Who's next?

How the next mayor's race is shaping up

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steve@sfbg.com and tredmond@sfbg.com

The seven serious candidates who have announced plans to run for mayor extends from moderate to conservative at this point, but it's an unusual field for San Francisco: there is no clear progressive standard-bearer, and no clear downtown candidate.

But it probably won't stay that way. Sources say others are likely to join the lackluster race in the coming months, and there's a strong likelihood that some progressive candidate will decide to the take plunge.

Also unlike the last few mayor's races, there appears to be no clear frontrunner — either in fundraising or in having a clear constituency base — a new dynamic that creates an unpredictability that will be exacerbated because this is the first contested mayor's race using the ranked-choice voting system and public financing of candidates.

There was a weak field of challengers to Gavin Newsom in 2007 and no one qualified for public financing or presented a strong threat. But this time City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Sup. Bevan Dufty already have indicated they will take public financing, and others are expected to follow suit.

In addition to Herrera and Dufty, the field includes Sen. Leland Yee, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, venture capitalist Joanna Rees, and former Sups. Tony Hall and Michela Alioto-Pier. Those close to Board President David Chiu also say he is "seriously considering" jumping into the race and talking to friends and supporters about that possibility now.

But so far none come from the progressive political community that has controlled the Board of Supervisors for the past decade. Although Chiu is the only candidate in the field to self-identify as a progressive, he has adopted a more moderate governing style that has frustrated many progressive activists and supervisors. So that leaves voters on the left without a candidate right now.

"If a credible progressive candidate doesn't get into the race, then we'll see the top-tier candidates — which so far Leland Yee and Dennis Herrera — try to make friends with progressive San Francisco. And it would appear they have a lot of work to do," Aaron Peskin, the former board president who chairs the San Francisco Democratic Party, told us.

Both Yee and Herrera have taken some progressive positions, and Yee has consistently endorsed more progressive candidates than anyone else in the mayoral field, but they have also taken many positions that have alienated them from progressives. And both have been taking in lots of campaign cash from interests hostile to the progressive base of renters, environmentalists, and advocates for social and economic justice.

"Nobody who has put their hats in the ring is really exciting anyone, so there is plenty of room for new entrants," Peskin said, noting the progressives are actively discussing who should run. Peskin wouldn't identify whom they're courting, but some of the names being dropped are Sups. John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, and David Campos, as well as former Sup. Chris Daly and Peskin.

But Mirkarimi shifted some of that talk this week when he announced that he intends to run to replace the retiring Mike Hennessey as sheriff.

Political consultant Jim Stearns, who is representing Yee, also expects others to get into the race. "I don't think the field is complete yet. Historically, the strong self-identified progressive candidate has come in late or surged late, like [Tom] Ammiano and [Matt] Gonzalez," Stearns said.

Ammiano launched his write-in mayoral bid in September 1999 and Gonzalez jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in August 2003, so there's plenty of time for progressive candidates to get in. "It's never too late in San Francisco," Stearns said. And unlike those two races when the upstarts were seriously outspent by the well-heeled frontrunners, Stearns said this year's field will likely be on a fairly even financial footing.

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