Garcia: Running on empty

It probably wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that the progressives’ much-anticipated dive into the mayoral pool this year turned out to be a belly-flop.

If people were hoping and praying that this weekend’s big political “summit’’ would unearth someone — anyone — of a far-leaning liberal stripe to run against Mayor Gavin Newsom this year, then they must be disappointed that things didn’t go swimmingly. I’m sure the event left a lot of folks feeling warm and fuzzy, but it can’t be very encouraging that one of the only candidates in attendance who actually is running turned out to be a clown (really).

Not long ago, I opined in a column that it is rather remarkable that the anti-Newsom forces in town couldn’t find anybody in their ranks to run against the mayor with June upon us. Supervisor Chris Daly had promised all who would listen that they would find a candidate within weeks and then called for a mass wingding in order to pick a candidate. And, right now, it’s unclear whether anybody will run or just that those who gathered decided that they didn’t want to be labeled — which they almost certainly would have been — as the candidate that Daly picked.

It’s not surprising to most observers that no one wants to be this year’s sacrificial lamb — which the polls seem to indicate, since Newsom, despite a series of personal setbacks, remains extremely popular. Even some of the über-liberal journals and blogs recently began to suggest that maybe no one should run against the mayor, because it would be a waste of time and money and the majority of supervisors are still embarked on their legislative forays to reduce Newsom’s power.

Yet, if that’s the case, then the so-called progressives made a major tactical blunder. Not only do they look weak and indecisive in the eyes of the public, they’ve all but announced that their only message in a campaign would be “Dump Newsom.” That’s hardly a winning strategy when you consider that Newsom’s job approval ratings are in the high 70s and polls show that most voters believe The City is moving in the right direction under his guidance.

If someone on the left jumps into the race, the scenario plays out that Newsom will come under fire from the left and the right — the right spot on the spectrum being filled by former Supervisor Tony Hall. But few people consider Hall a serious candidate, and it’s hard to imagine that he could raise enough money to mount a viable campaign.

“The squeeze strategy of the far left and the far right bashing Newsom might be fun to watch, but I think the voters would see through that,’’ political consultant David Latterman said. “Really, the only way to take Newsom out is in a one-on-one race. Anything else would just be a distraction.’’

Much of the focus recently has been on Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whom many lefty supporters were strongly encouraging to jump into the race. The idea behind a Mirkarimi run was twofold — he could raise his profile above that of a district supervisor to put himself in better position to run in 2011, and he’s not Daly, the ever-combustible supervisor who has the highest negative ratings of any politician in San Francisco.

Daly said Monday that he would not run for mayor, which makes sense, since every political consultant I’ve spoken to says a Daly race translates into a landslide for Newsom — something Daly would no doubt loathe, even though it would make for the kind of blood sport San Franciscans apparently like in their mayoral campaigns. That’s why so much attention has been showered on Mirkarimi, who is considered a much brighter — and less angry — face for the left.

But Mirkarimi on Monday reiterated the stance that he took at the weekend meeting, telling me he felt it wasn’t the right time for him to run.

“I do believe that there should be a credible challenger to raise the level of discourse, which I think would be good for San Francisco,’’ Mirkarimi said. “But I want to continue to build on my experience as a district supervisor. It was heartening and flattering that so many people were encouraging me to run, but I didn’t want my ego to get ahead of me.’’

That seems to set the stage for Matt Gonzalez, the one-time Green Party star, who said he would only get in the race if no one else ran. But when I spoke to him recently, he didn’t seem to have a great desire to step back into the political spotlight.

At this point though, it won’t be easy to ride a wave of momentum, because there is none.

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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