District 7 Contest is Referendum on Newsom

by Randy Shaw on September 8, 2004

With Michela Alioto-Pier a sure thing in District 2, and Lillian Sing the overwhelming favorite in District 1, the best test of Mayor Newsom’s popularity with his conservative base will come in District 7. The Mayor has made the election of Sean Elsbernd, his recent appointee, a top priority. But with former Supervisor Tony Hall choosing not to campaign for his former aide, the Mayor’s backers are scrambling.

It all seemed so easy just a few short months ago. Mayor Newsom would entice Tony Hall to leave the Board for a cushy $150,000 job, and then appoint longtime Newsom aide Michael Farrah to the District 7 seat.

But after offering the job to Hall, Newsom learned that Farrah was ineligible to run for election in November because he did not live in the district 30 days prior to the filing deadline. Newsom then appointed another of his aides, Sean Elsbernd, to the District 7 seat.

Since Elsbernd was a former aide to Hall, his appointment could be framed as the passing of the baton from the incumbent to a new generation of leadership. But this assumed Hall would campaign for Elsbernd. When Hall decided against this, District 7 became the city’s most wide-open race.

Mayoral appointees can have a tough time winning their first election. Opponents typically argue that “the voters should have the right to choose their own representative, not have one handed down to them by another politician.”

Elsbernd has a greater problem in that he is seen as totally subservient to the Mayor (whom he called “sir” at his swearing in). His opponents will challenge his ability to put the district’s interests first, painting Elsbernd as subordinating local needs to the political demands of the mayor.

Hall was a shoe-in for re-election, and was known for not allowing any Mayor to tell him how to vote on issues. District 7 voters may prefer such an iconoclastic and independent candidate to the more predictable Elsbernd.

There are multiple candidates in the District 7 race but only two pose a serious threat to the incumbent. They are police officer Greg Corrales and neighborhood activist Christine Linnenbach.

Corrales is a Republican with a controversial record at the SFPD. But his personality most resembles that of the fiery Hall, and district residents know that for all his roughness around the edges he will fight like crazy for their interests.

Corrales intends to run a strongly anti-Newsom campaign. He’s just what the mayor does not need—a cop speaking at campaign stops every night who blames Mayor Newsom for the epidemic of murders in the city.

Those from outside the district are often incredulous to hear that Corrales is even considered a serious candidate. But the same comments were made about Hall in 2000, and he prevailed.

Christine Linnenbach is the “liberal” in the race, though this is relative. While she worked on Matt Gonzalez’s mayoral campaign, Linnebach also wrote ballot arguments against non-citizens voting in school board races and on the conservative side of other ballot measures.

District 7 includes the large apartment complexes of Park Merced, Stonestown, and Oakwood. Tenants in these buildings are not Newsom supporters and Linnenbach’s best chance for victory is to roll up huge margins here.

Linnenbach is also the only major woman candidate in the field. How many votes she picks up for this reason is unclear, but there are many women in every district who are tired of having a disproportionately male Board of Supervisors.

The strategic question that could decide the District 7 contest is who will get the second-choice votes in the Ranked Choice Voting system..

If supporters of Corrales and Linnenbach each picked the other candidate as second choice, one of the two would win. But if their second choice is a minor candidate who had no chance to win but was ideologically closer to their first choice, Elbernd would likely get enough second and third place votes to prevail.

Ranked Choice Voting will have its greatest impact in District 7, whose voters were hardly the driving force for the enactment of the new voting system. There are so many variables surrounding the extent to which District 7 voters will cast multiple votes that predicting how it will all play out is impossible.

What can be predicted with certainty is that Mayor Newsom will spend the next month seeking to improve his standing with District 7 voters. The last thing the Mayor wants to see on election night is a crowd of former supporters cheering the defeat of his chosen candidate.

Filed under: Bay Area / California