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.


Lets say, for the sake of argument, that a current supervisor who is running for mayor would prefer not to have to run against an incumbent Mayor, preferring that the seat be open. Do you think you might get six or even seven votes for a progressive caretaker Mayor?

I'd nominate Art Agnos. Certainly no learning curve, no desire for another full term, progressives would have a a lock on the room 200-250 link for a year. If handled well, imagine the possibilities for a Progressive reform agenda......

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

Thanks so much for really digging into this issue.

Posted by Melissa Griffin on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 12:36 am

There's always the chance that the supes will decide to put in a caretaker who would then leave and allow the candidates to run for an open seat. (There's also the possibility that someone would promise to do that, then change his or her mind and file for re-election. So it's a dangerous way to go.)

Art Agnos would have been a good mayor if he hadn't been so arrogant (and had been willing to take on PG&E). He's mellowed a bit, but he still makes me nervous.



Posted by tim on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 11:39 am

It's not too late for a ballot initiative to require a new mayoral election not more than 90 days after the appointment of a caretaker mayor. I believe this should apply to mayoral appointments to supervisory seats as well. Allowing an unelected mayor appointed by district-based supervisors to fill out the term of the current mayor, as if this person were elected themselves, is undemocratic.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

The board of supes, as a whole, has consistently gotten low approval ratings in polls in recent years. So there is widespread concern about having this crew select the next mayor. It's a bit like handing the decision over to Monty Python.

On the other side of the coin, Newsom will turn off many by moving on to Sacramento. He will be walking away from the job of mayor when the city is in the midst of a grave financial crisis. He will leave it to others to fill the vacuum and clean up the messes he has left as part of his spotty overall record.

The upshot will be that Newsom will discredit himself by becoming Lt. Governor, and the supes will discredit themselves by their manner of electing his replacement.

They'll all come out looking like jackasses.

So what else is new?

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

Have a compenent successor lined way in advance so I can resign in a couple months, however long to create a bunch of volunteer staffed departments (guessing volunteer staff makes it easier to pass since no one's getting paid)

1. Dept of Efficiency and Bureaucracy Elimination
2. Dept of Compliance Enforcement (i.e. anti-nepotism) or elimination of illegal laws and practices and ensure everyone's rights are protected and taught.
3. Special Circumstances - handles stuff no one knows whom else should handle
4. Community leader advisory board - so the needs of every community can be seen
5. Sustainability commission

And I'd want to run Special Circumstances, which solves problems - individual, district, or citywide. Fix the MUNI "deficit",, help improve the education system, Build a redundant communications system and district independent power and water handling in case of emergency, help create jobs and training, Build more section 8 housing, and show marijuana is not illegal because the Constitution prohibits passing that type of law (Article I, section 9.3 No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed).

Or to paraphrase one of the founders "Congress shall use common sense; they shall not cause to be a crime that which is not a crime"

I went to pay my business taxes and the city legally owed me about the same for other reasons. I figure that's equal so take what I am due and have it pay my taxes. Why do I have to fill out tons of paperwork get a check weeks later, cash it, write another to the tax dept. When on the books

money City owed me = money I owe City

Posted by fx303 on Feb. 20, 2010 @ 9:59 am

I wouldn't get too excited about the idea of getting a progressive mayor out of this, even temporarily. Look who the Board of Supes elected as president. Instead of a real progressive like Mirkarimi, we get David Chiu, a half progressive, half pro-corporate-type (what is deceptively called "centrist") with no guts to take on the powerful forces that own and run everything. That's about what you can expect if the Board were to vote for a mayor. Maybe slightly better than corporate yuppie Newsom, but certainly not really progressive.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

Anyone filing a claim against the city should note section 11 - describe the method of compensation and consider not burdening the taxpayers but receive compensation from salary cuts from the high officials ultimately responsible for the situation.

I have 3 ADA discrimination claims - $250,000 possible award and that's not a taxpayer burden. 3-5 People will be taking cuts to pay me.

Point is, ultimately the high officials should be motivated by duty and nothing else. By getting those 6 figure incomes down to cost of living plus a bit more spending money maybe only the truly committed people will run.

According to this leadership book, a true leader only engages in personal matters after ALL the group's issues are resolved. Furthermore a real leader will not hesitate to sacrifice for the group welfare.

I could go on, but I do have 3 ADA discrimination claims to file....

Posted by fx303 on Feb. 21, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

If Chiu, Avalos, Campos, Mirkarimi, Daly or Mar were the temporary mayor, the Controller's Office should start researching Chapter 9 bankruptcy immediately. They would love to spend in ways the City can't afford. Then, they would clamor for some "revenue measures" so they could spend just a little more -- maybe by giving the SEIU a raise.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2010 @ 5:56 pm


On October 22, 2003, during his one-day shift as Acting Mayor, while Mayor Willie Brown traveled to Tibet, Daly appointed two members to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission without Brown's consent, having consulted with the City Attorney who had advised him that as acting mayor he had the legal authority to make appointments in Mayor Brown's absence.

Posted by Luke on Jun. 10, 2010 @ 5:09 pm