The illogical Office of Public Advocate

Prop H, allowing for the creation of an Office of Public Advocate in San Francisco, appears headed for defeat. Thankfully. In theory, the Public Advocate is a fair-play czar of sorts. They field and investigate citizen/whistleblower complaints concerning City services and programs, monitor for cronyism/wasteful spending and appoint a Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints to head police oversight. The city’s “progressive” Democrats proposed the office and have enthusiastically championed it as a check on “moderate” Democrats at City Hall, specifically Mayor Ed Lee, while moderates claim the office would create more bureaucracy and hinder more than it would help. This progressive support and moderate opposition are curious because the office would likely fall into moderate hands and allow them to erase more oversight than they already do, compliments of progressives.

Contested citywide elections in San Francisco usually go to moderates. The election and re-election of Gavin Newsom and Lee. Chiu over Campos for Assembly. Hennessy over Mirkarimi for sheriff. Wiener over Kim for senate. On and on and on. Progressives continually speak about Public Advocate as if the office will only be held by progressives, ever. This flies in the face of every recent citywide election result, though. There is no reason to believe a moderate wouldn’t be elected to the position and spend their entire term on vacation, looking the other way for a likely moderate mayor. Instead of clamping down on waste and cronyism, this would rubber stamp it and anything similar.

The results wouldn’t be any better if a progressive won. David Campos has arguably been the face of Prop H; mainly, his critics allege, because he’s soon to be termed out as D9 Supervisor and wants to extend his life in city government. While Campos denies he’s creating a new office solely for his benefit, he’s assumed to be the progressive choice to hold that office and that would be unfortunate on a few levels. Campos made a name for himself as a progressive politician early in his career, but recently he has drifted right on issues such as police oversight and treatment of homeless people in order to appease local power brokers and gentrifying new residents in his district. Campos has done more the past year to attract the attention of a Public Advocate than to be elected as one. Giving him power of police oversight would be especially problematic considering how he obstructed any attempts to fire then-police-chief Greg Suhr. What would stop him ignoring the community again as Public Advocate?

Moderate or progressive, though, the Office of Public Advocate would have none of the advertised oversight of SFPD because of two poison pills baked into Prop H. The Public Advocate can “appoint a Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints (or its successor) from nominees selected by the Police Commission, subject to the Board of Supervisors’ approval.” The Public Advocate would never have chance to appoint an independent Director of Citizen Complaints because that candidate would never make it past the Police Commission. Any of these watered-down nominees chosen by the Police Commission would then have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, who also would never approve anyone independent.

Despite all this, progressives have pushed Public Advocate as a fait accompli progressive office that the city must have immediately. Though results aren’t final yet, the San Francisco electorate looks as if they’ve made a rare wise decision and decided against Prop H. Not to worry, though, as the city’s progressives will devise another way to shoot themselves in the foot sooner rather than later.

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