Thursday, January 06, 2011
The San Francisco Interim Mayor Mess
On Tuesday afternoon, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in their current configuration assembled for the last time, and it was a doozy of a meeting that lasted over eight hours. In fact, the theatric contentiousness got so out of hand that the meeting ended with a 6-5 vote to continue it this Friday afternoon at 3PM, before Supervisors Daly, Maxwell, Pier-Alioto, and Dufty are termed out on Saturday at noon.
The meeting started off with Supervisor Campos (above) questioning outside counsel about the legality of California Lieutenant-Governor-elect Gavin Newsom putting off his swearing-in ceremony and continuing to act as San Francisco's Mayor, which involves a number of important appointments to various offices, including a District Attorney to replace the newly elected California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Disagreeing vehemently and sarcastically with Campos was Supervisor Elsbernd (above), who was originally appointed to his seat by Mayor Newsom, as were "moderate" allies Michela Alioto-Pier and Carmen Chu. In the one-party political town that is San Francisco, "moderates" tend to refer to those servicing the old power structure and "progressives" to those attempting to represent everyone else. The sharp focus of the "moderates" and the more amorphous interests of the "progressives" makes for something of an unfair fight, as Tuesday's wild attempt to pick an interim mayor for the next eleven months demonstrated.
The main drama was preceded by proclamations from Board President Chiu to each of the departing Supervisors, followed by excruciatingly long speeches from colleagues detailing their respective merits. This was followed by public commentary and a vote on a proposed CBD (Community Benefits District) for the Civic Center neighborhood. James Chaffee (above center), the public library and sunshine activist, spoke forcefully against the measure on the grounds that a private, unaccountable CBD organization shouldn't be "cleaning up" what are unquestionably the public commons. (Click here for his website that gives more details.) The eventual vote by land-owning "stakeholders" in the neighborhood turned out to be 86% in favor of establishing the CBD.
Outgoing Supervisor Daly (above), who has been urging his colleagues to choose an interim mayor as Newsom's replacement for the last two months, threw in the towel at the very beginning of the meeting. He proposed that since there didn't seem to be a six-vote consensus for any one candidate, that the business of choosing the interim mayor should be continued three weeks later when the new Board could make their choice. This motion didn't go anywhere because his "progressive" allies were certain they had the six votes for Sheriff Michael Hennessey while the "moderates" seemed eager to make a case for Chief Administrative Officer Ed Lee.
The process started with a computer lottery where any Supervisor proposing a nomination tried to get their candidate up first. The winner was David Campos who nominated Hennessey and gave a long speech about the sheriff's historic support of immigrants, legal and otherwise. This was followed by Supervisor Mirkarimi (above) nominating former mayor Art Agnos with a longwinded paean of his own. Supervisor Elsbernd nominated Ed Lee, even though it was reported that Lee had turned down multiple overtures about the job for months. Finally, Supervisor Daly nominated former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, "because I promised him I would."
After everyone had made speeches telling why they admired all the candidates but were picking one or the other, Supervisor Dufty (above) said he didn't want to "be surprised again" and was not going to vote for anyone in the early ballots, even though he had expressed support for Hennessey publicly in the past.
While all this orating was occurring, Supervisors were conferring with various functionaries, such as Alioto-Pier's talk with Clerk of the Board Angela Calvillo, who had originally crafted the rules for this voting process.
During the speeches, there were also multiple off-record conferences between pairs of Supervisors, such as Daly and Mar above.
The first round of voting went as follows: Hennessey received five aye votes from Campos, Daly, Mar, Avalos and Mirkarimi, while Lee received four aye votes from Elsbernd, Chu, Pier-Alioto and in a surprising twist, Board President David Chiu (above). Agnos also received four aye votes while Peskin received one from his old friend Daly. Both Supervisors Maxwell and Dufty voted no on everyone.
After a procedural discussion, it was decided that the Supervisors should try voting on the same four candidates again. The totals were the same, with the exception that this time Maxwell voted aye on Ed Lee, giving him five votes. This left outgoing Supervisor and prospective mayoral candidate Dufty the chance to play kingmaker, and after consultation with President Chiu (above) and a few of his other colleagues, he announced that he'd like to ask for a twenty-minute recess. Somebody asked why he wanted a recess, and his response was, "just because."
I left the meeting for dinner and watched the rest of the proceedings live on SFGTV. The "just because" recess turned out to be a conference in the Mayor's Office between Newsom, his Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, Dufty and Maxwell. Promises were obviously made for future political favors, and the Supervisors returned to the chambers for a third vote, with Dufty (above) casting an aye for Ed Lee, who is currently vacationing in Hong Kong, and seems to have been dragooned into the role of "moderate" savior.
The "progressives" had been played, brilliantly, by the "moderates" who have all the favors to hand out in terms of six-figure appointed positions. This made Supervisor Avalos apoplectic and he demanded his own thirty-minute recess, "because my head is spinning." When they returned, the meeting devolved into a shouting match, with Daly promising to haunt the career of the turncoat David Chiu, uttering the instant soundbite, "It's on like Donkey Kong."
Daly also shouted insults at Michela Alioto-Pier, who was enjoying herself immensely while goading him into a sputtering rage. I had wondered why Alioto-Pier spent the entire meeting looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. It was probably because the fix for Ed Lee had been scripted from the beginning.