Editor's Notes

Filling vacancies in local elected offices



For decades, the San Francisco City Charter has had a fairly simple process for filling vacancies in local elected offices: the mayor makes an appointment. A supervisor leaves office, or the district attorney leaves office, or the city attorney leaves office, or the controller leaves office, or the assessor leaves office, or the public defender leaves office ... there's no election. It's up to the mayor to fill the job. It gives the person in Room 200 a tremendous amount of power.

Gavin Newsom's a beneficiary of this system — he didn't run for election the first time he took elected office. A mayor named Willie Brown appointed him to the Board of Supervisors.

If the mayor leaves office, on the other hand, the Board of Supervisors, by a majority vote, gets to fill that position. And while Newsom has never complained about any of this in the past, now that he thinks he's going to get elected lieutenant governor, he's got a campaign underway to make sure the current district-elected board doesn't get to name his successor. He wants to change the City Charter to mandate a special election if a mayor leaves office before the end of his or her term.

It's about as hypocritical and self-serving as you can imagine, although he carefully talks about "democracy" and "the voters choosing."

I find it kind of silly (and expensive) to plan a special election for mayor in March or April of next year when there's already a regular election for mayor in November. And special elections have notoriously low turnout (favoring candidates with money and name recognition). But let's play this out.

I've always thought it was odd that the mayor got to appoint supervisors. The governor can't appoint state legislators; the president doesn't appoint members of Congress. So if we're going to change things, let's be sure to change that, too. And then let's take away the mayor's ability to fill any vacancy in any elected office.

But you see, Newsom's office told me he's against that. He doesn't want to limit the mayor's power -- just the power of the supervisors. Go figure.


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