Garcia: Drawn-out term-limits case creates no-win situation

If district elections were more like condo time shares, then perhaps we’d find ourselves with more-impressive and varied political dwellers.

But as it is, we’ll have to stand pat with our choices, which is why potentially the most interesting race for supervisor in San Francisco this fall has already ended.

That would have been the one pitting two credible and attractive candidates in a race to replace Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier in District 2, one of the few remaining areas of The City where voters require calmness, stability and moderate intelligence of their legislative representative.

You know, kind of like the old days.

What’s most intriguing about the circumstances in the campaign for the expected supervisor contest is that there should have been no campaign at all. That’s because it only remained open due to the highly questionable opinion of City Attorney Dennis Herrera that Alioto-Pier was not eligible for another term because he appears to have difficulty with the phrases “appointed” and “elected.”

Superior Court Judge Peter Busch made the distinction rather clear last week when he ruled that Alioto-Pier did not serve two four-year terms — she was appointed for one before winning a two-year term — and therefore would be allowed to run again in November.

Herrera’s opinion that her appointed and elected terms should be considered concurrently was always curious at best, and no amount of input from people far more specialized in election law could seem to persuade him.

He got sued and lost, and now Herrera must decide whether or not to appeal in a case which he cannot win.

And the reason is that the case is enmeshed, like everything else in San Francisco, in intervolved politics. Herrera, who wants to be mayor, will look bad if he pursues the case, even if he believes it’s the right thing to do.

The problem is that of the two candidates that are running for Alioto-Pier’s seat — venture capitalist Mark Farrell and Janet Reilly, currently a member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District — only one has strong ties to Herrera. That would be Reilly, the wife of longtime political guru Clint Reilly, who has been all over the so-called “progressive” political map that Herrera also must cover if he’s to have any chance of ascending to the Mayor’s Office.

And the funny thing is, neither Reilly nor Farrell would have been in the race if not for Herrera’s original opinion more than two years ago — both candidates acknowledged to me in recent months that Alioto-Pier is extremely popular in her district and there would be virtually no chance to unseat her.

Reilly and Farrell have now been campaigning for the seat for more than a year and have each raised more than $140,000, all based on the assumption that Alioto-Pier would not be eligible. They both would have been good candidates to succeed her — they’re smart, politically engaged and are committed to public service, unlike so many other people running for city office.

A lot of bright legal minds, including Busch, have been telling Herrera that he is just wrong on the issue that Alioto-Pier only challenged recently because she was busy running for state insurance commissioner. But the court ruling has long-term implications because it will affect Supervisor Carmen Chu, another mayoral appointment who then won election to the board and would be entitled to another term.

Herrera said he believes it was never the voters’ “intent” to allow any supervisor to serve more than two full terms, appointed or otherwise. But as we know from the outcome of numerous city elections, what the voters intend is not always the same as what they actually do. Elections are funny that way.

Alioto-Pier said she tried repeatedly to get Herrera to change his mind, but he wasn’t buying.

“He shouldn’t be appealing, he should be apologizing,” she told me.

Herrera’s problem now is that if he appeals the decision claiming that he’s defending the law, he’s going to look like he’s defending himself.

As a future mayoral candidate, he would be well-advised to better understand his (term) limits.

Bay Area NewsNews Columnists

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Folks wave from the side of a Muni cable car as it heads down Powell Street after cable car service returns from a 16-month COVID absence on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s cable cars return after 16-month absence

San Francisco’s cable cars are back, and they’re free for passengers to… Continue reading

Blue California often is the target of criticism by conservative media, but now is receiving critical attention from liberal writers. Pictured: The State Capitol. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)
Why is California now being criticized from the left?

California being what it is – a very large state with a… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

Steven Buss, left, and Sachin Agarwal co-founded Grow SF, which plans to produce election voter guides offering a moderate agenda. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Grow SF: New tech group aims to promote moderate ideals to political newcomers

Sachin Agarwal has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. But the… Continue reading

Most Read