It’s not any big surprise that Gavin Newsom is officially running for lieutenant governor; we all knew that was in the cards. Newsom’s downtown allies don’t want him running, because he might win -- which would mean a vacancy in the mayor’s office. But it’s really all about Newsom, and he doesn’t want to be termed out with nowhere to go.
In many ways, this race will showcase the future leadership of California Democrats. The winner of the primary will go on to defeat Abel Maldonado and will be a top contender to be the next governor, whether they succeed Jerry Brown or (god forbid) Meg Whitman. It's to the benefit of Democrats and progressives that this race be issue-oriented, and free of the unfortunate personal attacks that would undermine all the candidates involved.
And Newsom loves the idea of being showcased as the future leader of California Democrats.
Newsom got a big bounce the moment he announced, when state Sen. Dean Florez, one of two other Democratic candidates for the office, dropped out and endorsed Newsom.
That leaves just Newsom and Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles City Council member who’s got an aggressive campaign (featuring Garry South, the asshole political consultant who used to work for Newsom).
Newsom starts off with a major lead; all the money he spent campaigning for governor gave him significant name recognition, and in a Democratic primary for a low-profile office, that makes a lot of difference. And his likely opponent in November is Abel Maldonado, a not-terribly-appealing Republican.
So the talk in San Francisco is all about who becomes the next mayor if Newsom wins -- and already, the Newsom strategists are trying to figure out how to prevent the progressive district-elected board from appointing his replacement. The latest strategy: A Charter amendment establishing that a vacancy in the Mayor’s Office has to be filled in a special election.
Hard to argue against that -- except that the special election would be in the spring of 2011, and the general election would be that fall, meaning two expensive elections (one of them guaranteed to have low turnout) in the course of 11 months.
There’s no way Newsom’s getting six votes on this board for his idea, which means he’s going to have to raise the money to gather 47,000 signatures. And if he does, the supervisors ought to respond with their own Charter amendment -- establishing that vacancies on the Board of Supervisors (now filled by a mayoral appointment) also require a special election. That’s only fair.
And while Newsom and his allies talk about how unfair it is to have district supervisors, some of whom were elected with as few as 10,000 votes, decide on the next mayor, it’s worth thinking through what a special election for mayor would look like. For starters, a lot of people would probably run -- and the results would be utterly unpredictable. Suppose everyone who really wants to be mayor jumped in: Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi, Bevan Dufty, maybe Michela Alioto-Pier, maybe Sean Elsbernd, maybe even Mark Leno ... and the turnout will be ultra-low, and, well, the next mayor’s going to be elected with a remarkably small number of votes.
Assume a turnout of 100,000 -- high for a special election. And assume seven candidates (there would probably be a lot more). That means the winner would be unlikely to have more than 20,000 first-place votes.
If it’s a ranked-choice voting situation, any of the above could pull it off. If it’s a simple plurality, hey: someone like Chris Daly, who has a small but highly devoted constituency, would have as good a chance as anyone.
The bottom line is that a special election doesn’t guarantee anything -- in fact, it could turn out to be downtown’s worst nightmare.
Here’s the letter Newsom sent to potential supporters:
I didn’t come to this decision easily, but, after a great deal of consultation with my family, constituents and supporters, I believe that the best way for me to serve is by taking all of the many things that are right about California and applying them to fixing what's wrong in Sacramento.
The issues I fought for when I ran for Governor last year haven’t changed: our state still faces a massive budget crisis, painful unemployment, and rising student fees that threaten the stability and accessibility of our University system. Too many Californians lack access to quality health care and too many schools are overcrowded and underfunded.
But, despite our challenges, I will always believe in California – the dynamism of its past and the promise of its future. I’m also convinced that those of us who love this state have both an obligation and the capacity now to reform it and make it better. To do that, we need to embrace a new way of doing things in Sacramento and we need new leaders who are willing to stand up and change state government.
I’m proud that I have the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate President Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, United Farm Workers co-founder Delores Huerta and California Nurses and teachers and I hope I can count on your support too.
And here’s some of the press coverage:
LA Times on Newsom run, including information on early fundraising.
Calitics on Florez's exit from the race, including text of Florez
message and press release.
LA Times blog on awkward Newsom-Brown pairing.