If last night’s mayoral debate is any indication, this will be the most civil, mild-mannered and thoroughly boring election in the history of this city.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember the ballot boxes floating in San Francisco Bay? Remember Angela Alioto saying that she had dropped out of the mayoral race and endorsed Gavin Newsom because Newsom had promised to make her “vice mayor?”
It just doesn’t make for lively debate. The most memorable part of the evening was, arguably, Bevan Dufty’s casting of the other candidates (John Avalos, Dennis Herrera, Leland Yee and David Chiu) as a flock of suitors for his affections. “The gays will vote gay, and I’m the only gay person up here,” Dufty said by way of explanation. Later, when asked which of the candidates he would vote for, Dufty replied, cheerfully: “Being a single gay guy, I have felt a lot of affection from these candidates in the last few months. I want to continue this romance.”
The debate, sponsored by the Mission Merchants Association, Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, Greater Mission Rotary, San Francisco Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association, was held at Public Works. The bar was open and there were snacks (chips, salsa and pulled pork on one side of the room, a hummus platter and bruschetta on the other). The crowd was clean-cut and well-behaved. Many of them seemed to work at City Hall.
The debate began with each candidate talking about his visions and hopes for the Mission. Dufty expressed a plan to rebuild the middle class. Chiu offered to cut the fees that are “nickel-and-diming small businesses” and to work on building a “21st-century economy.” Herrera said he would do more to ensure that the city would be there to pick up duties shirked by the federal government. Avalos said that some parts of the city get better services than others and he would seek to level that playing field. Yee expressed the desire to keep families in the Mission by improving the schools. “The things that I want to do,” he added, “are not sexy things. They are not exciting things. But they are things that are going to make it possible to live in the Mission and do it well.”
After that, the candidates took turns asking each other questions.
“David asked me to be gentle,” said Dufty, “and so I will.” He turned to Chiu and asked if he would like to talk about some good things he’s done for the Mission.
Chiu took the microphone. “Thank you for being gentle, Bevan,” he said smoothly, as a man in the audience turned to a reporter and squealed, delightedly, “First gay sex joke of the evening!”
Chiu launched into a story about how he and Greg Suhr, the city’s new police chief and former chief of the Mission police station, worked together to make sure that immigrants were able to report crimes committed against them, regardless of their immigration status or English-speaking ability.
The questions continued. Yee is opposed to the privatization of parks. Dufty is opposed to the privatization of parks, but also to the suggestion from the audience that he work to make the position of Rec and Park director elected rather than appointed.
Dufty wants to let some bars stay open until 4 a.m. “The people who live here and get on those Google buses don’t want to live in a city that rolls up its doors at night,” he said. Yee said that if he were mayor, he would reappoint Ed Lee to his former position as city administrator.
“That’s the shortest answer I’ve ever heard you give,” said Chiu.
“Sometimes the shortest answer is the right one,” said Yee.
Yee doesn’t approve of gang injunctions (“I think it just moves the problem to another neighborhood”), but Dennis Herrera does approve, partly because he helped put the injunction in place in the first place. Were they going to argue? As it turned out: no.
The conversation continued to skip from topic to topic. John Avalos is against impounding the cars of undocumented immigrants. He’d like undocumented immigrants who are charged with a felony to actually go through the court system and be convicted of that felony before being deported.
Dufty would like to see the San Francisco payroll tax reformed, ideally using the same structure that Los Angeles used to overhaul its own. He does believe in giving payroll tax credits to biotech firms. Chiu added that only 10 percent of the businesses in San Francisco pay the payroll tax. “It’s unfair and bad policy to tax job creation,” he said, and the crowd went wild with applause.
They all dislike Muni as it currently functions. Herrera rides the T-Line, but misses the 15-Third, which came more often. Avalos takes the 24-Divis. Chiu takes the 49-Van Ness because, “It’s a nice line. One that works most of the time.” They all express particular distaste for the 14-Mission.
“Let’s make that the headline,” said the moderator. “The Boys Say the 14 is Jacked Up.”
The crime talk started. Avalos held public vigils for victims of violence with the help of the police force and community groups, as a way of de-escalating violence. Dufty held one job fair in three different locations so that the at-risk youth attending didn’t have to cross over into enemy gang territory. Chiu lamented the city’s lack of an integrated crime database.
Avalos said that the way to close the achievement gap is to provide free preschool for every child in the city. Herrera said that it’s about extending the funds provided by Prop. H, which are set to expire soon.
This debate panel itself is slightly controversial. Last week, The Examiner wrote an article criticizing the sponsors for inviting only five candidates, passing over Tony Hall, Joanna Rees, Michela Alioto-Pier and Phil Ting. In the article, Deena Davenport, the founder of the Valencia Merchants Association, said that the choice had been made to invite only those candidates the association considers front-runners.
Will the candidates begin to differentiate over time? Audience members with no grasp of the contenders’ legislative histories found themselves analyzing the panel based on looks and charm, so that by the end, one of the more intense and recurring conversations was about whether or not Chiu looked “too perfect.”
Adrian Covert, who attended the debate at the encouragement of friends at Faye’s Video, summed it up this way: They were all for marriage equality. For universal healthcare. For schools. They all even agreed that Muni sucks, and that the Mission 14 is jacked.
“They did a great job,” Covert said, “of not distinguishing themselves.”