So much for civility

Mayor's race gets interesting as barbs fly


The San Francisco mayor's race went from a lackluster affair to a dynamic match as the Aug. 12 filing deadline drew near and two prominent city officials who had previously said they wouldn't run tossed their hats into the ring.

Mayor Ed Lee's Aug. 8 announcement that he'd seek a full term prompted several of his opponents to use their time onstage at candidate forums to decry his reversal and question his ties to the moneyed, influential backers who openly urged him to run. Several days later, Public Defender Jeff Adachi's last-minute decision to run for mayor signaled more tension yet to come in the debates.

At this point, eight current city officials are running campaigns for higher office, and the dialogue is beginning to take on a tone that is distinctly more biting than civil. Adachi, who had not yet debated onstage with his opponents by press time, told reporters he was running because he wanted "to make sure there's a voice in there that's talking about the fiscal realities of the city."

Adachi authored a pension reform ballot measure that rivals the package crafted by Lee, labor unions, and business interests (see "Awaiting consensus," May 31, 2011). At an Aug. 11 candidate forum hosted by the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the San Francisco Young Democrats, and the City Democratic Club, all of the top-tier candidates who were present indicated that they would support Lee's pension reform measure and not Adachi's.

"The reforms that I have championed are reforms that are absolutely needed, along with action," Adachi told reporters moments after making his candidacy official. He added that after watching the mayoral debates, "I became convinced that either the candidates don't get it, or they don't want to get it."

Those fighting words will likely spur heated exchanges in the months to come, but until Adachi's entrance into the race, it was Lee who took the most lumps from opponents. Even Board President David Chiu, a mayoral candidate whose campaign platform is centered on the idea that he's helped restore civility to local government, had some harsh words for Lee during an Aug. 11 mayoral debate.

"I do regret my decision to take Ed Lee at his word when he said he would not run," Chiu said in response to a question about whether he regretted any of his votes. He also said his first interaction with Lee after the mayor had announced his candidacy was "a little like meeting an ex-girlfriend after a breakup."

Lee, whose pitch on the campaign trail features a remarkably similar narrative about transcending political squabbling in City Hall, became the target of boos, hisses, and noisemaker blasts when a boisterous crowd packed the Castro Theater for an Aug. 8 candidate forum. He received one of the most forceful rebukes from Sen. Leland Yee, an opponent whom Lee supporters are especially focused on defeating.

"Had the mayor said that he would in fact run, he may not have gotten the votes for interim mayor," Yee said. "Will you resign from your post," he asked, challenging Lee, "in order to then run for mayor?" Days later, Yee had developed a new mantra about throwing power brokers out of City Hall instead of "wining and dining with them."

Yet Lee said his decision to enter the race wasn't because of the push from his backers, but because of how well things have gone during his brief tenure in Room 200. "Things have changed at City Hall, particularly in the last seven months," he told reporters Aug. 8. "And because of that change, I changed my mind."