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What the Next Mayor Faces

by Larry Bush on 11/01/2011

in Merely Rumors

 (After CitiReport’s stunning success at forecasting in a recent issue (“Why the Chronicle Is Endorsing Ed Lee”), we concluded that our only option was to forge ahead with yet more of our insights and predictions)

Campaign polling is rumored to place Ed Lee below25% as a first choice for voters (some actually have him elbowing 20%), eventually the votes are projected to cascade upward to likely keep him in the mayor’s seat. According to KPIX’s report of a Survey USA poll, Lee has a 39 percent unfavorable rating and only a 46% favorable rating – a bare seven point margin.

If those are the results a week from now, Lee will enter into his own term of office under far less favorable conditions than he had a year ago when he was named Interim Mayor.

Should Lee claim the office in his own right, the question will remain what it means. He has been obtuse during the campaign, and finding himself moving off Mount Olympus into the realm of mortals could well result in a more isolated, withdrawn mayor relying ever increasingly on mentors like Rose Pak and Willie Brown. With a career spent implementing the agenda of others, Lee lacks a track record on his own agenda and he didn’t offer much of one in the current election.

He also will face a year of significant change in the city’s politics and political figures.

Much of that change will revolve around him and his decisions – or his indecision.

The 2012 year will begin with a hangover from 2011.

If three November measures fail, City Hall will be facing an even larger deficit than it had this year. The streets bond measure, the city worker pension tweak in Proposition C, and the sales tax in Proposition G are all iffy at this point.

Polls show Proposition C barely above 50 percent, and typically votes fall away not toward a measure.

The sales tax got no boost from Lee during the campaign, and is virtually invisible. In a year of struggling economy and with Lee’s own message being the need to cure unemployment with job creation, selling people on paying taxes seems a bad bargain.

The street bond measure is both something homeowners are not enthused about, and there is some resentment that street repair was taken out of the budget as an incentive to pass the bond measure.

On all three, we’re just saying.

First up, in January, the mayor may have a chance to appoint a supervisor for District 5 should Ross Mirkarimi be elected as Sheriff. Ross has been one of the most reliable progressive votes, and Lee is unlikely to appoint a replacement who will continue a progressive tradition that goes back to the start of district elections.

The selection could well change votes at the Board, but also could erode further Lee’s status, particularly since he is unlikely to do well in District 5 in the November election.

By March, the Redistricting Task Force should unveil new lines for the November election of supervisors. It is expected that the changes will be felt mostly in the city’s Eastern neighborhoods, including District 3 where David Chiu will have to go before voters.

By the time that the budget has to be approved, there should be active campaigns underway by incumbents David Campos, Eric Mar and David Chiu. There will be two seats held by termed-out Supervisors: Sean Elsbernd and Ross Mirkarimi or his successor.

Should Lee squeak into the mayor’s office, it is predictable (at least by us) that some of these contests will reflect the politics of City Hall as much as they will the politics of the neighborhoods. Lee could find himself facing a restless Board, including some who worked with him this year but who will need to stand on their own next year (Hello, David Chiu).

Next year we are promised several ballot measures that will ignite debate. Elsbernd promises to introduce measures to eliminate rank choice voting and public financing. He will have strong support from downtown for those proposals should they make their way onto the ballot. If the Board doesn’t want to put them on, look for a petition drive to do it.

Also look for Pension Reform III as even supporters of this year’s measures admit that there will need to be additional changes. One of them is likely to be to revisit the provision that takes away city worker influence over health care plans, part of the “city family” measure that won labor support. But if that is a stand-alone issue, expect labor to backtrack and support city worker control over the plan.

Next year the America’s Cup hosting will move off the sports pages and onto the front pages. Much of what needs to be done for the city to meet its obligations are currently under the radar, but wait until the public discovers that the Ferry Building market will be closed to traffic for months at a time.  Also expect a show-down over the Marina Green.

No one would have predicted this year that the Civil Grand Jury would produce reports that reverberated politically, but they did on the Central Subway, the Ethics Commission, and an update on pension reform. That sets the stage to expect that next year’s Civil Grand Jury reports, whatever they may select, will get a closer scrutiny than has been the case in the past.

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