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State and National Candidates 

Wednesday, Oct 30 1996
Welcome (back) to the Machine: In 1987, as Congresswoman Sala Burton was dying of cancer -- she was literally on her deathbed -- she called then-Democratic Party fund-raiser Nancy Pelosi to her bedside. There, she anointed Pelosi as the favored successor to her congressional seat. Sala herself had inherited the seat from her husband, Phil Burton, who had defined S.F. politics for the two preceding decades until his death in 1982.

Dramatic, sure. But not unusual. Such is the way of political machines. The mantle is passed privately, and only later are voters called in to validate. In Pelosi's case, she had to win the election in 1987. Unchallenged by any credible candidate, she has won all four elections since.

This coming Tuesday, San Franciscans will be asked to rubber-stamp more machine anointments. A complex arrangement was concocted last year when party leaders, Willie Brown and Pelosi included, decided who would run for every available state and national seat in S.F., thus preserving the machine into the next century. Here's the machine-preservation plan:

Nancy Pelosi runs for a fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 8th District, which takes all of the city except the Sunset, West of Twin Peaks, and Lake Merced neighborhoods; those areas are covered by San Mateo-based 12th District Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos.

Carole Migden -- the former supervisor, local party chair, and fund-raiser who won election in March to fill out Willie Brown's Assembly term -- runs for a full four-year term this time around. Her 13th Assembly District covers the eastern slice of the city from the Presidio in the northwest around the horn clockwise through downtown, Chinatown, the Haight, and the Mission, ending up in Bayview-Hunters Point to the south.

John Burton, Phil's brother and a former congressman, is forced from his Assembly seat by term limits. So he takes over -- uh, runs for -- the 3rd District state Senate seat vacated by Sen. Milton Marks; that covers the same area as the 13th Assembly District.

Kevin Shelley knows term limits will soon come into play at the Board of Supervisors, where he currently serves as board president. So, the former Phil Burton aide and son of former S.F. Mayor Jack Shelley runs for Burton's vacated 12th District Assembly seat, which covers the west side of the city, running from the Richmond District in the north down through the Sunset and West of Twin Peaks to the Excelsior, Ocean View, Merced, and Ingleside neighborhoods in the south.

Remember: None of these candidates face any real opposition. Barring an act of God, the four candidates (and Lantos) will win their elections.

Count on Pelosi to continue shipping in cargo holds full of AIDS, transportation, and housing money to the city through her powerful Appropriations Committee station as she tries to fend off Republican deregulation schemes, budget-slashing initiatives, and social engineering of the anti-gay, anti-abortion-rights variety. (If the Democrats retake the House, Pelosi will become a chair of a powerful budget subcommittee.) Burton, Shelley, and Migden will perform similar duties in Sacramento, where Republicans will no doubt continue their assault on S.F. tax revenues and push a socially conservative, lock-'em-up agenda.

Viable reasons to vote against the Democratic posse are plentiful: an innate objection and/or distrust of machinated power; a belief in term limits; Republican party membership.

However (and please don't use this as an excuse not to vote), the sad truth is that your choices here will matter only symbolically. Every one of these folks is headed for waffle-stomping victory.

The Board of Supervisors
A distinctive choice will be rendered on Nov. 5 when voters choose from among 28 candidates for six seats on the S.F. Board of Supervisors. If polls are on the mark, the presidency will go to one of the two incumbents seeking re-election.

Sue Bierman presents a tried-but-tired veteran of the hallowed days of grass-roots battles to curb the influence of big money on city politics and land use. Barbara Kaufman arrived on the political scene four years ago as the peppy guardian of real estate and downtown business interests. The winner gains authority to form legislative committees and name her chairmen -- real clout for an adroit pol.

A one-time Republican turned Democrat, Kaufman has built an extensive legislative record since 1992 -- and not just on the expected fiscal management front. She gained respect across the city's political spectrum by showing the intellect and grit to craft and deliver a top-to-bottom reform of the city charter. It shifted swaths of government into the mayor's control and increased board authority on budget matters, which eliminated officials' old excuse that the charter tied their hands. Her fund-raising ties to downtown interests continue to plague her among some activists.

Bierman, celebrated as a civic treasure by her backers, has unmatched local political experience. Appointed to the Planning Commission in 1976 by former Mayor George Moscone, she anchored the slow-growth, neighborhood-preservationist perspective until she was removed in 1992 by then Mayor Frank Jordan. As a prospective board president, however, her energy and mental acuity are questionable -- particularly on a legislative body sorely in need of establishing a measure of political credibility independent of Mayor Willie Brown.

Affecting that outcome, however, might require a sophisticated vote. The charter awards the presidency to the top vote-getter among all the candidates. Hence, voters seeking to elevate either Bierman or Kaufman may want to leave one or the other off their card, even if they support both.

Handicapping the race, political consultant Robert Barnes, former president of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club, says Democratic Party voter turnout could be key in a race too close to call. "If liberal Democrats feel President Clinton is in trouble and get out to vote," says Barnes, "it will help Sue." A heavy female vote, however, might boost Kaufman; she has distinguished herself of late by pushing S.F. judges to be more exacting in punishing perpetrators and protecting victims in domestic violence cases.

About The Author

Dirk Olin


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