- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003


Voters in San Francisco, one of the nation’s most expensive cities, decided overwhelmingly that employers should have to pay their workers a minimum wage that mirrors the cost of living.

Proposition L, which imposes an $8.50-per-hour minimum wage on virtually all employers in the city, passed with 60 percent of the vote Tuesday.

California’s hourly minimum wage is $6.75, and the minimum required under federal law is $5.15, far below the federal poverty level for a full-time minimum wage earner with a family.

The vote makes San Francisco the third city in the nation to set its own higher-wage threshold, and supporters now hope to build momentum for similar measures in other U.S. cities. One such effort, in Madison, Wis., may appear on a ballot in March.

San Francisco’s measure is different from others because it doesn’t exempt small businesses from the mandate. The new wage takes effect in 90 days for large for-profit businesses, and will be phased in over two years for nonprofit organizations and firms with fewer than 10 employees.

Also in San Francisco, entrepreneur Gavin Newsom will face a runoff against Green Party upstart Matt Gonzalez in the race to succeed longtime politician and Mayor Willie Brown, who was term-limited. Mr. Newsom’s successful 2002 ballot initiative to get panhandlers off city streets won him attention.

In other key votes:

• New Jersey: Democrats won both houses of the state Legislature, breaking a 20-20 tie in the Senate and widening their control of the Assembly.

• Philadelphia: Democratic Mayor John Street easily won re-election against Republican businessman Sam Katz in a rematch of their 1999 contest. Mr. Street’s poll numbers rose after revelations the FBI bugged his office. Investigators won’t discuss the case but have interviewed people who received city contracts.

• Houston: Bill White, a deputy energy secretary during the Clinton administration, secured a spot in a runoff against City Council member Orlando Sanchez, who is seeking to become Houston’s first Hispanic mayor. Mr. White spent $2.2 million of his own money in the most expensive mayoral contest in the city’s history.

Meanwhile, by a 2-to-1 margin, Maine voters rejected a plan to build the state’s first casino, deciding that promises of jobs and new tax revenue didn’t outweigh the drawbacks of a lavish, Las Vegas-style resort.

Gambling was on the ballot in several places across the nation. In southern Indiana’s economically struggling Orange County, voters approved a riverboat casino for an artificial waterway near French Lick. The town is the home of basketball great Larry Bird, an investor in one of the groups hoping to develop the casino.

In Colorado, however, voters rejected a measure to expand casino-style gambling to five horse and greyhound racetracks. Opponents included business groups in three mountain towns with casinos that feared losing bettors to the tracks.

In New York City, voters defeated a proposal that would have replaced party primaries with nonpartisan elections for mayor and other city posts. Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spent $2 million of his own fortune backing the proposal, while Democratic leaders, whose party holds a 5-to-1 edge in registered voters, urged a “no” vote.

In Denver, the ballot included the “peace initiative” championed by former transcendental-meditation teacher Jeff Peckman. It would have required the City Council to implement steps to reduce stress, but voters rejected it by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Said Mr. Peckman: “My fifteen minutes of fame may have just expired.”

Only one proposal dealing with homosexual rights was at stake Tuesday. Voters in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, approved a proposal allowing same-sex couples — and also unmarried heterosexual couples — to officially register as domestic partners. Similar measures have been passed by numerous municipal councils, but homosexual rights activists said this was the first time voters took the step.

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