Take the Politics out of Appointing the Next Mayor

Mayor Newsom won’t be sworn in as Lieutenant Governor until January 3, but politics surrounding the process for appointing the city’s next mayor are already well underway. Speculation about possible candidates interested in the city’s highest post has been raging for weeks, but real politics were put into play this week as two proposals for appointing an interim mayor were debated by the Board of Supervisors.

One proposal, introduced by Board President David Chiu, calls for the board clerk to establish the process for appointing the interim mayor. A second, introduced by Supervisors John Avalos, Chris Daly and David Campos, will require the Board to take public testimony and make a nonbinding vote on an interim mayor, followed by a subsequent (and binding) vote to confirm the appointment once the mayor’s seat is actually vacated.

While the process for appointing the next mayor is still being debated, the City Charter is clear on the laws surrounding the vacancy. Board President David Chiu will become acting mayor on January 3, 2011 – the day Gavin Newsom is sworn in as Lieutenant Governor. Chiu, who will also retain his post as board president, will remain mayor until the Board of Supervisors can agree on the person to serve as the interim mayor for the remainder of the term ending in November 2011. Since the job of mayor would give a salary boost to any existing Supervisor appointed to the post, Supervisors are not allowed to vote for themselves – so it will take six out of ten votes to appoint the next mayor.

Due to the recent supervisorial elections, the current Board of Supervisors will have only one opportunity at the January 4, 2011 meeting to ratify the new mayor. If the current Board cannot agree, the decision will be handed over to the newly elected Board of Supervisors, who will be sworn in on January 8, 2011. And if the newly elected Board cannot agree and it appoints someone other than Supervisor Chiu as board president (whose term expires in January), another member of the board will serve as acting mayor until a formal decision can be reached.

If that’s not enough to confuse even the most seasoned parliamentarian, there are even more politics at play. While Mayor Newsom has stated he plans to be sworn in on January 3, it is still possible he can delay his swearing in until after January 8, ensuring that only the newly elected board will have the opportunity to vote on his replacement. At least nine candidates are rumored to be seeking the post. And the city’s progressive left is busy plotting its strategy to put an otherwise unelectable mayor into office who shares their agenda – a situation the San Francisco Bay Guardian calls “the opportunity of a generation.”

One thing is certain. No matter who is appointed as the city’s next mayor, the challenges will be great. The budget deficit is projected to reach $400 million next fiscal year. Vital city policies – such as pension reform – remain in question. More than 44,000 San Franciscans are unemployed. Challenges of this magnitude require a strong executive who is focused on the city’s business.

Now is the time to put politics aside and do what is best for San Francisco. What our city needs is an interim leader who will carry out Mayor Newsom’s centrist policies and keep in place his administrative team. That was the will of the voters three years ago when Mayor Newsom was re-elected by a landside. If there is any doubt as to whether or not voter preferences have changed, one needs only to look at this month’s election to confirm the city’s moderate political priorities remain the same. San Franciscans voted against higher taxes and for propositions to fix muni and improve civility on sidewalks. San Francisco needs a leader who will honor these priorities, until voters have another say in November.