SF mayoral analysis in the NY Times misses the mark

The New York Times/Bay Citizen got their analysis half right by naming Aaron Peskin as a frontrunner to become mayor.

I have praised Bay Citizen's early work and I think Gerry Shih is a smart young reporter, but I think their analysis of who will be San Francisco's next mayor – which ran in today's New York Times – was off the mark and shows they don't yet have a good grasp of this city's political dynamics. And a big reason for that is – just like the Examiner and the Chronicle – they relied too much on downtown players who consistently misread those dynamics, at least in recent years.

The one thing it got right was naming Aaron Peskin as one of the frontrunners to succeed Newsom if he is elected lieutenant governor. Peskin is really the only politico in town he has been putting big plays together these days, whether it be keeping Democratic Party leadership in progressive hands or defeating the 555 Washington project. So he might be the only one who can count to six with this current progressive-dominated board.

But nobody really thinks David Chiu is a frontrunner, despite Shih's claim. Chiu has been a pretty good board president, but remember that he was elected as a compromise candidate (with lots of help from Peskin) after the then-frontrunners, Ross Mirkarimi and Bevan Dufty, couldn't put the votes together. And since then, he has disappointed his progressive colleagues on several votes, making them unlikely to support him for mayor.

Besides, it will be difficult for any supervisor to get six votes when they can't vote for themselves, which also makes me scoff at Shih's contention that John Avalos and David Campos are running for mayor (two supervisors who are close to the Guardian and have never indicated to us that they're running, even when we've asked, although they might each eventually become mayors). Ross Mirkarimi is more likely and wants the job, but would have a tough time getting a board majority to give is to him.

Shih told the Guardian that he's been getting lots of critical feedback on his article today, and while he said Chiu and Peskin are names that kept coming up in his interviews, Shih admits that the attractive narrative of the protege challenging his mentor perhaps skewed the final analysis: “The relationship between those two guys ended up getting played up in the story.”

The article makes several other mistakes as well (and not just the obvious factual errors, like getting the mayoral election year wrong, as well as the year Feinstein left office, both of which have since been corrected online). It left City Attorney Dennis Herrera's name out entirely, despite the fact that he's already declared his intention to run for mayor and could certainly be a compromise candidate. Public Defender Jeff Adachi also wasn't mentioned, even though he has a better chance than half the people on Shiu's list, such as Willie Brown or Ed Harrington, who downtown may like but progressives really don't.

Two strong possibilities for mayor – Mark Leno and Leland Yee – were given only passing mention in the article even though they are far more likely choices than Chiu. Both Leno and Yee have aggressively worked both the centrist and progressive sides of the aisle and are in great positions to run for mayor or be appointed by the board.

The hopes for a Chinese-American mayor that Shih placed with Chiu are probably better placed with Yee, who has worked with Rose Pak and other business interests while also having a history of endorsing progressive candidates, which he'll be able to call in when he runs (and yes, unlike other candidates on Shih's list, Yee has actually declared his intention to run).

Similarly, Leno has good relations with progressives on the board, which will be tested a bit this fall as he campaigns for moderate supervisorial candidate Scott Wiener and navigates the wedge issue minefield, but it's easy to see how with the right outcomes this fall and key deals cut, Leno could emerge as the frontrunner.

The dynamics of this thing are incredibly complicated, but if I was in Shih's shoes and was asked to name the two frontrunners, I'd probably say Peskin and Leno, with Yee a close third and Herrera as an outside possibility. Or it could be none of them if nobody can count to six and the option of a caretaker mayor who agrees not to run later (such as an Art Agnos) seems like the only way forward.

As politicos Alex Clemens and David Latterman said in their post-election analysis on June 10, this is very complicated and will be the subject of many deals by experienced insiders (of which Chiu really isn't one just yet). “Everyone is gaming this thing out and trying to figure out what happens,” Clemens said.

But there is one scenario in which I could see Chiu figuring prominently, and that's in what happens if both Newsom and Kamala Harris win their respective state races. Chiu has expressed a desire to be District Attorney, a chance that he might get if he can help play kingmaker with whoever becomes our next mayor.

So perhaps that qualifies him as a frontrunner of sorts after all.