Mayoral appointment power for Board of Supervisors may be on the chopping block 

When it comes to San Francisco politics, a double or triple play is not just a baseball term. It could also be used to describe situations involving the mayor making appointments to vacancies on the Board of Supervisors.

But voters may have the opportunity this November to eliminate the mayor’s board appointment power, under a proposed ballot measure from Supervisor John Avalos.

Since the 1960s, there have been 23 mayoral appointees to the board, with 15 occurring since the time when Willie Brown was mayor. Only once did an appointee under district elections lose in a subsequent election. Other appointees have lost when members to the board were elected citywide prior to 2000. In some cases, a seat on the board was part of a string of appointments impacting two or more elected seats, known as double or triple plays.

It remains unclear if Avalos will get the minimum of six votes needed to place the measure on the ballot. Today, the board’s Rules Committee holds its first hearing on the measure, and Avalos said Friday he was “still working on votes.” The proposed Let’s Elect Our Elected Officials Act “is about rebuilding faith in government,” Avalos said.

“When elected officials get to select who can serve in elected office the selection process is often marred with back-room deals influenced by access powerful special interests have with them, even in selected qualified candidates like a Supervisor Katy Tang,” he said. “Democratic, open-seat special elections put power in hands of the people and create a more level playing field for filling vacancies.”

Under current rules, when a vacancy occurs on the Board of Supervisors, the mayor appoints someone to fill that seat and at a subsequent election that person would need to run for election to retain the position. Under district elections, in all but one case — the mayor’s appointment of former Supervisor Christina Olague for the District 5 seat — the appointee has won.

Avalos’ proposal calls for the mayor to pick an interim placeholder who couldn’t run for election. The measure would also change the process for selecting an interim mayor in the event of a vacancy. The current practice is to have the board vote on who should serve as acting mayor, which is how Ed Lee first became mayor in what was a highly charged political process. Lee went on to win decisively in his first mayoral election. Under the proposal, when the mayoral post becomes vacant, the Board of Supervisors president would serve as interim mayor.

In both vacancy cases, a special election would be held within about four months or at a regularly scheduled election if one should occur within six months of the vacancy.

Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the mayor is “proud” of his appointments and “thinks it’s important for neighborhoods and offices led by elected officials to have continued representation and leadership in times of transition.”

Avalos’ initial proposal would have had the seat remain vacant until an election was held, but it has been amended to allow for an interim mayoral appointee who would be prohibited to run for election.

If it becomes law, the measure would have an impact over the board vacancy expected to be left by the winner of November’s District 17 Assembly race, David Campos or David Chiu.

This story was updated to clarify mayoral appointees to the Board of Supervisors have lost in a subsequent election when board members were appointed and elected in citywide elections. There were at least three such cases.

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