San Francisco mayoral hopefuls cross starting line

Nine mayoral candidates put their records on the line Thursday night at a University of San Francisco forum that offered the first real chance in a long election season to differentiate themselves from the pack.

But with the race still wide open and ranked-choice voting lending an unprecedented amount of uncertainty to November’s election, there were only a few flashes of controversy. The most caustic issue going into November, pension reform, was only mentioned once — by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.

Reforming The City’s payroll tax is a priority for The City, however, according to Chiu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and entrepreneur Joanna Rees. Former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier highlighted her part in the biotech payroll tax cut that has helped industry in Mission Bay grow. The payroll tax has come under increasing fire as city leaders try to keep growing businesses such as Twitter and Zynga in town.

Supervisor John Avalos, who opposed a tax break for Twitter and is by far the farthest-left-leaning candidate of the nine, emphasized the importance of funding services for the neediest San Franciscans. State Sen. Leland Yee echoed those priorities, and the two candidates stressed the importance of funding education.

As a former supervisor and Mayor Willie Brown aide, Bevan Dufty said he has the skills to listen to his constituents and told several stories to keep the crowd entertained.

Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting plugged his website, Reset San Francisco, where citizens can offer their own insight as to what’s working and what’s not in San Francisco city government. And Tony Hall, the former supervisor, emphasized the importance of ethics and transparency in government.

For students in attendance, the wide field of candidates seemed a bit overwhelming, especially with ranked-choice voting being tested for the first time in a competitive mayoral race.

After the forum, Meghan Ginley, 18, said she was still trying to wrap her head around ranked-choice voting. She compared the system, which is meant to avoid costly runoff elections, to socialism.

“It looks good on paper,” she said. “But I don’t know if it works.”

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