Art Agnos spent six terms in the California Assembly and four years as mayor; he doesn’t need my political advice. But I gave it to him anyway the last time I saw him, when he expressed an interest in serving out the remainder of Gavin Newsom’s term.
Agnos and I were not close when he was running San Francisco; the Guardian supported him strongly for the job, but we were quickly disillusioned, not just by his nearly instant sellout to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., but by his apparent disdain for public process. But now he’s retired, and living on Potrero Hill near the Guardian office, and I see him on the streets when I’m going to buy lunch at Hazel’s and he’s walking his dog, and we have pleasant chats about politics. He’s mellowed. At 72, he seems to have a bit more perspective on what he did right — and wrong.
At any rate, when he told me that he’d be willing to serve as a caretaker mayor — and I got a sense that he’d actually like to do it — I told him this: you can’t just talk to me and a few supervisors. You want to be mayor of San Francisco, even for 11 months, you have to go out and talk to the people who spend their lives trying to make this a better place. The same goes for Ed Harrington, Mike Hennessey, and anyone else who wants the job.
Here’s the odd thing about the next mayor: For better or for worse, the person who takes over whenever Newsom finally decides to go to Sacramento will be directly accountable only six supervisors (or seven or eight, in the unlikely event that anyone gets that kind of majority). If the interim mayor is really a caretaker and never seeks reelection, it’s possible that the voters and the activist groups that define San Francisco won’t be part of the next administration’s political calculus.
And that would be a mistake.
The progressive movement in San Francisco is much stronger and more organized than it was when Agnos first ran for mayor in 1987. And if the progressive majority on the board chooses a mayor, there will be high expectations — not just for policy, but for openness and inclusiveness. After being shut out for seven years, a whole lot of people are going to want to be able to walk into the Mayor’s Office and feel welcome.
And that process starts now.
There are all kinds of arcane state laws that limit the ability of the current or incoming supervisors to campaign for the mayor’s job. But we already know who they are — they’ve been campaigning and meeting with groups and constituents regularly over the past couple of years. Not so with the outside candidates.
What mix of new revenue and cuts would Harrington seek to balance the budget? How would Hennessey address pension reform? Where’s Agnos on implementing community choice aggregation? I’m not the only one who wants to know.
There’s this ethos among these guys that it’s unseemly to be trying too hard to get the job, that it’s better to sit back and be asked — and part of that is the reality that it’s going to suck trying to balance the city’s books, and it won’t be a fun 11 months, and some of them would just as soon not bother. But there’s no shame in wanting to be mayor, or interim mayor. If you want it, say so — and tell us all what you’d do.
I’m moderating a Harvey Milk Club panel discussion Jan. 3 and all the prospective candidates are invited. The least any potential mayor can do is show up and answer questions.