Get out of the way, Mr. Mayor

Pub date December 28, 2010

EDITORIAL Let us begin with the obvious: Mayor Gavin Newsom has absolutely no business deciding who should replace him. His petulant statements suggesting that he will delay taking office as lieutenant governor until the supervisors pick a candidate he likes are an embarrassment to the city. If he actually refuses to take the oath of office Jan. 3, when his term in Sacramento begins, it will damage his reputation and political career.

Newsom knew when he decided to seek higher office that he’d be leaving the city early if he won. He knew that under the City Charter, the Board of Supervisors would choose a new mayor. He knew that a progressive majority on the board was likely to elect someone whose political views differ from his. If he didn’t want that to happen, he should have stayed in town and finished his term.

Instead, his ambition and ego drove him to Sacramento, and he needs to accept that he is now out of the process. He should publicly agree to follow the state Constitution and join Governor-elect Jerry Brown for a timely swearing-in ceremony. Meanwhile, the supervisors need to make it very clear that they won’t accept this sort of political blackmail and will choose the next mayor on their own terms.

There’s only one more regularly scheduled meeting of the current board, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, the day after Newsom’s term as lieutenant governor begins. It’s unfortunate that the progressive majority on the board hasn’t been able to find a consensus candidate, and it’s appearing more and more likely that the next mayor will be a short-termer, a caretaker who agrees to fill out Newsom’s term. We’ve consistently argued that Newsom’s successor ought to be someone who can run for a full term in November, but there’s certainly a case to be made for the right person to take on the job for just 11 months. A progressive caretaker could fire all the failed managers left over (at high salaries) from Newsom’s tenure and make cuts to sacred cows like the police and fire departments without worrying about reelection. We’d still rather see a candidate with the courage and skill to make the tough choices and run in November on that record. But if that’s not possible, it’s important that an interim mayor be chosen carefully.

It’s also important that the progressive supervisors consider the long-term implications of their choice: If the next mayor only serves out Newsom’s remaining time, who’s going to run in November — and what will the interim mayor do to promote the prospects of a progressive candidate?

A number of names are floating around as possible caretakers, and several would do at least an adequate and perhaps an exceptional job. Former Board President Aaron Peskin has brilliant political instincts and knows how to run the city; he’s let us down on a few votes, but would work well with the progressive board majority. Sheriff Mike Hennessey is popular with the voters and has good progressive credentials (other than the move to privatize jail health services, which makes him somewhat unpalatable to labor), but he’s never faced anything resembling the political nightmare of the city’s current fiscal crisis. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has a great legislative record and has hinted that he’d consider the job, but he still has two years to go as supervisor and would have to give up his seat and put his political career on hold. Former Mayor Art Agnos is the only one on the list who’s actually run the city at a time of crisis and would certainly be willing to make the tough decisions. If he could run an open office and listen to a diverse constituency, he might make up for the mistakes he made his first time in the job.

None of these candidates could do the job alone — and if they want to serve a short term as mayor, they need to start talking openly about it, explaining what their plans would be and give San Franciscans (and not just six supervisors) a reason to support them.