Editorial: The mayor’s race starts now

Pub date January 4, 2010
SectionBruce Blog

Ross and Jeff and any other progressive candidates need to decide soon if they are serious about running for mayor and either announce that they are running or step out of the way so someone else can step forward

EDITORIAL Back in 2007, when no leading progressive stepped in to run against Gavin Newsom, Sup. Chris Daly called a convention in the hope that someone would come forward and take up the challenge. All the major potential candidates showed up and spoke, but none announced a campaign.

Let’s not go there again.

We’re two years into Newsom’s second term, and the city’s a mess. After absorbing a round of brutal cuts last year, the budget’s still half a billion dollars out of whack. The mayor’s only answer at this point is to cut more (then raffle off to landlords the right to get rich by evicting tenants and turning apartments into condos). The Newsom agenda hasn’t created jobs or addressed the housing crisis or resolved the unfairness of the tax code or taken even the first steps toward energy self-sufficiency. Over the past year, he’s been largely inaccessible and hostile to the press, a mayor who won’t even tell the public where he is and what he does all day.

A candidate who wants to change the direction at City Hall should have no problem getting political traction in 2011. But the progressives are still floundering. And while the race is two years away, the more centrist candidates are already out the door. Sup. Bevan Dufty has announced he’s in the race, and state Sen. Leland Yee might as well have announced since everyone knows he’s running. Same for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. And at a certain point — in the not-too-distant future — those candidates will be starting to line up endorsers and making promises to major financial backers and constituency groups, which aren’t going to wait around forever for the progressives to settle on someone willing to make the immense effort to mount a serious campaign for mayor.

So the potential candidates — starting with Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and Public Defender Jeff Adachi — need to decide, soon, whether they’re serious about this or not, and either announce that they’re running or step out of the way so someone else can step forward.

With public financing, a candidate in San Francisco doesn’t have to be as well-heeled as Newsom was his first time around. It won’t take $6 million in contributions to win. But a progressive who wants to be the next mayor needs to demonstrate he or she can do a few key things, including:

<\!s>Motivate and unite the base. Labor (or at least the progressive unions), the tenants, the left wing of the queer community (represented to a great extent by the Harvey Milk LGBT club), the environmentalists, and the progressive elected officials have to be fairly consistent in backing a candidate or downtown’s money will carry the day. So Mirkarimi and Adachi (and anyone else who’s interested) ought to be making the rounds, now. If that critical mass isn’t there, the campaign isn’t going to work.

<\!s>Develop and promote a signature issue. Newsom won in part because he came up with the catchy “care not cash” initiative. Voters frustrated with years of failed homeless policies (and an incumbent, Willie Brown, who said the problem could never be solved) were willing to try something new (however bogus it turned out to be). Nobody’s developed a populist way to approach city finance. Nobody’s got a workable housing or jobs plan. What’s the central issue, or set of issues, that’s going to define the next progressive mayoral campaign?

<\!s>Put together a central brain trust. This city’s full of smart progressives who have experience and ideas and can help put together a winning platform and campaign strategy. A good candidate will have them on board, early.

<\!s>Herrera, Yee, Dufty, and others who might run (including Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting) are already out there looking for progressive supporters and allies, but none has yet offered an agenda the city’s left can support. Dufty pissed off the tenants by refusing to back stronger eviction protections. Herrera pissed off immigrant advocates by refusing to be as aggressive in supporting the city’s sanctuary law as he was in defending same-sex marriage (and because he hasn’t officially announced yet, he’s still not taking stands on political issues). Yee tried to sell off the Cow Palace. Ting has taken some great initiatives (forcing the Catholic Church to pay its fair share of property transfer taxes), but hasn’t developed or spoken out on the broader issues of city revenue. More of those candidates have been leaders in the public power movement.

It would be inexcusable if the progressives, who control the Board of Supervisors, are forced to pick a mayoral candidate by default. It’s time to end the speculation and dancing and find a candidate who can carry the progressive standard in 2011.