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Strong Green challenge in San Francisco worries Democrats

by Qwerty Tuesday, Dec. 02, 2003 at 10:29 PM

Now that the Democrat hoping to succeed Mayor Willie Brown is facing an unexpectedly tight runoff election against a Green Party candidate, the City Hall race is attracting unusual attention from national Democrats still bitter over losing California's governorship to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Strong Green challenge in San Francisco worries Democrats

LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

Monday, December 1, 2003

©2003 Associated Press


(12-01) 18:15 PST SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --

On paper, the job of San Francisco mayor is supposed to be nonpartisan. In practice, it's been more than four decades since voters elected anyone other than a Democrat to run the city, where the political spectrum seems to run from left-of-center to liberaler-than-thou.

Now that the Democrat hoping to succeed Mayor Willie Brown is facing an unexpectedly tight runoff election against a Green Party candidate, the City Hall race is attracting unusual attention from national Democrats still bitter over losing California's governorship to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The most potent symbol of the party's anxiety is Tuesday's scheduled visit by former Vice President Al Gore on behalf of Democrat Gavin Newsom. Gore, whose narrow loss in the 2000 presidential election was blamed in part on the votes won by the Green Party's Ralph Nader, will attend a fund-raising reception and campaign event for Newsom.

"I think there is an enormous amount at stake," said Newsom, who has also secured endorsements from Democratic presidential candidates Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry. "We lost the governor's office and now our last bastion, Northern California, is at play."

Mayor Brown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Reps. George Miller and Loretta Sanchez are also backing Newsom, a city supervisor, while the Democratic National Committee has provided strategy advice to his campaign.

Newsom's rival in the Dec. 9 runoff, Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, would be the nation's most prominent elected Green if he became mayor. Yet Gonzalez, a former Democrat who switched parties in November 2000 while engaged in a runoff election for a supervisorial seat, has sought to downplay his affiliation.

"We want Matt Gonzalez to be a great mayor first and a great Green second," said Ross Mirkarimi, a Gonzalez spokesman who accuses the Democrats of using "Green-baiting" tactics to shore up Newsom's support. "Most progressive Democrats have more in common with Matt than they do a conservative Democrat like Gavin."

Both candidates have taken imagery fresh from California's gubernatorial recall. Gonzalez, 38, tries to associate the wealthy, well-organized Newsom with the unpopular Gov. Gray Davis. Newsom, 36, maintains that Gonzalez is an untested ideologue working off a page from Schwarzenegger's playbook.

"Talk in generalizations, skip debates and then criticize everyone else for the way things are -- it's a great strategy," Newsom said. "It worked for the governor."

The partisan warfare reached a new level Sunday when the Gonzalez campaign accused Newsom's camp of attempting to orchestrate an anti-Gore protest while making it look like it was the handiwork of the Greens.

The evidence was a widely distributed e-mail sent out under the pseudonym "mary Green" urging Green Party members to "Stop Newsom, Stop the two party system" by demonstrating against Gore during his visit Tuesday. The Gonzalez campaign claimed it had traced the alert to an Internet Protocol address registered as "GavinNewsomFor" that matches the e-mail address for Newsom's official Web site.

Newsom's campaign flatly denied that it was responsible for the e-mail and suggested that a Gonzalez supporter had managed to make it look as if it were sent by a member of Newsom's camp to embarrass the candidate.

"We find the accusation about the e-mail paranoid and absurd," said John Shanley, a Newsom campaign spokesman.

On Monday, Gonzalez's aides continued to accuse Newsom of "dirty tricks." They released additional information that they said proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the inflammatory e-mail, which warned that "the Democrats are scared that the Green Party now represents the true progressives," originated from a Newsom campaign computer.

Newsom secured 42 percent, or 87,196 votes in last month's general election, emerging as the top vote-getter but failing to secure the majority needed to avert a runoff. Gonzalez came in second with 20 percent, or 40,714.

Both young, ambitious and camera-friendly, the two candidates differ greatly in style as well as substance.

Newsom, the son of a retired state judge who counts billionaire Gordon Getty as a family friend, owns several upscale restaurants and has raised .3 million in campaign contributions with the backing of the business community and organized labor.

Gonzalez, who spent a decade as a public defender and enjoys hanging out with struggling artists and musicians, has raised 1,000, much of it through quirky campaign events -- featuring names like "Yoga for Matt" and "Matt A Go-Go House Party" -- that speak to his bohemian lifestyle.

Although they share many of the same views on civil rights issues, Newsom made his name as a politician with a tough-love approach to homelessness and stiffer penalties for panhandlers, ideas that have made him a lightening rod with the more liberal Gonzalez supporters.

"We welcome Gore to San Francisco, but he should know some things about my opponent," Gonzalez said. "Gore is a big environmentalist and the Sierra Club graded Newsom a D and I earned an A+. He should know there are many Democrats backing me and the reason Newsom is doing so well is he gets Republican votes."

In San Francisco politics, likening opponents to Republicans is often a shorthand way of portraying them as too conservative to hold office. The GOP last elected a mayor in 1960, and in the decades since the Democrats have dominated the city's electoral landscape. Now Gonzalez' rising fortunes threaten that political stranglehold.

Gonzalez wants to raise the city's real estate transfer tax on properties that sell for more than million and put the city's electricity in the hands of a public authority, policies that Newsom has used to brand him as fiscally irresponsible and anti-business.

"There is not that hard-headed pragmatism there, which is what you need in the executive branch," Newsom said.

A poll released last week found Newsom leading 47 percent to Gonzalez's 39 percent, with the margin shrinking from a week earlier.

"A significant amount of Democrats who are going for Gonzalez are not paying attention to the fact that he is Green," said pollster David Binder. "Gavin and the state Democratic Party would have to make this more of an issue to persuade some of the Gonzalez Democrats that they need to be more loyal to their party's candidate, but my gut tells me people don't care."

©2003 Associated Press

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