The underground campaign

Despite the veneer of Newsom's popularity, the mayor's race shows some real discontent -- and some good policy ideas

Click here for the Guardian 2007 Election Center: interviews, profiles, commentary, and more

Elections usually create an important public discussion on the direction of the city. Unfortunately, that debate isn't really happening this year, largely because of the essentially uncontested races for sheriff and district attorney and the perception that Mayor Gavin Newsom is certain to be reelected, which has led him to ignore his opponents and the mainstream media to give scant coverage to the mayoral race and the issues being raised.

To the casual observer, it might seem as if everyone is content with the status quo.

But the situation looks quite different from the conference room here at the Guardian, where this season's endorsement interviews with candidates, elected officials, and other political leaders have revealed a deeply divided city and real frustration with its leadership and direction.

In fact, we were struck by the fact that nobody we talked to had much of anything positive to say about Newsom. Granted, most of the interviews were with his challengers — but we've also talked to Sheriff Mike Hennessey and District Attorney Kamala Harris, both of whom have endorsed the mayor, and to supporters and opponents of various ballot measures. And from across the board, we got the sense that Newsom's popularity in the polls isn't reflected in the people who work with him on a regular basis.

Newsom will be in to talk to us Oct. 1, and we'll be running his interview on the Web and allowing him ample opportunity to present his views and his responses.

Readers can listen to the interviews online at and check out our endorsements and explanations in next week's issue. In the meantime, we offer this look at some of the interesting themes, revelations, and ideas that are emerging from the hours and hours of discussions, because some are quite noteworthy.

Like the fact that mayoral candidates Quintin Mecke and Harold Hoogasian — respectively the most progressive and the most conservative candidate in the race — largely agree on what's wrong with the Newsom administration, as well as many solutions to the city's most vexing problems. Does that signal the possibility of new political alliances forming in San Francisco, or at least new opportunities for a wider and more inclusive debate?

Might Lonnie Holmes and Ahimsa Porter Sumchai — two African American candidates with impressive credentials and deep ties to the community — have something to offer a city struggling with high crime rates, lingering racism, environmental and social injustice, and a culture of economic hopelessness? And if we're a city open to new ideas, how about considering Josh Wolf's intriguing plan for improving civic engagement, Grasshopper Alec Kaplan's "green for peace" initiative, or Chicken John Rinaldi's call to recognize and encourage San Francisco as a city of art and innovation?

There's a lot going on in the political world that isn't making the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The interviews we've been conducting point to a street-level democracy San Francisco–style in all its messy and wonderful glory. And they paint a picture of possibilities that lie beyond the news releases.


As the owner of Hoogasian Flowers on Seventh Street and a vocal representative of the small-business community, mayoral candidate Hoogasian describes himself as a "sensitive Republican," "a law-and-order guy" who would embrace "zero-based budgeting" if elected.