Assessing the mayoral candidates -- the squishy center and all
The candidates for mayor of San Francisco are already lining up endorsements — the Sierra Club held its interviews April 23, which seems awfully early to me, since some of the most interesting contenders in this town (Tom Ammiano, Matt Gonzalez) have a tendency to jump in at the last minute. And the filing deadline isn't until August.
But the sooner the big names and organizations are lined up and the money is locked in, the harder it will be for anyone to pull off an August surprise. So unless the redistricting commission seriously messes with Mark Leno's state Senate seat or Ed Lee bows to the pressure from Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and their allies and decides to go back on his promise and seek a full term, we're probably looking at a rough approximation of what the voters will face in November.
With John Avalos in the race, the ballot's become a lot more attractive to progressives. It's not as if the other major candidates don't have a lot to offer, and in some cases, they have a lot to offer to the left. There are smart, experienced, qualified people running.
But let's be honest here: David Chiu, Dennis Herrera, Phil Ting, Leland Yee, and Bevan Dufty all operate somewhere in the squishy political center, a place where tax breaks for corporations are okay, where "homeownership opportunities" tend to trump the needs of tenants, where deals with big private developers are sculpted around the edges but never rejected outright, and where cuts in services are a larger part of the budget solution than taxes on the rich.
Michela Alioto-Pier is off on the far right of the San Francisco political world, and if she looks at all credible and gets any significant traction (and that's a big if) she'll be downtown's favorite candidate. But until now, there was nobody holding the solid progressive banner.
I don't think that means Avalos' appeal is limited to the left; he's in a swing district, and he's very popular there, and he can talk about small business and community development and open, honest government. He doesn't sound like a crazy radical; he's polite and respectful and listens to people.
But I'm glad we have a candidate who won't try to argue that 25 percent affordable housing at Treasure Island is something to be proud of, or that the Twitter tax break will create jobs, or that social inequality can't be addressed through local policy. I'm glad there's someone who can push the discussion and debate out of the middle, can force some of the others who want progressive support to take strong stands, and can liven things up a bit. Because without him, all of the candidates were sounding a lot alike — and I really don't want to be bored this fall.