Who’s next?

Pub date February 22, 2011

steve@sfbg.com and tredmond@sfbg.com

The seven serious candidates who have announced plans to run for mayor extends from moderate to conservative at this point, but it’s an unusual field for San Francisco: there is no clear progressive standard-bearer, and no clear downtown candidate.

But it probably won’t stay that way. Sources say others are likely to join the lackluster race in the coming months, and there’s a strong likelihood that some progressive candidate will decide to the take plunge.

Also unlike the last few mayor’s races, there appears to be no clear frontrunner — either in fundraising or in having a clear constituency base — a new dynamic that creates an unpredictability that will be exacerbated because this is the first contested mayor’s race using the ranked-choice voting system and public financing of candidates.

There was a weak field of challengers to Gavin Newsom in 2007 and no one qualified for public financing or presented a strong threat. But this time City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Sup. Bevan Dufty already have indicated they will take public financing, and others are expected to follow suit.

In addition to Herrera and Dufty, the field includes Sen. Leland Yee, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, venture capitalist Joanna Rees, and former Sups. Tony Hall and Michela Alioto-Pier. Those close to Board President David Chiu also say he is “seriously considering” jumping into the race and talking to friends and supporters about that possibility now.

But so far none come from the progressive political community that has controlled the Board of Supervisors for the past decade. Although Chiu is the only candidate in the field to self-identify as a progressive, he has adopted a more moderate governing style that has frustrated many progressive activists and supervisors. So that leaves voters on the left without a candidate right now.

“If a credible progressive candidate doesn’t get into the race, then we’ll see the top-tier candidates — which so far Leland Yee and Dennis Herrera — try to make friends with progressive San Francisco. And it would appear they have a lot of work to do,” Aaron Peskin, the former board president who chairs the San Francisco Democratic Party, told us.

Both Yee and Herrera have taken some progressive positions, and Yee has consistently endorsed more progressive candidates than anyone else in the mayoral field, but they have also taken many positions that have alienated them from progressives. And both have been taking in lots of campaign cash from interests hostile to the progressive base of renters, environmentalists, and advocates for social and economic justice.

“Nobody who has put their hats in the ring is really exciting anyone, so there is plenty of room for new entrants,” Peskin said, noting the progressives are actively discussing who should run. Peskin wouldn’t identify whom they’re courting, but some of the names being dropped are Sups. John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, and David Campos, as well as former Sup. Chris Daly and Peskin.

But Mirkarimi shifted some of that talk this week when he announced that he intends to run to replace the retiring Mike Hennessey as sheriff.

Political consultant Jim Stearns, who is representing Yee, also expects others to get into the race. “I don’t think the field is complete yet. Historically, the strong self-identified progressive candidate has come in late or surged late, like [Tom] Ammiano and [Matt] Gonzalez,” Stearns said.

Ammiano launched his write-in mayoral bid in September 1999 and Gonzalez jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in August 2003, so there’s plenty of time for progressive candidates to get in. “It’s never too late in San Francisco,” Stearns said. And unlike those two races when the upstarts were seriously outspent by the well-heeled frontrunners, Stearns said this year’s field will likely be on a fairly even financial footing.

“It’s likely every candidate will have $1.5 million to $2 million to spend,” he said. That means the keys to the race are likely to be name ID with voters and “which campaign can do the most with the least dollars,” Stearns said.

Already, some of the candidates who will be running to the center are looking for progressive support. Yee, for example, has given substantial amounts of money to progressive groups and candidates and has endorsed progressives for office.

Yee told us he’s positioning himself as “the candidate of the regular folks of San Francisco — the people who are trying to raise their families and live in this city.” He added: “To the extent that the progressive agenda fits that, we’ll be part of it.”

But he already has the endorsement of the Building Trades Council, which has often been at war with progressives, particularly over development issues.

Yee said he hasn’t yet weighed in on the local budget, but he agreed that new revenue “shouldn’t be off the table.” He said he thinks the current pension reform discussions at City Hall, involving Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, financier Warren Hellman, and union representatives are “the right way to go.”

Herrera said he’s going to run on his record — which includes a long list of progressive legal actions (along with his gang injunctions, which a lot of progressives question). He also told us that he’s involved in the pension reform discussions but thinks that new revenue absolutely ought to be a part of the budget debate.