The Newsom Shuffle: Who Will Succeed Gavin if He Becomes Lieutenant Governor?

Newsom on the run (AP)
If Gavin Newsom beats Abel Maldonado Tuesday in the Lieutenant Governor’s race, someone is going to have to finish out his term as San Francisco Mayor. The city’s charter states that in the event of a mayoral vacancy, the Board of Supervisors chooses an interim until an election is held:

If the Office of Mayor becomes vacant because of death, resignation, recall, permanent disability or the inability to carry out the responsibilities of the office, the President of the Board of Supervisors shall become Acting Mayor and shall serve until a successor is appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Any person filling a vacancy pursuant to subsection (a) or (b) of this Section shall serve until a successor is selected at the next election occurring not less than 120 days after the vacancy…

Any successor needs six votes on the Board, no easy task, and speculation about just who will emerge as the consensus candidate has gone on for many months. In May, former mayoral candidate and progressive heartthrob Matt Gonzalez was rumored to be in the running. That never panned out, and in June, the Bay Citizen wrote this piece pegging David Chiu, the Board president, and Aaron Peskin, San Francisco Democratic Party Chairman, as the frontrunners.

Mr. Chiu, 40, would be San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor. He was elected board president on his first day in office in 2008 thanks largely to Mr. Peskin, his predecessor as president…

Mr. Chiu is popular and smart, with a firm grasp of policy issues and a centrist’s disposition; Mr. Peskin has been known to refer to him jokingly as “the Chinese Obama,” aides say. Mr. Chiu is often willing to break with his progressive allies and seek compromises with moderate colleagues.

The 46-year-old Mr. Peskin, on the other hand, is widely described as a bare-knuckled powerbroker, a capable operative who has turned the Democratic Party in San Francisco into a solidly progressive political machine.

“Who has put together a majority on that board before? David Chiu and Aaron Peskin,” said Eric Jaye, a former political strategist for Mr. Newsom. “You need to look at those two as front-runners, without a doubt.”

A couple of months ago, a no-holds-barred realpolitik analysis posted on The Wall, a political forum on San Francisco politics, figured Peskin as the politico-most-likely to fill a vacated mayoralty.

Peskin is the mostly likely to be appointed mayor by the other Guys. He started out well in politics as a good-government type.

However, he got carried away with his own power. He developed a nasty habit of getting drunk after dinner and calling public officials at home night, loudly berating them with slurred obscenities.

After being termed out as a supe, he successfully enlisted his cronies to orchestrate a take-over of the Democratic County Central Committee. They pushed out the good-natured, openly-gay Scott Wiener as chair and put Peskin in his place. Since then, Peskin has created a well oiled machine whose purpose is to make himself mayor.

He has expressed his style of politics with the infamous Peskin principle: “Payback is a bitch.” This is the motto of every political machine. He first snarled these words at a woman sitting in a wheelchair.

Just 11 days ago, however, the Bay Citizen reported on Peskin’s waning influence, stating that a string of political setbacks has revealed that his “reach seems to have been overstated.”

Four days ago, the Bay Area Reporter named state Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano as front-runners. Of Ammiano, the city’s previous progressive standard-bearer who lost to incumbent mayor Willie Brown in the 1999 mayoral run-off, BAR says this:

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.

Finally, Matier & Ross today delved into the complex political calculus that will go into selecting the ultimate choice.

They include Assemblyman and former mayoral candidate Tom Ammiano (who tells us he’s not interested), former Mayor Willie Brown (not interested), former Mayor Art Agnos (he’s interested but doesn’t have the votes) and former board President Aaron Peskin (ditto).

Another suggestion has been to give the job to a non-political technocrat as a caretaker until the 2011 election. Names that have been floated include Controller Ben Rosenfeld, City Administrator Ed Lee and Ed Harrington, general manager of the city Public Utilities Commission…

Because no one appears to have the votes, board President (David) Chiu will automatically become acting mayor under the city charter.

The only question is, for how long.

When the new board is sworn in, the supervisors will have the choice of either taking no action – thus leaving Chiu in his new role – or putting together six votes for someone else.

That, however, could get complicated.

“Not only do they have to find someone they all agree on, they will also have the added complication of coming up with a plausible justification for removing Chiu, ” Brown said.

“In effect, they will have to fire him.”

And that would not be easy, given that Chiu would be the city’s first Chinese American mayor, in a city with an increasingly influential Asian populace.

On the flip side, Chiu has fallen out of favor with some of the very progressives who installed him as board president in the first place. There is talk of replacing him with someone who will push their agenda harder, assuming a new progressive majority is elected.

The name mentioned most often is Supervisor David Campos, who would be the city’s first gay (and Latino) mayor.

So there you have it. Of course, it’s all academic if Newsom loses tomorrow and settles back in at City Hall. The most recent poll puts Newsom ahead of Maldonado 42-37…

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor