Overview of San Francisco


Politics of San Francisco


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The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation with a constitutional republic. America prides itself on being a democracy, but in actuality is a representative democracy. To place checks on these elected officials, the U.S. Constitution regulates a strict system of checks and balances. The constitution remains the country's supreme legal document and as a social contract for the American people.

In the American federalist system, there are three levels of government: federal, state, and local. The local government's duties are commonly split between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district.

The federal government is also composed of three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.

  • The Legislative is the bicameral Congress which is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives and is responsible for making federal law, declaring war, approving treaties, and has the power of impeachment.
  • The Executive branch consists of the president, commander-in-chief.
  • The last branch is Judicial, which is made up of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. Their primary job is to interpret laws and they can overturn laws they deem unconstitutional.

San Francisco's liberal atmosphere permeates to its political system. A strong culture of liberal activism runs strong in the city and local politics are dominated by Democrats, Greens and progressive candidates. In 2006, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance making San Francisco the first city in the nation to provide health care services to all uninsured residents, with creation of the Healthy San Francisco program.

San Francisco is unique is being the only consolidated city-county in California and has been since 1856. The mayor acts as county executive and the City Council also serves as the county Board of Supervisors.

The executive branch of the government of San Francisco is led by the mayor and includes the civil service and all elected county-wide officials. The Board of Supervisors, comprised of 11 elected members, is led by a president and oversees all city and county functions. Each of the 11 members represents a district in the city.

San Francisco is home to the Supreme Court of California and also plays host to the regional sections of many federal agencies, including the U.S. Court of Appeals, United States Mint and the Federal Reserve Bank.

Arnold Schwarzeneger, first known for his career in body-building and acting has taken on a new role as "The Governator", California's current governor. Although initially elected under an unusual recall election, he has been re-elected twice and has proven himself to be both widely popular and effective.

The current mayor, Democrat Gavin Newsom, was elected in 2003. He has made headlines nationally by directing the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. This decision was overturned shortly thereafter as the California Supreme Court decided this conflicted with state law. Four years later, the California Supreme Court struck down the ban on same sex marriage after the City and County of San Francisco. In November of 2008, Prop 8 was passed by California voters, which reversed the California Supreme Court's aforementioned decision and changed the constitution to make a marriage between a man and a woman.

San Francisco City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 554-4933

The official San Francisco City government website: http://www.sfgov.org/

Update 2/01/2009

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