AOC’s former chief of employees weighs in on San Francisco politics

Saikat Chakrabarti had a solid run in DC

After leading Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s underdog campaign for the U.S. Congress in 2018, Chakrabarti became her chief of staff in Washington and oversaw the drafting of the original Green New Deal legislation. Justice Democrats, the organization he co-founded to support progressive candidates for Congress, helped recruit and elect Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley – the women of color who, along with the AOC, came to be known as The Squad. ”

But now Chakrabarti has returned to San Francisco, where he worked in engineering before going into politics.

“The simple answer is, I just fell in love with The City,” he said when asked why he was withdrawn. “In my head, all the time that I was away from San Francisco, I always thought of it as a kind of short-term sabbatical that turned into a long-term sabbatical.”

In the new world of remote work, Chakrabarti still works in DC, so to speak, and serves as the president of the progressive think tank New Consensus. However, because the Police Shop is focused on long-term plans rather than ongoing laws, Chakrabarti and his wife plan to stay in San Francisco long-term to raise their toddler.

New Consensus is currently thinking beyond the recently passed Infrastructure Act and even the Green New Deal to “envision a world where there is the political will to tackle climate change as much as possible,” Chakrabarti said. In this roughly two-year project, he and his colleagues will present a detailed action plan for the decarbonization of all major greenhouse gas sources, from heavy industry to urban transport.

“Ideally, we’re writing a playbook for a president or executive who will either come into office with a mandate to do whatever is necessary to solve climate change, or maybe a disaster happens and you suddenly have the political capital to do it to do, ”he called. “Here’s the playbook to get it done.”

The Infrastructure Bill, which adds about $ 600 billion in new spending over 10 years, is “a pretty modest reform” compared to the work it takes to truly rebuild America’s infrastructure, let alone climate change fight, says Chakrabarti. It would cost about $ 50 billion to replace all of the lead pipes in the country, he offers as an example, but the bill only calls for $ 15 billion. “The whole bill is like a 20 percent bill. It’s not transformative, ”he says.

When he settles back in San Francisco, Chakrabarti begins to get involved in local politics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he attracted a relatively unknown political upstart.

In September, he went to Twitter to support startup founder Bilal Mahmood in the upcoming special election for State Assembly District 17 against better-known candidates such as supervisor Matt Haney, former supervisor David Campos, and City College board director Thea Selby. “Why I like Bilal and why I like new candidates is that we need people who come with no political baggage, who are willing to say real things without fear that the group or group will withdraw their support.” he said. “That was my experience of why AOC was able to sit in on Pelosi’s office (in support of the Green New Deal). It was because she still had nothing to lose. “

Mahmood is open to “radical ideas” and has detailed, concrete plans for their implementation, said Chakrabarti. “The big problem in San Francisco, which I think has to do with national politics, is that no one is proposing the plan that will solve it. So everyone fights over the leftovers. And I think that’s how living is here. “

Housing has become a major focal point in the gathering race, embodied in the case of a 500-unit SoMa apartment building that the board of directors postponed two weeks ago. Campos defended his demand with a majority on the board of directors who said that market interest rate developments such as these are the main cause of gentrification and displacement. The other three candidates, including Haney, who voted to continue development, all said they support the project and imply that they believe building housing at market prices is an important part of solving the city’s housing crisis.

“You can support evictions and universal rent control, social housing and market-price housing,” Chakrabarti said. “We all concentrate on it, bit by bit, and fight for every plot to solve a crisis.”

Despite his focus on national politics, Chakrabarti sees San Francisco as “a beacon of progressivism that much of the rest of the country pays attention to. And I think the successes and failures of SF are the successes and failures of the national progressive movement. “

San Francisco is in a unique position where “everyone agrees that climate change is a problem, everyone agrees that we shouldn’t have a system of great inequality,” said Chakrabarti. If a place can indeed produce transformative government policies, it should be here.

Chakrabarti knows firsthand that in local politics “a motivated group of people can achieve something”. He recalls how during their first campaign the New York City Bicycle Coalition got AOC to come to multiple meetings to talk about bike lanes. The challenge for local political activists is to motivate people to fight for “a government that actually works well and implements progressive ideals” and for “competent bureaucracies that handle smart regulations,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not a succinct slogan.”

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