Jack Davis, the political guru who engineered Mayor Frank Jordan's upset victory over incumbent Mayor Art Agnos four years ago, plots strategy from a third-floor lair in a nondescript Van Ness Avenue savings and loan. His office lies across a parking lot, through a side door, past a building directory with six or so tenants — CPAs and the like. Davis' name isn't on the list.
It's a modest outpost for a political consultant who wouldn't be immodest if he boasted about piloting victories for the current mayor, a state senator (Quentin Kopp), and sundry other officials (State Assemblyman John Burton, to name one) — as well as managing a score of ballot measure campaigns over the past 20 years. Davis' office decor might have been bought lock-stock-and-lithograph from a bankrupt motel sale. On one wall is a bleached skull (cattle, not Homo sapien). On the opposite are trophies of a different sort: vanity head shots of at least a dozen politicians. Davis himself perches behind a blond wood desk — deciding to explain things.
This man has hated me: We were political enemies for years, and I worked for Agnos, whom Davis reviled. But today he intends to send a message.
“I think there is a moral responsibility that goes with one's actions,” Davis tells me, deeply serious.
“I looked for a candidate to run against Art Agnos for the sole purpose of vendetta,” he says. “Frank Jordan was someone I basically used to settle the score.” Davis' beef: Agnos in 1989 set in motion an investigation that led to Davis' indictment for his role in an allegedly criminal campaign conspiracy (see sidebar for additional Davis beefs).
I am guilty, Davis now says, “of letting my anger and hatred get ahead of my thoughts. … In the course of the past four years, I have watched San Francisco suffer as a result of my vendetta,” he repeats. As penance, Davis says he has set out to find “a candidate to try and run against Frank to kind of pay back an injustice to the people of San Fran-cisco.”
So when Jordan thrice asked him to serve as his re-election campaign manager, Davis turned down his former boss and started hunting for a candidate who could take Jordan down. He talked to business tycoon Lou Giraudo. He spoke with California Assembly member John Burton. He asked Mr. Speaker, Willie Brown, to enter the race. He pushed Supervisor Carole Migden to run. He urged Supervisor Terrence Hallinan to do the same. He helped add to the political waters a splash of liberal contenders who just might eviscerate each other and allow Jordan, the moderate, to keep his crown.
It should. For within the husk of Davis' apology is a singular truth about the coming mayoral race — that what's happening in 1995 looks like a replay of '91. That the making of the mayor this year has everything to do with the unmaking of the mayor four years past. And that the coming election, as in '91, has been molded by the whims of candidates and the will of people like Davis: people with personal agendas. People who rely on polls, computers, “count books,” and high-tech spin recipes. The same consultants, the same forces, the same dynamics behind Jordan's victory four years ago are at work — the most critical part of which has already been finished. For a second truth is this: While the campaign in the coming weeks will increasingly take place in public view, the drama up to this point has been shaped behind a curtain where the public has no entree, but where the props have been readied, the players cast and recast, and, insofar as possible, the script written.
The script for this play calls for blood — and lots of it.
“Willie's going to get the fucking shit kicked out of him, OK?” says California's Biggest Bad Boy consultant, Clint Reilly, the man who, unlike Davis, did agree to become Jordan's campaign manager. “What are they gonna say about the great Willie Brown who has just lost to Frank Jordan by 10 points?” asks Reilly. “Are they gonna be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again?”
Whether they're fans of Brown, ex-Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Roberta Achtenberg, Supervisor Angela Alioto, or Jordan — “the man who wouldn't know a concept if it sat on his face,” as Davis puts it — the insiders are already plotting how to set up their private kingpins. And smash the others to bits.
Says Reilly: “The more votes Roberta [Achtenberg] gets, the less votes Willie gets. … When Achtenberg and Jordan get through with this guy, you know” — Reilly savors the thought — “this is not the [Sacramento] capitol press corps he's running against here,” he says. “This is the fucking cruel world.”
Says Supervisor Alioto: “I think this will be the dirtiest, knockdown, drag-out type of politics that you will see in a long time.”
Says San Francisco's ubiquitous pollster, David Binder, consulted by more candidates this year than any other: “Given what we saw in 1991, we have the potential for a repeat — one candidate on the moderate-to-conservative side, and multiple candidates” running against him. That leaves three liberals to splinter the vote, and a runoff that pits a battle-weakened liberal victor against Jordan.
Businessman-lawyer-lobbyist Lou Giraudo was one of many people who'd dreamed of being mayor — but one of the few who could actually try it.
In many ways, moderate Democrat Giraudo fit the bill. He wasn't a professional politician, but he had government experience from serving as a city commissioner in the administrations of Agnos and former Mayor Dianne Feinstein. He knew how to run a major corporation — according to the Business Times, his Boudin Bakery sold in 1994 for $1.1 billion — so he was well-positioned to argue that he could forge city budget reforms and economic growth policies. [page]
But first, “What I did was, what most people do, I had a consultant,” Giraudo says. He hired Sacramento's Gail Kaufman, on Willie Brown's recommendation. “I felt I needed some professional advice on what the process was, so I got a better picture of what I was getting myself involved in.” Giraudo wanted to know what the proper strategy would be “for someone such as myself who had never run for elected office before.”
The immediate thought “was to essentially run on the economic issues that face San Francisco,” Giraudo says. More startlingly, Giraudo says his plan was for an “outsider” mayor — himself — to fix everything in four years, then “turn the city back over to the politicians and hope that the city would be back on a better economic footing.”
Giraudo sought the advice of the first tier of San Francisco's elected democratic officials — Willie Brown, John Burton, Supervisor Kevin Shelley, and Art Agnos, now a regional official for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); he also met with CEOs from the city's top corporations.
And by June, following the advice of Agnos, Giraudo paid for a lengthy poll “to get an idea whether a candidacy such as mine would be acceptable in San Francisco.” (The results: An outsider would beat out other challengers.)
Meanwhile, Giraudo got used to some company.
Angela Alioto, who hasn't stopped running for mayor since her first failed attempt in 1991, had officially filed her intent to enter the race. “I didn't spend any money in preparation,” says Alioto, who so far has defied management by any consultant. “I didn't do a poll, I didn't do opposition research. I really kind of am what I am.”
Also setting sights for higher office was Supervisor Carole Migden, the city's highest elected lesbian official. Migden not only sniffed political blood coming from the mayor's office, she also sensed — with the help of polls — new political winds blowing through the city. Trimming her sails as a liberal, Migden changed course and headed for foreign, more moderate shores.
In the interim, there was a November election, and Migden had her hands full battling Supervisor Shelley for her second term in office and her goal: presidency of the board, a title awarded to the highest vote-getter. The post, with its increased visibility, is long thought (but never proven) to be a launching pad for a mayoral campaign.
As Labor Day arrived — more than 14 months away from the mayoral election day — Giraudo and the other candidates were already grappling with moments of truth.
The candidacy “was very viable,” says Giraudo. But running for office would require him to “campaign night and day, and spend lots of money.”
“We assumed that we would have to spend somewhere around $2.5 million,” says Giraudo. Plus, “There was talk of spending as much as a million dollars on television.”
Giraudo had already spent $100,000 of his own money in his exploratory effort, and the additional cost was not insurmountable. But “I began to see the incredible self-interest that exists in this city,” he says. The city “has sort of a petty political foundation, if you will,” he says. “It became apparent to me that political life in San Francisco could be a very nasty business.”
Giraudo had prepared for some of that nastiness by paying for a background check on himself and his wife; he says he “came up clean.” He also weighed the money factor — to wit, the lack of it — that would soon become an issue for another wealthy candidate: Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
“I don't even remember what the job pays,” says Giraudo. “I think it pays $139,000 a year to be mayor [the precise amount is $138,669]. I could not live on that by virtue of the lifestyle I have today.” The sale of the bakery didn't lead to lavish spending, he says — “We still live in the same homes” — but if he were mayor, Giraudo decided, his family would suffer.
“Obviously we would have to subsidize our lifestyle,” Giraudo says; he'd also lose business opportunities. “So the decision was a deeply personal one. I opted not to run for mayor, based on my family considerations, my own desire to maintain some sense of privacy, and also” — owing to back problems — “I couldn't physically campaign at the pace needed.”
Over Labor Day weekend, Giraudo dropped out.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, was starting to chafe at the political bit: Jordan, Migden, Shelley, and Agnos all began to assess their chances.
And Labor Day weekend was a good time to do it. A serious candidate without name recognition would need at least that much lead time to become well-known and well-liked by voters. Those already in elective office, or who, like Agnos, had held office, faced a different challenge: how to be a hot prospect by building on existing political muscle.
In order to accomplish just that, Frank Jordan did what he always does: For the third time in as many elections, he placed on the ballot a get-tough-on-the-homeless measure. Jordan's move was designed to show that the Board of Supervisors had failed to deal with the homelessness issue, and to bolster his image as the man putting an end to an “anything goes” era.
And in October, Jack Davis went to work. First he talked with Willie Brown, telling Brown that he'd repented of his role in electing Frank Jordan and that he wanted Brown to run for mayor. At first, he got nowhere. “Willie told me that while he was flattered by me coming to see him, that he didn't think he was that person,” Davis says.
Next, “I talked with Carole Migden because I think that Carole Migden is electable,” he says. “I have not always shared the views of the activist element of the lesbian and gay community,” he adds, but “I thought it would be kind of an interesting dynamic to elect a capable lesbian to that office. I thought Carole might be that person. She toyed with it, and we discussed it.” [page]
Agnos remained patiently on the sidelines, dropping hints about a mayoral bid and waiting to see the response. Patience wasn't a luxury, but a necessity.
Agnos had lost to Jordan in 1991 by only 7,000 votes — four percentage points. In that race, Agnos faced fellow liberals Alioto and then-Assessor Richard Hongisto, as well as moderate conservatives Jordan and Supervisor Tom Hsieh, a battle that was lost in a runoff. The defeat cut deeply into Agnos' support: The 1991 campaign had been a slash-and-burn affair, with Agnos' backers put through what they described as hell. A Jordan rematch carried the potential for revisiting the entire ugly period, and enthusiasm for such a venture was in short supply.
For the other mayoral wannabes, though, there was reason to be optimistic. At least, that's what the polls said. Political polls repeatedly described Jordan as imminently defeatable. In fact, polling by the San Francisco Examiner had shown that Jordan stumbled badly in his first months in office, and that although he was recovering, voters were deeply dissatisfied with his performance.
In April 1992, four months after entering office, a paltry 26 percent of respondents approved of Jordan, while 38 percent did not — at that point, the worst showing ever recorded. Six months later, Jordan was in even deeper trouble. His approval rating was up to 32 percent, but his disapproval rating had climbed to 48 percent. And two years later, in September 1994 — at just about the time that Giraudo and others were beginning to weigh their chances — only 27 percent of private poll respondents said they thought Jordan should be re-elected.
The polling just kept going. A prospective candidate commissioned a mayoral horse race poll — this one also in September — that showed that Jordan led the pack with his solid conservative base, but that Agnos was the top choice among liberals, beating out Migden, Alioto, City Attorney Louise Renne, and Giraudo.
By October, a Chronicle poll predicted Agnos soundly beating Jordan and doing it by a wider margin than any other prospective candidate. Agnos took heart, though he still would not say officially whether his hat was in the ring. The others took note and bit their lips.
Carole Migden felt the polls keenly — at least momentarily — as salt in a wound. In Novem-ber, her bid for presidency of the Board of Supervisors had failed — Shelley had won — and now the polls showed her ranked below Agnos in a potential mayor's race.
Shelley, on the other hand, had shifted his political sights: He had not only secured a first-place finish but had laid the groundwork for a run at the California Assembly seat that veteran Democrat John Burton would have to vacate in 1996 because of term limits. Election Day results showed that Shelley had won the constituents he would need for that race.
The field was beginning to take form.
In December, Jordan made it official: He would run for re-election. A week later, Migden filed her own intent to run for mayor — and for the east-side state Assembly seat held by Willie Brown, who — like Burton — would have to vacate because of term limits.
Which race to choose? The information that helped Migden decide, came, reliably, from insiders, pollsters, and political maps. Migden paid a Los Angeles polling firm nearly $20,000 — the results told her she'd have an easier race running for Assembly.
Moreover, an Assembly race for Migden was a better financial fit. A mayor's contest could cost $2 million to $3 million — and by law, all of it had to arrive in contributions of $500 or less. An Assembly race would cost a fraction of that amount — perhaps only $250,000 — and there was no contribution limit. That meant that Migden, who can draw on some deep-pocket supporters, could accept checks for $10,000 or $20,000 from individual supporters.
By the end of January, Migden was having a chat with Agnos.
“She wasn't sure what she would run for, but was leaning toward running for Assembly,” Agnos recalls. By February, Migden had chosen: The Assembly it was.
The mayoral field was getting skinny: With Giraudo, Shelley, and Migden bowing out, only Jordan, Alioto, and Agnos remained serious contenders. But the field would soon regain curves.
Jack Davis didn't stop at Migden when he chatted up supervisors about being mayor. He'd also courted Terrence Hallinan — “anybody who made the runoff would beat Jordan except for Angela,” is what Hallinan recalls Davis telling him. And Hallinan registered his “intent to run,” though he says he did it more to provoke debate than to seriously try to capture City Hall.
Agnos, among the would-be contenders, met for lunch with City Attorney Louise Renne, another potential candidate, at Renne's request. “We had a good working relationship and personal relationship, and we both agreed that the city needed a change. We both reserved the right to run,” recalls Agnos.
Chronicle editorial writer Jerry Roberts on Feb. 19 shattered this ambivalence with a political bomb: He reported that Assembly Speaker Willie Brown was seriously considering a bid for mayor himself.
“About a week after that, he [Brown] called me,” says Agnos. “It was a friendly call between old political allies. … He told me that he was definitely interested and was exploring a candidacy,” says Agnos. “I told him there would be no race in which he and I would run against each other because of the need for unity and our personal relationship.”
Agnos had other reasons for not wanting to join the mayoral fray: He was happy. His HUD job working on housing, economic development, and homelessness issues “was very satisfying,” he says. He was also finding that the supporters he needed were rushing to join Brown. [page]
Louise Renne was reaching similar conclusions.
“I decided that if Willie Brown would run, I would support him,” says Renne. “I think that my decision to support Willie Brown coincided with a lot of other people who feel that Willie would be the best person to win and to lead the city.”
It was a moment when insiders would try mightily to influence Brown's decision: Among those meeting with him in February were Renne, Burton, Migden, Shelley, Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Davis, S.F. Independent owner Florence Fang, and a slew of former Jordan allies.
And then came the poll.
“Willie Brown is by far the strongest and the only one who would beat Jordan in a runoff,” the Chronicle blared in a March 15 front-page story. The newspaper's poll, conducted by David Binder, showed that Brown and Jordan would tie in the November election, but that Brown would beat Jordan 44 percent to 38 percent in a December runoff.
The oddsmakers were creating the numbers, a circular dance that increasingly chokes the American political landscape. But what the pollsters didn't know about was a wild card who would soon appear on a flight from the nation's capital.
Former San Fran-cisco Supervisor and HUD Assis-tant Secretary Roberta Achtenberg's entry into the race had two immediate effects: Brown lost some of his “undoubted front-runner status” (as labeled by the polls). More importantly, her appearance diverted attention back to in-fighting between liberals, and away from press attention to Jordan's leadership.
The relief couldn't have come at a better time for Jordan. In the 10 days when all attention was focused on a Brown-Achtenberg battle for progressive votes, Jordan managed to lose the appointment of Jack Ertola as the city's new chief administrative officer and bungle the effort to replace ousted San Francisco Housing Authority Chief Felipe Floresca. In the next 30 days, Jordan's Fire Commission and fire chief were nailed for allowing racism, sexism, and even drunkenness to go unaddressed at the Fire Department, and he was forced to put two housing commissioners on trial for misconduct.
An April 24 poll — again by Binder for the Chronicle — put numbers to what had happened. Now the pollsters said Jordan — not Brown — would be the November victor.
“The most immediate impact of Achtenberg's entry on the race is what many political observers predicted: The liberal vote is spread wider, allowing Jordan to finish first,” the Chronicle reported. The poll results: Jordan won 33 percent of the vote to Brown's 28 percent, Achtenberg's 14 percent, Alioto's 10 percent, and Hallinan's 5 percent.
It was 1991 all over again — or was it? Ask Jack Davis.
The grunt work of the campaign, Davis says, will tell the story — and define the margin of victory.
“The system that most people use is basically built on a 'count book,' ” says Davis. Taking polling data and computer technology, consultants sort voters into 140 different categories; the information enables the campaign to add up the precise number of voters needed to win.
The pinpointed voters are known by name, address, and voting history; campaigners show up on their doorsteps to make sure they cast ballots. “When we built the mathematical model for the Jordan campaign in 1991, after spending a lot of time with computers and polling, we came up with a target figure of 60,000 votes that we needed to win,” says Davis.
To make sure that they would reach the magic number, Davis put a “pre-voter” plan into effect. He located pro-Jordan citizens who don't regularly vote and asked them to vote early by absentee ballot. Though Agnos won at the polls on Election Day, Jordan's 13,000 absentee ballots delivered him the victory — the first time in city history that such a thing had happened.
But elections are not just about winning, Davis adds: They're also about smashing the opponent, and getting voters to nix your foes.
“I believe there is a yin and a yang to winning voter approval,” says Davis. “Inherent in the voting pro-cess, you vote for someone and at the same time you vote against someone.”
Twenty blocks away, in a three-story, 19th-century red brick building, Jordan consultant Clint Reilly, who in the past 20 years has managed campaigns for everyone from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to gubernatorial hopeful Kathleen Brown, has exactly the same words for the process. “You create a yin and a yang,” he says.
Reilly's Sansome Street office sits on a block built when San Francisco fortunes were made by men who outfitted adventurers headed for the gold mines. Reilly's considerable fortune — he recently bought a $20 million building from magnate Walter Shorenstein — has been built in much the same way, outfitting political adventurers and getting candidates to pay top dollar for his services. Today, his services include plans to “yang” Willie Brown's chimes but good.
Reilly describes Brown as a man in a popularity bubble. He says Brown has temporarily benefited by the recent fight to retain his 15-year-old post as Assembly speaker.
“Just a couple of months of pounding and the bubble's going to break,” Reilly says. “Day in and day out, getting the shit pounded out of you. … To me, he's never been in a tough fight,” says Reilly.
“Roberta is a factor,” Reilly continues. “In my mind, it's possible that Willie Brown will not even make the runoff. I think we can beat Roberta.
“Willie is viewed as supereffective, I mean, Mr. Power Broker, so the obvious sort of message of his campaign is that 'I am the strong bold leader who is going to take all the factions of the city and force them into a room and get this city moving forward again,' ” Reilly says. [page]
But he stands by his man. “Jordan is actually doing far better on effectiveness than the insiders realize. His job rating has dramatically improved,” Reilly boasts.
“Willie's got serious problems on crime,” he says, and the public “doesn't think he's much of a fiscal guardian. I think once you sort of start to puncture the image up here of sort of the charismatic leader, and people start thinking about who could cut crime better, or who can balance the budget better, Jordan wins on all those fronts.”
But the issue du jour, says Reilly, is integrity.
“Let me just be totally clear with you,” says Reilly. “In my view, if we have a debate on who's more honest, Frank Jordan or Willie Brown, we're gonna win the election. That's what the debate is. We'll have this debate any day of the week, and we'll win the election on this issue.”
Angela Alioto's jaw drops at Reilly's notion that integrity will be the defining issue of the campaign.
“Clint says integrity?” she asks incredulously. “Frank will beat Willie Brown on integrity? Did Clint Reilly give his definition of integrity?”
On one issue she agrees with Reilly: Alioto describes Brown as the insider's candidate, the choice of those who want access to whomever is mayor — and who have no particular ideological agenda. Alioto says she knows what that's all about. She says she was talked into the race by politicos who hated Agnos and saw her candidacy as a way to defeat him. The people “were there because they had another agenda that I was not privy to.”
Similarly, she says, Brown is “being used by everybody to get what everybody else wants, and the citizens in my opinion have been totally lost in the transition.”
But eventually, she predicts, the race “will be fought on the basis of who is the best fighter for the interests of the people of San Francisco, of who's going to step up to the bat every time for the people of this city, and not for themselves and not for special interests,” says Alioto. “Both Frank Jordan and Willie Brown are bought off by special interests. … The people are going to vote for somebody who will fight for them.”
But if people have been “totally lost in the transition,” how will they know how to distinguish the “best fighter”? How will they know what issues to consider?
“I think this campaign, with Clint Reilly and Willie Brown,” Alioto says, “will be the most non-issue-oriented campaign in a long, long time.”
Roberta Achtenberg has pledged to do all that she can to ensure that issues are debated in this campaign. She was willing to challenge old friends' arrangements to do so, and she has kept pushing forward despite efforts to get her out of the race.
“It seemed to me that there needed to be an antidote to the right-wing Republican revolution that we saw the first glimmerings of in November,” says Achtenberg. The revolution particularly needed to take place in cities, she adds, “since the cities were going to bear the brunt of the injury that the Republicans were intent on inflicting.
“I had hoped that leadership for this counterrevolution would emerge among the candidates, and I had originally anticipated that that would be Art Agnos, which would suit me just fine,” says Achtenberg. “When Art declined in favor of Willie Brown,” she says, “I considered putting myself forward.”
“It seems to me that we need fundamental change, and we need vision, and we need truth-telling, and we need to establish definitely what our priorities are as a city,” says Achtenberg, whose campaign is being run by the firm of Terris and Jaye.
“I didn't see that Frank Jordan in the last four years had been willing to bite any bullet whatsoever. I didn't see the other potential contenders as really credible proponents of reform.”
“I didn't have to take a poll” to determine that San Francisco would need help coping with what Republicans have in store, Achtenberg says.
“Did I have reason to think there was a reservoir of good will toward me?” asks Achtenberg. Yes, she answers. “It seemed worth taking the chance.”
The chance includes risk and aggravation, of course.
“Electoral politics have more than their share of sort of weirdos, and folks who are sort of unbalanced, and who project very personal animosities,” she says. “In San Francisco, we are business leaders, and environmental leaders, a fantastic public interest bar, we are the avant-garde in so many ways, but in our civic life we seem to attract the ambitious and mediocre.”
Furthermore, once in the race, Achtenberg found the political insiders locking hands to block her progress.
There was “horse-trading, and swapping, and pushing and pulling and shoving because certain people thought they had a lock on power,” she says.
(According to School Board member Steve Phillips, that's what happened when he filed his intent to pursue the Assembly seat coveted by Migden. Willie Brown and Carole Migden called him to a meeting with the Rev. Cecil Williams to tell him not to run because it would harm Brown's race for mayor by possibly encouraging additional challenges, next time from Achtenberg against Brown himself. “This was before Roberta got in,” says Phillips. “The context of the meeting was around Willie's plans. There was a sense that if these decisions” — concerning who would run for what — “were made quickly, it would keep Roberta from making the decision to get into the race.” Phillips initially didn't go along with the plan, but backed out this week.)
“It's the height of arrogance that is unfortunately somewhat typical of insiders' politics in San Francisco,” says Achtenberg. “It had to do with 'we already cut our deal, what are you doing disrupting the plan we already made, this one was going to get this, and that one was going to get that, and somebody was going to get the mayor's office,' and now things were all upset. [page]
“The people hadn't decided any such thing,” says Achtenberg. “The election is not for six months.”
Maybe yes, maybe no.
When San Francisco candidates turn to pollsters, the man they're likely to call is David Binder, who has done polls for Migden, Giraudo, and the Examiner and Chronicle, and who has also analyzed polling data for Brown.
How does Binder call the horse race that he's done so much to shape?
“Initially, before Roberta Achtenberg's entry into the race, I felt that Willie Brown would have a fairly good chance of beating Frank Jordan,” says Binder. “With Achtenberg's entry, I see it as slightly more difficult.”
The mayoral election, he says, “is really two races — whichever liberal makes it to the runoff, they are much more damaged politically than is Jordan. It creates a situation,” he says, “where the liberal supporters of those who don't make the runoff either stay home or vote for Jordan.
“If Willie comes out second by a wide margin — by more than 3 percent — then it makes Willie Brown look less invincible and more defeatable,” says Binder. That, in turn, might throw momentum to Jordan, “which is what I think happened with Art Agnos in 1991,” he says.
Last April, Binder did his own confidential analysis projecting the mayor's race outcome in the primary and runoff, based on polling data and an analysis of turnout projections and constituency groups.
The conclusion: In November, Jordan will net 35 percent of the vote (just as Reilly also predicts), while Brown's share will be 31 percent, and Achtenberg's 22 percent.But Binder parts from Reilly in assessing the runoff, which he predicts Brown would win by a 54-to-46 margin based on trends in place last April.
Whether or not Brown is called the winner, not everyone agrees that a runoff will leave Brown as vulnerable as it did Agnos.
“The speaker would be in a good position and a very different position from Art for the following reasons,” says political consultant Mary Hughes, who ran Agnos' campaign in 1991. “When you are the incumbent, you are expected to finish first, to at least hold the lead. Because Art couldn't do that, and because Art was being assaulted by his own wing of the party, there was a double disappointment.” Then, too, the liberals who initially voted for candidates other than Art were not sufficiently roused, Hughes says, to support Agnos in the final hour.
“As to the issue of integrity,” says Hughes, “I think anyone who thinks that you can raise these questions against the speaker has to consider what must be one of the most respectful, honorable de-meanors in public life today.”
Frank Jordan would beg to differ. And in the meantime, he does what incumbent politicians must do when facing a challenge: beg for money. Lots of it.
Two weeks ago, Jordan swore in three well-heeled appointees to the War Memorial Board. One was David Yoder, a pal of Jordan and his wife, Wendy Paskin; the second was Inn at the Opera manager Tom Noonan (who gave Jordan nearly $10,000 in in-kind contributions to his Friends Committee); a third was Claude Jarman, a Pacific Heights former child movie star willing to raise funds in exchange for the appointment.
Since Jordan expects to raise between $2 million and $3 million in this year's race, the help will be welcome. So welcome that he sued his own City Hall and backed a referendum to make sure he could spend every dollar he could grab by drop-kicking a new law that would have limited him to $1 million in campaign spending. Welcome, too, will be the help that could come from an improved relationship with city unions, which Jordan has recently been forging. (An effort last December by the Plumbers' Union to win early labor endorsements for Jordan flopped.) Meanwhile, more than 30 union contracts have been negotiated with the mayor's office. In most cases, the contracts are set to expire after this year's mayor's race, with the hint in the air that a re-elected Jordan will be generous to his union member supporters.
And what, in all this plotting, is going on in the minds of voters?
For many of them, Election Day will simply never come. They will decline to go to the polls and vote for anybody. Only about 45 percent of San Franciscans vote in the mayoral race, compared to the 60 percent who have showed up for elections that offer state and national candidates.
One reason for the low mayoral race turnouts: Many voters believe the system is so corrupt that the only sure losers are themselves.
Ironically, Jordan counts on this apathy to help him. One of his strongest suits in this election, analysts say, is his fund-raising ability (which nevertheless is not likely to beat the extraordinary cash that Brown will attract). Another is that Jordan's strong base are homeowners over 65 years old who vote without fail. Their influence is most strongly felt in low voter turnout elections.
It's a trend, of course, seen nationwide. American voters are disaffected creatures who rightly see the electoral process as “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
“They're being used as targets by the political communicators,” says San Francisco State assistant professor Gary Selnow, author of the book High Tech Campaigns. “They're being used as targets by the political communicators. Their views are not really being sought. The voter has been squeezed out of the process.”
The squeeze play continued at Willie Brown's curtain raiser in Japantown last Saturday, an event marked by hoopla, political hacks, discards, and wannabes. At Brown's elbow — startlingly — were some of the very Jordan appointees whose deeds had led the public to call for the current mayor's head. There, applauding, stood the Rev. Eugene Lumpkin, the Jordan appointee fired from the Human Rights Commission after declaring that the Bible sanctions stoning to death lesbians and gay men. There, wearing a Brown button on elegant white, cheered Karen Huggins, the Jordan-appointed housing commissioner fired just 48 hours earlier for misconduct. [page]
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” Brown declared, but he was referring to the crowd before him. Standing next to him was Wilkes Bashford, his tailor and the man he represented on charges of cheating the city tax collector.
Close by the press pen, Clint Reilly and Jordan campaign aides were spinning like Maytags, whispering snide remarks to reporters when they thought Brown had said something dumb. An Alioto aide eyed the scene, testing for weak spots in the competition. Achtenberg's consultants guilt-tripped the progressives they recognized: “You should be for Roberta,” they scolded.
And some wore brown shirts and waved “Brown for Mayor” signs in which the “o” in Brown soared like a shooting star. It was the same graphic used last year by state Sen. Quentin Kopp — in a campaign run by Jack Davis.
Davis spotted Reilly, and the two shook hands like a couple of prizefighters touching gloves before the bell rings. Everything now was in readiness. For a race that has already run.