Progressively Modest: Eric Mar Stays out of the Headlines

Supervisor Eric Mar won't make national news shutting down late-night fast-food restaurants or getting a strippermobile towed from an Outer Richmond street. Maybe that's the idea.

The former head of the school board and mainstay of the city's progressive wing will forever be known for his attempt to regulate a fast-food chain's toy giveaways. The so-called “Happy Meal ban” became fodder for Rush Limbaugh and landed Mar on The Daily Show. He's also authored some of the Board of Supervisors' more memorable nonbinding policy resolutions, the statements slamming nuclear war, and the prosecution of aging Black Panthers accused of murdering an S.F. cop in 1971. (That last one got Mar labeled as a radical, left-wing liberal by the head of the Police Officers Association in 2009).

But lately it seems Mar's focus has shifted squarely to District 1. With its mix of renters and homeowners, Asians and white people, that's as centrist as San Francisco gets. In recent months, he helped neighbors get that truck promoting Larry Flynt's Hustler Club towed from its parking spot on 37th Avenue, which was near a school. He worked with the SFPD and merchants and residents along the Geary Boulevard corridor to limit another fast-food restaurant's late night hours. He's held hearings on school issues and on noise in Golden Gate Park. In short, the national stands have given way to a measured, hyperlocal focus.

“I've always been focused on public safety, on traffic calming, on schools,” says Mar, whose daughter is a student in public schools. The difference, he says, is that these issues lately just haven't happened to catch headlines.

It's true that issues germane to average S.F. families have often popped up in his newsletters and remarks at the Board. Further, constituent services are local politics 101. But cynics will point out that this is an election year, and such responsiveness is also political survival 101. Mar, whose victory in 2008 was by a slim margin, is seen by some as the most vulnerable incumbent in the fall elections. His lone challenger to date, David E. Lee, a Chinese voter activist and Recreation and Park commissioner, has leapt upon Mar's focus on the bigger picture in initial messages to voters.

Mar is also toeing the line on citywide issues: He's opposing a progressive effort to break Recology's 80-year monopoly on garbage-collection services. So is most of the city's political establishment, but Mar went further, signing the official opposition argument appearing in ballot information pamphlets.

That may please some Richmond moderates, but others in the middle of the road think it's transparent. “He's going to have to contend with a bizarre voting record the past four years,” said moderate political consultant David Latterman, who noted Mar will be forced to take a stand on pending development issues. “Mar is part of what remains of city's far left flank. That's fine, and Mar until very recently hasn't tried to hide this. But we'll see if that's where the district is in 2012.”

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