Few Surprises at WOTPCC Mayoral Forum
Large Turnout as Candidates Woo the Westside
A crowd of over 400 provided a standing room only audience for the West of Twin Peaks Central Council Mayoral Candidates Forum, held last Saturday at St. Stephen's Hall.
Eleven candidates spent 90 minutes responding to questions submitted by the audience and there were few surprises in their answers. Candidates Dennis Herrera, Leland Yee, Phil Ting, Joanna Rees, Ed Lee, Tony Hall, Bevan Dufty, David Chiu, Jeff Adachi, Terry Joan Baum, and John Avalos took every opportunity to try and answer the questions asked, and to show how they differ from the other candidates. (Candidate Michaela Alioto-Pier could not attend due to a death in the family.)
The 3 moderators, journalists Ken Garcia (SF Examiner), Debra Saunders (SF Journal) and John Diaz (SF Chronicle) worked to ensure that each candidate was given the opportunity to answer the same number of questions, although with rebuttals to "attacks" and clarifications of points several of the mayoral wannabees ended up with more microphone time.
City-wide issues and topics dominated most of the questioning, much to the dismay of those in the audience who were looking for specific positions from the candidates on Westside issues such as the 19th Avenue transportation planning, the housing element and other issues involving Lake Merced and Golden Gate Park.
The questioning kicked off with the discussion of the general SF business climate, where Board of Supervisor's President Chiu and candidate Rees called for elimination of the Payroll Tax on businesses citing the number of large businesses that have left SF to relocate to the Peninsula and the East Bay. Green Party candidate Baum was vocal in her opposition to the tax breaks that were afforded to Twitter and said that we need to tax the rich people and corporations and institute a commercial rent tax.
On the issue of homelessness, Interim Mayor Lee cited the progress of Care Not Cash and the good work that the city is doing with the SFPD to help the homeless and reduce the issues of aggressive panhandling. He cited the need for more housing and support services.
Former Supervisor Hall fired off that Care Not Cash is a boondoggle that supports the homeless non-profit agency machine and ends up costing the city more than $60,000 for each homeless person. State Sen. Yee cited the problems in that there are many causes for the homeless issue and that the people themselves are not being diagnosed individually, and that we have not provided real solutions to treat the cause.
The upcoming $250,000,000 Street Repair Bond was also discussed as Lee, former Supervisor Dufty and Assessor Ting all supported the bond, explaining that the city government had not made street repair a priority and have deferred maintenance for the last 10-20 years, instead spending budget dollars on public health issues and homelessness.
Housing was addressed as a question was posed if it was OK for neighborhoods to have the right to stop "rubber stamped" high-density development. Public Defender Adachi was clear on the yes side where neighborhood people have to be included and the city is too cozy with developers. Dufty also is in favor of neighborhood participation but believes in a consensus dialogue, when pressed for a yes or no relating to neighborhood rights, he eventually said yes. On the other hand, Yee cited the result of the CCSF/neighborhood negotiations that resulted in a successful project, but said no, when pushed for a yes/no answer.
A question about the use of public financing for elections brought a spirited dialogue with Mayor Lee stating he had not taken public financing. That brought the response from Adachi that he (Lee) didn't agree to accept it because it would have put a cap on what he could have spent. Now he has no cap. Hall and Dufty both stated they have no "sugar daddies" or machines backing them. Herrera chimed in on funding that will stop the influence of special interest groups.
The moderators next question was pointed: "Mayor Lee, will Rose Pak and Willie Brown have more influence on you if you are elected?" Lee responded that he makes decisions in the best interest of the city and that he has been doing it for 22 years and you don't see Rose Pak and Willie Brown influencing the decisions I have made.
Dufty answered with a proclamation that he will have an open door policy at Room 200 (Mayor's Office) and will be accessible to the voters and to the 26,000 people who work for the city.
Candidate Rees responded by calling for "full transparency and disclosure" of budgets for each department and the calendar of who the Mayor is meeting with, citing a meeting the Mayor had with the afore-mentioned Pak, that was not listed on his publicly released schedule.
When asked about "Ranked Choice Voting" and who would be their 2nd or 3rd choices few of the candidates wanted to respond. Ting said he didn't have a decision yet for 2nd and 3rd; Hall stated, "there is not anyone up here that I would make a 2nd choice vote"; Baum said to "vote with your heart" for choices 1 and 2 and to use your 3rd choice for the "lesser of two evil" choices.
SFMTA Increases were also addressed as Chiu replied that MUNI has mismanaged their funds and they need to fix their house. Supervisor Avalos says he supports higher parking fees, and tax increases to make MUNI run more effectively, as well as an increase of the portion that SF receives of the vehicle licensing fees, and to work for more Federal dollars. Ting stated that the MTA lost $7M in parking ticket revenue and their solution was to write more tickets. MUNI needs to run better.
On the Central Subway project, Rees stated it should go forward as funding is in place and underway, but again cited the need for full transparency. Herrera adamantly said No to the project, citing the initial $653M cost that is now $1.6B for a 1.7-mile project that doesn't tie to the MUNI Metro system.
Questions were also asked about legislative action taken by the Board of Supervisors on Public Nudity, and Bird Safe glass for downtown buildings. Chiu defended the bird glass law saying the board goes through thousands of pieces of legislation and by a unanimous vote passed the bird glass legislation but is was only deliberated for 40 seconds or so. Avalos also cited the need for the law to help the aviary segment from flying into windows as often.
The recent issue where the Board of Supervisors approved the Parkmerced project, then had five legislators submit legislation to "gut" the just-approved legislation was also questioned. Chiu defended the attempt at change saying that there is a need to have the ability to make changes and that Prop E will do that. Avalos agreed saying that there are many different constituent groups that feel different about every topic and need to be heard and addressed. Rees cited the need for public hearings as people she speaks with feel their voices are not being heard, and the city disregards those that are heard to "do what they want to do anyway."
When asked what one issue is not getting the recognition that it should, the candidates responded: Yee – the issue of the State of California pushing more and more down to the counties and cities. How are we going to pay for these services? Hall – Corruption in city government; the budget now is 3x higher than when (Frank) Jordan was Mayor. Baum – we need another voice in politics and it's time to pull SF and the country to the left Adachi — Reality is missing. The city is not addressing fiscal reality.
The final two questions dealt with Ed Lee's decision to run for Mayor after saying he would not, and the highly contentious issue of Pension Reform.
Lee defended his change of mind by stating that when he initially moved into the position he was focused on the job at hand (Finding a new Police Chief; dealing with the budget deficit; negotiating an agreement for pension reform,; working on the America's Cup program, and trying to keep Twitter in the city. Citing the need to continue the "new civility" in the city government and the need to keep the city strong and united, and that he was asked by several of the supervisors, and others to run, he did change his mind to seek a full term.
Pension Reform and the "dueling" Propositions (C and D) closed the forum with each of the candidates giving their opinions:
Avalos, Chiu, Dufty, Lee, Ting, Yee and Herrera support the Lee-negotiated Prop C, while lining up against the Adachi-sponsored Prop D. Adachi and Hall support Prop D, as they state it will save twice as much as Prop C. Baum is against both measures while Rees stated that both measures are unrealistic as they are based on an investment return of 7.75% annually, while the reality shows returns in the 2.3% range.
At that point more than the allotted 90 minutes had elapsed and everyone was thanked for his or her participation; the doors swung open, and the attendees were left to ponder what their decisions will be on November 8th.
Local Activists Join In the Fun as Interim Mayor Lee Opens West Portal Office
Interim Mayor Ed Lee, seeking election as Mayor, opened his West Portal HQ. Assisted by speakers such as SF Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and Lee's wife Anita, the candidate kicked off the campaign in front of a crowd of over 100 citizens, many waving "Mayor Ed Lee –Gets it done" signs and placards.
Several of the signs in the crowd were held by supporters of Golden Gate Park, urging the Mayor to clean up the "Wreck r Parks" department, in a protest of the current policies from the Rec and Park hierarchy. The Mayor failed to address the protesters.
RANKED CHOICE VOTING TESTED
RCV WILL BE USED IN THE MAYOR'S RACE FOR THE FIRST TIME
We Asked Some of the Candidates What They Think
Jeff Adachi, Public Defender:
RCV is confusing to most voters, who may think that the best way to get their candidate elected is to vote for them three times. The winner in this race may very well be the second place vote getter who receives the most second and third place votes from voters who have voted for other candidates who are eliminated. The message I have been putting out is that if I am not your number one choice, then please vote for me as your second or third place choice.
John Avalos, Supervisor :"We're all tired of politics as usual. RCV and public financing give grassroots voters a real choice in this election.
I have enough faith in the voters in this City to believe that they will vote for me for first, second and third under the RCV process precisely because I have talked about real issues and real ideas.
David Chiu, Supervisor:
RCV allows voters to rank their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice candidates. Through this system, candidates strive to get as many first choice votes as possible. But as the lowest scoring candidates drop off the bottom, votes are distributed to the 2nd choice of each voter. The RCV system encourages positive campaigns and allows for candidates to take their message to the most diverse set of San Franciscans.
Bevan Dufty, Former Supervisor:
Submitted by Alex Tourk, Campaign Manager: RCV has created an entirely new dynamic to electoral politics. While securing the #1 votes is vital to get into the final rounds, the ability to garner 2nd and 3rd place votes is key as votes are transferred as candidates are unable to move into each subsequent round.
The key in a large field of 11 substantial candidates is turnout. The candidate who can energize their base and turn them out will be the likely winner as there are various constituencies in San Francisco who are fractured with a crowded field.
Tony Hall, Former Supervisor:
The people of San Francisco need to be educated about RCV. I am asking to be your first-choice vote — if not your first-choice vote, your second or third-choice vote.
RCV may be the citizens' best opportunity to implement the real reform that City Hall needs. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Dennis Herrera, City Attorney:
On balance, I prefer the traditional runoff system for citywide elections. But, like most San Franciscans (and perhaps more than most San Franciscans, admittedly) I'm keeping an open mind to see how RCV works in the current election. This competitive mayoral election is likely to have a decisive influence on how San Franciscans view ranked-choice voting going forward. As a voter-approved scheme, the decision about whether to continue with it or not belongs, ultimately, to them.
I'll concede that there are pluses and minuses to RCV, and that it does encourage some coalition building. Unfortunately, it has also discouraged many candidates from staking out tough stands on issues, or moving beyond empty platitudes to address the serious challenges San Francisco faces.
Ed Lee, Interim Mayor:
San Francisco voters approved ranked-choice voting and now have the opportunity to use it to choose their Mayor in November. Some voters have expressed confusion about this system of voting, and I am concerned when any voting method is not clearly understandable to voters. The Department of Elections implemented a citywide education campaign to help voters learn about ranked-choice voting in various languages. I recommended further outreach with a clear message: Selecting additional candidates allows voters another choice if their first/second candidate does not have enough votes to win the election.
Joanna Rees, Businesswoman:
Whether as their first, second, or third choice, it is clear that the people of San Francisco are looking for innovative leadership that's rooted in the neighborhoods, and a change from politics as usual inside city hall. RCV gives more voters more opportunities to express that preference.
Leland Yee, State Senator:
While I have not always felt Ranked Choice Voting is the best way to conduct elections, it is the system San Francisco voters approved and thus I will work to ensure as many 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice votes as possible. I believe our campaign has done the best job to reach all San Franciscans, and therefore we are well positioned to win in November.
Pension Reform Champion Jeff Adachi Enters Mayor's Race
An outspoken critic about how City Hall spends money tosses his hat in the ring for Mayor.
Candidate Adachi reaches out to voter Danielle Sharabi—wins over Riko easily. Photo: Luke Thomas-fogcityjournal.com
On August 12th Public Defender Jeff Adachi filed his papers to run. While there had been much speculation for weeks that he would decide to do so, Adachi told the Bay Guardian why he was prompted to jump in the race: "It wasn't until I really listened to what the (other) candidates were saying in the last few debates about pension reform. I became convinced that either the candidates don't get it or they don't want to get it."
Public employee union pension reform is the driving force behind this November's ballot. San Francisco voters are being asked to approve more taxes for street repairs, schools and sales taxes this year because employee wages and benefits increasingly leave little of the city budget for vital services. Money for schools, parks, and infrastructure has been cut while the average city worker earns $90,000 per year in wages and benefits. Thousands of current city employees earn six-figure salaries, and 900 retired workers, according to the SFWeekly, even enjoy pensions in excess of $100,000, yet none of their unions think they should share the pain of the recession with taxpayers who are being asked to dig ever deeper into their pockets to pay salaries and pensions that vastly exceed those in the private sector.
How did the Public Defender become the Champion of Pension Reform?
The 2008 financial crisis hit San Francisco government hard. San Francisco soon faced a budget deficit exceeding $500 million. The over-generosity of San Francisco taxpayers toward its civil servants proved to be the root cause, and prevented correction.
Whether due to optimism or incompetency, previous pension cost projections were proved wrong. Last year San Franciscans contributed $178 million to SFERS to keep it solvent, and in this fiscal year the figure is $246 million. $246 million is over 80% of the City's overall projected deficit, and the pension cost driver will continue to climb through the year 2016 when retirement costs alone will cost San Franciscans as much as an additional $800 million.
What to do? Adachi knew that his department would continue to see cutbacks to compensate for rising pension costs, and every year he would be fighting every other city department for every dollar, because at some point voters would stop approving new taxes.
Jeff Adachi circulated a petition to put pension reform on last year's ballot before pension reform became popular. It was defeated by big money from the labor unions, and by politicians seeking union endorsements for this year's Mayor's race
Adachi is back this year with Prop D. Opponents include Mayor Ed Lee, who worked with the unions to offer a competing watered-down version, Prop C, banking on voter confusion to sink them both.
Adachi believes voters want a voice over how their money is spent, and decided to run for Mayor to stop the hemorrhage of red ink across the city before it's too late. "I'm here because I want to see a real debate among candidates," he said. "And I think people want to know the truth."
In addition to pension reform, Adachi said he wants to focus on infrastructure, homelessness and mental health.
"We don't suffer from lack of ideas in San Francisco," he told KCBS. "It's lack of action."
Adachi's campaign can be contacted at www.adachi2011.com or at 905-9100.
Jeff Adachi grew up in Sacramento, the grandson of an immigrant family. His father was an auto mechanic and his mother worked as a medical technician.
Adachi was first attracted to the law because of his family's experience during World War II. In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt issued executive order 9066, which relocated Japanese Americans up and down the West Coast to internment camps. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of 9066. Former Detroit Mayor and Michigan Governor Frank Murphy, who Roosevelt appointed to the Supreme Court in 1940, wrote in dissent, "All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and are entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution." As Adachi told a journalist in 2008, the job of a Public Defender is to "make sure nobody gets railroaded."
Adachi graduated from the University of California, Davis, and received his law degree from Hastings. As a young deputy Public Defender, he earned a reputation at the Hall of Justice for being a trial attorney that never shied away from conflict or uphill fights. Working under then Chief Attorney Peter Keane, Adachi was encouraged to take cases to trial for both the practical experience, and to better serve his clients in the criminal justice system.
Jeff Adachi was elected Public Defender of San Francisco in 2002, defeating John Burton's daughter Kimiko, who had been appointed by Willie Brown. Adachi defeated Burton by a 55-45 margin, despite being outspent 3 to 1 by the powerful political machine. (Kimiko Burton now works for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.)
In his first two terms in office, Adachi focused on modernizing the San Francisco's Public Defender's office. To save money he brought in paralegals; he brought in social workers to help clients and their families avoid recidivism; and his office launched a program to help at-risk youth stay in school. For the first time, women were promoted to managerial positions.
Adachi joins a crowded field in San Francisco's first ever "Instant Runoff Voting" election for mayor that involves transferring votes from lower vote getters to an eventual top vote getter. This voting system proved deadly in 2010 to East Bay powerhouse and Oakland mayoral front runner Don Perata, who tanked when challengers attacked him, pooled their votes despite all of his money and name endorsements, and elected Mayor Jean Quan.
Adachi's mayoral candidacy and pension fight are both uphill electoral battles that defy political convention. If San Francisco voters are ready to confront a financial crisis from which other politicians shy away, and overcome an endless supply of special interest opposition money, Adachi believes he can win, and it will forever change how local elected officials campaign and operate in office.
Yee Makes It Official on May 7th
State Senator Leland Yee opened his “exploratory” committee for his campaign for Mayor in November. Now, he plans to make his candidacy official with a launch event at his Van Ness headquarters on Saturday May 7th. The Headquarters is located at 710 Van Ness Avenue, at the corner of Turk Street, and all San Franciscans are invited to attend.
Since November, Senator Yee has been meeting with San Franciscans across the city to get their views on the issues facing San Francisco and potential solutions. He has toured technology companies and start-ups like Ustream, Yelp, and Aliph, visited the biotech research facility at UC San Francisco, met with small merchants and merchant associations, toured innovative educational programs, and sat down with neighborhood associations at their monthly meetings. In addition, Yee has hosted dozens of neighborhood coffees that he calls “20-20’s” at local restaurants like the Tennessee Grill.
Yee says these get-togethers are a different kind of campaigning. “We’re not there to talk, we’re there to listen,” he said. “We go around the room, everyone talks about the issues that concern them, and we write it all down on a big piece of paper so everyone can see it and discuss it together. My role is just to listen and ask questions.”
Now, he says, that’s about to change as he puts all the ideas together and starts crafting his “20-20” vision for the city. The next Mayor is likely to serve until the year 2020, and Yee says that a long-range vision is what the city deserves.
“One of the clearer messages we have received in the last 5 months is that San Francisco needs to be more affordable for middle-class families,” said Yee. “A recent survey showed that nearly 40% of families with children under 5 are considering leaving the city. There are two big reasons we’ve found for this – concern about the quality of public schools and the expensive cost of family housing.”
Yee, the only candidate who attended San Francisco public schools himself (a graduate of Mission High) and who put all four of his children through the public school system, says he knows how vital public education is for working and middle class families to survive and thrive in San Francisco. As a child psychologist, educator, and former School Board President, Yee also believes he is uniquely qualified to lead the effort to improve public schools. But, he wants to go beyond that as well.
“My vision starts with vastly improved public schools,” said Yee. “But it goes beyond there. I see the development of neighborhood schools as real community centers, where families, neighbors—any member of the community—can go to receive economic assistance, take adult education classes, meet and collaborate with other parents and teachers, even receive health care and mental health services in the after-hours. I believe that the more the schools serve the entire community, the more the community will support the schools. That means schools can become anchors within these communities, fostering partnerships, connectivity and growth beyond just school improvement.”
One of the other major themes to emerge from his citywide meetings is the need to streamline permitting for small businesses, which still provide the majority of employment for San Franciscans.
“We talk a lot about attracting new business like Twitter and Zynga to the city and that is extremely important,” said Yee. “But there are a lot of small, local businesses that have been in operation for decades and they need our help, too. And, there are many, many individuals who would like a chance to start and grow their own business but are stymied by over-regulation and prohibitive permit costs. That’s an area where a new Mayor can really make a difference.”
Yee’s small business plan includes placing case managers in city government that would be responsible for groups of small businesses on a geographic and economic basis. These case managers would be charged with solving problems, answering questions, and shepherding business owners through the maze at City Hall. They would also help spark legislative and regulatory changes, based on their experience, to help make the city a more hospitable place for merchants.
Yee says that although his campaign is now going to begin developing concrete plans for the future, the listening stage is not over. “We are going to continue to hold our 20-20 coffees in every neighborhood in the city. A lot of voters are just now focusing on the election. And, with ranked choice voting, it’s a little more complicated than it has been in the past. So, we encourage people to come down and make their voices heard and participate in this critical election.”
Grey skies and a slight drizzle couldn't dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic crowd gathered at 99 West Portal Avenue on Thursday, February 24th to listen to and applaud Tony Hall as he opened his Mayoral campaign headquarters.
Hall, a veteran of more than 25 years in San Francisco politics, and a former District 7 Supervisor, jumped into the race for Mayor with a simple question. "When was the last time you had a city government you were proud of?" he asked the crowd of more than 60 supporters and volunteers. "I am in this campaign to provide service to the city and to lead a government where substance takes precedent over form and people take preference over politics," he continued.
In fact, that's the tag line for his campaign, People Over Politics, and it was clear from his remarks that he is counting on his knowledge of the SF political establishment, and his ability to reach out to voters to carry his message to others across the city in his quest to succeed interim Mayor Ed Lee when the votes are tallied in November.
Standing in front of his crowd of supporters with a microphone in hand, he gave the attendees a brief overview of his plans. Stating that a more detailed platform of his goals and ideas would be distributed in the coming weeks, he stressed the five areas he will focus on as Mayor. "The five tenants of my platform will be an emphasis on Job Creation, Budget Responsibility in City Government, Accountability of the City Administration, Providing Clean and Safe Streets in SF, and leading a city government that is Honest, Open and Transparent."
Hall's campaign will be focusing on his ability to "work across the aisle" to get things done to unify the city behind his agenda that serves the people of San Francisco, not just "the insiders and well-connected."
In a race that is becoming increasingly crowded with candidates, Hall thinks he has a great chance, "We have had a great response with early research and polling on my candidacy and it was more than I hoped for. I'm in it, and I'm in it to win."