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Political Notebook: Leno Secures LGBT Backing in SF Mayor's Race

by Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno
San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno  

In his bid to become San Francisco's first gay mayor, Mark Leno has picked up the support of two groups aimed at electing LGBT people to office, as well as two out former Democratic speakers of the state Assembly.

Both the nationally focused Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, are set to announce Thursday endorsements of Leno's mayoral campaign.

Meanwhile, Leno's campaign will announce Thursday he has received the support of gay former Los Angeles Assemblyman John A. Perez and lesbian former San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who both served as speaker of the state Legislature's lower chamber. Perez is now vice chair of the UC Board of Regents, while Atkins is set to become the first woman and first out speaker pro tem of the state Senate later this month. A former San Diego city councilwoman, Atkins served as interim mayor in 2005.

As a former assemblyman and senator, Leno served with both Perez and Atkins in the Statehouse. In a phone interview Tuesday with the Bay Area Reporter, Leno said he was grateful for having their support.

"They have great and far-reaching respect and admiration for their leadership and accomplishments," said Leno.

In a statement, Perez noted the historical significance of Leno's bid for mayor.

"I'm incredibly proud to support Mark, who has dedicated his life to fighting not only for LGBTQ people but for all those without a voice," stated Perez. "Whether it was reforming our broken criminal justice system, or lifting up workers by passing the $15 minimum wage bill, Mark has always stood up for justice and equity for all people. I know he will bring that same dedication to serving the people of San Francisco as mayor."

Leno also thanked the Victory Fund and EQCA for their support. The group's endorsements mean both will be encouraging their members to donate to Leno's campaign.

"It certainly reflects upon my legislative accomplishments over the past 18 years, including many legislative firsts and being a part of the efforts to lead California to have the most legal protections for our community," said Leno, who championed same-sex marriage and pushed for transgender rights, in particular, while in Sacramento.

In a statement released by Leno's campaign, EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur stated, "San Franciscans are looking for a mayor who can unite the city behind a bold vision for the future - one in which everyone has a shot at success. They're looking for a fighter who won't back down to City Hall lobbyists, special interests or even the president of the United States. They're looking for Mark Leno."

Leno is one of eight candidates running in the special mayoral election on the June 5 primary ballot to serve out the remainder of the term of the late mayor Ed Lee, who died unexpectedly in December. Whoever wins will serve through January 8, 2020 and will need to run for a full four-year term on the November 2019 ballot.

The other leading candidates in the race are District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, District 5 Supervisor and board President London Breed, and former supervisor Angela Alioto, a lawyer who twice before has run for mayor. Also in the race are Republican Richie Greenberg; queer pro-affordable housing development advocate Amy Farah Weiss; social worker Ellen Lee Zhou; and massage therapist Michelle Bravo.

This week a judge ruled that Breed could not include "acting mayor" on her ballot designation after Leno filed suit in state court. Due to her being board president, Breed automatically became acting mayor upon Lee's death. A majority of her board colleagues in late January, however, voted to make former District 2 supervisor Mark Farrell mayor until the winner of the June election is declared.

On Monday Leno's campaign claimed Breed had "folded under increasing legal pressure" in agreeing to change how her job title appears on the ballot.

But in a Facebook post Tuesday, Breed accused Leno of "misleading" voters about the issue, writing that the two campaigns had been working together on a mutually agreed upon change to her ballot designation. Because of the timing of when the board voted, Breed said only a judge could make the change.

"As I have said repeatedly, I am fine with changing my ballot title to 'President, Board of Supervisors,' and was willing to work in good faith with my opponent to do so, out of court," wrote Breed.


EQCA doesn't rule out PAC support

Leno has also been attacking Breed over the formation of a political action committee that is supporting her campaign and includes a number of local lesbian leaders behind it. On her campaign website Breed has pledged not to "solicit, accept, encourage or coordinate with any independent expenditure effort" and that she "will denounce any campaigns, independent or otherwise, that attack any candidates in this race."

As for Leno, he has repeatedly pledged to "denounce, renounce and reject" any super PAC funding on his behalf in the race. That would include by EQCA, which has its own PAC and spent heavily in the 2016 race between gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Kim.

Leno told the B.A.R. that he expects EQCA not to fund a similar independent expenditure effort in the mayor's race.

Asked if it would abide by Leno's request, EQCA spokesman Samuel Garrett-Pate told the B.A.R. that the organization "is currently exploring all our options for communicating with our members about supporting his historic candidacy."

As for the Victory Fund, because it is a membership organization with a specific mission, Leno will accept donations from its members to his mayoral campaign account up to the allowable limit of $500.

Leno had already received support from a number of out elected leaders from around the state, including gay state Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Garden), gay Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, and gay El Cerrito Mayor Gabriel Quinto.

The city's more progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club did an unranked dual endorsement of Leno and Kim in the race. Among the LGBT leaders backing Kim are gay former supervisors Harry Britt and Tom Ammiano, who also served in the state Assembly.

As for the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, its PAC voted down a suggestion it suspend its bylaws to do an unranked dual endorsement of both Leno and Breed. Its members will now vote Monday, March 12, on a ranked endorsement in the race.

Leno told the B.A.R. he is working to secure the club's first choice endorsement. Under the city's instant voter runoff system, voters can rank up to three mayoral candidates on their ballot. As the candidates with the least votes are eliminated, their voters' second and third place votes are tabulated until a candidate secures 50 percent plus one of the vote to be declared the winner.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on a lesbian candidate running for a southern California state Senate seat ending her bid.
Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:m.bajko@ebar.com.

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