August is a bad time to split town. When I left for vacation a couple of weeks ago, Ed Lee was just starting to act like a candidate in a slow-developing mayor’s race. Nobody except my lunatic pal h. brown had any inkling that Public Defender Jeff Adachi would jump into the Room 200 sweepstakes at the last minute. And the Giants were three games up.
Now Lee is the clear front-runner, Adachi — a guy who defends criminals for a living — is the darling of a some anti-government conservatives, there are Avalos signs all over the Mission, and nobody knows exactly how to figure this all out.
Oh, and Arizona — which I hate (yeah, I hate the entire state, including the governor, the baseball team and the newspaper chain that’s based there) — is leading the National League West.
Welcome home, I guess.
The first thing I want to say about the mayor’s race is that none of this would be possible without ranked-choice voting and public financing. Think about it: Five serious Asian candidates, two of them leading in the polls and at least three of them real contenders — and nobody’s complaining that Adachi or Lee will “split” the Asian vote. If anything, several strong Asian candidates help each other; the supporters of Ed Lee and Leland Yee may be trashing the opposition day and night, but in the end, a lot of Chinese voters will probably still rank the incumbent mayor and the man who’s been elected citywide four times as two of their three choices.
And without public financing, the race would be dominated by one or two contenders — the ones who could privately raise $1 million or more to stay in the game. Instead, we have at least four and perhaps as many as five or six candidates who have a real chance of finishing on top. Already, the Chron and the Ex are complaining about the cost of public financing; the cost of closed elections where only those with big-business connections could win was much, much higher.
The other factor that will make this fascinating is that Lee’s job just got much, much harder. He’s not the amiable technocrat who comes to work early and gets the job done anymore; now he’s an ambitious pol who has never had to stand up to the heat of a tough campaign. He’s going to have to be a candidate, and campaign, and answer some hard questions about some of his political allies and supporters. That’s not the gig he wanted in February. And I don’t know how well he’s going to handle it.