If only for one fleeting moment, relative civility returned to the debate arena in the race for San Francisco mayor.
The late entries of interim Mayor Ed Lee and Public Defender Jeff Adachi have jolted the race in recent weeks, with Lee’s appearance at a Castro debate last week drawing boos from a raucous crowd heckling him for reneging on a promise not to seek permanent office after being appointed in January.
But the mood at the Alliance for Jobs-sponsored debate at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus was more professional and measured, with repetitious positions on pension reform, economic growth, jobs and parking tickets. There were few fireworks, but some animosity came when candidates were able to ask each other questions.
Lee, the perceived front-runner, was the primary target of sharply worded challenges. Adachi asked Lee why he wouldn’t limit himself to The City’s public campaign financing caps — even though both men have elected to raise their own funds amid San Francisco’s dismal financial picture.
“I don’t have a billionaire funding my campaign,” Lee said, referring to venture capitalists backing Adachi’s pension reform measure that is competing with one Lee helped put on the November ballot.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu asked Lee why he changed his tune on the mayoral race and why he’s unable to “say no” to powerful interests, namely former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak. Both Brown and Pak supported the political committee Progress for All, which is under ethical scrutiny over its Run, Ed, Run campaign that encouraged Lee to enter the race.
“So, Ed, a week before you announced you were running for mayor, you looked at me ... you said you didn’t have the fire in your belly,” Chiu said. “What’s changed in your mind over the past few weeks?”
Lee said he had told Chiu in detail about his decision on several occasions before Tuesday’s debate. Lee then quickly mentioned the “high level of civility” that has come under his tenure.
When Lee had a chance to take a dig at fellow candidates, he did the opposite. He played up to his call for a positive campaign and an end to “misdirected public rancor” by simply allowing former Supervisor Bevan Dufty to pontificate freely about what issues he thinks are being glossed over.
Dufty used the opportunity to call for a focus on “a black agenda” for The City’s African-American community. He said above all, San Francisco needs to work out its problems with Lee’s stated priority — civility.