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Can anyone beat Ed Lee?

Chris Smith | Edited by Nan Wiener | October 19, 2011 | Story Politics

Interim mayor Ed Lee must have been feeling pretty good this fall, since according to the polls, the race has been his to lose. The rest of the candidates “all look the same,” says political consultant Jim Ross, “and none of them are Ed Lee.” The best way for someone to move the needle, says San Francisco State University assistant political science professor Jason McDaniel, would be “to go big,” articulating a grand vision that contrasts with Lee’s status quo. If that happens, and a challenger does have a late surge, ranked-choice voting’s cruel math could kick in, and even with the most first-place votes, Lee could lose. Below, five of the top contenders in the polls at press time.

Jeff Acachi
Unless every union member in the city is raptured before November, the public defender’s campaign is likely to be buried under an avalanche of negative mailers opposing his pension-reform measure. But if only someone could make people realize that Adachi’s plan is actually more sensible than Lee’s, he could unite the city’s far left and sort-of right in a coalition that ekes out a win. WTF? SCENARIO: Deciding that victory lies in alienating the entire electorate, Adachi hires a rogues’ gallery of campaign advisers: Ralph Nader, Barry Zito, and the singer from that milquetoast ’90s hanger-on, Train.

John Avalos
The District 11 supervisor and progressive standard- bearer’s brand of lefty economic populism (his “local hire” legislation, for instance) hasn’t yet gained traction, but he could make a late run on the strength of his “number one” endorsement from the county’s Democratic Party committee. The nod means institutional support down the stretch—mailers, robo-calls, and door hangers galore. WTF? SCENARIO: Taking a page from former Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra’s 1979 mayoral run, Avalos pledges that if he wins Room 200, all businesspeople will be required to wear clown suits to work.

Bevan Dufty
He really doesn’t have much of a chance, as even he seems to realize. He’s running, but based on his public pronouncements, it sounds as if he’d almost rather get a number-two showing than a win. WTF? SCENARIO: He tries to kill voters with kindness, promising to pick them up from the airport and do their laundry if they’ll put him anywhere on the ballot. On Election Day, he extends the offer to Ed Lee, if Lee will appoint him to something or other come January.

Dennis Herrera
If Lee falters for any reason, City Attorney Herrera could slip in simply because he was Ed Lee (albeit a more liberal version) before being Ed Lee was cool: They’ve turned boring and wonky into a kind of dork charm. His opposition to the boondoggle-ish Central Subway, which Lee supports, could also give him an edge. WTF? SCENARIO: Herrera comes out with a raft of blistering ads attacking Lee for his slavish allegiance to Manly Styling. Political consultant Ross imagines the tagline: “Herrera: No Mustache Wax Subsidies on My Watch!”

Leland Yee
For months, voters have shrugged at Ed Lee’s ties to Chinatown power broker Rose Pak and former mayor Willie Brown, but if the steady drip of accusations finally starts to hurt him, Yee could snatch the lion’s share of the city’s growing Asian voting bloc, and with it, the race. WTF? SCENARIO: Opportunistic even for a politician, Yee has always exploited red-meat liberal issues with the best of them. So after GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry mocks “San Francisco values,” Yee rides to our defense, making the rounds of the cable TV talk shows—and galvanizes civic pride.


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