Today’s off-year election may be characterized on a national level by the search for signs and portents of things to come in next year’s Big Show — the 2012 presidential contest.

Michelle Gachet/KQED

But in the Bay Area, several interesting questions will be decided, not the least of which is who will be the next mayor of San Francisco.

That election is seminal in several ways. Incumbent Ed Lee is considered the favorite, and should he or fellow candidates David Chiu, Leland Yee, Jeff Adachi, or Phil Ting emerge victorious, San Francisco will have elected its first Asian-American mayor. (Lee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors, not elected by voters, when former mayor Gavin Newsom left to become Lt. Governor.)

If this were like every other previous San Francisco mayoral race, Lee might be considered a shoo-in. A mid-October poll put Lee as the first choice of 31 percent of voters, out of a 16-candidate field. His nearest competitor, Dennis Herrera, garnered only eight percent in the survey.

But as Don Perata learned during Oakland’s mayoral contest last year, under ranked-choice voting, a lead in the first round of vote-counting does not seal the deal, and can slowly dissipate over subsequent rounds. Perata commanded an 11 percent leader after the first round, but because significantly more voters chose Quan as their second or third choice, Quan emerged the victor, receiving 51% of the vote to Perata’s 49% after 10 rounds of counting.

Lee’s opponents — at least a few of whom are furious he assured them he wouldn’t run for a permanent spot as mayor — have been trying to pierce the sense of an inevitable Lee victory by filing complaints about questionable efforts and fundraising on his behalf. Several candidates even went so far as to band together in requesting that the state or federal government monitor the election for potential shenanigans. And indeed, the California Secretary of State’s office announced yesterday it would send monitors to San Francisco.

Yesterday, KQED’s Dan Brekke and Joshua Johnson discussed other Bay Area races and measures. (Listen to the segment or read the transcript here.)

“Down ballot, George Gascon is running for District Attorney,” Brekke says. “This would be a full term; he was appointed from the police department to replace Kamala Harris. It’s a little hard to handicap the opposition there, but he’s facing Sharmin Bock, Bill Fazio, a veteran of previous electoral wars for the District Attorney’s office, and David Onek.”

In the San Francisco Sheriff’s race, four candidates are vying to become the successor to Michael Hennessey, who has been on the job since 1980. That’s 31 years, if you’re counting.

“Michael Hennessey is an institution,” says Brekke. “In fact, he was a leading candidate to become the interim mayor, ahead of Ed Lee. Ross Mirkarimi, probably, coming off the Board of Supervisors, has to be considered the favorite for that job. He’s running against Paul Miyamoto, Chris Cunnie, and David Wong.”

The marquee issue San Franciscans will decide on this year is pension reform. Last year, Public Defender Jeff Adachi introduced Proposition B, which would have required San Francisco public workers to significantly up their pension and health care contributions. The measure failed, but Adachi is back this year with “Son of Prop B,” asserting lessons learned in how to get his plan passed. But Ed Lee, in partnership with the city’s public employee unions, has crafted a competing measure, requiring fewer givebacks than Adachi’s.

Adachi’s measure is Proposition D, and the Lee-backed measure is Proposition C.

In the wider Bay Area, voters in several communities will decide whether to tax themselves. Most notably, Oaklanders will vote on Measure I, a $60 million parcel tax that would be used for a range of non-specific services, including those related to public safety and infrastructure.

“Remember that with parcel taxes, there’s a huge threshold they have to get across,” says KQED’s Brekke. “They have to win by two-thirds. Last year there was a sort of break from the past in the Bay Area and the rest of the state, where most of these parcel taxes were running into the harsh reality of governments running out of money and people running out of money. So most of them failed. There are only a few of them on the ballot this time. I’d say that’s a little bit because of parcel tax fatigue.

“What you are seeing instead are bond measures, which have a lower threshold, they only need 55 percent; and then some specialty taxes like business taxes or hotel occupancy taxes which only need a majority to win.”

In the South Bay, a number of Palo Alto ballot items are of particular interest, says Brekke.

“One, Measure D, is about ending binding arbitration for public safety workers, both police and firefighters. This is put into place because they are not unionized, and under the law down there they cannot be unionized. So binding arbitration gives them a way of sealing a deal. Some people think it’s too expensive and that the city isn’t getting a good deal for that.

“The other thing of note on the ballot is Measure E, taking ten acres from one of the parks down there that was reclaimed land and turning that into a composting center. Everybody wants composting room because we’re trying to divert less material into landfills, so people are being asked to give up a slice of park down there to accomodate that.”

Some additional information for Bay Area voters below. And you can follow KQED’s online election-night coverage right here on KQED News Fix.

Bay Area Election Night 2011 Preview 25 April,2014Jon Brooks

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