy

“If you go back to 2000 — at the height of their powers, at the height of their influence — nobody would have believed they’d both be gone,” Mecke said. “Can you believe it happened on the same day? It just felt very cruel.”

Fifteen years ago, then-Supervisor Ammiano waged a write-in campaign for mayor and came within striking distance of upsetting Mayor Willie Brown, now a lobbyist and Chronicle columnist.

Fueled with excitement over that race, a number of progressives rode an anti-Brown, antidevelopment tidal wave into the Board of Supervisors chambers in 2000. Suddenly, little-known neighborhood activists including Peskin, Daly and Gonzalez were major power players at City Hall. Notably, they’d won in no small part because they had the very powerful endorsements of the Tenants Union and the Bay Guardian.

They did things differently. Gonzalez refused to meet with Brown for two years and held art shows in his office, including one exhibit where big red letters reading “Smash the State” were painted on his wall. Daly vowed to use the f-word in every meeting and famously nearly came to fisticuffs with Brown in a tense meeting about homelessness.

Over the next decade, the progressive board instituted tighter controls on real estate development, strengthened protections for tenants, mandated paid sick leave, banned plastic bags, worked with Newsom to institute universal health care, raised the minimum wage and, yes, banned free toys in Happy Meals.

That all began to crumble in January 2011 when the outgoing board failed to seize its chance to name a progressive as interim mayor to fill the last year of Newsom’s term after he was elected lieutenant governor.

Left’s ‘biggest fumble’

In what Daly called “the biggest fumble in the history of progressive politics in San Francisco,” the board elected Lee, the administrator who then proceeded to break his promise not to run for a four-year term. Lee’s focus has been on job creation and tech promotion and less on issues paramount to the progressives: homelessness, tenant protections and the environment.

Political observers and progressives themselves have many theories as to why the movement seems to have stalled. In Lee, they have a collegial, press-shy bureaucrat — a much-less easy foil than Brown and Newsom, two larger-than-life mayors who rarely shied away from a fight.

Many of the progressives’ cherished issues have gone from edgy to mainstream. The fight for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage has mostly been won. When Gonzalez proposed that San Francisco set its own minimum wage in 2002, businesses fought it vehemently. Now, Lee, the entire Board of Supervisors, business and labor are backing a $15 per hour minimum wage, which is on the ballot next month. Affordable housing is also on the agendas of the mayor and moderate supervisors.

No big rallying issue

“I think progressive values are as widely adopted today in San Francisco as they have ever been,” Daly said.

Peter Keane, a longtime San Francisco progressive and law professor at Golden Gate University, said that while there’s plenty to fight against in modern-day San Francisco — from evictions to income inequality to giveaways to tech companies — nothing has really taken hold for progressives.

“To really get people excited over Google buses, it’s not as easy to do that,” he said, adding that even evictions aren’t really rallying the base. “It doesn’t seem to create any kind of great rallying issue with the pitchforks coming out and people storming City Hall. It should, in my opinion, but it’s not.”

He added that nationwide discontent among progressives over disappointment in President Obama and the Occupy movement has contributed to a withdrawal in political participation.

Population is changing

San Francisco’s population is also changing. For decades, it attracted young gay people, artists, nonprofit workers and others who could afford an apartment and easily find a niche in the progressive community. Now, the median citywide rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,200 a month — the highest in the nation — making it nearly impossible for many potentially new members of the progressive base to move here or stay.

Political consultant Jim Ross said progressive political movements have often been driven by young people, but many of those moving to San Francisco in their 20s and 30s are no longer coming for the politics and liberal social fabric.

“The last two big influxes of young people into San Francisco have all been young folks who are moving here not necessarily for social acceptance but to make money,” said Ross, referring to the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and the current tech boom. “It’s people with a different motivation.”

Van Jones, a longtime Bay Area environmental and community activist, said the tech community has a more “libertarian and pragmatic” political bent — and said it’s a shame the progressives haven’t found much success rallying against the side-effects of the tech boom. He called the closure of the Bay Guardian “a complete catastrophe” for the progressive movement, which now has lost its mouthpiece.

“Its voice is probably needed now more than ever,” he said.

Progressives do point out bright spots. In addition to Campos’ strong race for the Assembly, they point to their big recent wins on the Embarcadero: the ballot measure to kill the 8 Washington luxury condos and the separate one to give voters a say in developments that break height limits on port land along the waterfront.

And they’re hopeful more wins are coming.

“The pendulum swings back and forth,” Peskin said. “You could have easily said the exact same thing in 1999, but everybody got sick and tired of City Hall and the pendulum swung the other way.”

Gabriel Haaland, a longtime progressive union organizer, said losing Gullicksen and the Bay Guardian in one day was “a huge blow” to the progressive movement, but that there’s no guarantee the tech boom will last or that the progressive movement won’t come back fighting.

“Things are always in flux, that’s one thing about San Francisco,” he said. “Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, everything changes.”

Heather Knight is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: hknight@sfchronicle.com, Twitter: @hknightsf

The Class of 2000: Where are they now?

In late 2000, San Francisco voters shocked the political establishment by electing a number of anti-Willie Brown, antidevelopment newcomers to the Board of Supervisors. But these days, few of them have ties to city politics.

District One: Jake McGoldrick is an adjunct professor of rhetoric and languages at the University of San Francisco.

District Three: Aaron Peskin chaired the Democratic County Central Committee from 2008 to 2012 and is president of the nonprofit Great Basin Land and Water, which aims to improve water quality in Nevada. He is involved — behind the scenes — in some campaigns, including those related to waterfront development.

District Five: Matt Gonzalez ran as vice president on Ralph Nader’s presidential ticket in 2008, works as an attorney in the public defender’s office and is a collage maker who has art shows around the city.

District Six: Chris Daly shuttered his bar, Buck’s Tavern, on Market Street and recently resigned from his job as political director for SEIU Local 1021. He is currently unemployed and living with his family in Fairfield. “Fortunately, my wife is good at saving money,” he quipped.

District 10: Sophie Maxwell is retired.

District 11: Gerardo Sandoval is a Superior Court judge.

— Heather Knight

Article source: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Death-of-Ted-Gullicksen-and-Bay-Guardian-blows-to-5832008.php

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