Political Notebook: Mayor faces field of unknowns
by Matthew S. Bajko
A chicken, grasshopper, florist, and sex club operator are among the 13 mostly unknown challengers who hope to defeat San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom this November.
Newsom's high approval ratings, large campaign war chest, and Teflon ability to survive personal crises apparently were enough to keep a strong progressive candidate out of the race. Despite some last minute musing he would launch a campaign against Newsom, Supervisor Chris Daly ultimately opted to sit out of the mayoral race.
Instead the mayor will face off against showman Chicken John Rinaldi, taxi driver Grasshopper Kaplan, flower shop owner Harold Hoogasian, and Power Exchange owner Michael Powers. Other candidates include educator Billy Bob Whitmer, safety advocate Quintin Mecke, neurological surgeon Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, music teacher Wilma Pang, nudist activist George Davis, blogger Harold Brown , and Lonnie Holmes , manager of the city's juvenile probation department.
The two most prominent candidates are former Supervisor Tony Hall, whom Newsom fired after plucking him off the board to oversee redevelopment of Treasure Island, and Josh Wolf, the video blogger who went to prison for refusing to hand over his videotapes of a riot in the city's Mission District to federal prosecutors. Most campaign observers expect Newsom to easily win re-election.
Nevertheless Newsom's campaign manager said this week that the mayor does not intend to merely cakewalk into a second term.
"The mayor said it best himself. He takes the race very seriously and he is going to be working hard every night and every day to reach out to San Francisco voters to continue his efforts to unite residents around smart and bold policy ideas," said Eric Jaye. "The field might not include any prominent candidates, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious issues out there for the city to address."
District Attorney Kamala Harris is assured re-election as no one opted to run against her, and Sheriff Mike Hennessey is facing one opponent, Dave Wong, president of the sheriff deputies' union.
This year's mayoral election marks the first time since 1991 that the ballot will not include a prominent gay or lesbian politician among voters' choices for mayor. Since 1995 four out candidates have made runs for the city's highest office.
Twelve years ago former Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg , now chair of the California State University Board of Trustees, was among those who ran against and lost to former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In 1999 Supervisor Tom Ammiano came close to defeating Brown in a surprise write-in campaign but fell short in the runoff election.
During the 2003 mayoral race Ammiano, along with former Supervisor Susan Leal, now head of the city's Public Utilities Commission, and homeless activist Jim Reid all mounted unsuccessful bids against Newsom.
Mayor backs Clinton
Fresh off her appearance at the HRC-Logo gay presidential forum, Senator Hillary Clinton last Friday picked up Newsom's endorsement.
Aside from the obvious disagreement over same-sex marriage, the two used an appearance at the construction site of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park to praise each other on environmental policies. The Academy of Sciences is being constructed using several green features, including the 2.5-acre living roof.
Newsom touted Clinton's advocacy on health care and early childhood education. Clinton said several of the city's programs, including its new health care initiative to provide services to the uninsured, could be models for the country.
During a brief news conference, Clinton was asked about gay marriage, and reiterated her answer from Thursday's forum that she supports civil unions and repeal of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which would allow same-sex couples to become eligible for federal benefits that heterosexual married couples receive.
Newsom, of course, ordered city officials to allow same-sex couples to marry during the "Winter of Love" in 2004.
Gay endorsement battles
Yet his support of gay marriage was not enough to win over members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's political action committee last Saturday. Neither Newsom nor any other candidate garnered enough votes to receive the club's PAC endorsement recommendation. It remains to be seen if the club will make any endorsement in the mayoral race this year.
"I think a lot of people in the club were really looking forward to a spirited campaign if Chris Daly had chosen to enter into the race," said club President Brian Basinger . "I think different people in the club have different thoughts and opinions of the best strategy moving forward and I am sure they will let us know what they are."
The club's attention has been more attuned of late to the battle between gay San Francisco Democrats Senator Carole Migden and Assemblyman Mark Leno for Migden's 3rd District Senate seat, not to mention accusations that one of its executive board members made sexist comments toward a female vice president and electronically harassed another board member via e-mail.
Basinger said it doesn't appear any one candidate has a strong enough following among club members to win Milk's nod in the mayor's race. Though he praised Newsom for meeting with the PAC.
"I am sure the mayor was wondering what kind of reception he was going to have," said Basinger. "When it comes to guests we are very respectful. We only treat each other badly."
It is doubtful that Newsom will fight hard for the Milk Club's endorsement. When asked if the campaign would stump for votes among the club's members, Jaye gave the impression Newsom had already done what he could do.
"We filled out the questionnaire and returned it. He went to the PAC meeting and addressed the club," he said. "The mayor has worked hard the last three years to be the kind of mayor to win broad support. He has made a pretty extraordinary effort so far."
Ammiano may have to roll up his sleeves and fight for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club's early endorsement of his bid to replace Leno in the state Assembly. The club approved a motion at its meeting Monday, August 13 to suspend its bylaws and vote on an early endorsement in the race.
But the measure passed with just two votes more than needed and faced heated opposition among some Alice Club members. Opponents were divided into two camps, those who did not support Ammiano receiving the club's nod and those who merely did not want to move ahead with an early endorsement.
"I generally vote against early endorsements. Sometimes democracy is best served when there are many people in a race," said Jim Illig, a health commissioner and club member. "This was not about Tom."
The club faced criticism earlier this year when it moved to give Leno its early endorsement in his bid against Migden. Unlike Leno, Ammiano does not have the same strong ties to the club.
Alice Club Co-Chair Rebecca Prozan said for that reason she was not surprised by the heated debate.
"Early endorsements are controversial no matter what the candidate or issue is. In respect to Mark Leno it was not controversial for the club, it was very controversial to others with respect to the vote," she said. "This case may have been a little bit more controversial given Tom has not as much involvement in Alice as Mark Leno. Again, it does not take away from the fact Tom Ammiano is running unopposed and will make a great state assemblyman."
Ammiano is expected to meet with the club's PAC in early September, and the club would vote to back his candidacy sometime after the meeting.
"He is going to have to fight like everyone else fights for an endorsement. He is going to have to turn out his people and get more than 60 percent of the vote," said Prozan.