Beyond the Progressive Convention

Even if it's a long shot, San Francisco needs a mayor's race

EDITORIAL The Progressive Convention didn't produce a candidate for mayor, which wasn't really a surprise: by the time the show opened, it was pretty clear that none of the leading contenders was ready to enter the race that day. And that, of course, will give the mainstream news media plenty of opportunity to say that the San Francisco left is disorganized, discouraged, and unable to mount a challenge to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

But Sup. Chris Daly actually did a very positive thing in pulling this event together. It wasn't a nominating convention and never should have been, but it did serve as a reminder of the large and growing number of ideas, activists, and elected officials that make up that amorphous bloc known as the San Francisco progressives.

Daly, in a closing speech, noted that he's heard over and over again how weak the movement is, but reminded the 400 or so attendees that "the state of the progressive movement is strong." Progressives control the Board of Supervisors and the school board. More than half the elected officials in the city generally fit under the progressive banner. And of the successful policy initiatives that have come out of this city in the past two years, almost none were from the Mayor's Office.

Ten years ago, this event couldn't and wouldn't have happened. The city was stuck under the tight rule of a political machine, and only a handful of elected officials dared defy the kingpin, Willie Brown. Although the progressives have come a long, long way, winning a citywide race for mayor when the incumbent has soaring approval ratings and an essentially endless supply of money still isn't an easy task. So it's no surprise that there aren't many takers.

In fact, there are some on the left who argue that it's best to just give Newsom a pass and focus on the next round of supervisorial elections, in 2008. But that would be a mistake.

For starters, we're still not convinced of Newsom's invulnerability. The mayor may have great PR, but he has a lousy record. The city's facing a long list of serious problems, from the murder rate to the Muni meltdown, and Newsom has done almost nothing to address them. The right candidate could mount a real challenge.

And even if it's a long shot, San Francisco needs a mayor's race. Newsom has gone into hiding of late; he won't face the press, won't appear before the supervisors to answer questions, and holds only farcical community meetings where all the questions are planted or screened ahead of time. A challenge would force him into the open and give the voters a chance to hold him accountable.

If it's done right, a campaign could energize the legions of disenfranchised and create the sort of momentum the progressives need to retain control of the Board of Supervisors next year. And it would ensure that the left turn out for the election in November — which will be crucial if some downtown-backed initiatives and an attempt to recall Sup. Jake McGoldrick are on the ballot.

It's late, and it's getting very late for a candidate to enter the race, but there's still a short window of time. Former supervisor Matt Gonzalez is still thinking about a run, and if he's going to do it, he should be talking now to some of the progressives whose support he'll need. Frankly, he has some fence-mending to do from his last race and from his decision to leave the board, and he should start that now.

We still think Ross Mirkarimi ought to run, and despite his official reluctance, he still can. A win would shake up city hall like nothing in years; a loss might still position the supervisor well to try again when Newsom is termed out. Daly at this point has taken himself out for family reasons, which is understandable — but he could also mount a strong campaign.

In his convention speech, Mirkarimi kept saying that "somebody" needs to take on the mayor. Ross, Matt, Chris ... we're waiting. *