Board Should Not Rush to Pick Newsom Replacement

by Randy Shaw on November 15, 2010

San Francisco voters elected four new Supervisors last week, but the traditional media was instead consumed by the “who will replace Gavin” show. Three Supervisors even proposed a public hearing on November 16 followed by choosing Newsom’s replacement this week, despite the Mayor having almost two more months in office. What’s the rush? If the idea is that progressives benefit if the current rather than new Board picks the next mayor, I strongly disagree. The new Board is no less progressive, and can select a progressive replacement for Newsom without being part of what will be widely seen as a hurried and unseemly power grab. A progressive selected as part of a tainted process also hinders their ability to govern, and, even worse, reduces their election chances in November 2011. Progressives must prioritize selecting an interim mayor who can win in November, which is not likely to occur if the current Board makes a rushed choice.

Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Jane Kim and Scott Weiner – San Francisco’s four new Supervisors – got a lesson last week in media priorities. Specifically, the media is far more interested in the politics and personalities of the next election than in discussing the policies of current elected officials or those recently elected.

If Mayor Newsom were leaving office in a week or two, such rush to focus on his successor would be understandable. But Newsom has never given any indication that he will vacate his mayoralty prior to early January.

No Progressive Rush

I have been part of political transitions where a single week of one mayor versus another did potentially make a dramatic difference.

In the last meeting of the Feinstein-appointed Planning Commission in late 1987, the body voted at 2:00 a.m. to approve a massive development project in Chinatown. The Commissioners knew that they would be replaced by appointees from incoming Mayor Agnos who would reject the project, and if the Board of Supervisors could have replaced Feinstein with Agnos before the Commission vote I would have been all for it (I was among the attorneys who sued to stop the project despite the Planning Commission approval, and we succeeded; it was never built).

I see no parallel urgency with the timing of Newsom’s replacement.

A progressive Board majority was affirmed by voters last week, and will pick Newsom’s successor. There is no reason to give progressives’ opponents more ammunition, and to rally moderates and conservatives against a flawed process – because the person selected by the new Board may well be the same.

I realize Supervisor Chris Daly has a different opinion. Daly sees allowing the new Board to pick the interim mayor as benefitting Board President David Chiu, who fails to meet Daly’s progressive litmus test.

Daly wants the current Board to select David Campos, John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, Aaron Peskin, or Tom Ammiano. But he is so focused on picking an interim mayor that he forgets that all of these choices would have to be prepared to raise sufficient funds and organizational capacity to defeat State Senator Leland Yee in November.

Do David Campos and John Avalos really want to give up safe seats to become interim mayors, and are either capable – after only two years in elected office – of running and winning a citywide campaign against the well-funded and longtime elected official Leland Yee?

I don’t think so. And Ammiano has already rejected interest in becoming interim mayor, while to my knowledge Mirkarimi – who in the past has also failed Daly’s progressive litmus tests – also lacks interest in the position.

Aaron Peskin definitely has interest. But Peskin’ chances depended on Debra Walker and Tony Kelly winning their Supervisor races, and his other top choices – Rafael Mandelman and Janet Reilly – also lost.

While the current Board could still pick Peskin, the failure of any of his top choices to win Supervisor seats casts great doubt on his ability to mount a citywide campaign that could defeat Leland Yee and other challengers in November.

Since none of the candidates that Daly sees as needing to be picked by the current Board make political sense, there is no reason for interfering with the new Board making an orderly selection of a progressive interim mayor in January.

What Do Progressives Want?

Instead of losing political credibility by rushing to replace Newsom, progressives should start a public dialogue about what they want in the next mayor. This is particularly true because it makes no sense for progressives to pick someone who will not be their standard-bearer in the 2011 mayoral election, so the interim choice will ideally become the permanent mayor.

Among the obvious issues: how will the next Mayor build support for revenue measures that ensure funding for vital services? What do potential mayors think of the officials Mayor Newsom has running the city on a daily basis?

What is any potential mayor’s strategy for getting the Planning Department back on track? Not only are Planning delays costing the city money that is badly needed for vital services, but the agency’s upper management deficit (worsened by the porn scandal) has left it incapable of addressing the needs of a growing economy.

Can a progressive mayor secure the minimum 66.7% voter support required to pass an affordable housing bond? Can they find the money to get the increasingly number of extremely dysfunctional homeless people more appropriate housing with more support services than currently available? Can they figure out sustained and adequate financing for MUNI, parks and recreational facilities, and other core city functions?

These are but a sampling of the issues that should be discussed while we await Mayor Newsom’s departure. And departing Supervisors like Daly should play an important role in these discussions, which will give the progressive movement direction after the selection of the interim mayor.

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