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Finally, Data Map S.F. City Hall’s Progressive-Moderate Divide

San Francisco Public Press
 — Jun 1 2018 - 4:59pm

A data-driven analysis by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and in partnership with the Public Press, reveals what many political observers of San Francisco City Hall have been saying for years.

London Breed, president of the Board of Supervisors and candidate for mayor in the June 5 election, is a political moderate, close to the middle, even though she has eschewed that tag. Based on a moderate-to-progressive scale, relative to the city’s generally liberal bent, her closest ideological colleagues are District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee on the progressive side, and appointed District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is running for election, farther on the moderate scale, though he declines to label himself one.

To no one’s surprise, Jane Kim, Breed’s board rival to fill out the term of the late Mayor Ed Lee, sits firmly on the progressive side of the continuum, according to the UC Davis mathematical model. (See graphic.) Supervisor Aaron Peskin defines the farthest reaches of the board’s progressive wing, while former supervisor Scott Wiener, now a state senator, marks the outer edge of moderate.

The Public Press will provide a closer look at this research and the methodology in our forthcoming summer print edition.

When media outlets and pundits have argued that certain local officials were politically progressive and others moderate, it was based on observation and conjecture. For the first time, those assertions are buttressed with data: an analysis of nearly 400 legislative and mayoral actions over more than three years. Using an approach applied to members of Congress for decades, UC Davis faculty then mapped where the city’s recent supervisors and the late mayor stood along an ideological scale.

Breed has tried to brush off the moderate label so consistently applied to her since she was elected to represent District 5 in 2012.

“I am not a moderate, I am not a progressive. I am a San Franciscan through and through,” she said when her peers elected her president of the board in 2015. When she ran for re-election in 2016, she challenged the moderate label in an interview with Hoodline.

Why? Possibly because it carries an implied connection to other, fraught elements within the broader political narrative — the influence of the real estate and tech industries, as well as former Mayor Willie Brown, on San Francisco’s identity and future.

Professor Scott MacKenzie, who collected and analyzed the voting data alongside professors Cheryl Boudreau and Chris Elmendorf, said that whether politicians call themselves moderate or progressive — as Kim has done — “what they’re trying to do is signal where they are, ideologically.

“And in San Francisco, the moderates tend to be a little bit more cautious in labeling themselves as moderates because most San Franciscans probably think of themselves as progressive.”

MacKenzie said he thinks the electorate is mostly moderate. “How else do you explain Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown?” he said. “The fact that they’ve controlled the mayor’s office continuously, right?”

“So I totally respect the fact that she rejects that label,” MacKenzie said, referring to Breed.

“That being said, she votes as a moderate. There’s not much question about that. She’s very comfortably to the right of all of the self-identified progressives on the board. And it’s kind of hard to distinguish her from Ed Lee in terms of her voting record.”

He said he suspects she might be trying to portray herself as independent, so she can better work with both political factions. “And you know what? As a mayor, you have to do that. Ed Lee worked with progressives on the board when he needed to, and I think if she gets elected she will too,” he said.

In the vast majority of cases, votes at the Board of Supervisors are unanimous. The UC Davis team discarded these from its analysis.

“If you ask a bunch of 12th graders what two plus two is, you’re probably going to get the same answer from them,” MacKenzie said. “And that’s not going to tell you much about the differences between those 12th graders.”

His team analyzed the 394 votes, taken between the start of 2015 and May 1, 2018, where at least one supervisor disagreed with the rest.

To include Lee, who died of a heart attack in December with 18 months left in his second term, the researchers analyzed instances when he either vetoed or signed legislation that the board passed. They did not factor in the times when Lee withheld his signature.

Mark Farrell’s position on the continuum is based only on his votes as supervisor. He was appointed interim mayor in January.