The next mayor - Page 2

Can the left win, or will egos and infighting turn this into a huge missed opportunity?

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Players: Supes David Campos, Eric Mar, Ross Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, John Avalos, and David Chiu and former Sup. Aaron Peskin

On Jan. 4, the current members of the Board of Supervisors will hold a regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting — and the election of a new mayor will be on the agenda. If six of the current supervisors can agree on a name (and sitting supervisors can't vote for themselves) then that person will immediately take office and finish Newsom's term.

If nobody gets six votes — that is, if the board is gridlocked — Chiu remains in both offices until the next regular meeting of the board — a week later, when the newly elected supervisors are sworn in.

The new board will then elect a board president — who will also instantly become acting mayor — and then go about trying to find someone who can get six votes to take the top job. If that doesn't work — that is, if the new board is also gridlocked — then the new board president remains acting mayor until January 2012.

There are at least three basic approaches being bandied about. Some people, including Newsom and some of the more conservative members of the board, want to see a "caretaker" mayor, someone with no personal ambition for the job, fill out Newsom's term, allowing the voters to choose the next mayor in November, 2011. That has problems. As Campos told us, "The city has serious budget and policy issues and it's unlikely a caretaker could handle them effectively." In other words, a short-termer will have no real power and will just punt hard decisions for another year.

Then there's the concept of putting in a sacrificial progressive — someone who will push through the tax increases and service cuts necessary to close a $400 million budget gap, approve a series of bills that stalled under Newsom, take the hits from the San Francisco Chronicle, and step out of the way to let someone else run in November.

The downside of that approach? It's almost impossible for a true progressive to raise the money needed to beat a downtown candidate in a citywide mayor's race. And it seems foolish to give up the opportunity to someone in the mayor's office who can run for reelection as an incumbent.

Which is, of course, the third — and most intriguing — scenario.

The press, the pundits, and the mayor have for the past few months been pushing former Sup. Peskin as the foil, trying to spin the situation to suggest that the current chair of the local Democratic Party is angling for a job he wouldn't win in a normal election. But right now, Peskin is no more a front-runner than anyone else. And although he's made no secret in the past of wanting the job, he's been talking of late more about the need for a progressive than about his own ambitions.

"If the board chose [state Assemblymember] Tom Ammiano, I would be thrilled to play a role, however small, in that administration," Peskin told us.

In fact, Peskin said, the supervisors need to stop thinking about personalities and start looking at the larger picture. "If we as a movement can't pull this off, then shame on us."

Or as Sup. Campos put it: "We have to come together here and do what's right for the progressive movement."

Two years ago, the San Francisco left was — to the extent that it's possible — a united electoral movement. In June, an undisputed left slate won a majority on the Democratic County Central Committee. In November 2008, Districts 1, 3, 5, and 11 saw consensus left candidates running against downtown-backed opponents — and won. In D9, three progressives ran a remarkably civil campaign with little or no intramural attacks.

The results were impressive. As labor activist Gabriel Haaland put it, "we ran the table."

But that unity fell apart quickly, as a faction led by Daly sought to ensure that Sup. Ross Mirkarimi couldn't get elected board president. Instead that job went to Chiu — the least experienced of the supervisors elected in that class, and a politician who is, by his own account, the most centrist member of the liberal majority.