Not sure if you heard about it, but there was a big Mayoral Debate last night. Technically put on by the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association and the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, the debate had little to do with the neighborhood surrounding the at-capacity Castro Theater last night and quickly became an impromptu Roast of Mayor Ed Lee. If this Mayor's race turns into political theater, last night's event was a frightening Comedy Central special.
Even outside the venue the show was already underway when we arrived: a gauntlet of campaign volunteers with their wall of 9-foot picket signs and ironing boards guarded the entrance. Rees and Avalos supporters were trading collegiate chants, like last night's event was a homecoming game or something. Nobody burned Ed Lee in effigy or streaked the theater, sadly, but Supervisor Avalos did almost run over this SFist editor with his bicycle.
Inside, where the bikes and pickets were banned, Ed Lee was taking heat as soon as moderator Liam Mayclem (who has the best BBC2 Gameshow voice ever, by the way) introduced the appointed mayor. If it seemed like none of Lee's purported 51,000 supporters were in attendance last night, it's because (as at least one twitter wonk rightly noted) - you can't grow astroturf.
Most of the candidates on the panel didn't even make it through their first question (about Muni improvements) without unloading on Lee. Joanna Rees, suddenly wearing her big girl underpants, was the first to get dirt under her nails when she told uninvited Green Party Candidate Terry Baum that she deserved to be on the stage with the rest of them, even though the seat Baum poached at the end of the table was "probably saved for Rose Pak to help Mayor Lee answer questions." Nailed it!
And speaking of Terry Baum, the greenster was on point in her role as the token ultra-progressive, railing against the organizers who had obviously (eyeroll) conspired against her. Rees and Yee both donated time to Baum so she could spout her progressivisms. It was definitely refreshing to have at least one fringe candidate on stage and she was well-received by the Castro crowd, but with the whole Ed Lee situation her attention-grabby tactics still didn't snag much of the spotlight. Although she did use the word "boondoggles" (plural) and later told "Richard" Herrera that he really "gripes my ass", which: lovely. Never stop coming to debates, Terry.
Dennis Herrera, who we still maintain would be running as the incumbent in our comic book fantasy version of San Francisco, came out looking clean and professional despite some harsh words from Baum. In a night more or less focused on Ed Lee, Herrera had the most civil attack on the temporary mayor: the city attorney drove home the point he made in a press release yesterday: "Ed Lee's biggest problem isn't that he's a dishonest man — it's that he's not his own man." Thorny Rose Pak jokes definitely sting a little, but soundbites like that must have a toxic effect on a quiet bureaucrat who thought everyone loved him.
Even Phil Ting, who generally makes us feel like we just bought a sleeper car ticket on the train to boredomtown, had more passion than the beleaguered Ed Lee who probably realized somewhere in the middle of the program that he'll have to endure a lot of boos and hisses between now and November. That's not very helpful to Ting though - we still don't know what Reset San Francisco is all about even though he namedrops it at every chance he gets. Is it possible that Phil Ting is actually running for Mayor to boost traffic to his wonky website? Because that is definitely what it seems like every time he mentions ResetSF.
Leland Yee had a lot to say as well and most of it was directed squarely at his new archnemesis. He called on Lee to resign from office and run on equal footing with the rest of the pack, which is a good point (although let's be serious - it's practically September already, he's not going to bail now for a 2.5 month campaign). Anyhow, Yee sounded like a much better candidate when he was calling Lee out than when he was discussing his own platform. This presents quite a conundrum: Thanks to constant flip-flopping and a lengthy voting record, it's hard to nail down what Yee actually thinks about many current issues. But with Ed Lee in the race, Yee's position becomes clear: He's against Ed Lee, and that's it.
From the other side of the stage, we're pretty sure Tony Hall was challenging Ed Lee to step outside and settle Pension Reform like a man, which was just delightful. Can we rank-choice vote Tony Hall as our fourth choice? We'd really hate to see him retire, so maybe we can just give him a speaking role in City Hall somehow?
Bevan Dufty was a pleasure to listen to as usual, gently cracking jokes and dodging invitations to take a swipe at Lee. With Dufty, one never feels like the former supe is pulling his punches - rather he seems to recognize that everyone has their flaws and anyway, he just wants to make a better city for people to raise their kids in, you know?
Likewise, John Avalos did his best Avalos impression - he was spot-on with his progressive talking points and reminded everyone that he didn't nominate Ed Lee for the interim post. He even worked in a quirky reference, quoting Lord of the Rings for whatever reason: "to wear the ring of power is to be alone". Appropriate, we guess - those progressives are always marching off to some far-off Mordor to burn something useful.
David Chiu took a couple swings at Lee as well, which is kind of sad to see after the two have been getting along so well since January. And we had to cringe a little bit when he invoked Milk - not Harvey Milk, mind you - but the experience of watching Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.
Michela Alioto-Pier talked about her great-grandfather again. Did you know he used to have a job "lighting lampposts in Fisherman's Wharf"? It's a great story, to be sure, but it doesn't hold a candle to the rest of the pack.
We hesitate to call anybody the winner of last night's debate (because when it's an Ed Lee pile-on, nobody really wins), but Joanna Rees was definitely a breakout hit here. We used to think Rees seemed a bit clueless among all the recognizable political figures in this race, but with all the accusations of insider politics and backroom deals flying around she came across as being above the fray.
Herrera and Dufty deserve a mention as notable runners-up as well. With the City Attorney there's a sense a professionalism that was missing from some of the other candidate's answers and he certainly isn't afraid to take a hard stance when necessary or call things like they are. And Dufty— well we could listen to Bevan talk about his kid watching the Disney Channel all day.
After this whole mess, we doubt anyone has a better idea how they feel about Ed Lee the Candidate, but we did get a great picture of how everyone else is not Ed Lee. And in that way it probably proved to the interim mayor that he's got a lot more ground to cover than his handlers originally let on.