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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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Home Featured Some sunshine for the mayor-go-round

Some sunshine for the mayor-go-round

What if we had an actual public process for choosing the interim mayor? It might go better than the last time

While we recognize Ed Lee's lifetime of public service, the candidates for mayor will have to say how they are different

If we can say anything about the process for choosing the person who will run San Francisco’s executive branch for the next five months, is this:

Most of us have no clue what’s going on.

The last backroom-deal process brought us Ed Lee, which didn’t work out so well.

There are lots of discussions, I’m sure, lots of backroom deal-making. There has to be; in two more weeks, the supes will meet and either talk about choosing an interim mayor – or duck the issue and leave Board President London Breed in charge of both branches of government.

We hear rumors. We hear names. Maybe City Attorney Dennis Herrera has close to the number of votes he needs; maybe he would get the job and run as an incumbent. Maybe not. Maybe Mark Leno has six votes. Maybe Breed has six votes; maybe she’d rather not resign her supervisorial seat. Maybe David Chiu wants to be mayor, and would cut a deal to support of of his potential rivals for his state Assembly seat.

Maybe nobody running for the office has six votes. Maybe there’s a caretaker everyone could agree on; maybe there’s a caretaker who could at least cobble together six votes.

Maybe this supervisor is working a deal on that candidate; maybe that supervisor is working a deal on this candidate. Maybe it changed yesterday.

It’s the Maybe, Maybe Mayor-Go-Round. Which doesn’t seem to me much of a public process for choosing a mayor of a city.

The last time we went through this, a secret arrangement at the last minute brought Ed Lee, who wasn’t even in the country and had previously said he didn’t want the job, into power. That didn’t work out so well. There has to be a better way to do this.

The Board of Supes is hiring someone for a job. What if all the contenders did what applicants for other city jobs (and commission posts) did? What if they applied? With a public letter and a resume?

What if the board set minimum qualifications, held a public hearing and considered the different applicants?

What if the public had a chance to be heard, to organize around candidates for interim mayor the way we organize around candidates for every other elected job?


I know: There’s a lot that could go wrong with this scenario.

Lots of people who have absolutely no business being mayor of San Francisco might apply. So the board would have to quickly narrow the field down to a few finalists.

There are probably people who are iconic public figures, who would love the job, and would be perfect caretakers, but who don’t want to go through the public humiliation that former Sheriff Mike Hennessey had to face when he was at City Hall the day of the vote to replace Gavin Newsom, had six promised votes, and lost after Bevan Dufty, after calling a recess and having a secret conversation with Gavin Newsom, switched to Ed Lee.

They might balk at applying and getting rejected. The city might lose the best interim mayor.

Of course, the supes have no legal obligation to vote for someone who openly, publicly says they want the job and is willing to undergo public discussion and scrutiny. If all of the applicants are people who have no business being mayor, then the process failed, and we would, for better or for worse, go back to where we are now.

Who decides who has any business being mayor? That’s easy: Six supervisors decide. Like it or not, that’s what the City Charter says. The board can set the qualifications, select finalists and eliminate others, entirely at will.

Yeah, the “qualifications” will be a bit random, they always are. In my mind, you don’t have to be a career politician, but you have to have some serious political experience, in or out of elected office, and you have to have a credible community base; you don’t get to play in the Big Leagues without at least some time proving yourself in the minors.

I’m not saying this process would necessarily lead to a win for the progressives. It could all go the other way. I imagine that if the supes, without a public process, had picked Tom Ammiano for mayor instead of Ed Lee, and Ammiano had decided to run for a full term, a lot of progressives would be really happy (and, I suspect, a lot fewer people would have been evicted over the past six years, Ron Conway wouldn’t rule City Hall, and we would be living in a very different city). Politics isn’t always pretty; in the Big Leagues, you deal with making sausage.

Still: the last time around, the process failed. There was no public input at all, no chance for anyone in the city to think about or weigh in on whether Ed Lee would be a good mayor. The first time his name even came up was during the board meeting where he was selected. It was a backroom deal in every possible sense (including the fact that some of the people who pushed for him as a caretaker then convinced him to go back on his promise and run for a full term).

I can’t see how we could do a whole lot worse.

So maybe some sunshine around the Mayor-Go-Round make sense. I’d like to know who wants the interim job; I think most of us would like to contact our representatives and say that this candidate would be better than that one.

As I said, it might not go well for the progressives – we are famously fractured, and all kinds of agendas come out at times like these. If the left can’t agree on a candidate, and the conservatives can, they might win the vote on a board that is split 6-5 against the progressive agenda.

But again: Last time around, with no public process, we got Ed Lee. I don’t see how a little sunshine this time is going to make anything worse. It generally doesn’t.


  1. That’s actually funny, B. One of the few times I try to speak to ideas instead of factions, and look what I get.

    I don’t know your where you’re coming from (if anywhere). But I can only imagine you saying that to a baby, and … .

  2. anyone who knew ross knew that was coming. guy was a shithead who took out a lot of progressives who supported him and defended his wife hitting, and for what? A two faced male who beats up girls and was a hateful individual to work with. He was so hated his OWN ALLIES voted AGAINST HIM for board president. But you assholes backed him so you are reaping what you sow – political irrelevance

  3. they were both fairly useless. Christensen was a loser who upon losing had to run and get a government job because she can’t do anything. Olague was useless because she’s lame.

  4. Chris Daly sounded the alarm, but because he’s such a joke, no one listened. Remember when he said it was “on like Donkey Kong” and everyone got all wet but in the end it was like his legacy-a big nothing. Hell he isn’t even in the fucking state now – he had his playtime and now is off fucking around somewhere.

  5. Hey Curious,

    Don’t be surprised if either of those names come
    up once the BOS is done butchering each other.

    Calvecchio was on Ammiano’s team til he went to
    Sacramento then took over for last Board Clerk who
    was named Gloria and I forget the second half

    She’s personally dealt with pretty much every piece
    of legislation that has gone before it for the last quarter

    Peg Stevenson is equally provisioned for a ride that will
    be a much deserved crowing honor for two public
    servants who have been in first row for so long.

    Scary thought?

    How about Warriors are getting better.


  6. Like Beavis and Butthead found out in Hell,

    Every place has certain standards.

    Pick a Bureaucrat for Acting Mayor 5pm Jan. 9th

    Angela Calvecchio


    Peg Stevenson

    Go Giants!


  7. I agree that nobody predicted Mirkarimi, but I also believe they planned on shopping for an excuse to go against Olague and Mirkarimi gave it to them.

    Being ‘community focused’, she was seen by profiteers as a barrier on the Planning Council.

  8. Maybe part of it Zhoosh, but the thrust of Daly’s debate was the back door deals going on and he certainly gave the public a blow by blow description of the miserable process. He called David Chiu out for VOTING the party line.

  9. Daly was knocking himself out to have Sheriff Hennessey selected, not to make sure that the process was open. He famously called out David Chiu for not voting the party line. He was trying to get a backroom deal enacted.

  10. I don’t know how much difference a public meeting before the Supervisors vote would make but I would support it. Along with that we could have a two day call in period where we could chose a candidate for Mayor out of those who have registered to run. Various aides could keep the tally and they should be sworn in. Perhaps the Board would listen to the public if a large number of people showed interest. I do not know how you would stop closed door discussions but large numbers of the public could possibly override cronyism. Most people I know think the incumbent has the advantage – based on what we have seen as voters.

  11. Mayor Willie Brown even bragged about how Lee was pre-selected (and his role in it) at Lee’s memorial. Meanwhile Chris Daly was knocking himself out at the Board trying to make sure that at the process was open at the very least.

  12. I don’t believe that was the motivation because no one could have predicted the Mirkarimi debacle, which left Lee looking horribly weak.

    I’ll give it to Breed that she campaigned here in D5 much harder than Olague. Olague wanted out and disappeared.

    I think Zhoosh is right that incumbency could backfire on Breed — especially on the district level. It’s her best move, and in the best interest of her D5 constituents, to not seek the mayoral appointment. We need a clean break in the cycle.

  13. Here’s a thought about the power of incumbency. A good politician can use a short period of time, say a year, to build good will based on future expectations, even if they amount to nothing. For example, someone like Breed could announce with great fanfare a revolutionary homeless program or an affordable housing program, even if they are entirely unfeasible or based on fantasy. If the supes go along, it looks like she’s getting stuff done. If they don’t, she comes off as a fighter. A year or two or five later, the plan ends up as useless as the naysayers had said in the beginning, but no one would remember that far back.

    Newsom followed that script with Care not Cash, but he was a supe at the time, not an appointee mayor.

  14. Regarding Olague and that ad:

    “The ad was produced by the political committee SF Women For
    Accountability, recently formed to unseat Olague, who was appointed by Lee to fill out the remainder of Mirkarimi’s term as District 5 supervisor. The committee is largely funded by Silicon Valley angel and prominent Lee supporter Ron Conway, his wife Gayle, and Linda Voigt, wife of real estate developer Thomas Coates.” –SF Examiner

    FYI, Coates donated $1 million to ban rent control.

    As I stated above, I believe getting Olague off the Planning Commission was the motivation of appointing her to the BOS, where it would be easier for Lee and Conway to get rid of her.

  15. If Tim Redmond wants a more even playing field, I’m curious to know whether he supports Corey Smith’s (of SFHAC) Term Limits for the Mayor and Members of the Board of Supervisors initiative (see sfelections, sfgate)? The proposition, which is in the signature collection phase, would set the supervisor and mayor term limit to two lifetime terms so that former elected officials like Aaron Peskin, John Avalos, and Michela Alioto-Pier can’t run again for their old jobs with the power of their name recognition.

  16. I agree.

    I happen to think that Ed Lee was a good man but he bears full responsibility for Peskin’s return and all resulting damage to the city…30 Van Ness, the affordable housing at 88 Broadway. All because Lee nominated a weak candidate and allowed Peskin to slither back in.

  17. I assumed that Olague was appointed to get her off the Planning Commission. I knew that after some time, the mayor would turn against her. He didn’t need an issue.

    Their plan worked.

  18. Why are the all of them outliers? Jordan, Agnos, Olague, Christensen…iIt seems as if the appointed incumbents always win, except when they don’t.

    And the process is presumably open. The BOS nominates candidates (or doesn’t) and then they vote. To the extent that there are backroom deals….good luck getting rid of that one.

    If Breed is impressive as acting Mayor then sure… she will have an advantage. If she comes across as a lightweight then the voters will be anxious to get rid of her.

  19. What would happen if – instead of 6 mths – it were 6 weeks? Don’t the Brits and other parliamentary democracies do it that way? The US takes WAY too long on this selection process.

    Maybe we need a Vice Mayor – that takes over from the real one when they’re out visiting our Sister Cities. That seems like an SF tradition – overpriced do-nothing waiting for their pension.

    … 2011 … high unemployment … cavortin’ John Avalos? What was his platform again? Or Mr. No-Drama? If we’d have elected John, then SF would have remained an island of low cost housing, no eviction, and no traffic jams in a sea of rising real estate and high income jobs next door.

  20. I don’t think there is a sophisticated political operative in town who would argue that London Breed, as acting mayor, would have a huge advantage if she ran for the job as incumbent. Without any judgment on Breed or her qualifications for the job, it was almost impossible to beat Ed Lee as an incumbent, and I would like to see what we were all waiting for in 2019: An open race for mayor.

  21. Olague and Christensen were both outliers. Olague lost the mayor’s support over the Mirkarimi vote. Christensen lost to a former incumbent who was able to raise a huge amount of money. But who cares? I don’t understand why anyone could be against an open public process.

  22. Is a six month period really an incumbency? Your “exceptions” might disprove your thesis. A “bad” interim mayor would lose in June by your own reckoning.

  23. Gee, seems to me that its just like any other election. Except only the supervisors get to vote instead of the general public. People select candidates and vote/don’t vote for any number of reasons, whether someone else think those reasons are good or bad. I think the issue motivating Tim but he doesn’t speak to here is the presumed “power of incumbency”. I don’t know how real that is. Tim should have discussed that instead of some arcane process speculations. Why else care about a six month period? If Ed Lee was incapacitated, not deceased, the temporary position would be of interest but not so dramatic.

  24. The power of incumbency in SF is huge. In the past half century, I believe, only two mayors (Art Agnos, who lost his progressive base, and Frank Jordan, who was just a bad mayor) have lost when they ran as an incumbent. And Tony, I think I made it clear: a lot of us might be happy if a backroom deal brought in a real progressive mayor, but I still think we need an open process. Yes, the votes will be open — but in the case of Ed Lee, the deal was sealed in private and the vote was just an affirmation.

  25. ‘The game has a cleanness. If you do a good job, the numbers say so. You don’t have to ask anyone or play politics. You don’t have to wait for the reviews.’

    Sandy Koufax

    Dodger legend and bench warmer for the 1955 World Series Championship team.

  26. I think you’re on to something. In 2011 Ed Lee was appointed and 10 months later the voters approved the decision by 20 points. So did the process fail or did it not produce the result that you wanted? Big difference.

    Also re: “you don’t get to play in the Big Leagues without at least some time proving yourself in the minors”

    Actually, Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Catfish Hunter, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Mell Ott and Dave WInfield never played in the minors.

    So lets be open minded towards all possibilities.

  27. Any process that erodes the “influence” of people like Ron Conway and corporations doesn’t have a chance of being implemented.

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