“They” said Sean Elsbernd couldn’t do it, that the moderate supervisor’s effort to collect 46,000 signatures — enough to put before November voters Fix Muni Now, a ballot initiative that would end Muni operators’ automatic raises to the second-highest salaries in the nation — would end in failure.
But “they” weren’t writing Elsbernd his checks. On Thursday, Elsbernd delivered a heap of bankers’ boxes containing 74,884 signatures, ahead of the July 6 deadline.
Helping Elsbernd and the campaign along the way were donors — moderate political action committees, developers and what some in the media call the usual “downtown” interests — who funded the signature drive with roughly $320,000 in campaign contributions, Elsbernd said.
The Department of Elections is now charged with validating the signatures. Only 46,000 need to be validated in order for the charter amendment to appear on the November ballot.
If passed, Muni operators’ compensation would be negotiated in collective bargaining like every other city workers’ union. Muni operators’ wages have for over 40 years been calculated by a formula guaranteeing at least the second-highest wage in the country. This formula is in the city charter, and the only way to alter the city charter is at the ballot box.
Conventional campaign wisdom says that a signature drive needs $2.50-$3.00 per scribble in order to be successful. But Elsbernd went way beyond that. Fix Muni Now collected roughly $4.27 cents per submitted signature, and a whopping $7 if only the necessary 46,000 are validated.
In other words, Fix Muni Now spent so much that it could set a new standard. In yet other words, “Holy shit,” said a consultant who works for more progressive interests.
Elsbernd called Fix Muni Now “a grassroots effort” in remarks delivered in front of the Department of Elections’ basement office in City Hall — “with hundreds of volunteers and over 1,000 friends on Facebook” — but did admit that the campaign spent “a little bit” more than he expected.
“But that’s the going rate,” he said.
And yet, this shouldn’t shock or surprise. It is, after all, all about money: today, July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, all Muni operators received a 5.5 percent raise, to the tune of a $9 million hit to the city’s general fund.
“They are the only employees receiving a raise,” he said, adding that Muni’s continued service cuts only helped the campaign’s efforts. “There’s no question the reason why people signed this in such numbers is the palpable frustration with what happens every day with Muni.”