Are We Electing a Mayor Without a Mandate?
With the last-minute entry of Public Defender Jeff Adachi into the race for Mayor of San Francisco, the political situation remains opaque while the public policy dilemma facing the city is increasingly clear – we are on track to elect a mayor without a policy mandate.
How is this happening?
Because in politics math is destiny – and the math shows that we could very well elect the next mayor with less than 20% of the first place votes. With the race for mayor turning increasingly nasty, and the special interest money machine preparing to flood our airwaves and mailboxes encouraging us to vote against one candidate or the other, the next mayor could very well emerge from a highly negative campaign with backing of less than one-fifth of the electorate.
San Francisco is a hard enough place to manage with a mandate. The mayor who emerges from this political mess will be, along with the rest of us, in dangerous and uncharted territory.
As of the filing deadline Friday at 5:00 p.m., there were 11 major candidates and five minor candidates. The “minor” candidates typically draw together around 5% of the vote. So if the 11 major candidates split the remaining 95% evenly, that is actually less than 9% per candidate. If history is any guide, some of the candidates will do better than others, but all of the 11 funded candidates have a credible case to make, at least in terms of a political base.
While Interim Mayor Ed Lee is certainly the frontrunner by a wide margin, this is a city that has no history of being kind to frontrunners. The entrance of Adachi brings him a political foe who has been in full campaign mode already for nearly two years. All of the other candidates believe they have a credible path to 15 to 20 percent. Certainly Bevan Dufty is telling supporters he can coalesce the gay vote and his old supervisorial district. David Chiu believes he can hold his coalition of District 3, downtown backers and young entrepreneurs. Michela Alioto-Pier says she can coalesce enough women and voters from her old seat, District 2, to win. Tony Hall thinks he can get Westside votes. John Avalos thinks D-11 and progressive votes will build his base.
The list goes on and on – but the story is the same. All of these candidates can credibly argue a base – which means we are looking at an eventual winner with a tiny slice of the electorate.
[Certainly we believe Reset San Francisco Founder Phil Ting can coalesce a community of voters who care about fundamental reform – and a fundamental shift of power away from City Hall insiders and towards a “user generated” government so we can fix Muni, support our schools and retool City Hall. But this just supports the underlying argument. Even a Mayor Phil Ting could emerge with a relatively small percentage of first-place votes.]
Proponents of the ranked choice voting system will be quick to point out that the winner must gain 50% of the vote through the ranked choice run-off, and that is a fair point. But second and third choice votes – even many of the first choice votes that are being cast “against” another candidate, rather than for a candidate’s platform, hardly account for a mandate.
And with few exceptions, most of the major candidates have stopped bothering to present policy ideas, relying instead on the standard recipe of brief “positions,” political promises and now barbed attacks against the front-runner of the week. Even those candidates trying to present policy ideas like Ting and Avalos and Joanna Rees are being nearly drowned out of the traditional channels by the overwhelming “noise” of a crowded political slug fest.
Crowdsourcing Policy at Reset San Francisco
Phil Ting didn’t launch Reset San Francisco to solve a political dilemma like this. He launched it because, as he has said himself many times, policy is too important to be left to politicians alone.
But as the election has developed – some would say devolved – the need to have a community where we are developing, debating and driving ideas has never been more important.
The Reset Community has been debating policy for nearly a year. There are communities uniting for sound economic and environmental policies like GoSolarSF. Others have given full-throated support to using our traffic enforcement officers to make our roads safer and our transit faster, not as just another revenue-generating arm of government. Many have rallied for ideas, like “YouTube Testimony,” that would give more of us a chance to be heard. Already thousands have shown support for Universal Internet Access as an economic development tool, step toward government efficiency and giant step toward full access to opportunity for all San Franciscans.
At first these policy debates, as vigorous as they have been, still enjoyed a relatively limited audience. But as time has gone on, more and more people have joined the discussion.
Over the weekend, the Reset San Francisco Facebook community became the largest single political community sponsored by any candidate in the mayor’s race, fast approaching 7,000 members. The ResetSanFrancisco.org website is on track to attract well more than 100,000 visitors this month alone. Policy positions like Phil Ting’s recent caution against using censorship as a public policy tool attract hundreds of “shares.”
If these policies help elect Phil Ting mayor – many of us at Reset would welcome that result (though not all, since the community contains supporters of every candidate.)
But with the mayor’s race turning into a race to the bottom, and the winner likely to be the candidate who merely manages to hit the ground last, the idea of Reset San Francisco has never been more important.
The candidates are, with few exceptions, going to continue to attack each other either directly or through proxy. At Reset there is one place where we can work until November 8 (and after) on attacking our problems.
No candidate alone may be able to develop a mandate for change. That job now falls to San Franciscans themselves.