Saturday, December 06, 2003

So where are the "buttoned-down, all-American types" who do hang out with "poets and artists"?

Moving on up...

San Francisco Poised to Elect Its Youngest Mayor in Over a Century

By Lisa Leff

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The two candidates in Tuesday's runoff mayoral election weren't even born when the man they hope to replace, 69-year-old Willie Brown, began his storied political career.

But youth and inexperience are not exactly liabilities in a place as covetous of its cutting-edge image as San Francisco, where voters are poised to elect the city's youngest mayor in over a century.

In many ways, the race between two 30-something city supervisors, a Kennedy-esque Democrat and a Green Party outsider, has turned into a referendum on not only Brown's eight-year reign, but the city's capacity for change.

"For a lot of folks, this election marks a turning of the page, and the page is blank," said Richard DeLeon, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. "The Willie Brown era is fading, and him with it, so there is that sense of opportunity."

Democrat Gavin Newsom, 36, has the harder case to make in portraying himself as "a sign of changing times," the slogan of one of his recent campaign mailers.

A wealthy restaurant owner and son of a judge who was first appointed to the Board of Supervisors by Brown, Newsom has been endorsed by most of the Democratic Party establishment, which is nervous about losing ground to the Greens in a city it could always count on for support. Former Vice President Al Gore even came to town to campaign for him.

But Newsom has tried to distance himself from Brown, his autocratic political mentor who has been term-limited twice, most recently as mayor and before that as California's longest-serving Assembly Speaker.

"I'm a different person. I'm my own person," he said during a recent debate, insisting his administration would be more cooperative and less political and patronage-driven than Brown's.

Newsom's opponent, Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez, 38, has made a career out of questioning authority. With degrees from Columbia and Stanford universities, he became a public defender and has campaigned hard as a working class hero. A native Texan who doesn't own a car or wear a watch, he counts actor Martin Sheen and Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir among his well-known backers.

"It's about decentralizing power," Gonzalez told supporters at a campaign rally. "The days of calling up a commissioner and telling them what to do are long gone."

In most any other city, both Gonzalez and Newsom would be lumped into the same liberal category. Both favor rent control, gay marriage, immigrant rights, a "living wage" and restrictions on gun ownership. Each has his own base of crucial Chinese-American, Hispanic, gay and lesbian and labor union support.

Yet if the candidates' campaign rhetoric is to be believed, it's a matchup no less stark than George Bush vs. Ralph Nader.

Newsom, for instance, has painted his rival as an ideologue with views that are "extreme by even extreme standards," who would infringe on property rights and tax businesses out of the city.

For his part, Gonzalez casts Newsom as a cold-hearted conservative who led the initiative to cut back benefits for the homeless and is beholden to legions of monied campaign donors.

Their lifestyles and physical appearances have made it easy for the candidates to play up their differences. The married Newsom is a buttoned-down, all-American type who subdues his hair with copious amounts of gel and lives in a $3 million home. The single Gonzalez hangs out with poets and artists, shares an apartment with three roommates and looks as if he just rolled out of bed.

According to the latest filings, Newsom has $3.3 million and Gonzalez has $401,000.

San Francisco State's DeLeon said it's unclear how traditional "get-out-the-vote" methods will play with an electorate "fed up with the old way of doing things."

"There is a sense that the Gonzalez campaign is really a neighborhood-based, grass-roots campaign, which almost validates this as an insurgent people's movement against the machine," DeLeon said. "A lot of folks, especially on the left in San Francisco, are always looking over their shoulder for the next thing, thinking they are the vanguard of the nation."

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