Thursday night at the African American Art & Cultural Complex in the Western Addition, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the San Francisco Young Democrats hosted nine of everybody's favorite candidates for Mayor of San Francisco in a spirited, yet civil, debate on the issues. Tony Hall was not invited, presumably because someone at the SFYDs is jealous of his amazing singing voice.
Outside the AAACC, the usual gauntlet of campaign supporters waited to beat attendees over the head with pickets and wastepaper flyers. Thanks to the sudden interest in these debates following Monday's all-out brawl, the main room (roughly the size of a modest community theater) hit capacity at least half an hour before showtime. Attendees in the overflow room were treated to the same livestreaming web version as the folks at home, which we hear had more than a couple technical difficulties with the sound. (We wouldn't know! We were comfortably seated in the press row, because that's how journalism works - you get nice seats to stuff.)
Ed Lee, the belle of the ball again, showed up late. Although, as moderator (and yes, friend of SFist) Melissa Griffin pointed out - he was honoring Nancy Pelosi at the Cancer Society Leadership Awards, so if you boo him for that, "you're going to hell." Fair!
With that setting the tone for the level of civility last night, the closest we got to real audience shenanigans was this one guy (or gal?) who came dressed as a shark to support the ban on shark fin soup. The voters loved it, obviously, but then again - who doesn't love a guy in an animal outfit? Cold, dead people, that's who.
And speaking of cold, dead people (and also sharks) - Leland Yee was looking lively and spirited again last night. He even managed to crack a few jokes at his own expensive. During one particularly fun part of the program, candidates were asked to hold up Yes/No signs indicating their stance on various issues. When the shark fin ban came up: Leland just flipped his sign back and forth, yes and no. The visual flip-flopping was funny, to be sure, and it was nice to see a guy who takes himself so seriously show a little bit of self-awareness. Unfortunately, when you think about it, that just means he is aware that he was kind of being a jerk on the whole shark fin ban thing.
Joanna Rees, who impressed us earlier in the week, would have done well to add another trick to her repertoire. The Rose Pak/Ed Lee jabs that were so entertaining on Monday still landed, but they lacked the satisfying thud of the previous debate. It was kind of like when your boring friend finds that one joke that gets a laugh and then tells that same joke three more times expecting the same laughs. Cute, but maybe it's time to move on?
Where Rees got snagged, Dennis Herrera actually stepped up his Ed Lee discourse. He got his two cents in about lying politicians when Griffin asked, "What's the most unpardonable sin a politician can commit?" - but instead of dwelling on it, he moved beyond the easy efforts to poo-poo Ed Lee's Big Promise Not to Run by pointing to a number of problems that started way back when Ed Lee was appointed DPW Director. Sure, it's a little disappointing to see everyone continue to pile on Ed Lee when there are actual issues to be discussed, but if the race is really going to be Everyone vs. Lee it's nice to see someone thinking beyond the easy Rose Pak jokes.
Likewise, Bevan Dufty wasn't pleased with the direction the conversations headed in. Towards the end of the debate, he railed against the softball questions (at least half of which were submitted by the audience) and called for a discussion of the real issues: why is no one pointing out this ambitious pack of candidates (two latinos, two women, one disabled, one gay, four asian-americans)? Why is no one talking about the unacceptable level of violence in the neighborhood we were all sitting in? His passion was a stark departure from the jovial mood he seemed to be in on Monday and one could reasonably argue he was trying to dodge questions about how he himself helped to install Mayor Lee, but the point is valid: it's time for this campaign to focus on something of actual importance instead of this slump of navel-gazing over Ed Lee's candidacy.
Then Michela Alioto-Pier had to go and deflate said speech with a dismissive, "every time Bevan does that..." comment. Whatever. Wake us up when you're done with the story about your great grandfather, the Fisherman's Wharf lamplighter.
Appropriately enough for a moderate, David Chiu landed squarely in the middle Thursday night. When asked if he regretted any of his votes on the Board of Supervisors (a leading question hinting at the Ed Lee-ephant in the room), Chiu told the audience he had his first post-candidacy meeting with the Mayor on Wednesday. The one-on-one, he said, "was like seeing an ex-girlfriend." Which is a hilarious simile that makes us think of Ed Lee and David Chiu staring awkwardly at each other over lukewarm coffees and reluctantly returning each other's Springsteen albums or something.
John Avalos, uncomfortably seated next Ed Lee's empty chair and then eventually Ed Lee himself, remained true to his message: jobs, local hiring, Muni improvements and fighting for an independent city hall. If anything, we like how Avalos' message is consistent and well-delivered. It never seems difficult to figure out where the guy stands. The problem is whether or not enough people are listening to him.
Ed Lee, for his part, tried to cut ties with the Pak Pack in his late-arriving opening remarks, but it sounded pretty hollow to us. He did say he supports the legalization of prostitution though, so you can feel free to call him a hooker, we guess.
Again, we hesitate to name a winner here when the campaign seems to be for best Ed Lee dig rather than best candidate for Mayor - but Dennis Herrera continued to impress with a more restrained, thoughtful approach at disarming the incumbent Mayor Mustache. And Bevan Dufty's speech hit the room square in the gut - right where it needed to land to wake everyone up.