The mayor's race: beyond compromise

The candidates, particularly those who want progressive and neighborhood support, need to start taking positions

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EDITORIAL The race for mayor is now fully underway, with eight candidates declared — and at least four are fighting for the progressive vote. It's a remarkably open field — and the fact that there's no clear frontrunner, no candidate whose money is dominating the election, no Willie Brown or Gavin Newsom, is the result of two critical progressive reforms: public financing and ranked-choice voting.

In fact, those two measures — promoted by the progressive, district-elected supervisors — have transformed the electoral process in San Francisco and undermined, if only somewhat, downtown's control.

As Steven T. Jones points out in this week's issue, the leading candidates are all sounding similar, vague themes. They all say the city can work better when we all work together. That's a nice platitude, but it reminds us too much of President Obama's promise to seek bipartisan consensus, and it's likely to lead to the same result.

On the big issues, the Republicans don't want to work with the president, and big downtown businesses, developers, and landlords don't want to work with the progressives. In the end, on some key issues, there's going to be a battle, and candidates for mayor need to let us know, soon, which side they're going to be on.

Sup. David Chiu, who entered the race Feb. 28, may have the hardest job: he actually has to help balance the city budget. As board president, he'll be involved in the negotiations with the Mayor's Office and the final product will almost certainly carry his imprimatur. It's unlikely the progressives on the board will agree with the mayor on cuts; it's much more likely that some will seek revenue enhancements as an alternative. Whatever Chiu does, he'll be on the record with a visible statement of his budget priorities.

We'd like to hear those priorities now, instead of waiting until June. But either way, the remaining candidates, particularly those who want progressive and neighborhood support, need to start taking positions, now. What in the city budget should be cut? What new revenue should be part of the solution? What, specifically, do you support in terms of pension reform? How would you, as mayor, deal with the budget crisis?

Every major candidate in the race has enough familiarity with city finance to answer those questions. None should be allowed to duck or resort to empty rhetoric about everyone working together.

The same goes for community choice aggregation and public power. There is no consensus here, and will never be. Either you're for public power and against Pacific Gas and Electric Co., or you're opposed, weak, or ducking — all of which put you in PG&E's camp.

There are many more issues (condo conversions, tax breaks for big corporations, housing development, help for small business, etc.) on which there has never been, and likely never will be, agreement. The people who make money building new condos will never accept a law mandating that 50 percent of all new housing be affordable (although the city's own Master Plan sets that as a goal). The landlords will never accept more limits on evictions and condo conversions.

We're all for working together and seeking shared solutions, but the next mayor needs to be able to go beyond that. When the powerful interests refuse to bend, are you ready to fight them?

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