Mayoral musings: Election Day uncertainty looms

I’ve been more conflicted about the June 5 mayoral race than any other election I can remember. Others have said the same, and we’re all having trouble deciding.

Maybe it’s because of the way the race started, in a moment of pure political gamesmanship that many found disgusting.

As president of the Board of Supervisors, London Breed became Acting Mayor after Ed Lee’s death on Dec. 12. The symbolism of the first African-American woman to be mayor of San Francisco, especially someone who grew up poor in the Western Addition, was hugely important to many, myself included. Plus, precedent was on her side: Board President Dianne Feinstein was named mayor after George Moscone’s assassination in 1978.

But a month later, Breed was removed. She hadn’t done anything wrong, nor did anyone claim she was unqualified. Instead, she was booted out because a progressive bloc of supervisors, including Jane Kim, feared the moderate Breed would have an advantage as an incumbent over two progressives (Kim and Mark Leno) who wanted to run.

It was a triumph of politics over what was right.

SEE RELATED: SF supervisors select Mark Farrell as interim mayor to replace London Breed

Similarly, Kim voted in 2012 to keep Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff after he grabbed and bruised his wife’s arm during an argument, then responded to criticism with a tone-deaf, “It’s a private, family matter.”

I remember watching the Board of Supervisors’ hearing when they debated whether the progressive Mirkarimi should keep his job. Although there were some legitimate issues raised about the process used to remove him, I was appalled by Mirkarimi’s supporters who defended him during public comment by attacking domestic violence advocates, mostly women, who spoke against him.

Kim and other progressive supervisors allowed the attacks to go unchallenged, seeming to agree that these women who had spent their lives protecting others from domestic violence were just political tools who didn’t know what they were talking about.

SEE RELATED: Tech billionaire blasts Jane Kim over domestic violence vote

If a moderate sheriff had been in the same situation, I think Kim and the others would have voted to remove him or her without a second thought, just as they voted to remove Breed as mayor.

In both cases, the supervisors seemed to put the progressive “party” before country — or, in this case, city.

For many of us, especially older women who worked for years to raise awareness about domestic violence, the Mirkarimi case was, and remains, a big deal.

I initially liked Leno because he was able to find common ground with Republicans in Sacramento. I hoped he would do the same in San Francisco’s polarized political climate, but his recent ranked-choice voting alliance with Kim has made me question that assessment.

By tying himself so closely to Kim, Leno has lost a lot of the “He’s independent and will do what’s right” sheen that he had before this race began.

Breed’s not perfect, either.

Like Leno, I think she will work with moderates and progressives. The question is whether Breed can make the changes we need to happen. Many of the people behind the scenes who run things at City Hall have been there since Willie Brown was mayor. No matter how personally committed Breed herself may be to change, if she allows those same department heads and staffers to remain, substantive change is much less likely. As the establishment candidate, can she really buck the establishment’s people?

Angela Alioto’s recent mischaracterizations of The City’s sanctuary policies, using reckless rhetoric like that on Fox News, proves she shouldn’t be mayor.

SEE RELATED: Alioto softens sanctuary city proposal following blowback

Positions on issues such as homelessness and housing are important, mostly as an indication of the candidate’s priorities, but the major candidates all have similar priorities. How someone runs their campaign and how they handle criticism also matter. Implying that women concerned about the Mirkarimi case or that people inspired by Breed’s backstory are just tools of a rich businessman is insulting.

The decision has not been easy. I hope whoever wins reaches across the table and works with all San Franciscans, not just one group or one ideology, for real change.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

Sally Stephens
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Sally Stephens

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