Garcia: Are progressives doing the chicken dance?

You know you live in a very special place when you attend a weekend community meeting and you never know how many of your fellow citizens will show up wearing chicken suits.

So it was a surprise to some that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s monthly town-hall meeting turned out to be a protest and poultry-free affair in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood Saturday, with those in attendance seeming genuinely happy to have a chance to ask the mayor and a host of department heads about their concerns over local parks, their streets and their personal pet peeves.

The virulent anti-Newsom forces appear to be tired of chasing the mayor around The City — at least based on the “Get Gavin’’ blogs that suggest the mayor’s feathered foes have done all they can to disrupt the official proceedings. Yet it is also somewhat telling that Newsom’s enemies will do anything they can to stop him from a second term, short of the idea of actually convincing someone to run against him.

It is fairly remarkable that here it is, mid-May, and the so-called progressives haven’t found a candidate to run against Newsom, a point that underscores the weakness of their positions. The mayor’s opponents on the Board of Supervisors can play games with The City’s budget to try and force Newsom into a corner. The more radical forces in town can try and stop him from setting up a community court to try and clean up the Tenderloin. But despite all their efforts, they can’t identify anyone who has a decent chance of halting his run for a second term.

And the problem for them just exacerbates over time. The longer they wait for someone to go ahead and try and defy the polls, the tougher it’s going to be to raise enough money to at least make a show of it. Yet all the while, Newsom is in full campaign mode, with the same organization in place that made Care Not Cash his signature success and vaulted him above his contemporaries into the mayor’s job.

In a town where 30 percent of the populace would be against anything — certainly incumbency — one might think that Newsom would be particularly vulnerable now, given his admissions of an affair with a former staffer’s wife and his drinking troubles. Yet that has turned out to be little more than a glitch in his popularity ratings and his opponents have been unable to capitalize.

But it just goes to show how little the “progressives’’ have to show in the way of any concerted leadership. Matt Gonzalez, the Green Party savior who made a valiant run against Newsom, has said he will not jump into the race. Other potential candidates, including Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly, rate so poorly in citywide surveys that they know any campaign would be disastrous.

That leaves it up to the Plan B crew, with the most-often mentioned suspects being former Mayor Art Agnos and little-known supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. Agnos is considered by some to be a good sparring partner for Newsom because he is one of the few possible contenders who can cite his experience and maturity as factors for his consideration. But all anyone has to do is see one picture of the homeless tentsof “Camp Agnos’’ outside City Hall to see how quickly the Newsom campaign could target Agnos’ effectiveness in dealing with one of San Francisco’s most pressing problems — an issue with which Newsom has high voter confidence.

And that leaves us with the most rumored candidate, Mirkarimi, who is hardly known outside of his very left-leaning District 5, and has few credentials beyond being the person who authored the legislation to allow ambitious politicians to raid The City’s general fund of up to $6 million to run for mayor. If it comes to pass, it could turn out to be among the most self-fulfilling pieces of legislation in city history.

The thinking is that Mirkarimi could run just to build up his name recognition for the mayor’s race in 2011, when every politician still residing in San Francisco will toss their hats into the ring.

Word on the street is that leaders of the left, such as it is, will announce their choice after a special wingding on June 2, almost in time to meet the dog days of summer. The only question is whether they can find more than one candidate, because most political observers believe they need to run several candidates against Newsom under the tortured formula of instant runoff voting — something most voters are hard-pressed to comprehend.

It could be fun — yet another reason for angry citizens to dust off their chicken suits.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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