Getlin, Josh: No on A and B


Josh Getlin


Getlin: There in 1976, it was the first time that it's been approved and it was quite, quite a landmark moment. Almost immediately, a number of people who politically opposed to district elections and in many cases were also bitterly opposed to George Moscone and his administration, came up with an idea that, first of all, they were going to put on the ballot a measure that would invalidate the passage of district elections. They were gonna say, “well folks, you really weren't paying that close attention. Obviously you had other things on your mind, there was a president being elected. Now you do have time to pay attention and we're sure you didn't mean to do this, because here's why it's a terrible idea. We're sure you'll agree with us.” That would have been controversial enough and it certainly did generate its share of controversy, but at the exact same time John Barbagelata, still clearly smarting from his defeat at George's hands two years before, also put on the ballot measure which essentially would have recalled George. It would basically cut his term in half, ended right there force him to run for reelection, and it alleged that there was a need to do this because of the fact that a number of issues were engulfing the city and it showed the George was not a good enough mayor. I think one of the best examples was crime. Somehow crime had become such a terrible problem facing San Francisco according to Barbagelata and his supporters that it necessitated the immediate removal of the incumbent mayor. This was extremely controversial, but owing to the very lax guidelines for getting something on the local ballot if you had enough signatures, if you could get enough people lined up to do it. Suddenly in the summer of 1977, I believe it was either in July or August, there were going to be these two measures on the ballot in San Francisco. One of which would overturn the creation of district elections and the other which was going to immediately end the mayor's term. He was going to force him to run for reelection and recall him from office. It basically set off a civil war politically in San Francisco and I hate to say all over again, because it's not as if the first one ever stopped, but this certainly heightened the tensions even more. George was plunged into this, obviously, as an opponent of the effort to recall him from office, but he also joined forces with a great many people who said you can't just arbitrarily knock off district elections either. That this is something whose time had come, this is something that the city wanted. Certainly reflected the feelings of a lot of George's supporters. And although George did not campaign as intensely on behalf of district elections as his own ballot measure, and that's to be expected, it was clear that, you know, the people who supported the mayor, who supported the changes they felt were necessary in San Francisco where were bitterly opposed to both of these measures, which were known as A and B. So the no on A and B campaign consumed George in the summer of 1977. What I thought was remarkable about it was that he did not couch it as yet another grudge match between himself and John Barbagelata. It would've been very easy to do that, it would have been very easy to paint Barbagelata as this freakish fringe character who was once again, you know, bringing the city to a halt for one reason or another. I'm sure a lot of people would've been all too happy to vote based on that. George’s approach in this, which was I thought brilliant, was to basically say, “This is a question for all San Franciscans in terms of the stability and the integrity and the respectability of San Francisco. What kind of city image are we projecting to the outside world at a time when we need more business, we want more conventions, we want to grow and be taken seriously. Here we are, yet again, plunged into this kind of you know third world banana Republic election battle over whether the mayor and I have are gonna have a two year term or a four year term or whatever is going to be the case. This is not good for business. It would create massive instability in the way San Francisco was perceived, it was not good fiscally.” In other words, a whole set of concerns tailor made for the people who were not necessarily George 's strongest supporters, but who could be theoretically approaching this kind of election and who could be persuaded that this was nothing that was good for the city. And so I remember very distinctly, at the time, that as George campaigned that summer, of course he wanted to certain parts of the city where you'd expect him to go. He campaigned in black and Asian and Latino neighborhoods, he went into the gay community, he campaigned in neighborhoods where he was strong and quite popular. But George also made a point of campaigning very intensely in parts of Pacific Heights, in Republican gatherings, in moderate places where people might not have necessarily have supported him to begin with but were willing to listen to him. And I remember, time after time, George would go into these coffee fundraisers or these coffee discussions with people who in many cases were clearly, if they weren't Republicans, they were very conservative. But he appealed to them in terms of what's good for the city and it was a powerful appeal, it was extremely persuasive. I can't remember one meeting where people walk out of there saying, “you know I think the city is going to hell in a handbasket and this mayor needs to be removed.” It was exactly the opposite. They had finally had a chance to sort of think about it calmly said, “Well of course we're not going to support these things, of course we're not going to.” I thought it was the beginning of a movement that George was going to be able to parlay it into a very successful reelection campaign two years later. I always felt that the No on A and B campaign, however sickening and absurd a distraction it was, was almost like a bizarre gift from Barbagelata to George. Because it allowed him and gave him the basis to approach people and say, “Look, we all want what's best for the city. I'm the mayor. Lets stay the course. Anything other than that is unthinkable at this point.” And he made his point. George is very persuasive when you get in a room with people, he was able to persuade them. He was calm, he was his usual genial self, very likable person and also very intelligent. The result was a smashing victory for him on that August night in 1977. District elections was definitely enshrined and the result was that the following year, the entire Board of Supervisors was going to have to run for reelection or election based on the new district alignment. A year from it was basically going to take effect and of course more importantly for George the effort to recall him had been beaten back. What was one of the great upshots, I thought of this, was almost immediately after the district elections was approved was a surge of people who had been either malcontents or strong opponents of George, with one glaring exception, offered their, not their resignations, but said they were not going to run as district supervisors. John Barbagelata announced that he was stepping down from the board, Al Nelder announced he was stepping down from the board, as did Peter Tamaras. All these names, it was it was a victory that kept on echoing after the ballots had been counted and it was a matter of great satisfaction at City Hall in the mayor's office, that there was going to be this new change. And that I think people were looking for to district elections with great, great anticipation.


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The Moscone oral history interviews are part of the George Moscone Collection, MSS 328.

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Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives, University of the Pacific Library

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