The progressives on the Board of Supervisors are a long way from united on a possible mayoral candidate, and if they can't come together, the person who finishes Gavin Newsom's term will be a compromise candidate, either a short-term caretaker (not the greatest option) or someone who's more in the moderate camp but a candidate the left can work with — for 2011 and possibly four years after that.
We're glad to see the proposal by Sup. John Avalos to begin the mayoral selection process early. Picking a mayor in a mad scramble on the day Newsom steps down is a recipe for chaos — and potentially a bad outcome. And as the process begins, the last thing the city needs is a mayor chosen through a backroom deal.
But it's entirely appropriate for progressive board members to set some standards and to ask the people who are angling for the job to make clear exactly what their positions would be on key policy issues.
In other words, anyone who wants to be the interim mayor — and possibly mayor for the next five years or longer — should have to answer, directly and without hedging, question like these:
How much new revenue does San Francisco need to solve its budget problems, and where, specifically, should it come from? This is the central issue facing the city, now and for the indefinite future. San Francisco's budget has a structural deficit of at least $250 million, and it simply can't be closed by cuts alone. What taxes will you pledge to support — and put political capital and fundraising clout behind when they go on the ballot?
What specific programs ought to be cut? Everyone likes to talk about the city living within its means, but that ends up leading to a series of death-by-1,000-cuts decisions that year after year devastate services to the poor. Don't tell us you need to look at budget figures and work it out later; the big-ticket items are no secret. What's on the chopping block — and what isn't?
Will you work to promote public power? How will you expedite community choice aggregation, and will you support a ballot measure to replace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. with a full-scale municipal electric utility?
What are your law enforcement priorities? If money's tight, should the San Francisco police be hassling nightclubs, or should more resources go into the homicide division? How important are foot patrols, and which neighborhoods should get them? Will the SFPD and juvenile authorities continue to turn young people over to federal immigration authorities?
Who should pay to fix Muni? Should the burden of paying for the transit system fall primarily on the riders (through fare increases and reduced services) or should big downtown businesses and retailers (the major beneficiaries of the system) pay more? Should car owners pay higher fees (including parking fees and congestion management fees) to subsidize transit? Which specific fees would you be willing to push for?
Who should the city build housing for? Right now, much of the new housing stock is aimed at the very rich — and San Francisco is turning into a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. Would you set housing policy to conform with the city's General Plan assertion that more than half of all new housing should be below market rate? How would you make that balance happen? Should the city spend a significant amount of money for affordable housing, and who should pay for it?
Do you agree that public sector jobs are as important as private sector jobs in San Francisco? Would you support the tax plan proposed by Sup. David Chiu?
Do you support giving the supervisors appointments to all major commissions?
Do you think the city should be doing more to stop TICs and condo conversions and to preserve existing rental housing?
That's just the beginning of a long list of questions — but the progressives and other supervisors on the board should make sure they have answers before agreeing to support anyone, as a caretaker or interim mayor.