On Guard: Early battles in race for Senate 

The first skirmish in San Francisco's state Senate race is slated for Saturday. It's a heated contest for a small patch of political ground that few San Franciscans have heard about.

But the outcome of a small vote, in the humble African American Art & Culture Complex on Fulton Street, may ripple through political battles deep into 2016.

One far-flung consequence may be a leg up to a candidate in the 2016 state Senate race, when Mark Leno is termed out for greener pastures. Who will be ascendant to his political throne?

Saturday, we may see interested candidates vie to gain their first political edge.

Any registered Democrats across San Francisco can cast their votes for Democratic Party delegates on Saturday. These delegates then travel to air-conditioned hotels across California and subsequently cast their own votes, granting the Democratic Party's backing to statewide races and candidates.

But because the delegate vote is so little-known, the event becomes more like a high school popularity contest. Which potential candidates can turn out the most citizens to vote for their favored slate of delegates?

Supervisor Scott Wiener is one candidate looking to the future.

"I'm taking a serious look at the Senate race," Wiener told The San Francisco Examiner. "But right now, I'm very focused on my work at the Board of Supervisors."

"Delegates typically play a very key role for a diverse slate to represent the Democratic Party," Wiener said.

Other rumored candidates include Supervisor Jane Kim and Assemblyman Phil Ting.

The will-they, won't-they game can be tedious. Snore, right? Yes, this is all very insider baseball. And granted, it's about as exciting as the Giants' offseason, but worse. Imagine if manager Bruce Bochy let fans vote for coaches, whose job it was to endorse players picked by other coaches two years down the road.

But though the Democratic Party's backing by no means guarantees a win, the stamp of approval can play a pivotal role in elections.

It's like a San Francisco "Game of Thrones," and candidates are even now maneuvering chess pieces before the coup.

Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu sent a Facebook blast out to supporters, trying to garner support for their slate: Josh Arce, John Baldo, Juan Cerda, Todd David, Lou Fischer, Gillian Gillett, Julissa Hernandez, Rebecca Lee, Rebecca Miller, Toye Moses, Jacquelyn Omotlade, Nancy Rock, Coma Te and Mike Theriault.

They may not be household names, but these folks are most likely to back Chiu's favored political allies, and perhaps Wiener in a future Senate race. They're the moderate slate.

Some are allies of Mayor Ed Lee as well. They're part of a well-oiled political machine, and as insiders told The Examiner in background interviews, his moderate allies make Wiener tough to beat in a Senate race.

"Some people on the left [progressives] have such a visceral dislike of him," one insider on background said, "they fail to see how strong he actually is."

Though the politically moderate Wiener was more candid about his intent to run, the progressives are holding back. They're not openly throwing candidates into the ring just yet.

But Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has opened a campaign finance account for the race, and he recently emailed a progressive slate of delegate candidates for Saturday to his supporters.

This may signal his own run, yes, but it could also signal the run of a close ally.

Rosario Cervantes, Mahnani Clay, Jo Elias Jackson, Mary Marzotto, Veronica Shepard, Susan Solomon, Gladys Soto, Tom Brown, Chris Gembinski, Matt Haney, Santiago Lerma, Justin Morgan and Ken Tray round out Ammiano's picks.

"It's always smart in politics to look ahead," Ammiano said. "It doesn't mean it's a black-and-white situation, but it's the way of politics."

And this first skirmish will show just who can drum up the most grass-roots support.

"I know the progressive side has the ability to turn people out," Supervisor Eric Mar said, through political clubs and with the help of organized labor.

But importantly, it'll be an example of whether the Wiener's forces can turn out support, too. And it just might be a peek at either side's cards, which up to now have been held close to the vest.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

This article has been updated from its print version.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Bio:
Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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