Columns » Politics

Herrera wins!
by Bill Barnes

While it won't be official until Election Day, the big winner at the city's filing deadline Friday, August 12, was City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who will be unopposed in November. Herrera, who faced a tough election just four years ago, this year has emerged without an opponent in his re-election bid. Herrera was joined by a wide range of supporters including Mayor Gavin Newsom , Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Gerardo Sandoval , former Bay Area Reporter political editor Wayne Friday, Democratic County Central Committee members Scott Wiener and Amy Harrington, and political strategist Jim Stearns to celebrate at Tosca, the popular North Beach bar.

As city attorney, Herrera has employed a three-part strategy: he's taken on more consumer and social justice cases, increased transparency in the office, and bolstered the code enforcement division. From working for gay marriage to taking on energy companies, Herrera has strengthened the affirmative litigation part of the office put in place under predecessor Louise Renne. By posting legal opinions online and improving the training of public officials on good government laws, Herrera's shop has increased confidence of the media and even many within City Hall itself. Finally, Herrera's office has made a priority of tackling code enforcement issues, such as helping tenants without heat or hot water, going after owners of blighted buildings, and the like. In 2005, at least, it's an investment that's paid big dividends.

Assessing the assessor

The most contentious fight on the November ballot is the race to fill the unexpired term of former Assessor-Recorder Mabel Teng , and only three candidates filed by the deadline: tax attorney Ron Chun, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, and newly appointed Assessor Phil Ting .

When candidates file for office, they also must complete their statement of qualifications in the voters' handbook, which can list endorsements as well as technical skills. As a result, there's pressure among certain big name endorsers to decide before this filing deadline. According to published reports and City Hall insiders, Supervisor Bevan Dufty decided to endorse Sandoval, then unendorsed him less than 24 hours later, deciding to back Ting. All Dufty will say publicly is "what a difference a day makes."

The initial speculation was that somehow Mayor Newsom leaned on Dufty to change his position. A few days later, however, a more nuanced story surfaced. While Sandoval is running for assessor, his friend and political ally, Julio Ramos, has announced for treasurer. In this scenario, Dufty would endorse Sandoval if Ramos backed out of the race for treasurer against Dufty ally and appointed Treasurer Jose Cisneros. If you believe this theory, Ramos did indeed file, leading Dufty to pull his support.

I'm a believer that the endorsements that matter most are the ones of the voters on Election Day, and this skirmish means very little to Dufty personally or to the outcome of the race. It doesn't bode well for Ting, however, if he can't hold down his base. For example, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who is often aligned with Mayor Newsom, has endorsed Sandoval and she's sticking by that decision.

Ramos attacks!

The treasurer's race is also set, with appointed Treasurer Jose Cisneros squaring off against college board Trustee Julio Ramos, accountant Calvin Louie, former District 7 supervisor candidate Isaac Wang, and accounting manager Manuel Valle . With Cisneros out to an early lead, it will likely be difficult for the challengers to catch up by Election Day. Yet, Ramos announced his campaign by attacking Cisneros's appointment of Leo Fermin to the Treasury Oversight Committee, and negative campaigning works. Fermin was singled out in the San Francisco Weekly for his role in the airport's troubled finances.

Ten measures this November

There are 10 measures on the San Francisco ballot, most of which should draw little serious opposition.

á Proposition A is a $246 million general obligation bond for San Francisco City College. The idea of floating City College bonds was discussed, but no one in local politics thought it would be this soon. An earlier bond issue of $195 million has yet to be completely spent, and observers expected a November 2006 date for the additional funds.   According to published reports, the mayor's office encouraged City College to move more quickly, because a bond for San Francisco General Hospital is slated for next year.

In an interesting note, college board Trustees Milton Marks III and Julio Ramos were on the losing end of a 5-2 vote to put this item on the ballot.

Due to state law, only 55 percent of the vote is needed to pass this measure, which is good news for City College. When not even all the college trustees agree, it could be a difficult sell to voters.

á Proposition B is a $208 million general obligation bond for street resurfacing, pedestrian safety, and access improvements put forward by Supervisor Tom Ammiano.   While a lot of public works investment is needed, some question the use of general obligation bond money paid by homeowners rather than other financing mechanisms that target road users such as the gas tax. Unlike the college bond, Proposition B needs 66 percent to win.

á Proposition C is a charter amendment strengthening the Ethics Commission, a common sense measure backed by Charlie Marsteller and the good government set.

á Proposition D would change the charter to split appointments to the governing board that oversees Muni between the mayor and Board of Supervisors. This measure is bitterly opposed by Rescue Muni, but seems to be in line with previous efforts at the Planning Commission, Entertainment Commission, Board of Appeals, and Police Commission to give both branches of government some say in who runs these city agencies.

á Proposition E would amend the charter to shift the election date of the public defender and assessor-recorder from the June 2006 election to the November 2006 election. Before ranked choice voting was in place, there was a spring election followed by a November runoff, if needed. When the ranked choice voting initiative was written, this issue was overlooked. I always think it's interesting to change the rules in midstream – the special election for assessor is on the ballot alongside this change – but it seems unlikely to draw opposition.

á Proposition F sets a minimum standard for neighborhood firehouses and emergency medical staffing.

á Proposition G is a compromise measure that might get San Francisco to agreement in Golden Gate Park once and for all. Authored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and co-sponsored by all the other supervisors, Proposition G allows for one lane of traffic on Martin Luther King Drive and an entrance to the proposed garage within the park.

á Proposition H is an ordinance limiting handgun possession and the sale of firearms in San Francisco. As disclosed earlier, I have been working on this campaign.

á Proposition I is a statement of policy discouraging military recruiters in our schools, and is also known as "College Not Combat."

With a lot on the ballot, it might take some time to figure it all out. One of the biggest endorsements – that of the San Francisco Democratic Party – takes place after deadline for this column. More on that next week.

Bill Barnes is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. His e-mail is


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