There was a time when Tom Ammiano wanted to be mayor of San Francisco. In 1999, when he was president of the Board of Supervisors, he mounted a quixotic write-in campaign against Willie Brown. In 2003, Ammiano tried to enlist progressive support for a more conventional run, but progressives instead backed Matt Gonzalez.
But this is 2010, and Ammiano — who was sworn in for a second term in the state Assembly last week — insists he has no interest in the top job anymore. That's bad news for progressives on the Board of Supervisors, who hoped to anoint one of their own to replace Gavin Newsom after he leaves office next month to become lieutenant governor. At the moment, Ammiano seems to be the only lefty politician in town with enough support on the board to win the “honor” of filling out the rest of Newsom's term.
Less than an hour before a cadre of progressive supervisors planned to nominate him as interim mayor last week, Ammiano issued a press release stating he “must respectfully decline any nomination from the Board of Supervisors.” In the statement, Ammiano said he was “committed to finishing the work that I have begun in Sacramento,” including reforming the state's marijuana laws and Proposition 13.
Of course, not everyone took his reasoning at face value. Insiders have been trying to read between the lines and divine his “real” rationale for not wanting to be mayor. Some speculate that the thin-skinned Ammiano is still mad about the 2003 snub by the left when he ran for mayor. Others figure he doesn't want to risk his future in politics by becoming interim mayor and immediately having to make unpopular cuts to reduce the $390 million deficit. There's a growing consensus among pundits that because of the difficult choices facing the next mayor, incumbency actually might hurt someone's chances to win the job at the polls in 2011.
“There's a lot of downside to [being the interim mayor] — these are tough economic times we're facing,” muses Enrique Pearce, a local political consultant who managed Gonzalez' 2003 mayoral bid. “He's got a new playground in Sacramento — maybe he just didn't want to come back.”
Even Supervisor Chris Daly, who led the campaign to recruit Ammiano, sounds like he understands why the assemblyman wouldn't want to relocate to City Hall.
“Becoming mayor of San Francisco during a huge financial crisis, or sitting in Sacramento while the board picks a progressive successor mayor?” Daly asks, before trotting out an old Ammiano chestnut. “It's like picking your favorite Menendez brother.”