The next mayor

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

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

By the time a beaming Mayor Gavin Newsom took the stage at Tres Agaves, the chic SoMa restaurant, on election night, enough results were in to leave no doubt: the top two places on the California ballot would go to the Democrats. Jerry Brown would defeat Meg Whitman in the most expensive gubernatorial race in American history — and Newsom, who once challenged Brown in the primary and dismissed the office of lieutenant governor, would be Brown's No. 2.

It might not be a powerful job, but Newsom wasn't taking it lightly anymore. "We can't afford to continue to play in the margins," he proclaimed proudly, advancing a vague but ambitious agenda. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with California that can't be fixed with what's right with California."

But around the city, as results trickled in for the local races, the talk wasn't about Newsom's role in the Brown administration, or the change the Democrats might bring to Sacramento. It was about the profound change that could take place in his hometown as he vacates the office of mayor a year early — and opens the door for the progressives who control the Board of Supervisors to appoint a chief executive who agrees with, and is willing to work with, the majority of the district-elected board.

At a time when the Republican takeover of Congress threatens to create gridlock in Washington, there's a real chance that San Francisco's government — often paralyzed by friction between Newsom and the board — could take on an entirely new direction. It's possible that the progressives, long denied the top spot at City Hall, could put a mayor in office who shares their agenda.

This could be a turning point in San Francisco, a chance to put the interests of the neighborhoods, the working class, small businesses, the environmental movement, and economic justice ahead of the demands of downtown and the rich. All the pieces are in place — except one.

To make a progressive vision happen, the fractious (and in some cases, overly ambitious) elected leaders of the progressive movement will have to recognize, just for a little while, that it's not about any individual. It's not about David Chiu, or Ross Mirkarimi, or Chris Daly, or John Avalos, or Eric Mar, or David Campos, or Jane Kim, or Aaron Peskin. It's not about any one person's career or personal power.

It's about a progressive movement and the issues and causes that movement represents. And if the folks with the egos and personal gripes and career designs can't set them aside and do what's best for the movement as a whole, then the opportunity of a generation will be wasted.

Folks: this is a hard thing for politicians to recognize. But right now it's not about you. It's about all of us.

It's an odd time in San Francisco, fraught with political hazards. And it's so confusing that no one — not the elected officials, not the pundits, not the lobbyists, not the insiders — has any clear idea who will occupy Room 200 in January.

Here's the basic scenario, as described by past opinions of the city attorney's office:

Under the state Constitution, Newsom will take office as lieutenant governor Jan. 3, 2011. The City Charter provides that a vacancy in the Mayor's Office is filled by the president of the Board of Supervisors until the board can choose someone to fill the job until the end of the term — in this case, for 11 more months.

So if all goes according to the rules (and Newsom doesn't try to play some legal game and delay his swearing-in), David Chiu will become acting mayor on Jan.3. He'll also retain his job as board president.

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