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Online Extra: Political Notes: Leno kicks off 2019 SF mayor's race

by Matthew S. Bajko

Mark Leno, backed by supporters, smiles as he fills out<br>paperwork May 4 to enter the 2019 San Francisco's mayoral race. Photo: Rick<br>Gerharter
Mark Leno, backed by supporters, smiles as he fills out
paperwork May 4 to enter the 2019 San Francisco's mayoral race. Photo: Rick

Gay former state Senator Mark Leno has kicked off the campaign to become San Francisco's next mayor, as he is the first high-profile candidate to pull papers for the 2019 race.

Surrounded by supporters and a pack of news media at City Hall the morning of May 4, Leno made his bid to be the city's first gay mayor official. It was hardly a surprise, as the Democrat had signaled for months that he would seek to succeed Mayor Ed Lee, who is barred by term limits from running again.

"I could play coy, but the time is now," said Leno when asked why he was entering the mayoral race so soon.

He listed a series of issues, many of which have long bedeviled the occupants of Room 200 at City Hall, that he wants to address as mayor, from housing affordability and accessibility to homelessness, safety, and traffic congestion. And he promised he would be releasing "more white papers than you have ever seen" in the coming months detailing how he will solve each issue.

"We can do better. We need a new direction for San Francisco," said Leno, 65, who in December was termed out of his state Senate seat.

A former city supervisor, first appointed by Mayor Willie Brown to a board vacancy, Leno in 2000 was the first person elected to the Castro-centered District 8 seat when the supervisors reverted back to being elected by district. Two years later he became one of the first gay men to serve in the state Assembly, and in 2008, Leno was the first gay man elected to the state Senate.

He is now vying to become the first LGBT leader of the U.S. city most often identified with the LGBT movement. None of the past out mayoral candidates has been successful, though gay former city and state lawmaker Tom Ammiano came the closest during his historic 1999 write-in campaign.

Asked by the Bay Area Reporter why he thought he could win, Leno said his past achievements in political office have given him the confidence that he can be elected mayor.

"I am certainly an out gay man, it is part of who I am," said Leno. "Yes, I would be enormously proud to win this race and be the first openly gay mayor in San Francisco."

Among those who joined Leno to show their support last week was Ron Huberman, 70, a gay man and a founding member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. He told the B.A.R. he thought Leno's chances of winning "are very good," noting that he has been a fixture of the city's LGBT community since moving to town in the 1970s.

"He has always been a leader, and I think it is about time San Francisco has a gay mayor. It is one of my last to-do things," said Huberman. "In the time of [President] Trump, we need people who can be civil to all minorities, and Mark represents that."

B.A.R. society columnist Donna Sachet , who was named the "first lady" of District 8 by Leno and would become the city's unofficial first lady should he be elected, echoed Huberman's observation that Leno is able to attract support from disparate groups.

"I have seen him listen to the most illogical, irreverent, and emotional people and he will listen and take it to heart. He will not dismiss anybody," said Sachet. "And I think that is a powerful tool for any politician to have."

Well liked by his political colleagues, Leno has morphed over the years from being part of the city's more moderate camp to now being embraced by progressives. Nonetheless, he attracts support from both sides of the city's Democratic divide, announcing last week that Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) and the more progressive San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin had endorsed his mayoral bid. Supervisors Ahsha Safai, a moderate, and Norman Yee, a progressive, are backing Leno, as are Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma, state Controller Betty Yee, and Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

Among Leno's gay endorsers are BART board Director Bevan Dufty, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2011, and gay school board member Mark Sanchez . Gay college board members Rafael Mandelman, Alex Randolph , and Tom Temprano have all endorsed Leno. Lesbian former supervisors Leslie Katz and Roberta Achtenberg , who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1995, are also supporting him in the race.

A number of board members of the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club were on hand for Leno's pulling papers. But it remains to be seen if Leno can secure Alice's endorsement if he runs as a progressive mayoral candidate.

"We will see. He has a lot of support in Alice," said Lou Fischer, Alice's female co-chair, who turned out at City Hall last week.

While Leno will certainly be a formidable mayoral candidate, as he has extensive ties across the state he can tap into for donations and support, he is sure to face strong competition in the race from both moderate and progressive opponents.

Among moderates, the names most often floated include Supervisors London Breed, the current board president, and Mark Farrell, who represents the Marina, as well as state Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco.) As for progressives, Supervisor Jane Kim tops the list, while speculation also circles that City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who lost to Lee in 2011, could mount a second bid.


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail


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