The next mayor has to promise real, dramatic change

While we give Mayor Lee credit for a life of public service, the voters are profoundly unhappy with the direction of city government. The June election will be about who is NOT the next Ed Lee

Unless Acting Mayor London Breed does something really bad (and she’s way too smart for that to happen), or the Board of Supes feels a lot of public pressure, it’s entirely possible that for the next five months the same person will run the legislative and executive branches in San Francisco.

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

That’s bad on so, so many levels. I don’t even like the idea that the mayor can appoint supervisors – the governor doesn’t appoint state legislators, and the president doesn’t appoint members of Congress. Separation of powers is a key part of American democracy; this is just wrong.

Besides: Breed is energetic and talented and experienced, but can one person really be the president of the board, the supervisor from D5, and the mayor of San Francisco – oh, and most likely a candidate for mayor in June? Nobody can do that all and do it well – unless the staff (in the case of the Mayor’s Office, the same folks who ran things under Ed Lee) are really in charge.

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell today, there is nobody who has six votes to become the interim mayor.

The last two times there was a vacancy in Room 200 – when George Moscone was murdered and when Gavin Newsom resigned to become Lite Guv – the supes quickly appointed a replacement. Both times, the result became a serious problem – but at least one person wasn’t running the whole show.

The 2018 mayor’s race is already well under way. Former state Sen. Mark Leno told me today that he’s going to be a candidate – and the $400,000 or so that he has already raised should be available for the June race. Same office, same campaign contribution limits. If the Ethics Commission rules that he can’t use that money, they will be relying on the advice of City Attorney Dennis Herrera – who is also a potential candidate.

We’re all assuming Breed files to run. I am hearing that Sup. Jane Kim is also considering a run (it’s all over Facebook) – and if she files for the office, she could have the endorsement of Bernie Sanders and the support of the well-organized San Francisco Bernicrats. The list goes on. It will be a competitive race. This opportunity doesn’t come along often. 

And while everyone is (appropriately) being very respectful to the legacy of Ed Lee, the harsh political reality is that the mayor’s approval rating was very low when he tragically died. The vast majority of the voters see the city as going in the wrong direction. They see the displacement, the soaring rents, the economic inequality, the damage of the tech boom that Lee so happily promoted … and they want something different.

So one of the big tests of any candidate for mayor will be: How are you going to change things? How are you going to shift gears?

That’s a potential problem for Breed, who was largely (not always, but mostly) on the side of the mayor’s allies. When the board split 6-5 on issues that put the mayor against the progressives, she was often with Ed Lee.

Although she has an independent streak, her committee appointments reflected the will of the moderate establishment. To take on someone like Leno, who already has the support of four of the progressives on the board, or Kim, who would reach out to the left, she would have to demonstrate how she intends to break – pretty radically – from her political alliances of the past few years and offer a serious alternative to the current direction of the city.

San Francisco today is a mess. We can stipulate that Ed Lee had compassion for the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, and he did. But the situation on the streets in Tech Boom SF is ugly.

The candidates who want to be mayor are going to have to tell us how they can promote equity in a city that desperately needs it – and equity, by nature, demands redistribution of wealth. This is possibly the richest city in the history of civilization, and poor people are getting evicted, displaced, and living on the streets.

I don’t think the voters are looking for anyone who promises anything remotely close to business as usual.

For the moment, everyone wants a steady hand at City Hall. We’ve just been through a civic shock, and we all need to know that the supes can keep things stable.

But a month from now, we will be back to the existential crisis that is San Francisco today. And the politics of stability and the continuation of the policies of the past aren’t going to fly.