S.F. interim mayor pick starts with push of button
San Francisco Chronicle November 29, 2010
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Picking San Francisco’s next mayor will have an element familiar to viewers of the game show Jeopardy, where the contestant who can reach the buzzer the fastest gets first crack at answering the question.
The first supervisor to push a button to get his or her name on the electronic roster to speak can make the first nomination to replace Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is leaving to become lieutenant governor. That nomination will be the first one voted on once all the suggestions are made. The first nominee to receive six votes on the 11-member board once Newsom leaves office will officially get to use the title "Mayor."
The order of subsequent nominations and votes may be strategically inconsequential, especially in the beginning when the likelihood of anyone having enough votes to secure the mayor’s job is remote. But it has drawn the attention of City Hall insiders who are debating the potential benefits and disadvantages of any of the rules governing the selection of the person who will fill out the year remaining on Newsom’s term.
The provision dictating how nominations will be opened is just one of many rules that will guide the Board of Supervisors as it sets out on this most unusual task as early as next week.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd called the decision "the most important vote we will ever cast as members of this board, and it’s a vote that every San Franciscan is watching."
The last time the San Francisco Board of Supervisors selected a new mayor was 32 years ago when then-Mayor George Moscone was assassinated in his City Hall office.
Last Tuesday, the board spent hours debating the nomination process. For devotees of City Hall politics, the meeting was a must-see event that highlighted the split between the left-leaning progressives, who hold a slim majority, and the moderates. Both camps jockeyed for an edge.
There was cussing, verbal sparring, head-scratching, grandstanding, plenty of lawyering and lots of confusion, especially when amendments were amended and then amended again.
Under the process finally agreed upon, and unanimously at that, the Board of Supervisors will sit as a committee of the whole and each supervisor can make one nomination from the floor in Round One.
No supervisor can vote for nor nominate himself or herself; the successor mayor does not have to be a supervisor.
Any supervisor who is nominated and accepts the nomination will be sequestered and cannot participate in the process; they can watch the proceedings on TV from their offices, but they can’t be in contact with any of their colleagues - no tweeting, Facebook posts, e-mails, instant messaging.
The remaining supervisors then will vote on each nomination in the order it was received. If no one is selected in the initial round of nominations, the process will begin anew. The same supervisor can be voted on in subsequent rounds, but would be barred from voting for anyone unless he or she withdraws from consideration.
The first person to get six votes will get the committee’s recommendation. The committee immediately will reconvene as the full board and vote again.
Among the many possible contenders are Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Supervisors David Campos and Ross Mirkarimi, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, state Sen. Mark Leno, Sheriff Mike Hennessey, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, former City Attorney Louise Renne, San Francisco Public Utilities chief Ed Harrington, former Mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown, and Newsom Chief of Staff Steve Kawa.
If the board makes its pick before Newsom is sworn in Jan. 3, the selection would have to be voted on yet again once Newsom is gone.
And if there’s no agreement? The board president will serve as acting mayor - and retain the supervisor’s seat - until an interim mayor is chosen or until the mayor elected by voters next November takes office in January 2012.
Ultimately, the current board may not choose San Francisco’s interim mayor. Come Jan. 8, four of the veterans will be termed out and replaced.
Given the hourslong debate to just come up with a process - which Supervisor Chris Daly described as "Swiss cheese" - no one expects picking an interim mayor to be quick and easy.
"It’s the highest-stakes card game in decades, only 11 people get to play, and nobody knows what a winning hand looks like," said veteran City Hall observer Alex Clemens, a former Board of Supervisors aide who now runs a political consulting firm.
The selection, he added, "will be decided by a complex combination of trust, mistrust, the discipline of the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors - or lack thereof - history, relationships, and sheer force of will."