Four more years -- without opposition?
Four more years — without opposition?

By Tim Redmond

DECEMBER 2, 2014 – With Mark Leno officially taking himself out of the 2015 mayor’s race, there’s a real possibility that Mayor Ed Lee will run essentially unopposed – and that would have a ripple effect on more than the city’s top job.

An empty race with no serious contenders or issues would depress turnout – impacting the series of initiatives likely to share the ballot next November.

There’s certain to be a measure more tightly regulating Airbnb and other short-term rentals. There could be another attempt at addressing speculation and evictions. There might be a downtown and tech-driven move to modify (read: gut) the 1986 slow-growth measure Prop. M.

Low turnout almost always skews conservative. If the turnout had been five points higher last month, David Campos would have won the state Assembly race. The Airbnb measure cuts across political lines somewhat: The Apartment Association is supporting the concept at this point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sen. Dianne Feinstein was on board.  West-side low-density neighborhoods don’t like short-term rentals because they want to stick with single-family housing.

But without a serious candidate challenging Lee on the issue, there won’t be the sort of discussion about rezoning the city that really ought to happen. And with a very low turnout, it’s impossible to tell what will happen.

A low-turnout election would absolutely hurt any tenant measure and would make it harder to defeat an attack on Prop. M.

And, of course, it would give Lee and his allies grounds to say that the mayor has a popular mandate for his pro-growth, pro-tech policies.

Why isn’t Leno running? He’s a savvy politician, and he knows the race wouldn’t be easy, but that’s never stopped him before. It was a huge uphill battle to unseat incumbent Carole Migden for the state Senate seat he now occupies. But he really, really wanted that job; I’m not sure he wants the Mayor’s Office that badly.

Randy Shaw’s argument that the lack of a campaign manager dissuaded Leno is a bit disturbing. Yes, the senator has always been close to the folks at BMWL, but Northern California does not lack in talented political consultants, and after all his years in Sacramento, Leno could have found someone else.

And I’d hate to think that a decision as important as a race for mayor of San Francisco could be controlled by a few unelected private hired guns who make money running political campaigns. Ick.

I think the Ron Conway factor was also at play here.

Conway paid for a serious of vicious attacks on Campos. He will almost certainly put up as much money as it takes to try to damage anyone who dares to challenge Lee and the hegemony of the new tech oligarchy. Leno is a highly respected legislator, but he’s had to put up with his share of ugly shit in campaigns in the past. I’m not sure how much more he wants to take.

This, of course, is the problem with having one or two people so utterly dominate local politics. It’s as if the days of the Brown Machine are back – but it’s not even an elected mayor at the center. It’s a billionaire plutocrat who likes to get his way and is accountable to nobody.

Leno could only have won if he’d had the solid support of the left – and if he’d endorsed Campos, that would have been an easier task. With his record in Sacramento and his leadership on Ellis Act reform, he would have been an easy choice for tenant groups. But he’d have to go out and convince labor and the allies of Campos and Tom Ammiano not just to endorse him but to go out all for the Leno for Mayor campaign.

In the end, that might have happened. But it hadn’t happened as of last week.

So now what happens? I don’t know.

I talked to Ammiano today. There’s a lot of Run, Tom, Run talk out there, and of course he’s flattered by all the support. He told me he’d love to be mayor – but he doesn’t want to run a symbolic campaign. There would have to be the organization, the money, the structure to make it possible for him to win – and right now, that’s a stretch.

He also said that it’s worth thinking about whether progressives should be talking longer term – focusing the next four years on getting good supervisors elected, fighting evictions and pushing tenant ballot measures and working on things like Charter reform, and looking toward electing a real progressive mayor in 2019.

Art Agnos and Aaron Peskin have demonstrated that you don’t need to hold elective office to play an effective role in local politics. Ammiano might do well in that kind of role as he contemplates the future.

Another four years of Ed Lee will be rough. We survived Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, but I’ve never seen the city in such a crisis of survival as a progressive community. I wonder how many of us will be left after this economic earthquake settles down.

The protests in the streets, the grassroots fights, the ballot measures, the resistance – all the stuff that works when City Hall is against you – that’s going to be our lifeline. And the good news is, we’ve done it before – and there are new generations of activists joining the fight.

But wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in Room 200 who we didn’t have to fight all the time?