San Francisco Politics Turns the Page

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

Okay, we can talk some San Francisco politics in this period of grief. After all, the first decision is going to be by the Board of Supervisors. The Acting Mayor is London Breed, by way of being president of the Board of Supervisors, the same path that led Dianne Feinstein to become Mayor after the death of George Moscone (and of course supervisorial colleague Harvey Milk).

The Board of Supervisors, which operates as the governing body of the combined city and county, will now have the option to appoint an Acting Mayor, which could be Breed, another supervisor, or any other registered voter. If the Board appoints, the office will be next filled for a full term in in 2019. If the board does not act, the office will be filled for a partial term on June 5, 2018 ending in January 2020 following the 2019 regular municipal election.

For now, Breed serves both as Acting Mayor and President of the Board of Supervisors. If the board appoints her as Mayor, she would abandon her Board seat and have the opportunity, as Mayor, to appoint her successor on the Board of Supervisors.

To make an appointment as a successor Mayor, the Board of Supervisors would need votes from six of the eleven members to pass. Breed had already been collecting endorsements for a 2019 run and supervisors Mark Farrell and Jane Kim have shown interest. Also planning on a 2019 run is former state senator Mark Leno, who has been endorsed by four supervisors and has raised significant money. City Attorney Dennis Herrera–who ran against Lee in 2011–may be interest in another bid.

While a tragic loss for the city, Mayor Lee’s death is unlikely to bring the Board to consensus as they did behind Feinstein in 1978 following the Moscone-Milk tragedy. Mayor Lee was appointed as Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor, after Lee had been serving as city administrator, with support from Willie Brown, Newsom and Chinatown political powerhouse Rose Pak.

The politics of the city are very different than they were in 2011 because of the tech boom, housing crunch, and the associated gentrification. The city is deeply divided right now between the perceived “haves” and “have nots,” as well as new money in the tech sector and older money.

Additionally, there are several possible “firsts” among a potential field–the first African-American woman in London Breed, the first Asian-American woman in Jane Kim, the first Latino mayor in Dennis Herrera, the first openly gay mayor in Mark Leno.

Senator Scott Wiener has been mentioned and he would have a “free ride” next year since his seat is not up for election. However, he can stay in the State Senate until 2028 and I don’t see him running against Leno, who he succeeded in the senate, and who endorsed him in a contentious primary against his then-colleague on the Board, Jane Kim. Assemblymember David Chiu has also been mentioned. However, he can serve in the Assembly until 2026 and wouldn’t have a free ride if a San Francisco mayoral election is held on June 5, 2018.

For these reasons, I don’t think that the Board will find six votes to unify behind Breed as Mayor through at least January, but will choose to allow her to serve in the dual capacity of Acting Mayor and President of the Board and leave it to the voters on June 5, 2018. She would be a formidable candidate, but will also be joined by several other strong candidates.

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