The process begins

After battling over procedures, the Board of Supervisors is ready to select a new mayor

The door to the mayor's office is flanked by busts of assassinated Mayor George Moscone and his successor, Dianne Feinstein

The Board of Supervisors has unanimously adopted a set of procedures for choosing a new mayor to replace Gavin Newsom when he becomes California's lieutenant governor on Jan. 3. The board is scheduled to formally begin the mayoral selection process Dec. 7 with a discussion of what people want in a new mayor and perhaps even the first votes on nominees for the office.

If the process of approving a process was any indicator, choosing a new mayor won't be easy. Just sorting out how supervisors will vote on nominees, which the board spent hours doing Nov. 23, illustrated the complex political dynamics and potential for parliamentary gamesmanship at play on a body with a deep ideological divide.

Progressives are on the dominant side of that divide, with Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi sticking together on a pair of 6-5 procedural votes that sought to dilute their voting power, an effort led by Sup. Sean Elsbernd and supported by his moderate colleagues.

Both sides accused the other of playing games with this all-important process, but the greatest complicating factor seems to be the California Political Reform Act and related conflict-of-interests case law. Because the mayor is paid more than supervisors, board members are barred from doing anything to influence the process to become the new mayor.

That means they can't publicly voice a desire to become mayor or lobby colleagues for votes. And once supervisors have been nominated to be mayor and they accept that nomination, they must immediately leave the room and be sequestered incommunicado until they decide to withdraw their nominations and participate in the process, after which they may not be renominated.

But the newly adopted details of exactly how that process plays out — including when the vote is called on each nominee, how it is taken, and in what order — will determine if any nominees can get the six votes they need to serve as mayor for the final year of Newsom's term.

If the current board can't do it, then the newly elected board — which has an ideological breakdown similar to the current board, but with slightly different personal relationships and alliances — will take up the matter when it is sworn in on Jan. 11. And that board's challenge won't be any easier.

Board of Supervisors Clerk Angela Calvillo and the Santa Clara County Counsel's Office (legal counsel in the matter after our own City Attorney's Office recused itself, largely because City Attorney Dennis Herrera wants to be mayor) proposed procedures whereby all nominees leave the room while the remaining supervisors vote.

But as Daly noted, clearing several supervisors from the room would make it unlikely that those remaining could come up with six votes for anyone. He also said the system would deny too many San Franciscans of a representative in this important decision and allow sabotage by just a few moderate supervisors, who could vote with a majority of supervisors present to adjourn the meeting in order to push the decision back to the next board.

"The process before us is flawed," Daly said.

So Daly sought to have the board vote on every nomination as it comes up, but Elsbernd argued that under Robert's Rules of Order, nominations don't automatically close like that and to modify a board rule that contradicts Robert's Rules requires a supermajority of eight votes. Calvillo, who serves as the parliamentarian, agreed with that interpretation and Chiu (who serves as chair and is the final word on such questions) ruled that a supermajority was required.