The opening bell rings today in the San Francisco mayor's
race, as candidates can start taking out papers to run for a
job that some call thankless and others call one of the most
exciting political gigs in America.
With Mayor Willie Brown reaching his two-term limit in
office Jan. 8 after eight years on the job, the campaign to
succeed him is in full swing.
Polls put Supervisor Gavin Newsom, a Brown protege who
gained citywide attention last year during the "Care Not Cash"
welfare reform measure, as the front-runner.
But he faces several more seasoned opponents, including
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, City Treasurer Susan Leal and former
supervisor Angela Alioto. The three are running to the left of
the centrist Newsom, aiming for San Francisco's traditionally
"It seems that right now the whole field is organized
around the Newsom candidacy as the center of gravity," said
San Francisco State political scientist Rich DeLeon, an expert
on city politics. "The other candidates are trying to define
their agendas and develop their own strategy."
The city's left -- tenants, organized labor, civil rights
leaders -- has yet to unify behind one candidate.
Former Police Chief Anthony Ribera, who served in Frank
Jordan's mayoral administration, is in the race, putting up a
fight from the right.
In all, 24 people have told the Department of Elections
they're interested in the mayor's job, which pays $167,192 a
are expected to drop off that list, with serious contenders
required to pay a $3,344 filing fee or collect supporters'
signatures instead and fill out additional paperwork.
The deadline to declare as a formal candidate is 5 p.m.
Perhaps the biggest unknown in shaping the mayoral field is
whether the voter-approved "instant runoff" or ranked-choice
voting system will be in place in time for the election.
It would wipe out the traditional runoff system that
occurred if no single candidate won at least 50 percent of the
vote. In those cases, the top two vote-getters would face each
other in a runoff election in early December.
Instead, with the instant runoff system, voters will list
their top three choices for mayor, and the lowest-ranking
candidates will be eliminated one by one until someone has a
majority of the votes.
But it isn't certain whether state and federal elections
officials will approve the new system for the Nov. 4 election.
What is certain is that such a change would create a whole new
set of strategies for running a mayor's race.
"I think a lot depends on whether people think instant
runoff voting is going to be used in November," Charlie
Marsteller, former head of Common Cause in San Francisco, said
of whether new candidates emerge. "It would expand the number
of people on the ballot with hopes that their minority
candidacy can transfer into a majority win."
DeLeon agreed that the prospect of ranked-choice voting had
injected uncertainty into the race.
"A lot of people are stuck in neutral right now," he said.
"It's a real state of limbo,"
There has been much speculation that state Sen. John
Burton, who will be termed out of his job in 2004, would jump
in and pick up the torch for liberals. With high name
recognition, electoral staying power and fund-raising prowess,
supporters believe he would have the best shot at waging a
formidable challenge to Newsom, an old family friend.
Burton insisted Friday that's not going to happen.
"I just don't want to do it," he said in a telephone
interview. "I like the job I have."
He said people were talking to him about the race as
recently as Friday. "But I can do more for poor people and the
other issues that are important to me in the job I have than
as mayor of San Francisco," he said.
Others, however, are leaving the door open for a mayoral
bid. First-term Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Tony Hall, who
won office 2 1/2 years ago in an election that signaled the
end of Brown's iron grip on City Hall, both said last week
they might enter the race.
Hall, the board's most conservative member, would bill
himself as an independent not afraid to take on the status
quo. Peskin, who got his start as a neighborhood activist, has
built a reputation as a policy wonk with a penchant for
Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, a Green Party
activist whose name also had been mentioned as a potential
candidate, has said he will not run. When asked why, Gonzalez
referred to his failed citywide race for district attorney in
1999. He now represents one of the city's most liberal
districts, which includes the Haight-Ashbury.
Peter Keane, dean of Golden Gate University School of Law,
was set to get in the race but finally decided against it.
"I wasn't able to convince my wife to get comfortable with
the idea," he said. "What do you do, risk a 35-year marriage
for a possible four-year job? It's no contest."
Former San Francisco supervisor and assemblywoman Carole
Migden, who is now a member of the state Board of
Equalization, said she'd be surprised "if a last-minute
spoiler" entered the race because it's already so late in the
game to put together such a major campaign.
Perhaps a celebrity could make a run, "or a regular mortal
who's enormously rich. It takes a hell of a lot for voters to
know your name," said Migden, who also considered running for
mayor at one time but is now considering a run for Burton's
But Joe O'Donoghue, head of the Residential Builders
Association, wouldn't be surprised to see someone make a late
jump into the race, noting that "people wish there would be
some other candidate in the field."
As for the candidates most likely to run, "there's nothing
inspirational coming out," he said.
THE STARTING GATE
Here are the declared candidates, noncandidates and
possible candidates for San Francisco mayor -- today marks the
first day to take out candidacy papers. Potential candidates
have until 5 p.m. Aug. 8 to become official entrants
-- Attorney Angela Alioto
-- Supervisor Tom Ammiano
-- Libertarian Michael Denny
-- City Treasurer Susan Leal
-- Supervisor Gavin Newsom
-- Building contractor Jim Reid
-- Ex-police chief Anthony Ribera
-- Giants executive Larry Baer
-- State Sen. John Burton
-- Supervisor Matt Gonzalez
-- Board of Equalization member Carole Migden
-- Law school dean Peter Keane
On the fence:
-- Supervisor Tony Hall
-- Supervisor Aaron Peskin
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