Politics as Usual

Conversions here and there

Trying again, again

As the end of December approached, I was unprepared to discover my friends engaged in an activity wholly out of place. In their New Year’s posts on social media, gone were the dreading-the-new-year messages of the past eight years, replaced by — could it be? — optimism. They were expressing their hopes and expectations for a better year, and I read all of the messages and agreed with the unfamiliar sentiment.

I feel optimistic, too. 

In the past, I’ve engaged in the what-fresh-hell-is-this approach to each new year, worrying about murder hornets, Covid variants, new Trump antics, social and economic upheaval. This year, I share my friends’ expectations that things will be better in a variety of ways.

Public sentiment doesn’t always track with reality. For example, for years people have been telling pollsters they think the economy is terrible, inflation is running amok, and American business is faring poorly. But recent surveys have shown people and business leaders finally starting to catch up to the reality that unfolded throughout last year: The economy is strong, unemployment is around historic lows, job growth remains solid, corporate profits are good, income growth is up, and interest rates look like they’ll start to come down in 2024.

On another issue, crime, there is also often a gap between public mood and public statistics, but an even bigger gap is between public mood and elected officials. The FBI released its Uniform Crime Report for January through September 2023, drawing on 14,005 law enforcement agencies across the country. Murders are down across the country, in most cities big and small, with a few exceptions such as Dallas and Washington. Property crimes also declined in all regions except the country’s northeast. Yet a large majority of surveyed Americans think crime is increasing.

Perhaps because their elected officials keep fumbling the issue.


London Breed is talking tough and proposing decidedly nonprogressive solutions to the fentanyl and crime problems, some of which are on this month’s ballot (see “An ethical dilemma,” February 2024, Marina Times). By the time you read this, most of you will have already cast your votes, including regarding Breed-backed Proposition C (aimed at helping downtown office properties be converted into housing), Proposition E (expanding police powers, including the ability to pursue suspects), and Proposition F (testing and treating drug abuse among people receiving cash aid). 

You already know which measures passed and which were defeated. But as I write this, the outcome is still up in the air, so I will instead look at the broader question: Is Breed’s conversion to a moderate’s tough-on-crime position real? If she wins reelection, will she govern accordingly? (And will the Board of Supervisors let her?)

I have no idea. Plenty of politicians have changed their views to fit the times and have gone on to govern accordingly. Above my desk, I have a copy of Caravaggio’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus, showing Saul “Call Me Paul” of Tarsus having fallen off his horse amidst a religious change of heart. Now, that was a change for the ages. 

On a smaller scale, Mitch McConnell was pro-choice back in the 1970s. Yes, the man who made possible the far-right takeover of the U.S. Supreme Court and its consequent overturning of Roe v. Wade was perfectly fine with abortion — before he wasn’t. And today, the GOP caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives has lots of members who personally support aid for Ukraine but are forced to publicly oppose it because their party has become a cult of personality.

And it’s not just on the Republican side. Probably most elected Democratic officials were perfectly fine with same-sex marriage but were scared of being out front on a “culture war” issue. Not until then-Vice President Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage did the rank and file suddenly grow spines.

So Breed might or might not be a convert to moderate toughness. With what’s shaping up to be a tough reelection year, she might not get the chance to prove it. Then again, with the moderate vote split between several strong candidates, we might all be surprised who ends up the final winner.


Just as you’ll know the outcome of the March 5 election by the time most of you read this, you also will determine the outcome of the rest of the year. Who receives your donations, who gets talked about in your conversations and social media posts, and of course who gets your votes in November will go a long way toward shifting the direction of the city.

We know one thing: The next mayor of San Francisco will be a Democrat. Maybe Mark Farrell, maybe London Breed again, but not a Republican. Not since George Christopher left office in 1964 has the city-by-the-bay had a Republican at the mayor’s desk. So it is up to Democratic voters, office holders, and office seekers to offer real solutions, or else even a Democratic stronghold will turn to Republicans, just as New York made Rudolph William Louis Giuliani famous, before he became wacky.

I’m optimistic about the new year, for a variety of personal, professional, and societal reasons. But I’m not optimistic that city leaders will do the right thing. 

So it’s all up to you.

Comments: [email protected]

Send to a Friend Print

Upcoming Events

more »

SFMOMA | Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love

Feb-Sep 1-7
Info »

Download the Current Issue: April 2024

Follow Us