S.F. funding fails to lure Newsom challengers

For the first time in a mayoral election hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money could have gone into the war chests of qualifying candidates. But despite the promise of this financial sweetener, no serious threat to incumbent Mayor Gavin Newsom emerged.

Only two mayoral candidates met last Tuesday’s deadline to submit papers to qualify to receive public financing. One of the two candidates, Tony Hall, a former supervisor, called it quits last Friday, leaving only John Rinaldi, better known as Chicken John, as a possible recipient of public money.

To qualify, a candidate must have received contributions ranging from $10 to $100 from at least 250 San Francisco residents. The contributions also had to total at least $25,000. The Ethics Commission is reviewing Rinaldi’s paperwork, which lists more than 250 donors with contributions totaling $26,271. The commission will render a decision by Tuesday, and then Rinaldi would have five days to provide additional information, if necessary.

If he does qualify, Rinaldi would receive a city check for $50,000. Rinaldi would then also stand to receive up to $400,000 in public money if he raises another $100,000 and an additional $400,000 if he raises another $400,000.

Public financing of mayoral candidates was approved last year by the Board of Supervisors. Public financing for mayoral candidates “was generally pushed by the progressives knowing they didn’t have the money-raising power of a downtown backed candidate,” political analyst David Latterman said.

Latterman said that the public financing apparently “wasn’t a big enough carrot” to lure viable candidates into the race against Newsom, who boasts a high approval rating and has previously shown he can generate an enormous war chest.

“I wouldn’t say that this was in any way a litmus test about public financing, which I still believe in,” Supervisor Tom Ammiano said.

He said in the next mayor’s race, when there will be no incumbent, “you are going to see the increased recognition of public financing as a lure.”

Including Rinaldi, 11 candidates remain in the mayor’s race, including two bloggers and a director of aneighborhood safety nonprofit. Political analysts say none poses a serious threat to Newsom.

If he qualifies for public financing, Rinaldi is not expected to become a threat, according to Latterman. “More money doesn’t help you if you don’t have a serious campaign,” he said.

Rinaldi, however, said that his race is “like going to war.” “This isn’t a joke,” he said. Much of his political contributions came from members of the city’s art community, within which Rinaldi is a favorite. Rinaldi’s campaign manager Lev Osherovich said that while Rinaldi “is not going to win,” his campaign will raise awareness about specific issues, such as the increasing cost of housing that is pricing out many artists, as well as generate more interest in city politics.

jsabatini@examiner.com

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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