The Bike Vote Makes a Difference by Leah Shahum

Like the roller coast ride of the presidential race, the SFBC's first ever foray into hard-core local, electoral politics had its ups and downs...with more to come.

Our biggest, obvious disappointment locally was the defeat of Proposition F for Saturday closure of a section of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. The greatest success, so far, has been our influence on crucial races for the Board of Supervisors.

Why All The Fuss?

Last month's election was the SFBC's initial venture into candidate electoral politics. Anticipating the opportunity for low-budget, but high-energy grassroots groups like ours to influence district elections for the Board of Supervisors, the SFBC membership voted to switch its tax status in order to endorse and work on behalf of candidates.

Members voted to endorse candidates in seven districts —five of whom either won outright in November or made it into the runoff election in December.

Members were generally supportive of our involvement in the election, though some took issue with our process or whom we specifically endorsed (see Letters to the Editor).

"Our endorsements, I firmly believe, indicated who would be most likely to help our ambitious agenda to triple bicycle use by 2005," says Dave Snyder, SFBC Executive Director.

Members are encouraged to give feedback about the endorsement process and our involvement in elections, in general, on our website survey (www.sfbike.org) that will be used to determine our endorsement process next year.

A Lot of Work That Worked

Our endorsements meant a great deal to candidates we supported. But as much as our endorsement was considered, it is the SFBC's grassroots organizing strength, which was sought most by candidates. We organized hundreds of volunteers to distribute not only Prop. F materials, but also literature for pro-bike candidates, which directly promoted our vision of safer streets and less traffic through alternatives to cars. Our promotion of that message over the last several years has worked amazingly: "I Want More Bike Lanes" found its way into statements by dozens of candidates, including some we did not even endorse.

The election was a great opportunity to not only support a candidate who will work for sensible transportation issues, but also to popularize the pro-bike message to voters, in general. It can't be stressed enough just how much this election matters to our movement. The Board of Supervisors will decide on nearly every major transportation improvement the SFBC works on, including voting on every inch of bike lanes. An enthusiastic Board could make our work not just easier, but the results revolutionary.

"If we prevail in the runoff elections, we'll have a majority of Supervisors who will value public safety and personal choice over the free flow of car traffic at all costs, and who will act on those values," says Snyder. "We could easily make more progress in the next two years than we've made in the last ten!"

Defeat Becomes Victory

It would be a lot more fun to report that Proposition F won. It did not. But, in a lot of ways, we did.

Clearly, it is not a matter of if Saturday closure will happen, but when. A majority of people voted in favor of Saturday closure, though that majority was split between Prop. F and Prop. G. SFBC members' extensive involvement in the Yes on F campaign, even though it lost by less than 4%, will benefit the movement for more livable streets for years to come.

"It is important to remember that the Hayes Valley/Octavia Boulevard group and the Tenant's Union, among others, suffered defeats in their initial electoral campaigns and have since gone on to great success with ballot initiatives," says Paul Dorn, of Advocates for a Safe Golden Gate Park (ASGGP). "With Prop. F, we got serious. Our movement will gain more momentum as a consequence."

One reason for the defeat: We were wildly outspent. Our opponents dished out a quarter million dollars, while our more high-profile campaign was run on a mere $20,000 and volunteer energy.

"We have a lot to be proud of," says Mary Brown, Volunteer Coordinator for the Prop. F campaign. "We countered their big bucks with the enthusiastic support of hundreds of volunteers who walked almost half of the city's precincts. We had passion on our side."

The upshot: We learned how to run a tough campaign, and nearly succeeded in overcoming the Big Money and Big Machine tactics.

"That's huge," says Niko Letunic, of ASGGP. "I always thought we were a second-class advocacy movement because we had not run this kind of campaign before. With Prop. F we proved we could do it without a lot of money. Had Prop. G not been on the ballot, we would have won comfortably. [Supervisor Michael] Yaki did achieve his intent to split the Saturday closure supporters, so that neither measure would pass."

"The list of organizations and individuals which supported Prop. F is one of our most obvious successes. The list includes such heavy-hitters as the Sierra Club, Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno, Harvey Milk Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Democratic Club, SF Tenants Union, SF Democratic Women's Forum, and others; as well as some surprises that conventionally back the Mayor's political machine but chose Prop. F over Yaki's Prop. G, including the SF Democratic Party and Alice B. Toklas L/G/B/T Democratic Club.

"I definitely got the sense that people were interested in developing coalitions with us," says Letunic. "The sense that we've finally arrived, that we're not going away. And that people support our platform."

Silver lining

It is not merely cheery consolation to say that there is an important silver lining to Prop. F's defeat at the polls. Besides gaining crucial experience and respect in the political community, our movement for livable streets is stronger.

Our next step depends largely on the Board of Supervisors run-off election on December 12th. Candidates who supported Prop. F are running in nearly every contested district. Because the bogus Prop. G failed (which would have delayed any Saturday closure for at least five years), we have the opportunity to approach a more supportive Board of Supervisors to introduce the matter legislatively.

The moral of this story: Please do whatever you can to help elect a Board of Supervisors who understands and supports sensible transportation in San Francisco (see SFBC Announcements). The outcome of the race will influence our goals not only in Golden Gate Park, but throughout San Francisco.