San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom appears poised to move into the easiest job he’s ever had in politics at the same time his city is on the verge of the most taxing time in its history.
Talk about your costly changes.
Newsom’s primary victory in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor means he’s one step closer to an office that he couldn’t even define. If he wins the general election in November, his departure means that his successor will be picked by a group of ultra-liberals on the Board of Supervisors that has spent the past seven years waging war against the forces of tradition and moderation.
It’s a doomsday scenario that could impact the balance of power and the makeup of San Francisco for years to come. For business groups and average citizens, it will be the beginning of a period when the centrist nature of big-city government will disappear almost as quickly as parking spaces in new buildings.
And the only hope for those people is that the board and the interim mayor drift so far from the majority views of average San Francisco residents that it causes the kind of backlash that Newsom and others predict if the new executive leadership follows a reckless ideological path.
Of course, Newsom hasn’t won anything yet, other than a chance to vie against a Republican challenger for an office that was established solely for the purpose of replacing a governor who leaves or dies unexpectedly — something that hasn’t happened in more than a half-century. And running against a formidable, well-funded contender during a year when Republican candidates with crossover appeal seem to be surging will prove a considerable task.
Yet if Newsom does win in November, it will trigger a series of events rarely considered in San Francisco, which is to say its time-honored system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branch will likely be unchecked and unbalanced.
Every conceivable controversial issue that has caused a riff between Newsom and the board majority could be reconsidered and revisited. That would include such hot topics as a proposed sanctuary city law designed to shield juveniles accused of felony crimes from federal immigration authorities and a desire to opt out of new reporting requirements for jail inmates.
It could also lead to a widespread effort to undo Newsom’s spending initiatives and budget priorities, which under a new budget released last week do not include any new tax measures to offset The City’s looming deficit. The board’s leadership has been pushing for a host of new taxes and has been vocal about removing any tax breaks for industry — despite findings that such initiatives create jobs and boost spending.
But more important, if the new board gets to pick Newsom’s successor and choose one of their far-left-leaning brethren (former Supervisor Aaron Peskin and state Sen. Leland Yee are the names mentioned most often), it will likely mean a fundamental change in the makeup of The City’s government that will be in place long after the next official mayoral election.
The mayor has appointment power over the most-critical oversight bodies, including the Police, Planning, and Recreation and Park commissions — something that has resulted in some political balance on those panels. And even key jobs such as budget director, controller and department heads such as the fire chief fall to the Mayor’s Office, a fact that could create a seismic shift in the overall direction of how San Francisco governs.
Newsom has told critics of his desire to move on before the end of his term that if the board overreacts and chooses someone seen as an extremist for the role, the plan would likely so upset city voters they would again turn to a moderate, centrist leader in the next mayoral election.
But by the time the pendulum swings back, San Francisco could be so damaged financially that whoever wins the mayor’s job won’t be able to fix it.
City officials keep insisting that the answer is finding new revenue sources. But what they’re really going to need is a prayer.