Feb 23, 2024
47 min
Episode 12

We Are San Francisco: 'Shaping Urban Policy' with Todd David

Ben Kaplan  00:00

Hey, BART riders. Hey San Francisco. I'm Ben Kaplan. And this is the podcast where we define who we are and who we want to be. We are diverse, we are innovative, we are inclusive. We are change makers, problem solvers, activists, leaders, citizens, we are open minded, optimistic, because hope for a better tomorrow and you and you and you gotta get in the hole. This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion,

Ben Kaplan  00:34

our San Francisco.

Ben Kaplan  00:41

Hey, San Francisco. Today we're chatting with Todd David, political director of Abundant SF, an organization that seeks to shape housing, transportation and urban planning in the city over the next decade, what some call the urbanist agenda.

Ben Kaplan  00:55

Tod also has become one of the primary organizers of the so called moderate wing of San Francisco politics, that helps to bring some results minded pragmatism to city governance. Todd previously served as director of special projects at the housing Action Coalition as political director for Scott wieners successful state Senate campaign, and as co founder of the San Francisco parents political action committee. So how can ordinary residents and citizens make an impact in local politics? And what is the interplay between issues like housing, transportation, and public safety in San Francisco's future? Let's find out with Todd David.

Ben Kaplan  01:37

Todd, you're a political person. You've been around you organize other political people. But actually, a jumping off point that maybe people don't know about you is that you weren't always a political animal who lived in brief politics or San Francisco politics. How did you get your start? And how is that kind of reflective of the times we're in now in San Francisco where lots of other people are jumping in to get involved?

Todd David  01:59

Ben, thanks for having me, on the podcast, really appreciate it. My entree into San Francisco politics was a very organic or it's not a political person at all. You know, my wife and I made a very specific decision that we were going to send our children to San Francisco's public schools. And my oldest child was at elementary school at Alvarado. It was right around when Barack Obama had been elected president. And that there was federal stimulus money through the Obama administration that was supposed to find its way to schools with a certain percentage of free reduced lunch children. were attending the school. So if I remember correctly, I mean, I'm pretty, I'm pretty sure I remember this correctly. But you know, people might want to fact check, if I remember, it was like if a school had 40%, free and reduced lunch, children a population 40%, free reduced lunch, they were they qualified for federal stimulus money. At the time Alvarado had 44% of 44% population of free and reduced lunch. And the school was not getting any of the stimulus money, even though it was confirmed that San Francisco Unified was receiving money from the federal government for stimulus. But the stimulus was supposed to follow that each child.

Ben Kaplan  03:18

So this, this is like personal interest, you have a child, you and your wife are like, Hey, we're supposed to get resources, we qualify for resources. We're exactly the kind of place that resources are targeted at. And something's broken in the system that impedes this. And why don't you just make a complaint and send an email and let it be? Why did you use that as a jumping off point?

Todd David  03:39

Yeah, no, that's a really good point. I mean, so what it was, was that I kept emailing the school district to try to get an answer. And like the first person who was my contact answered, like some totally different questions I was asking. And I started to just get kind of more and more frustrated, and more and more annoyed. And I reached out to a person who's now one of my very good friends with the times I barely knew where she was a border Commissioner, Rachel Norton, who was known as kind of like a parent who made it onto the board of education. And Rachel kind of kept with me, and she got me a meeting with the Chief Financial Officer of the school district. And it was that experience that made me realize that every one in San Francisco was only one to two degrees removed from like decision makers. I was like, Oh, if people are willing to like, if they care about an issue, and they're willing to follow through, they can actually affect change of San Francisco through the political process, and that was really my jumping off point right there.

Ben Kaplan  04:39

And it's interesting, you say that this idea of follow through, and I have two young kids today, like a one and a half and a two and a half year old, and sometimes they get an idea in their head and they just like they repeat it over and over like maybe it's a candy they want or and you kind of distract them with other things, but they always come back and they say, you know, remember the bond bond. What about the bond bond? And there's actually something to be said for each A change in just being relentless and sticking with it. And if you have that energy, and particularly in a place locally like San Francisco, there's actually a tremendous amount you can do and people sometimes don't realize it just being relentless. And sticking with it, you can actually do quite a bit 100%

Todd David  05:15

That is the opportunity that San Francisco presents is right, there is an opportunity to make real positive change here. And it is the willingness of people to kind of stick to it and to be like, okay, you know, what's happening, whatever your the issue is, I, you know, I'm frustrated with this issue or that issue, and just not taking no as an answer. And continuing to push forward and push forward. San Francisco is a municipality with that type of relentlessness is rewarded in the sense that you can, one person can affect positive change and savers go. But there's other people who can affect like, from what you know, if one wants one thing, other people can affect negative change, also, which is why it's so important that, you know, organizations that really want to see San Francisco move forward in a really positive manner, really come together and work together to do that. Because it's totally possible at this down

Ben Kaplan  06:14

to give some context for the current situation. And I feel like your political director at abundance SF, which is even an outgrowth of this, it feels like there's more people who just want to get involved and are willing to, you know, bring whatever they have that those could be financial resources, those could be certain skills and talents that can be certain energy that can be a certain community that is never representative but suddenly wants to get active now, do you feel that there's this like, bubbling up of like, we're at this point where there's real opportunity for change, because people, whether it's anger or frustration, tired of the status quo, it's sort of there and the silent majority doesn't seem that silent as much anymore. So

Todd David  06:57

just anecdotally, right, the number of people who like I just kind of knew through the years who know that, like I'm involved, you know, with San Frisco politics, about once every two to three weeks, like someone from my past sends me an email, just say, like, I just kind of, I've had it with like, you know, kind of the status quo. As you're saying, Todd, what can I do to get involved? So it's just anecdotally there clearly, is this bubbling up? I think the other thing that you're saying is right, like organizations like abundance, San Francisco, together, SF grow SF, right, there's, we asked if like, there's there is just kind of this natural, organic, like people are coming together to want to have positive change in San Francisco, I just think coming out of the pandemic homelessness and drug epidemic on the streets. People love San Francisco, we love our hometown, and we see it struggling. And I think often we do for good reasons. Look at the leadership, especially like the Board of Supervisors and City Hall, you know, it's certainly the Board of Education, where they were just doing so many performative just like not substantive, just so, you know, virtue signaling and like, and not just delivering, like the basics, right? Like, parents were annoyed for good reason that like kids weren't in school, right, we were the last urban school districts in the country, to open up like to return children to school, right, just the inability to kind of like, clean our streets or, you know, help people in crisis on the streets. And, you know, the Board of Supervisors, from my point of view, the Board of Supervisors seems to block the mayor from making substantive progress, every turn they have the board of supervisors would rather try to score political points than actually move the city forward. And that's where, you know, I just think that we as citizens and residents, and families alike, we shouldn't put up with that. But I don't think we are that much more right now.

Ben Kaplan  08:57

It's interesting, you mentioned sort of like the basics that a city needs to operate, I almost view it like, it's done more on an individual level. But if you kind of go back to like, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right, on an individual, right, you need kind of like basic security and protection, and then you've kind of moved the chain. But when people feel like in a city, there's sort of this hierarchy of needs in a city, right? And you've just got to be safe. You've got to, like, have kids in school, you've got to, you know, be able to like walk down the street and not be looking over your shoulder or feeling unease when those aren't met. And pandemic caused a lot of changes that caused them that then that people have a right to have to be really motivated to do something, that one kind of factor during the pandemic were just like, hey, our basic needs are not being maxed. Maybe there's some reasons for that and sort of macro economic events. But the other factor that I think is in a lot of the folks that we talk to this sometimes overlooked is that the pandemic put a lot of people at home, a lot of people had time on their hands, and they started getting involved. I don't know how many people you know, that are like now I would consider political players in the city that got their start because they were just sort of getting involved working from home more time on their hands, what's going on? Fast forward to three years later, and they're really involved.

Todd David  10:19

Yeah, you know, um, it's an interesting point I haven't like I wouldn't say, Ben, like, I haven't thought about that, you know, that the pandemic in and of itself by people being home, I was like, kind of bubbled up a new group of activists. That certainly is possible. To me, it seems to be I think that they're, like, when I think of like, young activism in San Francisco, I think people are like, Well, wait a minute, if I ever want to own a home in San Francisco, right, like, if we don't build more housing, you know, like $3 million for a starter home seems outrageous. And so like, you know, it's kind of like, I think there's this generational divide of like, people my age and older, have kind of like screwed the next generation when it comes to opportunities. Right? Like, you know, I feel like I'm one of the last generations of one of the last in the generation of San Franciscans were like, my wife and I were able to buy a home and nobody Valley 20 years ago, we wouldn't be able to do it today. But people moved here, they've kind of established themselves, they kind of pulled up the drawbridge and being like, okay, no one else is allowed. And they think that, you know, the next generation of activists will be like, that is just fundamentally not a San Francisco value to behave in that way. So I see a page kind of like a differences in the way that people are activated around age groups that I didn't necessarily see it around, people being at home, or not daily, but so like, I'm gonna actually spend some time over the next week thinking about that, then I might get better. Okay, I

Ben Kaplan  11:51

want to join our movement to get San Francisco back on track and attend a week town hall event, or stop by our poplar, we have the our meetups. Better yet, join our data team takes the census, or help us audit the city budget. To join the movement, text us at 415301 6700. That's 415-301-6700. Or learn more at WWE San francisco.org. Todd, tell me about abundance SF, because I think the organization has a unique role and that it's really and you can explain what it means but sort of the urbanist agenda is really its roots because it has roots in keeping important parts of Golden Gate Park car free, supporting bicyclists supporting pedestrians, but yet, the organization and your role actually goes beyond that, because you're involved in in really organizing and activating those that want sensible, pragmatic results to improve things that goes beyond the urbanist agenda. So how do you balance like urbanist forward? That's your purpose. Yet, you have your hand in a lot of different things when I look at all the things you touch. Yeah,

Todd David  13:02

that no, it's a great question. So I'm going to differentiate it. I'm going to bifurcate it a little bit. So a little bit, I think what you are kind of getting at is we as abundancy of a Cisco working coalition with a bunch of organizations that have other policy priorities, then what about San Francisco does so but at San Francisco, our policy priorities? I think you hit it right on the head, right? We are, I would almost say a traditional urbanist organization in the sense that the things that we care about are the policy issues that we primarily work on right are dense urban infill housing. So if you think of kind of like if you're familiar with Scott leaners, housing policy priorities, those are things we very strongly believe. And so dense urban infill housing, meaning that people can either you know, walked work or take transit, less car dependent on where they are living.

Ben Kaplan  13:59

And just to give a little context, for folks who may be new, maybe don't know. But Scott Wiener, state senator, you were very closely involved. You were involved in his campaign in terms of as a political director and others so. So there's a lot of connection there. But just keep I just want to give that little bit of context.

Todd David  14:15

Sure. No, so thank you, man. I appreciate that. Yeah. And then housing and then the other thing is transit. So better public transit. So you know, more frequent reliable Muni service, more frequent, reliable Bart service, right, being able, like things that like when you think of like what a great city should have, it should have housing that's affordable to people, it should have robust public transit. And then the other aspect, the other two aspects are, you know, really robust public spaces. So you know, working closely with the Rec and Park Department, and then when creating these amazing open spaces, creating JFK promenade, which made sure that JFK drive was pedestrian and bike friendly. There was something and then the last leg, which we talked about a little bit, and we're still developing this policy. But you know, we really think that an urban center cannot be a phenomenal urban center without a phenomenal public school system. So while we are committed to trying to improve service, good public schools, I also want to be clear that we are very, very early in kind of policy. What does that mean, from a policy perspective on housing, transit and open spaces, we have very defined policy, policy ideas and policy outcomes that we are striving for. So that's sort of been San Francisco's doing now we work in coalition with other organizations that have other priorities. So like public safety, right, so the many organizations that like are very, very focused on as you were saying, like, you know, making sure when you walk out the front door, it just like, it feels safe, right, like I could walk down the street, and things like that, well, that is not our bailiwick. And our focus, we coordinate with organizations where that is their belly, where can that focus. And I, my, as the political director, my theory of change in San Francisco, is that we can accomplish so much more, when we work in coalition with a bunch of organizations that are aligned at least 80% of the time, doesn't mean we're going to be aligned 100% of the time. But if I can get public safety organizations that care about public safety, to work in coalition with me to care about housing, that's a win for me, it's a group that would normally not be focused on housing. And just like, if my group isn't necessarily focused on public safety, but we're working in coalition with another group that is focused on public safety, that's a win for that group, because they're bringing people along on an issue that they would not have been focused on. So I do believe in coalition building. And and I would say that one of the things that I feel like Abundant services and been very successful at is working, really working robustly with a very, very broad coalition of about 30 organizations. And so that is where I think you're getting into you're saying, Abundant San Francisco have its hand and you know, a bunch of different things. But again, that is from a coalition point of view.

Ben Kaplan  17:17

Why isn't there more working together in San Francisco, I want to give you an example that is often quoted to me, a bunch of people that I know said, hey, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was like, you know, a petition sign that a bunch of people join and activate a lot of folks and all these folks found themselves or that kind of ordinary people, at one point found themselves in a meeting with the mayor, all representing their code of interest. And there was a Zoom meeting, because no one was meeting in person at the time. And there was this like, kind of nice meeting, and people felt like they were working together, and they were heard, and there was all of that. But it was like a one time deal. It didn't really have a follow up when I hear about that meeting. And then you've really taken it upon. I mean, I think of yourself working in conjunction with others that you're aligned with, say, Let's get groups together, you have a meeting that you coordinate every few weeks where you bring different, exactly what you said people with different primary focus, but a common direction, why shouldn't that just be like the default? Why is that we needed Todd David and a few other folks to come together and create this because there wasn't this communication or coordination. I

Todd David  18:19

think there's a couple of of very practical reasons of that a couple of philosophical reasons. I think, from a very practical reason, and I know this is gonna sound kind of so basic, but it's like, there's a lot of truth to it. It wasn't anyone's job, or who liked to be like, whose job was to make sure people are getting together at it, you know, and having that conversation. And so when I was approached about becoming the political director of a button in San Francisco, I just felt like there was a need for this meeting. So it became literally part of my job description to do this. So I mean, I think it's just like, having it be someone's job is one way to ensure that the meeting is called. I know, that doesn't sound particularly exciting. But like, there's just a practical, like, you know, people are busy with stuff. And so if it's not someone's meeting, and then thus far, I believe in a couple of slogan, the things that I think everyone will, it will sound familiar to everyone. I'm a huge believer that people can accomplish anything if you don't care who gets credit for it. So I think that as long as like, the coalition comes together, and we're trying to move forward priorities, all we want is we want outcomes, right? We want to produce outcomes. It does not matter who gets credit for it. I think as long as we can kind of keep that at the front of mind. I think it's a lot of things people can accomplish. I think maybe Ben, things had to get as bad as they'd been in the last couple of years for people to be willing to grasp on to that, like, it doesn't matter who gets credit for this. Let's just move together collectively, I think at the kind of the more elected level. So we've been talking about kind of the advocacy level of like organizing advocates. I think one of the biggest problems with San Francisco from an elected point of view Is it as a fundamental truth that politics Trumps policy in San Francisco? Is that

Ben Kaplan  20:05

a unique San Francisco thing? Or is there a place where like policy Trumps politics? Is there a local place like that? Or is that just a reality of the world we live in? And just human dynamics?

Todd David  20:16

Yeah, you know, it's a good question. I don't know. I honestly don't know. Right? I feel like I can speak intelligently about San Francisco. And I just haven't worked other places that, you know, it feels like I have a little bit of experience working like, you know, in Sacramento with a legislative state legislator. And I will say the policy plays a much bigger role in the debates and the conversations in the state legislature than it does in City Hall in San Francisco. So I mean, David Chiu famously said, San Francisco politics is like a knife fight in a thermos. And he's like, when you get to Sacramento, you can actually have policy conversations and debates, right in San Francisco. And maybe this is true, lots of municipalities, people don't care what the pot they will, who they're like, Wait, who authored this policy, who's behind this policy? And I can tell you whether I support it or not, I don't even know, I don't even need to know what the policy is. And so I think that that is part of the reason that it's just been very, very hard historically, to see the organizing and the collaboration that we are seeing today. To

Ben Kaplan  21:22

echo what you said is that we is greater than me. So we're greater together than we are individually. And that there's an opportunity for more for lack of a better term weakness right now togetherness because of the unique circumstances. And I know, we've talked about this before, what's an example of like folks that are partnering now that are not traditionally partners, or allies or buddies that are working together? Because I know, we've spoken about how you know, hey, the urbanist agenda, for instance, that is your primary focus doesn't normally match up with this other group yet. We're lockstep now, and when I hear two groups that, you know, don't historically get together, and they're working together, that gives me hope that gives me inspiration sounds like we might be able to get something done. Is there an example of that? We're just you're surprised at alignment now. Yeah,

Todd David  22:14

I mean, so what I would say is, without after tried to talk in terms of, I don't want to, like mention organizations names, but I'm gonna talk about like priorities and see, and then we can dig it a little bit deeper. Right. So if you think about, like, perhaps a more conservative wet, like the profile of a more conservative West Side homeowner, and was concerned about police staffing levels, who probably is, you know, loves their car loves her single family home. Right. But as showing up to these coalition meetings, with people who work at spur the urban Think Tank, that are the academic urbanists, like, you know, housing transit, probably actually are not very pro more police, like they're actually almost in these two organizations, or these two stereotypes of people care about are almost in exact opposition to each other. But what they both want in common is elected officials who will do he'll deliver services to people they want, like cops like it's like, they want common sense, elected officials. So they're almost like saying, like, Listen, I have policy priorities. But those are second to like electing people who will do the work to do the everyday job. And that's where we're going to come together to work on that. And just like you bet, that is what gives me so much hope that we are going to see, we will see progress in San Francisco on delivering the basics. Let

Ben Kaplan  23:45

me ask a kind of a blunt question, too. And I mean, this directly and indirectly, but is the political culture in San Francisco as it exists today? Is it Mayor breeds fault?

Todd David  23:58

I mean, it is factual. The mayor London breed has come up through San Francisco politics was on the board of supervisors. And so there certainly is, she shares some responsibility for the culture and the political culture. No more no less than Aaron Peskin, who's been around for 20 years, right. I mean, there's, there's a group of people who do it. I don't think it's the like, there was a time where San Francisco was doing a better job of delivering the basics. And the service culture, the political culture has always been a very competitive, right, like, we see so many national leaders come out of San Francisco, because the politics are so divisive and so tough. It's such a it's such a great training ground that if you can kind of rise through San Francisco,

Ben Kaplan  24:49

you're talking about like Gavin Newsom or someone else Nancy Pelosi,

Todd David  24:54

Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, I believe that the A political culture, kids kind of independent of delivered should be independent, that can be independent, of delivering, like politics and policy are two different things, right? Politics is the price we pay to govern. Right? Like, like, that's the price. If you are an elected official you play. But then once you get elected, then you have a job to do.

Ben Kaplan  25:21

But the counterpoint though, is that when I talk to members of staff, of Board of supervisor members, or just political consultants or those kinds of folks, I agree with you that like politics can be separate than policy. But then sometimes you hear now and I just wonder about like, oh, this staff is instructed not to talk to the team of this other staff, like, we don't communicate more, or you see Mayor breed and supervisor Preston going at it. And, gosh, they seem like they really hate each other. And it's not just a debate, it feels personal. And it doesn't feel like they're going out for beers after and just said, like, back in the day, you'd had like Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan were kind of the stories that they were like battling, you know, all day, and they'd go have a drink at night. Why doesn't that happen? And does that affect San Francisco solutions? Because if we all just like, had dinner together and had a beer together and did other stuff, and and just said, You know what, we have differences in issues. But let's find a way because it's better for San Francisco. But if we're not even talking, is that an impediment to progress?

Todd David  26:25

Staff should always be talking to step right. Staff level to staff level, those conversations should be able to take place, right. Mark Leno would famously say that the thing that's that's so interesting about San Francisco is we agree on 95% of everything, but on the 5% we disagree with we like fight like cats and dogs. Right. And I think specifically you were talking about like Mayor breed and Dean Preston, right. There's always a backstory, right? Like they ran against each other for supervisor, they live in the same district, right? They've been political opponents for a long time. So it's not surprising that the two of them don't particularly like like each other, that's fine. But then think about like someone like Aaron Peskin, who I am no fan of only Claire. I'm no fan of him. But as President of the Board of Supervisors, he had the mayor have put aside the political differences to work together on significant pieces of legislation. They've co sponsor and co authored. So I also want to say like, it's not just all cats and dogs fighting with each other. There are moments where we do see collaboration, COVID

Ben Kaplan  27:31

response, right. COVID response, lots of people came together moment of crisis, we've got to work together, we can speed things up. So San Francisco has the capability to work together and efficiently and effectively if we think we're in a crisis, but Todd, are we not in a crisis? Shouldn't we just can we go into COVID mode on public safety? Or on homelessness or drug crisis? I mean, I would hope, right, that we realize we're in a crisis. Yeah. I

Todd David  28:00

mean, this is my perspective. Right. And I am not like a nuclear. Right. I have a point of view. And I'm not objective. But from my point of view, like I hear the mayor put forward, I think, serious policy considerations that could address a lot of these things. And then from my perspective, then the Board of Supervisors blocks are at every stage. And what can make the argument while the mayor, you know, the mayor is the mayor, and she should like she lead and all that. But like, at the end of the day, right, the mayor can direct department heads to do things. And she does, but Right, she needs like to really have the city work together. You can't have the legislative body blocked the mayor for sport, which is what to me, seems to happen on a regular basis. Right. And so it's one of these, Listen, can everyone act better? Sure. But again, like I see the mayor putting forward serious proposals, and the Board of Supervisors, either amending them or not, or just blocking them. And so that's where I feel like my job comes in, where like, look, at the end of the day, if the mayor had six votes on the board of supervisors to work with, and then we were not making progress in San Francisco, I would say, Ben, it is 100%, the mayor's fault. But that's not where we are right now. The mayor has three allies out of 11 on the board of supervisors, and, you know, probably four or five members of the Board of Supervisors actively just want to block for the sake of blocking anything the mayor does. So like from my point of view, I'm like, Okay, listen, we have an election cycle coming up, right? If we can win a couple of more seats, get to six, the mayor wins reelection, then you and I should get together. You know, six months after that. It'd be like, Okay, are we making progress at a point? The mayor, the mayor now has a majority that she's working with. Are these problems getting better? Are they still there?

Ben Kaplan  29:59

Do you A special skill that you'd love to contribute back to the city we all love. We're looking for volunteers with skills in diverse areas, like photography, videography, social media, data science and accounting. Find out how much fun it can be to change San Francisco's future at WWE San francisco.org/volunteer. Todd and I think from like sort of a philosophical perspective, you have this notion, what kind of makes the American brand of democracy amazing is that you have this combination of executive authority and checks and balances, which is why we have branches of government. But the issue is, you can go down a path where one kind of becomes dominant, and we're checking everything we're checking and balancing the heck out of the system in an unintended way that we can't progress much in the same way that the current system and how we had the commission structure rises up in the weakening of executive power was a result to the perception was unchecked executive power by certain mayors that preceded that wielded a lot of power. So we've got to kind of course correct as we go. And what also gives me a little bit of hope is that if we get off course, people get mad people get motivated. And that's how we get back on course, and maybe this is one of those moments where we get back on course. Yeah, I

Todd David  31:22

think you're absolutely right. I mean, I think the opportunity for positive change in 2024, through the election process is the highest I've seen in my 15 years of activism, I mean, the highest by far. Right. And I think Ben, you and I might have had this. I mean, the thing that's been so interesting to me, is that a lot of this coalition, the beginnings of it, were around the recalls.

Ben Kaplan  31:47

Sure you're talking about the Board of Education, recall the district attorney recall, those were movements that formed that came to fruition and 2022. And were successful in the result that needed to happen. Yeah, but this thing

Todd David  32:00

that right, the thick, it's always easier for a group of people to come together and be like, what are we against? Right? Then the question became like, okay, when people were successful when recalling the Board of Education, and other group was successful recall just a routine. And this was like this loose kind of like coalition of people like looking across the table at each other, when the conversation turned, okay, now we're gonna have to figure out what we're for. Like, I think there are people like myself, who was very, very concerned that there's gonna be fracturing, people are going to, like, no longer work together. And that has not happened. Right? As you were saying, there's now these groups of people who meet it from policy perspective focused on very different things. But they've stayed together to work together on a positive map, not just what we're against, but what are we for? What do we want the city to look like, in a year from now, five years from now? 10 years from now, that's really powerful. And I

Ben Kaplan  32:53

almost view it like, do you remember those old cartoons that have like the little angel sitting on the shoulder and the little devils sitting on the shoulder and everyone that has an agenda in San Francisco politics, civic engagement in the city, maybe has these on their shoulder? Which my view is that like the angel side is, you know, Todd David, and abundance SF at his most core operative, his most communicative aligning work together, no ego involved. And there's probably a version and I know that maybe your version is real small, Todd, the other side does the other side, which is like, No, I'm not working with you. I'm not working together, you spied me, I spied you, and everyone has that as part of human behavior, human nature. But sometimes, if we can get those better angels to come out, and it's a heck of a lot easier when like, you're like, oh, but this other person's, their better angels are out this other person's, you know, trying to work together this other person's you're like minds coming out to? And if we all did that, even across divides, have you here progressive or moderate? or this or that? We can solve everything next year? And, you know, what does it take to bring out those better angels?

Todd David  34:01

It's a great question, Ben, like, listen, I think one of the structural advantages San Francisco has is that and we talked a little bit about this beginning is that like, I'm a huge believer of like, just doing the work, do the work, do the work, do the work, do the work, do the work, right. And if we want to see improvement, and we want other people to behave in a more collaborative manner, then we have to behave in a more collaborative manner. It's a little bit of like, leading by not talking about it actually doing the work. And I do feel like that with the coalition. I mean, it's not perfect, but the coalition that's like come together is broadly behaving in that manner. Right of working together. No one is like, standing up being like this is my idea is like people are like, No, it's just like kind of do this. And I think that I want to believe that if anyone the coalition was approached politically by someone who was not historically been aligned, but was willing to work on an issue to gather, we will say Of course, right that like that willingness to do that. But I think the only way that that happens is just continuing to work at it, work at it work at it.

Ben Kaplan  35:09

You've been someone who has said, and we've had these a conversation like this in the past about that, you know, lots of folks focused on November 2020, for obvious important election. But actually, March is very important in the context of, it's been traditionally a bit more of an inside baseball topic. But I think more people are becoming aware of the election for the D, Triple C in San Francisco, which is San Francisco's democratic County Central Committee. Why is that important election and maybe some other ballot measures as well, but specifically that in March, why is that important? Why should people care? Why is that the precursor to November going to be a battle?

Todd David  35:49

Yeah, thanks for the question. But so the San Francisco Democratic Party for local official Democratic Party is elected. And it's called, as you're saying is the SF D, Triple C is the shorthand. And that literally stands for the San Francisco democratic County Central Committee, D, Triple C democratic County Central Committee. And the reason it's elected. So when you get your brain November, let's I'm going to fast forward them when they come back, right. So in November, when you're voting for in the presidential general election, and you get a mailer from the Democratic Party, it will have you know, unless something goes crazy, Joe Biden at the top, and it will say, the official endorsements of the Democrat Party, Joe Biden, all the way down the ticket to seven School Board of Education, the San Francisco Democratic Party does the endorsements for every local race in San Francisco, and it is the official endorsement of the Democratic Party. So just straight up why it's important, the Democratic Party's endorsement can move between 10 and 15% of the votes.

Ben Kaplan  36:57

So you're saying the vote to be on the D Triple C is almost a battle for the mailer, that goes out which influences a huge number of votes and who sits on that D Triple C determines what's on the mailer, and that mailer determines a big swing percentage of votes, that determines outcomes. You

Todd David  37:15

got it, you got it. And like we've had a Democratic party that has been just performative. They oppose the Board of Ed recall, they endorsed John Hamasaki. For District Attorney, they're just so out of touch with where the voters of San Francisco are, and they have such an outsized influence on election outcomes. If you want to have effective people elected in November, the highest probability of making that happen, is making sure the Democratic Party is represented by reasonable common sense people. And the way to do that is select them in March, like that is when the election is. So the march election sets up success for November. So if you care about the future of the city, and you want to see change, the first place to see that change is at the Democratic Party in the March election. What

Ben Kaplan  38:15

determines success in elections, whether that's for the Democratic Party, whether that's the election for Board of Supervisors, or mayor or Board of Education? Tell me if you agree or disagree, I mean, I sort of, you know, through this podcast been talking to a lot of different political experts and consultants and ever and lots of folks and one train of thought is that what wins is shoe leather, meaning if you've got in a board of supervisor race, and you've got you know, 50 people who are going to go door to door that's more important than money, which people say is very important, or that's more important than being real media savvy, or that's be important, as always, guys, do you agree or disagree just to shoe leather determine these elections? Yeah,

Todd David  38:58

I agree. I mean, I think that each election has its own kind of nuances. But like for board of supervisor races, the hardest worker wins 95% of the time, right? The person who knocks on the most doors, who's out at the most events, who's talking, talking, communicating with the voters, right, talking with the voters, is going to result in a much higher probability of winning elections. So in some races, it is easier to speak directly with the voters than with other elections, you need more of a more sophisticated communication strategy to communicate with the voters. But every election comes down to voter communication, right? Is it retail, is it shaking hands? Is it knocking on doors? Or is it mailing people sending videos right like, but it comes down to communications working hard, and I can tell you that I know of no elected official who got elected by As a lazy candidate, I think shoe leather is the easiest shorthand to how to win an election in San Francisco.

Ben Kaplan  40:09

Do you want to change the trajectory of our city on issues like public safety, civic disorder, and government accountability? If you want change to happen now, and feel that San Francisco City Leadership isn't moving nearly fast enough? Come join our movements. Learn more at WWE San francisco.org/join. Todd, what is the role of money in in elections in San Francisco, I get asked this some times because there's people who are new as a movement of the people and they're like two big money interests dominate or not. The one kind of fact I'll cite is that individuals in San Francisco are allowed to donate up to $500 to a local candidate. That's very different than like Governor of California, where I think that the limit is I think, a little over $36,000 and individual can do so what is the role of money? Do people with money have an outsized influence, you hear a certain, like really well funded, super rich people getting into races and other things? What is the role of money versus shoe leather in San Francisco?

Todd David  41:14

Money is never the deciding factor. If you have a terrible candidate, you can spend all the money, you know, through political action committees, they are never going to win. Where funding can help is the marginal couple of votes, right? Racist can be really, really close in San Francisco. And certainly, if people are willing to invest money to help with communications, communicating with voters, you can move a couple of points. But I think that I think the money conversation, it's a it's more convenient to create a villain being like, Oh, look at these moneyed interests, right. It's a nice narrative to kind of create the evil person behind the curtain pulling all the strings and no, okay, yeah, it's just factually not the way it works. Right. I mean, that. The other thing is that often in San Francisco, you do have people in like, you do have serving campaigns to get a ton more support than other campaigns. But at the end of the day, in order to run a successful communications campaign, you just need enough funding to get your communications out, right. So other people might be able to get their communications out four or five times. But like, what we find is that it would have to be you have to dwarf dwarf the communications ability in order to actually have a drastic difference in like funding, like, from a communications

Ben Kaplan  42:42

point of view, meaning there's a minimum threshold, you kind of need a threshold to be able to just get your message out. But whether you can get it out at 1x, or 1.2x, or 1.4x, or even 2x, you

Todd David  42:55

know, and so like, that's the thing is this. So it's like the money conversation is really, as I said before, it's a little bit of a bugaboo. And then like, it's, it makes for good, it makes for good villainizing of people. I mean, if you think about it, at the end of the day, what we want is we want people to participate in politics. And we want there to be a diversity of ideas that people can wrap their heads around a debate, and having the ability to have those diverse ideas out in the public marketplace. It takes funding to do that. And so right, like, I actually think we have more diversity of ideas, because there is funding available to do so without that. And we wouldn't be we wouldn't have very different ideas, or we wouldn't be able to have as fulfilling intellectual conversations debates, because people would not just be as informed or as aware of the different platforms that are out there. So I just think that, you know, I don't think money has an outsized influence in San Francisco politics, I think it also has a positive role. It plays a positive role that people don't often want to discuss. And so that's my take on it. Final

Ben Kaplan  44:06

question for you is, you didn't start out as a political person, you got involved because you are concerned about the school for your kids. You're now a veteran of many campaigns and many efforts. If you were gonna go back and talk to Todd David, in the early days political novice, Todd David, and maybe there's someone out there like that now who's concerned about their street, their neighborhood, their school, whatever it is, what advice would you give him now after your 15 plus years of experience in the political arena? What would you tell him? I

Todd David  44:41

would say, be relentless, but try to be polite and respectful while being relentless. That is, I would say that has been my pride biggest learning is that on the other side that people are picking up the phone 99% of the time, they are trying to do the best job they can can do. And you know, you've ever installed run into someone in government, it's just like they're not interested. But that is the exception. People are trying their best. So be be generous, be polite, don't back away. But if I were to tell my younger person I, I would say have a little bit more grace with people than I had when I first got into this.

Ben Kaplan  45:21

According to Todd David, it's not money that shapes our future in San Francisco. It's organization. Persistence, shoe leather, so be relentless. Sometimes creating change can be a sprint, but more often, it's a matter of stamina. Can we keep our focus not at mile three, but at mile 10, or 15, or 20. All of us have angels, or other alternatives sitting on our shoulders. But now in 2024, it's time for those better angels to come out. As Todd says, What can we accomplish if you work together and didn't worry about who got the credit? So fight for what you believe in. But be respectful, be humble, have a measure of grace. When political opponents really talk to each other and find common ground. It's not a sign of weakness. It's a small miracle. And that's something worth celebrating. Remember, the toughest problems San Francisco faces the ones that have persisted for years or even decades can't usually be solved on your own. And the most underrated phrase in San Francisco politics is let's agree to disagree. A close second is want to go have a beer. Incidentally, that one is especially effective when directed at a political opponent. Remember, we are determined we are inclusive. We are changemakers we are San Francisco.

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