Mayor Ed Lee has plenty of strengths going into next year’s mayoral election. The economy is growing, unemployment is below 5 percent, and he can count on major fundraising dollars from tech titans and votes from the city’s more-moderate and home-owning Westside. But there’s one advantage that dwarfs all of that. He doesn’t have a credible challenger—at least not yet.
With State Senator Mark Leno popping his trial balloon, there are currently no announced challengers to the mayor for the November 2015 race—and only a few potential contenders who might step forward.
Leno, long rumored to have his eyes on Nancy Pelosi’s seat in Congress once she leaves office, would appear to have been the strongest contender. Though he’s beaten two progressive standard-bearers in the past, Harry Britt and Carole Migden, his push for Ellis Act reform and support of the failed local Proposition G, a tax on housing sales, bought him enough cred with the left to mount a charge. But it wasn’t clear that he could make enough inroads with the mayor’s voters (or even find a campaign consultant), and just after Thanksgiving, he decided not to enter the race.
So who are the potential other challengers? Yesterday, Matier and Ross surveyed the landscape, and pointed to termed-out Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and Supervisor David Campos, who recently lost his race for Assembly to Supervisor David Chiu.
Each could be a strong candidate, but each has weaknesses—not least of which being that they don’t seem to want to run. Echoing what he said to us in this month's issue, Ammiano told M&R he’s focused on other priorities withour fully closing the door on a campaign. Campos, a progressive standard bearer, didn’t sound enthusiastic either—and if his previous campaign couldn’t carry the city’s more left-leaning neighborhoods, it’s hard to image he’d do any better in a citywide contest. That leaves Herrera as a potential candidate. He finished third in the 2011 mayoral race and could try to build on that coalition on another go-around.
Less possible candidates include Supervisor John Avalos, who came in second in the same 2011 race. But a recently revealed affair with a legislative staffer could hurt him should he try a second time. Public Defender Jeff Adachi could jump in, but the unions wouldn’t love him after his unsuccessful push for pension reform, depriving him of critical support. Then there’s former Mayor Art Agnos, who would be eligible for a second term, and who has emerged as a face of progressive opposition to waterfront development project. The 76-year old has consistently denied that he wants to take a shot at Lee.
So to recap: The field consists of two men in their 70s who don’t seem to want to run, three men who Ed Lee has already beaten once, and one man who lost his bid for the Assembly in a district that was more favorable to him than the city as a whole. All have strong records and much to recommend them, but—absent a major shakeup—it seems like a weak field.
So where does that leave the race? Progressive doyen Tim Redmond’s recent post on 48 Hills amounted to a resigned shrug, saying “there’s a real possibility that Mayor Ed Lee will run essentially unopposed,” and suggesting that the left all but sit out the race to focus its efforts on specific issues like Airbnb regulation, downtown zoning, and finding a challenger for 2019. That’s more or less what progressives did during the last race, in which they failed to field credible opponents in all but one of the Supervisorial races (the exception would be Tony Kelly, who lost to incumbent Malia Cohen) and focused their efforts on the (ultimately losing) David Campos race. The trouble with keeping your gunpowder dry for too many elections? Eventually it goes stale. (Or something. How do guns work?)
Not to mention: What the hell is the political press supposed to write about if there’s no serious mayoral election? Like, the issues, or something? Boring. So boring.