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    The Showdown Before the Showdown in Race for SF Mayor

    By Andrea Shorter–

    We’ve now bid adieu and good riddance to 2017. The shock and aftershocks of President “My Nuclear Button is Bigger than Yours” Trump’s first year in the White House, the increasingly undeniable evidence of climate change ravages upon Puerto Rico and Texas, a new wave of feminism initially spurred on by Hillary Clinton’s failed bid to become the first female POTUS as expressed through the Women’s March, culminated in the torrent of #MeToo uproarious outcries over the sexual harassment and assault allegations against the epidemic perpetrations by movie moguls, award-winning actors and elected officials. We stumble into the New Year’s political realm with little promise or relief that it will be any less anxiety ridden than the last.

    Cliffhanger fates of DACA, the Democratic Party’s blue dog crawl towards dominating the November Primaries, the outcomes of the deepening Mueller investigations, and the supremely serious rally of tweet by tweet threats and insults hurled between the diminished leader of the free world and North Korea’s demented despot Kim Jong-un make for dizzying high-stakes poker gambits sliding rapidly into brutal brawls of greasy, grimy street craps. Dices are loaded, bets are placed, and all players and onlookers hold their breaths at the tumbling roll.

    Calmer waters have yet to reach San Francisco’s political shores in the aftermath of the unexpected death of Mayor Edwin Lee. With a City still awash in shock, trauma quickly gave way to the queasiness of political machinations and maneuvering to secure the chief executive office. As the country remains roiled in the broad political polarity between parties and factions of those parties, San Francisco’s polarization between the so-called progressive and moderate camps of its one horse, one party town is in heightened anticipation of an accelerated race for mayor.

    The earliest declared candidate, former State Senator Mark Leno, remains the premiere frontrunner and best hope to become San Francisco’s first openly LGBTQ Mayor. There is no other state legislator that has done more to uplift and protect LGBT rights than Leno. Having started his campaign in early 2017 to fortify his competitive edge for the top spot in the previously scheduled first race in 2019, Leno has adeptly fundraised a $400,000 war chest, worked to build coalitions of support, and sought to make himself and his record of prolific and meaningful legislative achievements known to as wide a swath of voters—young and not-so-young—as possible. With a faithful base of LGBT voters, Leno’s rooted popularity extends into diverse communities of color, labor, and small business owners. According to a recent poll of registered voters, Leno leads the pack with 26 percent of voters and is favored as the first-place choice in ranked-choice voting on the 5-month sprint to the June ballot.

    Acting Mayor London Breed, who is also President of the Board of Supervisors, polled a close second to Leno with 20 percent as a first-place choice. This is an impressive showing for a lesser known district supervisor whose profile has been rocketed into higher orbit by consequence of her succession as Acting Mayor. She is largely and increasingly known for her remarkable ascendance from the public housing projects. She was raised by a devoted grandmother, has an older brother in prison and had a younger sister who succumbed to substance abuse in 2006.

    Breed rose up to eventually become the elected District 5 Supervisor, representing the Fillmore/Western Addition, Hayes Valley, Lower Haight, Haight-Ashbury, Japantown, Alamo Square, North of Panhandle, Cole Valley, and Inner Sunset neighborhoods. She was also twice unanimously elected President of the Board of Supervisors by her colleagues, both moderate and progressive. Brash, bold, shrewd, and courageous, she is a much-celebrated figure among her peers and others. A born and bred native of the streets and corridors of power of San Francisco, she is proving to be a definitively capable leader in executing the duties as Acting Mayor of San Francisco.

    The June race, at least so far, appears to be moving towards a showdown between Leno and Breed, who declared her candidacy last Friday. A long-speculated contender for the top spot, her perceived advantage as Acting Mayor has set into motion a series of proposals by the progressive block to short-circuit her status as Acting Mayor. The City’s Charter is quite clear about the order of succession in the event of the absence, unavailability, and untimely death of the sitting Mayor, whereby the Board President is sworn in to assume those powers. It is also clear that the Board of Supervisors can vote to determine the stay or ouster of the Acting Mayor.

    Attempts to end Breed’s status as Acting Mayor to “level the playing field” in the event that she seeks to run for Mayor have raised eyebrows, hackles, and holy hell from various quarters of the City. The idea of appointing a “caretaker” Mayor—similar to the late Mayor Lee’s brokered appointment following then Supervisor Newsom’s departure to become Lt. Governor—was met with a large dose of suspicion, upset, and resistance.

    A coalition of women leaders, African American leaders and others have pointedly expressed their objections to any effort to remove the City’s first African American woman as the Acting Mayor, seeing such a move as not only offensive on the account of an historic first, but also manipulative of the Charter dictates in terms of succession. Concerned leaders who already endorsed Leno, others who haven’t yet endorsed anyone, and still others who have no intention of endorsing anyone voiced their opposition to any such motion or complicity to it through opinion editorials, rallies, and contacts with their Supervisors.

    The proviso of Ed Lee’s appointment as “caretaker” Mayor was his promise not to run for Mayor. After ten months in the seat, he did seek election as Mayor, much to the suspicion, upset, and resistance of those among the progressive ranks, who have cried foul for nearly 30 years for not having a progressive Mayor since Art Agnos. In fact, Art Agnos has been proposed by them to replace Breed. Reportedly, a reluctant former Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., polled as the top choice for any such caretaker role.

    With Breed now officially in the running, we will now see what the Board of Supervisors brokers and decides in terms of an interim Mayor. Breed, upon her announcement, indicates that she is amenable to the Board’s decision. As it stands at this writing, Breed as Acting Mayor still maintains her duties as District 5 Supervisor and Board President. Now, as a candidate, managing these exceptionally demanding multiple charges could prove quite the challenge.

    Evident machinations towards consolidating a progressive majority on the Board could result in a vote to maintain Breed in the interim role, while forcing her relief of her dual role as District 5 Supervisor, and replacing her with a progressive. Should she relinquish to a caretaker and retain her District 5 seat and Board Presidency, in the event she is not the elected successor to Room 200, her losses are minimized for not having also given up her District 5 post.

    The first, last and only woman to serve as Mayor is now senior-ranked U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who upon the tragic assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, as President of the Board of Supervisors, assumed by Charter the role as Acting Mayor. Dianne Feinstein remains the only woman ever to serve as Mayor of San Francisco. The circumstances of Breed’s assumption of this role following Mayor Lee’s untimely passing have not gone unnoticed, because the only times a woman has served as Mayor of San Francisco have occurred after the deaths of sitting Mayors.

    The showdown before the showdown in the race to Room 200 is setting the stage for what is yet to come in the coming five months. With San Francisco’s much heralded value for diversity, the opportunity to finally elect any of a number of historic firsts—such as an openly gay man, or an African American woman, after a long succession of an overwhelming majority succession of white cisgender straight males and a singular female—is all too delectable. For either better or worse of identity politics of gender, sexual orientation and race are seemingly, and perhaps unavoidably, already shaping the narratives surrounding this accelerated race.

    As far as “leveling the playing field” to curtail any perceived advantage this historic first of an Acting Mayor might have, one would hope that no matter the results of the Board’s action, the strength of record, ideas, experience, and vision of any truly formidable candidate would prove competitive enough to prevail without tactics or notions having little to nothing to do with “leveling the playing field” so much as simply heading off the pass against another potentially formidable and viable candidate—who happens to be a woman, African American, and a native San Franciscan from the projects.

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.