Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Political Notebook: Election could have Leno, Ammiano on the move


Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, left, and state Senator Mark Leno may have other electoral plans depending on the results of Tuesday's election.
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Depending on how the political winds blow Tuesday, November 2, openly gay state lawmakers Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano could find themselves positioned to leave Sacramento for public office in San Francisco or Washington, D.C.

Should Mayor Gavin Newsom win his bid to be California's next lieutenant governor then Ammiano could find himself being elected the city's interim mayor. It is a position Ammiano twice ran for but lost at the ballot box.

A number of supervisors say they want Ammiano to move into Room 200 should the job become available. They contend Ammiano has the six votes needed among the current board to be elected to the post.

"We may have a 'Run, Tom, Run' situation à la 1999," Supervisor Chris Daly told the Bay Area Reporter , referring to the write-in campaign that propelled Ammiano into that year's mayoral race in which he forced then-Mayor Willie Brown into a surprise runoff.

Ammiano, who is expected to easily win a second term in the Assembly Tuesday, left the door open to being named mayor during a brief phone interview with the B.A.R. this week.

"You never say never in politics, that is the rule, but I am extremely satisfied in Sacramento. That is my priority," said Ammiano.

Termed out openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty , who is running to be mayor next year and would be barred from voting for himself to be interim mayor, said his former board colleague would be a shoo-in if the current board votes on Newsom's replacement.

"Ammiano could count to six with the current board," said Dufty, who has stated he does not want the job on an interim basis.

Openly gay Supervisor David Campos agreed with Dufty that Ammiano would be a clear favorite among the current board.

"I do believe, looking at where things are at City Hall, if anyone could get six votes, it would be Tom Ammiano in my view," said Campos.

The one wild card is just who would vote for the interim mayor. Statewide officeholders will be sworn in January 3, but Newsom has indicated he might try to delay his ceremony until after the winners of the even-numbered supervisor seats on this year's ballot are sworn in January 8.

Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said any talk of what could happen is pure speculation until after the outcome of next week's election.

"Hopefully, San Francisco political intrigue can wait a couple more weeks when it comes to all those hypothetical situations," said Winnicker. "What is clearly true is that Mayor Newsom will do everything he can to ensure there is not a radical mayor installed through a back room deal in Room 200."

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd told the B.A.R. he thinks the new board should be given the task of finding a temporary mayoral appointee until voters can elect someone to the job for a full term next November. He also said he would not vote for anyone who plans to run for the job to be the interim mayor.

As for whom that person would be, Elsbernd said, "I can't predict anything about what will happen."

If no one can win enough votes to be mayor, then whoever is the board president is the acting mayor.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has already pulled papers to run for mayor and has recused himself from offering advice on when the board should pick an interim mayor. The board has asked Santa Clara County Counsel Miguel Marquez to provide it with legal guidance on the matter.

Some have speculated that Herrera could win backing from the current board to be the interim mayor. He in turn would then appoint the next city attorney, potentially current Board President David Chiu , with the board presidency then going to Campos.

Campos declined to comment on such speculation, and Chiu did not respond to an interview request. Herrera would only say he is focused on his mayoral campaign.

"I obviously am an announced candidate for mayor and I am focused on winning the election of 2011. And I really haven't given any thought beyond that," said Herrera.

Another scenario involves Leno, who has made no secret that he is interested in becoming mayor. He has told associates he believes he has enough support to be elected interim mayor, most likely if the candidates he has endorsed for supervisor this year win their races and are given the job of deciding how to fill the vacancy.

But another office could be in his future, as Leno may instead find himself prepping a run for Congress.

If Republicans win back the House from Democrats, then current Speaker Nancy Pelosi could opt to retire from the San Francisco seat she has held since 1987. Leno, who did not return calls for comment, would then have a chance to be the first out person elected to Congress from the Bay Area.

It is a seat the LGBT community has coveted since Pelosi defeated former gay Supervisor Harry Britt in a special election following the death of Congresswoman Sala Burton. Her retirement would likely draw a wide field of people wanting to be her successor, with Leno at the top of the list of likely contenders.

Ammiano, though, would not be one of them, as he told the B.A.R. this week he has no desire to head east.

"I think this is one Italian-American who will stay in California," he said.

District attorney could also be up for grabs

Along with mayor the city's district attorney position could also be up for grabs should the current officeholder, Kamala Harris , be elected the state's attorney general next week. She would then also step down, leaving it to the mayor to fill the vacancy ahead of next fall's general election race.

Harris's openly gay chief of administration, Paul Henderson, told the B.A.R. this week he would run for the seat if his boss steps down.

"Absolutely," said Henderson, a native San Franciscan who grew up in the city's Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood. "It is something I am excited about."

Another gay candidate expected to seek the DA post is current Police Commissioner Jim Hammer, a former deputy district attorney. He told the B.A.R. his current focus is seeing that all the Democrats seeking statewide office are elected.

"I definitely am interested in the job but I have been focused on this election next Tuesday," said Hammer. "I also am focused on my work on the Police Commission. That has been my focus. After the election I will start to take a more serious look at" running for district attorney.

The seat will be up for grabs no matter what happens next week. Harris is locked in a tough fight against Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. If she loses, as some polls are predicting, she would have a year remaining on her term and could decide not to seek re-election locally.

Or she could be tapped for an appointment to the administration of President Barack Obama, whom she helped to elect and has endorsed her AG bid. Either scenario would result in a wide field of candidates looking to replace her as DA.

Former Police Commissioner David Onek has already pulled papers to seek the office.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports that all four District 8 supervisor candidates back a city audit of Pride's books.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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