The "Newsom wins" merry-go-round: What fun

Round and round we spin

Gavin Newsom still hasn’t said for sure that he’s in the race for lt. governor, although just about everyone in town now thinks he's going for it.

But the very prospect of the mayor leaving office before his term is up has the political classes speculating: Who gets that job? And how does it happen?

It’s actually pretty interesting.

Under the City Charter, the president of the Board of Supervisors becomes acting mayor in the event that the mayor leaves office before the end of his or her term. Then the supervisors, by a six-vote majority, can appoint someone else to the job.

Melissa Griffin lays out one piece of the scenario, which is that the board could appoint a new mayor in advance, without anyone serving as acting mayor.

But there’s much more to the story.

According to a fascinating city attorney’s opinion issued in 1978 (PDF), when George Moscone and Harvey Milk were killed and Dianne Feinstein was board president, no supervisor is allowed to vote on his or her own appointment. Which would mean that if, say, Board President David Chiu wanted the job, he’d need six votes not including his own.

Now the plot thickens. Suppose nobody can round up six votes -- that is, a majority of the supervisors can’t agree on a new mayor? Well, Chiu, as board president, would be acting mayor -- potentially for the entire duration of Newsom’s term, roughly a year. He’d also remain as board president. It’s the same as if the mayor goes out of the state and names an acting mayor in his place; that person is still a supervisor. So Chiu would have all the powers of both the mayor and the board president -- and immense amout of clout for one person at City Hall.

But wait, there’s more: Chiu is board president only until the board elected in November of this year takes office, which would be about five days after Newsom would become lite guv. So unless the current board can choose a new mayor, with six votes (not including the vote of any supervisor being nominated), the new board would elect a new board president -- who would instantly become acting mayor at the same time.

And since supervisors are allowed to vote for themselves for board president, any member would be allowed to vote for him- or herself for acting mayor.

Confused yet? Clearly, the folks who wrote the City Charter never actually envisioned this scenario (or didn’t think about it very much).

Of course, what that means that with the current board split the way it is, with exactly six solid progressive votes, someone who isn’t currently on the board (say, Aaron Peskin -- or Tom Ammiano, or Mark Leno, or whoever) would have a better chance of getting a majority than a current member, who would need at least one of the moderate bloc votes.

And if Newsom runs, it will make the fall supervisorial elections even more important, because potentially those newly elected supes will be choosing not only a board president but a mayor.

Here’s another fun twist: If District Attorney Kamala Harris is elected attorney general, the mayor gets to appoint a new D.A. But suppose Newsom also wins and is sworn in a few minutes before Harris. Presumably acting mayor David Chiu (a former prosecutor who rumor has it might like to be D.A. himself someday) would choose the new D.A. -- and suppose Chiu knows he doesn’t have six votes to be mayor. There’s no reason why he couldn’t appoint himself D.A., leaving a vacancy on the board and a vacancy for board president, which would be filled by anyone who could get six votes, who would then be acting mayor and could appoint a new supervisor to Chiu’s seat. Who could then be the deciding vote on who gets to be mayor.

Whoa. I can’t wait. Run, Gavin, Run.