Myths Surround the Interim Mayor Selection

by Paul Hogarth on November 29, 2010

As the Board of Supervisors deliberates on who will be appointed Interim Mayor, two disturbing myths are increasingly being viewed as fact. One, that the new Board which takes office on January 8th is “more moderate” than the current lame-duck Board – giving the Left a sense of urgency to appoint someone now. Two, that President David Chiu is somehow not a “real progressive” – which explains how the New York Times reported yesterday that the Board only has five progressives. The facts, however, are a very different matter. With Chris Daly’s seat going to Jane Kim, progressives will still have six votes to pick whomever they want – and David Chiu has a progressive track record. But these myths – perpetuated by some on the Left – does nothing but help Downtown’s agenda. Gavin Newsom and his allies would love to paint this as a “Chris Daly power grab,” and progressives miss the bigger picture if they attack their own. Whoever gets appointed must face the voters next year, and so far the myths aren’t helping.

On November 15, Beyond Chron Editor Randy Shaw urged that the current Board not rush to make an appointment, as it would appear like an unseemly power grab. Meanwhile, Supervisor Chris Daly weighed in on the issue, urging the Board go full-speed ahead on the process.

The response from a few progressives was disturbing. On her Facebook page, former District 6 candidate Debra Walker referred to Shaw’s article as a “big wet kiss to David Chiu and the moderates,” and urged everyone to come “support our sitting Supervisors’ efforts to choose our next Mayor” at the November 16th Board of Supervisors meeting.

As if giving sound strategic advice to progressives was part of an insidious political plot. And as if David Chiu, the North Beach Supervisor who authored the most crucial tenant legislation in years to curb the wave of Ellis evictions, was now one of those hated “moderates.” Rather than view Shaw’s advice for what it was, his criticism was viewed as an attack.

Let’s look at the facts. The current Board of Supervisors has six progressives (Avalos, Mar, Campos, Daly, Mirkarimi & Chiu), three moderates (Eslbernd, Chu & Alioto-Pier) and two “swing votes” (Dufty & Maxwell.) Four of them – Alioto-Pier, Dufty, Daly & Maxwell – are on their way out, and will be replaced by their successors on January 8th.

If the lame-duck Board votes to appoint an Interim Mayor prior to Gavin Newsom’s vacancy, it will have the appearance of a “power grab.” Only if the new Board were significantly more conservative, and progressives were unable to count on six votes to select a new Mayor, would such a politically risky move be “worth it” in the long run.

But in District 2, Mark Farrell’s politics mirror those of Alioto-Pier – so that’s a wash. In District 10, Maxwell had endorsed Lynnette Sweet to replace her – and Malia Cohen owes her victory to progressives who picked her as their #2 choice. An argument can be made that Scott Wiener in District 8 is more conservative than Dufty (because he supported the “sit/lie” legislation), but none of that matters. Because District 6 stayed in progressive hands.

Only if you believe that Jane Kim – a community organizer and civil rights attorney who started her political career in the Green Party, co-chaired the SF People’s Organization and asked Chris Daly to be the elected official to swear her into office when she joined the School Board in 2007 – is somehow not a “progressive” would it be logical to say the Left is better off picking an Interim Mayor now, rather than waiting until January 8th.

Come January 8th, assuming the lame-duck Board had not picked an Interim Mayor, there will be six progressives (i.e., a majority) on the new Board who will play a deciding role. Even if they select a new Mayor with cross-over appeal who also picks up votes from more moderate Supervisors, we would have a “center-left” coalition governing the City.

The myth that the new Board is more “moderate” started with progressives, but is now accepted as common wisdom by Mayor Newsom’s allies – and is being used as justification for why to post-pone his swearing in as Lieutenant Governor. And it only feeds Downtown’s desire to make the lame-duck Board appear “power-hungry” to make an under-handed move.

Now, the idea that David Chiu is “not progressive” is taking hold with moderates – who are engaged in their own wishful thinking. As David Latterman told the Chronicle’s Chuck Nevius this weekend, “David has always been reluctant to control his own destiny, but his natural place is in the middle.” Would this line have any credibility, if progressives had not attacked him?

Meanwhile, the current Board’s efforts to appoint an Interim Mayor sooner rather than later is starting to remind me of Chris Daly’s “progressive convention” in 2007 to find a candidate to run against Newsom. Despite some spirited public comment at the Board’s November 16th meeting, nothing happened. The Board is scheduled to again consider appointing a Mayor next week, but it appears anti-climactic.

Three years ago, Beyond Chron took a lot of heat from our friends – for suggesting that maybe a progressive challenge to Newsom was not a smart idea. Chris Daly’s Convention generated a lot of hype in activist circles, but at the end of the day no candidate emerged. Now that talk of a new Mayor is back, I’m having an odd sense of déjà vu. A lot of progressives (in fact, some of the very same people) are annoyed that Beyond Chron is asking questions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outside of work hours, Paul Hogarth actively supported Jane Kim in her campaign for District 6 Supervisor. Her main opponent was Debra Walker.

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