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Push for ‘caretaker’ SF mayor heats up as filing period nears close

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The Mayor’s Office is seen guarded by two sheriff’s deputies inside San Francisco City Hall December 12, 2017. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s June mayoral contest came into sharper focus Monday, but one big unknown remains — whether Board of Supervisors President London Breed will stay in the position of mayor until the election.

As the mayor’s race has taken shape — including some big-name potential candidates who have announced they will not run — more members of the Board of Supervisors are making their positions clear on whether the board should exercise its power to name instead a “caretaker” mayor who would not run.

SEE RELATED: Mark Leno files for SF mayor, calls on supervisors to appoint ‘caretaker’ until June

If Breed holds onto the seat, which she assumed per The City’s charter on Dec. 12 after Mayor Ed Lee died, she has a significant advantage in the contest.

That’s an advantage other mayoral candidates don’t think she should enjoy.

Former state Sen. Mark Leno officially filed Monday to run for mayor and called on supervisors to appoint a “caretaker” mayor.

“For the good of The City, there should be an open and fair election,” Leno said. “We were denied one eight years ago. We are due one now.”

When Lee was first appointed mayor by the board in 2011 to fill a vacancy left by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, Lee said he wouldn’t run for that office and the board had assumed it was appointing a “caretaker.” Lee then changed his mind and ran.

This time, however, the deadline to file for mayor is Tuesday at 5 p.m., meaning no one can go back on their promise to not run.

As for who should serve as a caretaker, Leno didn’t have a preference. “I’ll let the board figure that out for themselves,” he said.

Leno, who is considered a progressive candidate, is expected to have his toughest challenge from the more moderate Breed, at least according to a recent poll.

But Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who actually endorsed Leno for mayor, told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday he was supportive of the current situation. “I am not going to support a caretaker,” Safai said.

He continued, “My inclination is to steady the ship. I think the charter is really clear. The president of the board is the acting mayor. I don’t see any reason why we should change course.”

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy told the Examiner on Friday he also was supportive of Breed in the position.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has endorsed Leno, plans to request at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting having a special board meeting for Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. to vote on an interim mayor. For the meeting to occur, either six members of the board would need to support it or Breed as board president would need to call for it.

Peskin and other progressive members of the board have said that Breed should not serve in both positions until June, arguing that it creates an unfair playing field in the mayoral race and compromises the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

But Safai said the charter allows for Breed to serve in both roles. “I don’t buy the argument that there is a conflict of interest. If there were, then people should be having a conversation about changing the charter,” Safai said.

For the board to appoint either a caretaker or an interim mayor who would run, it would take six votes. Members of the board can’t vote for themselves. Without Breed voting, the board is split evenly 5-5 in the moderate and progressive bloc. Sheehy and Safai are in the moderate bloc.

Supervisor Mark Farrell reiterated his position Monday of remaining open to all options.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who is also a progressive candidate in the race, said she wants the board to vote on an interim mayor. “The City deserves a full-time mayor,” Kim said. “I will support a full-time mayor. My preference is a caretaker. I am not sure what we are going to have the votes to do at the end of the day.”

When asked to name some potential caretakers, she suggested City Administrator Naomi Kelly or former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano. Kim plans to officially file for mayor Tuesday.

For weeks City Hall has been abuzz with speculation about who will jump into the contest and whether the board will knock Breed out of the acting mayor post.

A day before Leno filed, Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu announced Sunday she would not run and on Monday morning Assemblymember David Chiu announced he also wouldn’t run. That means there will be no well-known Chinese-American candidate in the contest.

Both Chiu and Chu are considered more moderate, as is Breed, which helps Breed position herself as the go-to moderate candidate. Breed had early on picked up the support of former Mayor Willie Brown, who helped Lee become mayor, and the support of Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley angel investor and Lee’s prominent backer who encouraged making it easier for technology companies to flourish in San Francisco.

Former Supervisor Angela Alioto is among the other more well-known candidates to file to run. City Attorney Dennis Herrera is also exploring a run.

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