There's been much talk about naming a “caretaker mayor” to replace Mayor Gavin Newsom in January – most of it coming from downtown-oriented politicians, advocates, and publications, who are in the minority on the Board of Supervisors – but Sup. Chris Daly offered a full-throated denunciation of the idea this week.
At the end of Tuesday's long debate on adopting a procedure for choosing a successor mayor, Daly appealed to his colleagues, “Can we please spend a minute talking about what we'd like to see in the new mayor of San Francisco?” And in his remarks that followed, he focused on shooting down the notion that a caretaker mayor is what this troubled city needs.
The idea behind a caretaker would be to choose a technocrat who would pledge not to run for reelection in the fall, thus keeping any prospective candidate from gaining an advantage from incumbency. Names most frequently cited by moderate politicians and media voices are SFPUC head Ed Harrington, Sheriff Michael Hennessey, and City Administrator Ed Lee. Some more progressive caretaker names that get dropped include former Mayor Art Agnos and SF Democratic Party chair Aaron Peskin.
But Daly – publicly sounding a perspective that's been widely discussed in progressive circles, who question why the board's progressive majority would purposefully punt away the chance to lead – said the idea is fundamentally flawed: “You would be putting someone in office who is necessarily weak and hamstrung.”
While Daly acknowledges that he'd like to see a progressive in Room 200 and that “the political divide is real” between progressives and moderates, he said the flaws in installing a caretaker mayor should be apparent to everyone. To deal with a $400 million deficit and other structural budget issues, the new mayor is going to have to show leadership and have a base of support, which a caretaker mayor wouldn't.
Although the Hearst-owned Chronicle has been promoting the idea of a caretaker mayor now, Daly noted that the Hearst-owned Examiner editorialized against the idea last time the city was in this position, in 1978 after Mayor George Moscone was assassinated and the board picked Dianne Feinstein to become mayor. “The City should not have to accept a “caretaker” mayor invested with only a thin veneer of authority,” editorialized the Examiner.
“It would be a colossal mistake,” Daly said of choosing a caretaker mayor. “We need to do better than just someone who knows the inner workings of city government.”
But the fear that the board's progressive majority would put a progressive in office – or even a moderate politician with some progressive inclinations and connections – seems to be downtown's greatest fear right now. The fun begins Dec. 7 when the board resumes its discussion of the issue and could start taking nominations.