The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote tomorrow (Tue/15) on whether to submit a charter amendment to the ballot that would require a special election in the event of a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors or in the mayor's office.
As things stand, the mayor holds the power to appoint someone to fill a vacant seat on the board. But Sup. John Avalos' proposed ballot measure, unofficially dubbed "Let's Elect our Elected Officials," would shift that decision-making power to the voters. The measure needs six votes to pass.
If it wins voter approval, the measure would also likely have a significant impact on the city's political landscape in the immediate future.
Sup. David Campos, who is co-sponsoring the initiative, is currently vying for a seat in the 17th Assembly District against Board President David Chiu, a narrow race that will leave a vacancy on the Board one way or another. If Campos, one of the board’s most progressive members, is elected, Mayor Ed Lee would presumably appoint someone to his seat with a rather different political bent.
The ballot needs an additional three votes (beyond its three sponsors) to reach the necessary six votes necessary for approval by the Board, and "it's sort of up in the air at the moment,” according to Jeremy Pollock, Avalos' legislative aide.
Some supervisors are reluctant to go against Lee by limiting mayoral power. Opposition from Sup. Katy Tang, herself a beneficiary of the current rules when she was appointed by Mayor Lee in February 2013, has also had an effect of the amendment's approval.
But supporters of the bill are hoping the overall benefits of the measure will lead the supervisors to approve it.
"John sees this as a good government reform that takes some power away from the mayor and the Board and gives it to the voters," Pollock said, with the hope that it would also work to discourage backroom deals.
Another potential issue raised over the approval of the measure is the cost of special elections, though it appears to be a relatively minor concern. According to the San Francisco Department of Elections, a special election for supervisors costs roughly $300,000 (a drop in the ocean given the city’s multi-billion dollar budget) and around $3.5 million for a citywide election, a substantial sum but also a relatively minor worry given the rarity of vacancies in the mayor’s office. Some might argue that given the importance of the mayor’s duties, that’s a small price to pay to allow the voters to have a say.
In addition to its main rule change, the measure includes a few other provisions, such as making an exception for the proposed rule if a regularly scheduled election would be held within 180 days of the vacancy.
It would also provide “that the Mayor appoints an interim Supervisor to fill a supervisorial vacancy until an election is held to fill that vacancy,” with the key addition that the interim supervisor would be ineligible to compete in that election.
That’s no small stipulation, given the sweeping historic success of incumbents in board re-elections. (Since 2000, when district elections returned, Christina Olague is the only incumbent who failed to gain re-election after being appointed.) Avalos appears set on plugging all holes with his proposed legislation, and it’s now up to the board to place it on the November ballot.