Stateside with Rosalea: Da Mayor
Now that the Golden Hummer (truckus horribilis) is about to replace ursus horribilis (the Grizzly Bear) on California's state flag, all that remains to do is send some congratulatory thigh-rolled Cubans to the humidors of power in Sacramento and thank our lucky stars that there is no Admiralty for our churchillian new governor to be First Lord of. Of course, if we were to secede...
So. The next menu item on our delectable feast of elections is coming up on November 4 - the may-OR-al election in San Francisco. The only other choices for electoral office on that ballot are district attorney and sheriff, so it would have been the perfect election on which to try out instant runoff voting as mandated by 59 percent of San Francisco's voters in March 2002.
But, as you know from previous columns, as far back as December 2002 Mayor Willie Brown was talking about a separate runoff, begging the question: what did he know then that voters didn't? Surely not that there was going to be a successful recall effort and its consequent resource-hungry election in October 2003? (If you're interested in a less controversial view, there is more about the non-implementation of IRV at sfweekly.com in an article in the September 17 edition, entitled Blowing It.)
So, although the city's charter now says that "The Mayor, Sheriff, District Attorney... shall be elected using a ranked-choice, or 'instant runoff,' ballot," there will be a separate runoff election on the second Tuesday of December for those offices on the ballot in which no one gets 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast. There are nine candidates for mayor, none of them with a clear majority in the polls; three candidates for district attorney; and two for sheriff.
I have a special fondness for this mayoral election, not just because I pounded the streets during the campaign to have IRV implemented, but because I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday, 8 December 1999. That was in the final week of the campaign for the runoff between incumbent Mayor Willie Brown and the write-in candidate, Supervisor Tom Ammiano.
So, this is the first complete election cycle that I've witnessed for a position as powerful as mayor of San Francisco. It is a powerful - what they call here a "strong-mayor" - position because the mayor gets to appoint people to head up and be on agencies and commissions that determine the course of the city's future. Mayor Willie Brown has now termed out, but whomever he endorses is likely to be elected and that person is likely to be Gavin Newsom. In fact, Brown announced his support for Newsom as long ago as September 2002 in a television inteview on Channel 5.
Newsom comes from the right family, has the right contacts, went to the right schools, and has a high profile on one of the hot-button issues that has divided San Francisco for decades - homelessness. According to one TV news report, he also chartered some of the faux cable cars that drive around SF to take elderly voters to City Hall to vote in the recall election and encouraged them to save a second trip to the polls by taking advantage of early voting, which had opened the previous day, for the November election at the same time.
Newsom is on the Board of Supervisors, as are two other candidates - Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez, who is the board's president. San Francisco's treasurer, Susan Leal, is on the ballot, as is Angela Alioto, civil rights attorney, former supe and the daughter of a previous mayor. She came in third when she ran for mayor in 1991; dropped out of the 1995 race before election day and endorsed one of Brown's (unsuccessful) opponents; and didn't run in 1999.
A computer company executive, a former SF police chief, a builder who has created tiny cottages as a practical solution to SF's housing problems, and the president of a wine distribution company round out the dramatis personnae of this year's mayoral election. But the battles for district attorney and sheriff will be equally dramatic, just because that's the nature of San Francisco politics. One of the candidates for DA, for example, "doesn't deny" a former romantic liaison with Brown, according to another San Francisco weekly, the Bay Guardian, at sfgb.com. Hold onto your hats, folks!
One telling note: although 135-plus people fell over themselves to run for governor - many self-righteously declaring their dutiful love of democracy - scores of local elective offices will not be contested this year, simply because the incumbents have no opponents.