By Paul Elias
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) — The November election results have touched off intense political jockeying in San Francisco over who will become mayor, setting the stage for the possibility of the city being led for the first time by an Asian American or openly gay man.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is leaving his post early after winning election last week to serve as California’s next lieutenant governor. Newsom’s victory cut short his second term and opened a vacancy for an interim mayor — and an opportunity for someone to seek a full term next November.
The list of potential candidates includes openly gay politicians Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno, policy experts such as San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Chief Ed Harrington, and political war horses such as former Mayor Willie Brown, though he denies any interest. Board President David Chiu, a Chinese American who represents Chinatown, will automatically become interim mayor if Newsom resigns before Jan. 8 and the board does not choose a successor. Chiu would become the city’s first Asian American mayor.
And stars on the World Series champion San Francisco Giants baseball team have also been mentioned — though in jest.
The next mayor will have to deal with a massive budget deficit and the effects of the recession while shepherding the city’s bid to host the lucrative America’s Cup sailing contest.
The new mayor will also serve as the face of a city in the habit of grabbing the nation’s attention.
Newsom touched off the gay marriage debate in California when he defied state law and opened City Hall to same-sex marriages two days before Valentine’s Day in February 2004. He now finds himself in the middle of a debate over whether toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals should be banned in the city in an effort to promote better children’s nutrition.
The Board of Supervisors, a diverse group of 11 politicians elected from their respective neighborhoods, have the task of appointing an interim mayor to serve until the November 2011 election.
If Newsom resigns after Jan. 8, a newly constituted board with four newly-elected supervisors will end up picking the interim mayor.
On Tuesday, the board will consider two competing proposals to formally launch the selection process.
“I want a smooth transition,” said budget committee chairman John Avalos, who believes a new mayor is needed soon to help address a projected $450 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.
So far, the only thing the current board seems to agree on is that no willing candidate has emerged who can garner the necessary six votes on the 11-member body.
The impending mayoral vacancy has even splintered the so-called political progressives who comprise a usually reliable majority voting bloc.
“The knives are out at City Hall,” said Supervisor Chris Daly, a self-identifying progressive.
“The knives are out within the progressive camp.”
Daly and other supervisors said Ammiano, who launched a surprisingly strong write-in mayoral campaign that forced incumbent Willie Brown to a runoff election for mayor in 1999, is the one politician who could muster six votes.
But the openly gay Democratic lawmaker and member of the state Assembly has so far refused entreaties to leave his secure post in Sacramento to assume a job that goes before the voters in less than a year.
Leno, another openly gay politician, has also been mentioned as an interim selection.
The names of three current supervisors and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have also have been floated as candidates.
State Sen. Leland Yee, who won re-election to Sacramento with nearly 80 percent of the vote, announced on Wednesday of his intention to campaign for the full-term mayoral job on the ballot next November. He declined to say during a brief press conference at City Hall if he would accept the interim appointment.
The day after his election victory, Newsom floated his own proposal at a celebration before tens of thousands of Giants fans at a World Series victory celebration in front of City Hall.
Newsom joked about appointing Giants pitcher Brian Wilson to the vacancy. Wilson’s beard, personality, and postseason performance have made him extremely popular in San Francisco.
“This town is going to need another mayor soon,” Newsom said. “I have just three words: ‘Fear the beard.’ ”
Wilson’s response later to the cheering crowd — “I don’t think I’m up for that job” — drew a gasp of mock disappointment. ♦