Commonwealth Club mayoral forum creates fuss between candidates

Elijah Nouvelage
San Francisco interim mayor Ed Lee and district attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera use cards to answer a yes/no question during a mayoral forum at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 6. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage.

Following a particularly contentious week between leading mayoral candidates, the Commonwealth Club mayoral forum brought out the real fireworks on key San Francisco issues Oct. 6.

Though it was not on his online agenda, Mayor Ed Lee made an appearance, making this event the first time all 16 candidates were present at a public forum this election period.

During the forum, Lee was pitted against City Attorney Dennis Herrera and State Senator Leland Yee, who have both voiced opposition to many of his actions as interim mayor, including his support of the “expensive” Central Subway project and a general lack of governmental transparency.

“I am not (held) to any power brokers unlike my colleague here, Ed Lee,” said Yee indicating to Lee sitting to his left. “We have to open up and ensure that there is, in fact, transparency and accountability in City Hall.”

Mediator and columnist for the San Francisco Examiner Melissa Griffin tried to staunch blatant disparaging comments, however keeping candidates from releasing political animosity was continuous.

Herrera reinforced his stance that the Central Subway project is “not the same project” that was approved by voters. Lee insisted that the project was “in response to good planning” and would provide transportation for San Franciscans to new housing developments where public transit is not as readily available.

In addition to the rivalry between Lee and his contingency of opposition, a distinct conflict was present between career politicians and business-oriented candidates.

Venture capitalist Joanna Rees advocated the role of a business leader in government because of her valuable experience “work(ing) very hard to find a common ground” even when no one in the room has the upper hand.

”Government does not run like a business,” said former Supervisor Tony Hall in response.

The strictly-regulated time constraints were appreciated by audience members, but led to sound bite prepared responses. The substance of each candidate’s platform was brought out by tough follow-up questions.

The audience was met with a telling silence after fringe candidate Emil Lawrence was asked if he, as mayor, would take his proposed 25 percent “fat-cat payroll” cut.

Bingo cards with key campaign phrases and buzz words were distributed to audience members to be filled out during the debate.

With less than a month until the mayoral election, public forums like this are an ideal arena for candidates to voice positions and prove that they can lead San Francisco in the best direction.