Political double-dipping plagues city’s mayoral race

For the sake of argument, let’s say I lost my mind and decided to run for mayor because under our ridiculous system of ranked-choice voting, I’d stand about as good a chance as the other pretenders.

I’d have a pretty good perch from which to launch my campaign — stirring up issue after issue — that is, if my employers allowed this obvious conflict to proceed, which they never would.

So why do we allow it for other candidates, who are using their offices and millions in taxpayer money to run for mayor this year? In San Francisco, normal rules don’t apply.

I can’t tell you how many citizens have been complaining about the likes of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, state Sen. Leland Yee and other office-holders citing lawsuits and unveiling new programs under the guise of their agencies when they’re actually using them as a platform for higher office.

This week, Herrera announced a lawsuit against some Bayview contractors for illegal dumping with a news conference and press release — fair enough for a city attorney — but then his consultants plastered the news on his Facebook page with a link to his campaign site within an hour of the “event.”

Consider it a form of political double-dipping — public service for personal gain.

I’m not against anybody running for another office, but sharing two platforms for one common purpose comes across as a little unseemly. The only thing sparing us from mounds of legislation to show how active and far-thinking they are is that two of the candidates, Michela Alioto-Pier and Bevan Dufty, recently were termed out at the Board of Supervisors.

That leaves Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, the latest entrant in the mayor’s race, to do the heavy lifting in the next few months, when he can show us how easy it will be to offset a $360 million budget deficit with public-safety advocates and lefty progressives fighting over the morsels.

It is not a new trend for politicians to use their place to pursue another, but they seem to be stretching the public’s appetite for allowances these days. Former San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris spent the better part of a year and a half campaigning for President Barack Obama and then herself (in the attorney general’s race), yet somehow I don’t remember her claiming personal days for all the time she was in Des Moines and Los Angeles.

That doesn’t even take into account the case with Yee. Last year, he spent close to $1 million running virtually unopposed for his state Senate seat and used the campaign primarily as a way to boost his run for mayor, including polling on the race — a questionable tactic for someone who has tried to make a career out of eliminating costly academic salaries.

Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean it’s right. And just because voters approved it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, as will be proven in this year’s mayoral campaign when a winner emerges with less than 25 percent of the total vote thanks to ranked-choice voting.

The eight legitimate candidates who have signed on so far are the first group fully eligible to grab the public finance fund that supervisors so selfishly agreed to put aside for themselves in 2006. John St. Croix, the director of The City’s Ethics Commission, told me that currently $7.2 million is available for the candidates to receive if they meet certain fundraising thresholds — but that, “theoretically,” there’s another $5 million that could be added if they all reach their fundraising limit — or $1,525,000 each.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think a lot of people might pause at the idea that officials who are pulling down hundreds of thousands in city and state salaries are about to raid the San Francisco treasury of maybe $10 million in taxpayer funds.

Remember the argument about how publicly financed campaigns were supposed to keep “big money” out of political races? I guess it’s just Monopoly money when it comes from our own municipal coffers. (To her credit, Alioto-Pier was one of only two supervisors who voted against extending public financing to the mayor’s race.)
In these lean times, 2011 will be all about officials giving back — to themselves.

Bay Area Newsken garciaLocalNews ColumnistsSan Francisco

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