The November election will mark the end of a profound political era in San Francisco that a decade ago gave rise to an insurgent group of newcomers that loosened then-Mayor Willie Brown’s powerful grip at City Hall and tilted the legislative branch significantly toward the left.
With the impending departure of Supervisors Chris Daly and Sophie Maxwell, the last two members of the Class of 2000 to be termed out of office, a new era will be ushered in. Five of the board’s 11 seats are on the fall ballot and the campaigns will kick into high gear after Labor Day.
Only one incumbent, District Four Supervisor Carmen Chu, a political moderate who represents the homeowner-heavy Sunset District, is running - and she is unopposed.
In each of the four other races, voters will have a choice of candidates. This being San Francisco, the winners probably will be liberal Democrats who either sit squarely on the left or closer to the center.
"The differences are based on differences that might muddle outsiders," said Alex Clemens, a former supervisor’s aide who now runs a lobbying and public relations firm. "In San Francisco, we fight about what mental health programs to fund, not whether we should fund them."
The races in Districts Two, Six, Eight and 10 are hotly contested, with 46 candidates in all. Nearly half are competing in Maxwell’s District 10, the city’s southeast sector and home to the proposed redevelopment of the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, one of the largest building projects in San Francisco in decades.
"The stakes are clearly very high," said Corey Cook, a political scientist at the University of San Francisco who keeps a close watch on city politics. "The question becomes to what extent does it mark an end of the progressive movement started by the Class of 2000 or a deepening of it?"
The policy implications, Cook said, will center around development (what gets built, where and for whom) and the budget (to what extent does the deficit-plagued city raise revenue or cut costs to balance the books).
The ascension of a left-leaning Board of Supervisors majority with the Class of 2000 was cemented in 2008 with the election of John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi four years prior to that. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, elected in 2008, is trying to position himself as a bridge between the moderate and liberal factions.
With the impending exit of termed-out moderate Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Michela Alioto-Pier, only Chu and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd will remain on the board as known counterbalances to the dominant left.
For moderates, having four seats on the board instead of two can be significant: four votes sustains a mayoral veto, a tool Mayor Gavin Newsom, a San Francisco-style centrist, has used 23 times, with all but a handful upheld.
Perhaps the biggest unanswered question of the election season in San Francisco is what happens if Newsom wins his race for lieutenant governor and leaves the mayor’s job a year early. Under City Charter rules, the Board of Supervisors - not voters - would pick a replacement to fill out the remainder of his term.
The board president automatically would serve as interim mayor until or if the board selects someone else - from inside or outside of City Hall. At least six votes are needed and a supervisor cannot vote for him or herself. Under that scenario, it’s possible that the new board, which takes office in January, would choose the fill-in mayor.
"That would be the most exciting election that none of us would get to participate in," Clemens said. "It would overshadow everything else."
That’s what makes the upcoming supervisors’ races potentially so important, say seasoned political players and observers in San Francisco who are busy mapping out various scenarios. Liberal factions are eager to gain control of the legislative and executive branches to improve chances of pushing through an agenda of progressive economic, environmental and social justice policies; moderates don’t want to see the tug-of-war between the past two mayors and the more liberal Board of Supervisors go away.
"This could determine the tenor of our city’s policies and politics for the next decade," said Ken Cleaveland, government affairs director for the business-backed Building Owners and Managers Association in San Francisco. "People should pay attention."